Venables Bell Launches Biz Consultancy

Audi, March of Dimes among its initial clients

Venables Bell & Partners is getting into the business consultancy business.

The San Francisco shop has launched vpb orange, a unit that will seek to solve business problems and develop new brands through strategic thinking and design. Leading the unit are three veterans of the agency: group director of brand strategy Harlan Kennedy, design director Blake Bäkken and account director Colleen McGee.

At vbp orange, Kennedy is director of strategy, Bäkken is design director and McGee is director of brand development. Kennedy and Bäkken have vacated their previous agency roles; McGee retains account leadership responsibilities on Audi, but will devote most of her time to the new unit.

With the move, Venables Bell joins a crowded field that includes standalone specialists like Redscout, Ideo and Fahrenheit 212 and agency offshoots, such as Zag at Bartle Bogle Hegarty. Still others, like Anomaly, incorporate business-building efforts into their main offerings.

Venables Bell went the offshoot route to underscore its commitment to the practice, according to Kennedy. Also, vbp orange will work differently than the main agency and get paid more like a consultancy. That said, the unit will use Venables Bell resources when needed and won’t have separate profit and loss responsibilities—at least to start.

Initially, vbp orange is working with Audi; The March of Dimes; San Jose, Calif. arts group Zero1; Italian bank Fineco; and research think tank Media X at Stanford University. Of those, only Audi is shared with the main agency. Kennedy, however, hopes to attract other advertising clients, which include Intel, Google, ConAgra Foods and eBay.

“We really want clients who want to make things, take risks and create some (innovation) around their customer experiences,” Kennedy said. The challenge, he added, is, “How do you get from a PowerPoint (presentation), to something that’s actually real?”

For Audi, vbp orange is tackling the question, “How can we improve our buying and ownership experience?” The consultancy is now developing messaging—in the form of notebooks and signs—to brand the effort initially inside Audi.