Big Leagues: Crispin porter & Bogusky’s appeal moves beyond Florida’s borders as the agency attracts more National attention
Chuck Porter says he’s got proof that 1999 was the year his regional agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky became a national player.
“Not long ago, when people from the agency got on an airplane, it was always me who got to sit up front, because I was the only guy who had enough miles to get upgraded,” says Porter, 54, chairman of CP&B. “Now, the whole agency gets to sit in front with me, because almost all of our business is 1,000 miles away or more, and everybody is gone all of the time. Frankly, I’m a little bitter,” he jokes.
If he is, it’s the only thing he’s got to complain about.
In 1999, the Miami shop’s billings grew by an impressive 67 percent, from about $90 million to $150 million, while revenue jumped 40 percent to an estimated $21 million. The shop’s take from its joint win of the $150-225 million American Legacy Foundation’s anti-smoking initiative with Arnold Communications in Boston will total about $35 million annually, says Porter.
Crispin also added regional accounts Cooker Restaurants and Intelligent Life’s online loan facilitator Bankrate.com–both without reviews. And the 35-year-old agency takes pride in noting that now more than half of its accounts are based outside of Florida.
As evidence, Porter, who bought out agency founder Sam Crispin in 1991, points out that CP&B
won Boulder, Colo.-based accounts Schwinn and PlanetOutdoors.com. From Michigan, it picked up Caterpillar footwear, which it has since resigned, and finished the year by winning online marketplace Imandi.com of Portland, Ore., to complement the Legacy account, which is based in Washington, D.C.
While Arnold’s size was no doubt the muscle behind the Legacy win, CP&B was the creative brains. And CP&B is not afraid to push the limits to gets its message across. In fact, the first few spots of the upcoming youth-focused campaign, based on CP&B’s anti-tobacco ads in Florida, were recently rejected by some TV networks for being too controversial. It’s a decision that director of client services Jeff Steinhour calls, with characteristic frankness, “a drag.”
“I think their body of work, client by client, is as strong as anybody in our region, including The Martin Agency,” says Michael Palma, chief talent scout for Atlanta’s Creative Search. “Five, six years ago, the knock among the major elite recruits on Crispin was that it didn’t do great national TV; they do good local and regional TV. This year they arrived.”
In 1999, CP&B found a perfect spokesman for street game shoe client And 1: basketball’s bad boy Latrell Sprewell. In national ads, CP&B positioned the New York Knicks’ star as the modern realization of “the American dream”–without irony–in both broadcast and print campaigns.
According to Porter, Sprewell brought an aggressive attitude to the brand that was lacking. “Which is exactly what [the client] wanted,” he notes.
The strategy worked so well that the second phase of the print campaign now states: “Proud supporters of Latrell Sprewell. Even before it was popular.”
Riding both the dot.com and independent film wave, the agency got the first new work out of Haxan Films, the producers of The Blair Witch Project, when it was hired to direct the “Lost Tribe” spots for PlanetOutdoors.com.
In addition, CP&B continued its “Truth” anti-smoking campaign in Florida, winning a silver Lion at Cannes and multiple Pencils at The One Show.
CP&B’s planning department, formed in 1998 with staffers hired from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, Euro RSCG and elsewhere, won top honors at the Account Planning Group conference last year for its Florida anti-tobacco work.
Creative director Alex Bogusky, 36, says a major turning point in the agency’s evolution was when it decided to go after national accounts despite its limited size and scope.
“Miami is such a difficult market to do anything exciting from because it’s so culturally diverse. It’s not even really part of the United States,” Bogusky says. “Beyond cruise lines and tourism business, it’s akin to having a Tijuana office. There was a moment where we decided we’d never be able to grow the traditional agency way–which is to grow as a good local, good regional, then good national [agency]. You can’t grow big enough where, because of your size, you become pertinent to the rest of the nation. We just had to become national at whatever size we were.”
Right now, CP&B has less than 100 employees, a number its plans to surpass in February.
Ironically, the lone client CP&B lost in 1999 was the Miami cruise line, Cunard, which moved its business across town to the more conservative Tinsley Advertising.
That experience taught the agency a valuable lesson. “If clients are looking to do things the way they’ve been done before, or want to go the safe route, we’re warning them now that they’re better off with somebody else,” says president Jeff Hicks. “It’s better to get that out of the way first.”
Hicks, 34, says the agency ended its presentation to Imandi.com with a list of reasons why it shouldn’t hire CP&B.
“Don’t hire us if you’re not ready to trust us. Don’t hire us if you’re not ready to give and receive 100 percent honesty. Don’t hire us if you won’t be accessible. Don’t hire us if you want a safe choice. Don’t hire us if you’re afraid to start a revolution.