Ex-Burnetters Open Jumboshrimp

Just months after Leo Burnett Technology Group abruptly closed its office here, three of its former staffers have hung out their own shingle.

The staffers are Robert Ahearn, Bryan Birch and Robert Graup, and the shop has been christened Jumbo shrimp. It begins operations with several former Burnett clients on board: Check Point Technology, an Internet security company, and Merant and UpShot, two software providers. The accounts total roughly $10 million in billings.

Ahearn serves as managing director, Birch is creative director and Graup is planning director.

In what is a unique arrangement even in a lagging economy, Jumbo shrimp is leasing office space from another San Francisco agency, Cornyn + Partners, in the Showplace Square West Building in the Potrero Hill section of town. The shops are competitors, and could conceivably pitch against one another down the road.

“I don’t know if I’ve heard of any agencies doing this,” Ahearn said. “But you need to think creatively about managing your business in these tough times.”

Ahearn said several former Burnett clients contacted him after the shop’s demise and wanted to continue working with him. But finding space was tricky, even with many offices becoming vacant and costs dropping. So Ahearn called a friend, Chris Cornyn, who also was adjusting to the poor business climate.

“We needed to find a like-minded agency that wanted to be successful during the downturn and cohabitate,” said Cornyn, who founded his shop in 1995. “Some offices have become really quiet and sullen. This has actually done a lot for morale.”

Cornyn said it would be interesting to pitch against Jumboshrimp but unlikely since his shop focuses on consumer accounts and Jumbo shrimp on business-to-business.

“If we ever pitched against each other, we’d deal with it. … But we had a gentlemen’s agreement not to chase the same pieces of business,” Cornyn said. “Right now we’ve actually used some of their people to help in a pitch. It’s been beneficial to have them here even though we’re technically competitors.”

Cornyn works with AG Ferrari, a chain of Italian restaurants and stores in the Bay Area; Regulus, a company that prints bills for credit-card companies and other busi nesses; and Foxy Lettuce. The shop claims billings of $16 million.