Game On as 180 Hits L.A.

LOS ANGELES With a view of the Pacific Ocean and a steady stream of determinedly serene, mat-carrying yoga practitioners sharing the front door one floor below, 180’s new offices in Santa Monica, Calif., seem blissfully casual. But Mike Allen, the shop’s laid-back president (and former marketing director at Nike) knows there’s plenty of work to be done.

“We’ve got a lot to prove to ourselves and to marketers,” he says. By which he means, not letting the industry celebrity associated with Adidas, honored at Cannes in 2006 as Advertiser of the Year, go to anybody’s head. “The way I feel about client relationships,” Allen explains, “is it’s about making them famous, not me.”

Adidas was Amsterdam-based 180’s first account, landed in 1998, and that relationship is still the foundation of the now $550 million shop, which also does work for Amstel, Dr Pepper, Glenfiddich, Omega watches, MTV and Opel. The agency often partners on projects and accounts with other shops, a major one being Omnicom’s TBWA\ Chiat\Day, located in San Francisco, with which 180 has collaborated on the Adidas business since 2001.

Over the past decade, Adidas has posted double-digit increases in its top-line sales. The Amsterdam office was juggling it all when, last fall, the consumer electronics giant Sony awarded its U.S. business to the agency, which is teaming up on the account with BBDO. This was the incentive 180 needed to expand, and in early 2007, it opened its Los Angeles office, up the coast from Sony’s San Diego operations.

180 is clearly enjoying attention as one of the industry’s hot shops, but there are challenges to opening in L.A., not the least of which is the less-than-warm welcome creative boutiques are sometimes given. (The agency’s principals need to look just down the street, where Crispin Porter + Bogusky tried to set up an office, for a reminder that success outside one’s home turf is no guarantee.) There’s also the issue of how quickly any shop can have a new office up and running to capacity. Case in point: Within a month of setting up shop in L.A., 180 was told by Volvo, then in review, that it was probably not ready to handle an account of its size. (180 says it warned Volvo of this in advance.)

Sony’s faith in the agency, though, is a big vote of confidence. And aside from Adidas, the agency’s current focus is squarely on getting its newest client new work, expected to appear later this summer. Stuart Redsun, svp of corporate marketing at Sony Electronics, says 180 is already delivering on the promises it made during last year’s agency review. He cited 180’s work for Adidas during the World Cup, which included viral campaigns, mobile media, in-store promotions, mass media and events, as examples of the type of work Sony is looking for.

“It was very well orchestrated, very engaging,” says Redsun. “Integration is very important in that we connect with all the touch points that reach our consumers. We looked at other agencies. A lot of agencies talk collaboration [with other creative companies], but 180 really delivers on it. They step up to the challenge and create integrated solutions that deliver an on-target message.”

The planned opening in Santa Monica was also the catalyst for 180 to finalize ongoing negotiations in November 2006 with BBDO parent Omnicom, which bought a majority stake in 180. (180 shares Adidas and Motorola with other units at the holding company.) For Omnicom, 180—which remains a standalone entity—is a creative alternative to the shop’s existing networks.

The U.S. expansion also allows the Amsterdam flagship, which has 100 people, to tap into L.A.’s production resources and its wealth of directors, cinematographers and post-production facilities, says Peter Cline, a managing partner of 180 in Amsterdam, who now runs the Santa Monica office with Allen and executive creative director William Gelner. (The Santa Monica location, jokes Allen, also allows Gelner to go surfing during downtime.) Cline points to a recent project done with in which 180 produced 10 spots for an MTV global-warming project on a shoestring budget. “In Amsterdam, taking it up to a high-caliber class of producers, directors and editors invariably means traveling to London, Paris, New York or L.A.,” he says. “I’d always thought there is opportunity for us to overbuild our production services here and become a sort of backlot for Amsterdam, to afford Amsterdam the opportunity to extend itself into this production market without physically having someone here.”

If a client requests a viral film—”a TV spot for no money,” as Cline puts it—the travel and communications costs and language barriers make it difficult for it to be done cheaply and quickly in Amsterdam. Cline says he wants 180 L.A. to be able to “turn production services on or off on an as-needed basis.”

180’s L.A. office, which currently numbers about 35 staffers and plans to have about 80 or so in total, also brings Adidas that much closer to Lee Clow, chairman and chief creative officer of TBWA Worldwide. Adidas is one of the few brands on which Clow remains actively engaged.

“It really helps to have Adidas in L.A., close to Lee, because he definitely is still our brand compass,” says Allen. “He’s instrumental in keeping that relationship as strong as it is.”

The 180 American business model, says Allen, is “one P&L, two offices and one door always open to Lee.”

“The whole combining of [TBWA and 180] is unorthodox, and I’m proud of that,” Clow says. “It’s an elegant and smart model of being talent-oriented versus org-chart.” He adds that the TBWA network “ultimately has the responsibility for Adidas, and that will be done in a variety of different ways, orchestrated by 180 Amsterdam.”

“Too often, there’s a misplaced spirit of competition in this business,” notes 180 managing partner Chris Mendola, who works in Amsterdam. “If you put the client in the center of a marketing problem as opposed to yourself, agency opportunities come more quickly, and clients win. In a good collaboration, you’re not bogged down with traditional structures and egos. You share ideas, share credits, share the reputation for the work. We have the chance to be more spontaneous. Everyone wins.”

(Mendola was one of 180’s founders, along with Alex Melvin and Guy Hayward. 180 opened its doors amid controversy after Melvin and Mendola, who had worked on Nike at Wieden + Kennedy, left to work on Nike’s archrival, Adidas. Earlier, Hayward had hired Adidas’ Chris Kyle, now Adidas global brand concept manager. The fledgling 180 shop was originally awarded the business by Neil Simpson, who was global head of advertising at Adidas in 1998.)

Allen adds that the nine-hour time difference between L.A. and Amsterdam actually works to the agency’s advantage. Andy Fackrell and Richard Bullock, 180’s head creative directors in the Netherlands, will lead and coordinate with Gelner in L.A. “We can move the ball down the field and at the end of the day pass it off [to Amsterdam],” explains Allen. “And when we come back into the office, they’ve advanced it.”

As for 180’s U.S. strategy, the agency plans on duplicating its international approach to its work. The Amsterdam office claims to have 25 different nationalities represented and, in keeping with the best Dutch mercantile traditions, its business has transcended local boundaries, affecting not just where the agency reaches out to consumers but how it does so. “We learned how to do cross- channel, media-neutral messages through Pan-European work,” explains Bullock. “When I worked in London, you could use one language and a familiar comedian. With Pan-European work, you need to find common ideas that appeal to the core parts of human beings, rather than things like surface humor. You’ve got to go deeper.”

Cline says, “Our international aspect allows us to come up with ideas that transcend borders. That’s a powerful idea in itself.”