Think Small

The idea behind the Syndicate was simple: Create an alliance between Ogilvy & Mather and several independent, creative-driven partners, allowing Ogilvy to benefit from the smaller shops’ innovative thinking and the boutiques to enjoy the resources of the larger agency without giving up any equity. The 3-year-old experiment, run by Rick Boyko, chief creative officer of Ogilvy & Mather North America, has thus far proved to be a limited success.

The Syndicate has produced campaigns for blue-chip Ogilvy clients IBM and Miller Brewing Co., which has used three distinct TV campaigns from the member shops. Syndicate agencies are also called in to trouble shoot when Ogilvy’s creatives are stumped by pitches and briefs. The shops have lent a hand on proj ects for American Express, IBM, Sears tires, Midas, Dove soap, Jaguar and Kodak.

The Syndicate’s current members, which generally fall into the $25-40 million billing range, are Hunt Adkins, Minneapolis; Work, Richmond Va.; Grant, Scott & Hurley, San Francisco; VitroRobertson, San Diego; Fuse, St. Louis; Rethink, Vancouver, British Columbia; LatinWorks, Austin, Texas; and Core, St. Louis. For 4-year-old LatinWorks, which joined in August, it’s a chance to build a reel with more diverse clients and to gain access to Syndicate agencies that could use the shop’s Hispanic-market expertise. After LatinWorks produced a Miller Lite campaign through the Syndicate in September, the client named the shop its primary Hispanic agency. For Core, the hope is that a stream of Syndicate clients will allow the shop to expand its offerings to other forms of media, such as music videos and music production.

Working with big-name clients and with Boyko also provides valuable experience for the Syndicate shops. Some would like to produce more work but accept the low production rate as part of the deal. “You’re usually brought in on the worst situations—a new-business pitch, somebody’s run out of time or an account is in trouble—where you don’t have a high batting average,” says Cabell Harris, president and executive creative director of Work.

The primary disappointment on the part of Boyko and Ogilvy has been the Syndicate’s inability to attract its own client roster. “We were hoping to get some business we wouldn’t ordinarily get because of [our large] size—smaller things that would be clients of the Syndicate in and of itself,” Boyko says.

Marc Kempter, Core’s managing partner, says it may just be a matter of time until more clients are sold on the concept. He was only convinced it could work after creating a Miller brand-heritage campaign earlier this year, collaborating with Ogilvy from start to finish. “Now we know it works,” he says. “The thing is to let other people see that it works. It’s going to take a while.”