Kayak Moves Biz to Graf

Gerry Graf’s first client at his new startup agency comes at the expense of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.

Graf’s shop, Barton F. Graf 9000 in New York, will handle lead creative duties for online travel site Kayak.com, succeeding Omnicom Group’s Goodby, which had handled the business since last year, Kayak chief marketing officer Robert Birge told Adweek today. Major media spending on the brand totaled $14 million last year and $19 million in the first eight months of 2010, according to Nielsen. Those figures don’t include online spending.

Graf (pictured) launched his shop in September, six months after he split with Publicis Groupe’s Saatchi & Saatchi in New York.

Graf had been Saatchi’s New York chief creative officer for two years. Before that, he was CCO at Omnicom’s TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York. At TBWA\C\D, Graf worked closely with Birge, then the top account man on Sprint, the New York office’s largest piece of business at the time. Birge rose to managing director of the shop before leaving in 2006 to become CMO at IMG in New York. He joined Kayak in April 2009.

So, Graf’s first account win stems from a past relationship. This is not his first exposure to Kayak, however. When he was at Saatchi, the agency was a finalist in a review that led to the hiring of Goodby.

This hire came without a review.

“I know what he’s capable of,” Birge said of Graf. “He has a very firm grasp of what we need and what our strategic problems are.” Graf’s first work is expected in the spring after Goodby’s final round of ads from its “Search one and done” campaign. Kayak’s past brand image efforts have included TV spots, display ads and outdoor ads.

Traditional media planning and buying duties aren’t part of the assignment and remain at Omnicom’s PHD in New York.

Separately, Kayak has licensed the technology platform of MediaMath in New York to optimize the travel site’s online media buys — a growing part of Kayak’s business. “We’ve been using exchange-based display advertising in a limited capacity and this will allow us to expand,” Birge explained.

The MediaMath selection came after a five-month review in which independent Accordant Media in New York and Yahoo’s Dapper in San Francisco were the other finalists, according to Birge. The assignment is new.