Talent Takes the F Train

Across the river from Madison Ave., a new breed of agency is setting up shop

When is an advertising agency not an advertising agency? What is a shop that makes ads, but isn’t principally interested in selling products? Actually, in addition to ads, it often makes documentaries, Web series, builds sites and apps, and pitches reality shows. Still, it’s not just a production house, nor necessarily an interactive agency. It’s a new game run by entrepreneurs who are focused on tools and technology. And they’re doing it in a world far removed from Manhattan and its corporate mores and price structure—but one reachable by the L and F trains.

When ad shops first started to populate Madison Avenue in the 1920s, they were a hybrid of talent agency, commercial art studio, vaudevillians, radio announcers, novelists, and nascent marketers (a.k.a. hucksters). The new ateliers that have grown up in Brooklyn are as unformed: geeks, Final Cut Pro jockeys, visual artists, and video guerillas, supported, as often as not, by advertising work.

If their function is not always clear, what’s evident is that they’re remaking the way the creative world is conceived, executed, and produced—and at what cost. Worth noting: more and more, ads aren’t even made on Madison Avenue (or in TriBeCa or SoHo); they’re subcontracted to Dumbo or Williamsburg. And, too: those heretofore cheap subcontractors increasingly are talking directly to clients.

This then, we believe, is the first map of the unfolding creative revolution—a reconfiguration of geography and function, in which creativity gravitates to new talent, a different vision, better tools (and those who can use them), and cheaper real estate.

Indeed, it’s unfolding so quickly that, as people in the know have already begun to say, even before Brooklyn has been officially acknowledged as the new capital of creativity, Philadelphia could soon be the new Brooklyn.

– The editors

Brooklyn Talent


428 Graham Ave., Williamsburg

First there were the Hasidic Jews in Williamsburg, then writers and musicians, and now video artists and storytellers. GoodGreatGrand, launched in 2009, employs its talent on behalf of food, beauty and makeup clients including Covergirl and Cointreau—despite a roster of only three employees.

For Covergirl, the group, and its freelancers, wrote and directed 12 online spots; for Cointreau it teamed up with Dita Von Teese for the Web-based “Be Cointreauversial” ad campaign that included the sex kitten shimmying on stage, bottle in hand. “It’s literally about pretty storytelling, or ‘stylized realism,’” says creative director Tom Goldstein, 31. “There are no big car commercials. It’s about making people’s stories believable and fun—which is harder to do, as you know, than people suspect.”

Area 17

190 North 10th St., Williamsburg

Area 17 co-founde r George Eid says not studying French in high school turned out to have been an ill-advised decision: His business partner lives in France—and, more importantly, his wife is French. “She wanted to move to France and that’s when we [started formulating] the company,” says Eid, 38.

Since launching in Williamsburg in 2003—when it was but a blip on the cultural radar—and expanding to Paris, the aesthetically minded Web design and marketing firm has integrated its operations with ease. With two offices and clients as iconoclastic as Etsy and Madame Figaro, and as large as Condé  Nast and Coca-Cola, Area 17 has “had to juggle,” says Andrew Ackermann, 28, creative director. “But so far we’ve really used it to our advantage.” Among Area 17’s recent projects is Adweek.com’s redesign.

BK Media Lab

255 6th Ave., Park Slope

The road to success for BK Media Lab included stops in Africa and Washington, D.C., before launching in leafy Park Slope last year. The group’s co-founder, Zimbabwe-born Itai Kaitano, 32, dreamed up the video and Web production firm while consulting at D.C.-based MGP Software, which tracks fundraisers and contributions to political campaigns, then established the company with the firm’s Emmy-nominated director of production, Timothy Betler (a former producer at MTV, NBC Universal and National Geographic).

It has carved a niche in the political realm, among other industries, serving up media packages for politicos across New York while taking on clients like MNET (parent company of South African TV network Vuzu), and a boutique vodka maker. “We learned there was demand for low-cost, high-quality video—and decided to get in there,” says Kaitano.

Recommended articles