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

GoodGreatGrand

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.

 

Apex Exposure 

55 Washington St., Dumbo

It all started in a Greenpoint living room in July 2007, a year before Lehman Brothers collapsed and many companies imploded in its wake. For Apex Exposure, however, now based in Dumbo, the unfolding economic climate hasn’t hampered its ability to draw in some of the nation’s biggest corporate clients. And with an uncanny skill for precisely applying its services where they best benefit clients, each job tends to differ from the next. For Nike, the group looked to Facebook to promote a marathon in Washington that the shoemaker sponsors. To update Rolling Stone magazine’s website, Apex utilized crisp design and plenty of video.

Despite its influx of top-level clients, however, the group has no plans to leave Brooklyn anytime soon. “Our lease is up in a couple of months, and we’re looking at renewing and staying right here in Dumbo,” says Apex Exposure president Josh Scheiner, 28. “A lot of our employees all live in Brooklyn. And in Dumbo there’s a million trains that come in, so it’s very, very simple to get to, and we can deal with our clients in the city. It’s really just a great location.”

Huge

45 Main St. | The 2nd floor, Dumbo

If Huge, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies, wasn’t the first digital shop in Dumbo when it launched in 1999, then its predecessor has stayed under the radar. Twelve years ago the neighborhood was, in executive creative director Joe Stewart’s words, “sort of this weird balance between recycling plants and [the border of] this super posh, super-duper nice part of Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights. It was a weird mix of unbelievably grimy and these super nice amenities.”

The sentiment could be applied to Huge itself, which has remained energetic, cutting edge and, dare we say, punk rock, even as it rises to the top of an ever-growing industry of design and production firms across New York. “Kids in a room, pounding away on keyboards” is the way Stewart, 33, describes the business, which has grown from two employees to 300-plus. When MediaPost named Huge Agency of the Year in 2010, few knew who it was, and others were taken by surprise. But with clients like Pepsi, Reuters and Mattel, the kids with the keyboards have made sure the agency is now firmly on the map.

The Joey Company 

45 Main St. | The 6th floor, Dumbo

Consider for a second that The Joey Company, a Dumbo-based full-service integrated ad agency, juggles assignments for both the Centers for Disease Control and Trojan, the condom manufacturer. With the former, the firm masterminded Web campaigns dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the H1N1 virus, a deadly strain of influenza. As for the latter, it used humor in 2009 to create a line—“You can’t wait to get it on”—that the Sundance Channel called the “best condom tagline ever.” This is a company with range.

Since 2002, when the firm relocated from New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, where it had operated for 11 years, the staff of 17 has exceeded expectations. With a roster that boasts Arrid Anti-Perspirant, an auto dealer, a baby products company, and, most recently, advocates for Title IX, the company is taking on a menagerie of clients. “Blessed and humbled, we’ve actually grown in the face of a tough economic time,” says Joey Cummings, the agency’s founder. “People have been calling us the ‘best kept secret.’” The secret, it seems, is out.

Hudson Union

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