Crispin Porter Absorbs Canadian Agency Zig

Chuck Porter Talks to Ad Age About the Merger, Global Expansion and His Agency's Eventual Rebrand

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NEW YORK ( -- MDC Partners' Crispin Porter & Bogusky continues expanding its global network by taking over sibling agency Zig, a well-known Canadian shop that will be rebranded as CPB Canada.

Chuck Porter
Chuck Porter
It's the second time in only a matter of months that parent MDC has allowed one of its agencies to be absorbed by a bigger sibling; in March, Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal & Partners swallowed Atlanta-based Fletcher Martin to turn it into KBS&P Atlanta.

Zig was founded in 1999, and MDC first acquired a stake in it in 2004. Crispin has one big shared client with Zig -- electronics retailer Best Buy -- but with this deal Crispin also adds a slew of prominent accounts, such as Molson Canadian beer, Ikea Canada and Burt's Bees, while gaining spots on the rosters of Unilever and Pfizer. The new CEO of CPB Canada will be current Zig President Shelley Brown.

Ad Age talked to the last remaining name on the door at Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Chuck Porter, chief strategist at MDC Partners and chairman of the agency (which, he tells us, will eventually be rebranded CPB) to get the behind-the-scenes scoop on the deal. Mr. Porter said hooking up with Zig is all about talent and swore they won't be laying off any employees. There are more global hubs coming soon, he said, but one place it's not looking right away is Japan. His friend Alex Bogusky will be missed, but his leaving doesn't leave a hole at the company.

Ad Age: How long has this deal been in the works, and can you shed some light on the client considerations, be they synergies or conflicts?

Mr. Porter: We've been talking for a long time and we've gotten serious in the last three months or so. It wasn't hard to decide to close it -- [Crispin co-creative heads] Rob [Reilly] and Andrew [Keller] already knew Zig creative Aaron Starkman and his work. In the end I'd say it was a no-brainer, but I'd sound too much like Dick Cheney. The only client we share now is Best Buy, but this addition will benefit all of our clients I think. ... More talent, more perspectives, more ideas. There are no conflicts.

Ad Age: This is a pretty major rebranding for an agency that has been very successful in the Canadian market. Aren't you worried about losing that cache in Canada by changing the name to CPB?

Mr. Porter: Not really concerned about it. From our point of view it's about talent and ... I wouldn't say they are frustrated, but the management team at Zig has great ambitions too; they want to play on a bigger stage and I think they see rebranding as CPB as an opportunity to do that -- to work with other CPB offices on big accounts.

Ad Age: What does this mean for the 100-some employees of Zig?

Mr. Porter: All of them are staying intact, we love all of them. I hope I can do a good enough job announcing it to them so that they see potential in this and they walk out of the meeting feeling like they won the lottery. If you look at the 20 most senior people at CPB now, they started with us years ago, and I want to tell [the Zig employees] that the future leadership of CPB Canada is sitting here right now. I hope they'll see this as a fairly dramatic broadening of their opportunities.

Ad Age: For a company that's long grown organically, this is now the third acquisition/merger in about as many years, first with Daddy in Sweden, and then TextureMedia in Boulder. Are you concerned about how smashing together different shops might affect the Crispin Porter & Bogusky culture?

Mr. Porter: In terms of doing acquisitions, these have all been more like organic growth. These acquisitions are people we know really, really well. We worked with Daddy for a couple of years before we even talked about doing a deal, and they were so much like us it was scary. They were like our tall, blond Swedish twin. Texture was smart as hell but pretty small and we really just sort of absorbed them into the agency.

Ad Age: What happens to the Chicago office of Zig?

Mr. Porter: The Chicago office will wind down. It was started by Zig to enhance and get business in the U.S. and now that they are part of the CPB, the office is much less relevant. We are in L.A., Boulder and Miami, and that gives us enough of a presence in the U.S. We haven't made a firm decision yet and there is no specific time-line, but probably with this deal Chicago becomes redundant. The people there [there are eight full-time employees] will be offered an opportunity to work at another CPB office -- either in Toronto or the U.S. No one is getting laid off in this deal.

Ad Age: Who is running the new office, and can you tell us a bit about them?

Mr. Porter: Andy Macauley, who is currently chairman of Zig, will simply roll into the chairman of CPB Canada. Aaron Starkman is going to be executive creative director of CPB Canada and Shelley Brown becomes CEO of CPB Canada. Right now, Zig is a successful agency doing great work. We're not out to fix them. The one place where we will help them immediately is in their digital capabilities, because I think they'll admit that's the one place we're ahead of them.

Ad Age: This deal gives CPB its second major hub outside of the U.S., signaling a real desire to keep growing CPB as a network. Where else do you plan to take the brand in the world and how soon?

Mr. Porter: We have London too, and I don't like to call that a service office, because it's a cute office. But it's not a factory like Sweden is, and Toronto will be our second real full-service factory outside the U.S. It's part of a master plan for ultimate global domination! There's nothing firmly in place right now as a next step but there is a lot of conversation and a lot of exploration. It will certainly be sooner rather than later. Ultimately we want to be where the talent is, and there are great centers of talent all over the world, from Sao Paulo to Barcelona to Shanghai, and we're really exploring all of them.

Ad Age: Not Tokyo?

Mr. Porter: Japan is an interesting market and clearly there's an abundance of talent there. The advertising market there is intimidating because of the strength of a couple of agencies there. I'd never say never, but I think at this point, we're looking at markets that are a little more entrepreneurial.

Ad Age: It feels like we haven't heard much stateside about how Crispin is doing in Europe. Can you give us an update? How many people are there, what clients does it work for, is it competing for new business in that market?

Mr. Porter: I was just over there. We did a presentation in Copenhagen about two months ago, with CPB Europe to a group of about 20 consultants and they were overwhelmingly positive. Just recently, [CPB Europe] got their first full-scale agency-of-record assignment from Scandinavian Airways, SAS, and it was a real turning point. I think people are seeing them as a brand-momentum agency, not just a digital agency. We're very pleased with where they are going. There are between 90 and 100 people there now. Part of the reason you're not hearing about it is our fault. We're not doing a good enough job publicizing it.

Ad Age: Has Crispin Porter & Bogusky been rebranded as CPB?

Mr. Porter: Not officially, but it'll happen eventually.

Ad Age: Why is that?

Mr. Porter: It's easier for the receptionists to answer the phone! And we're a different agency than we were a few years ago, and we have a lot of new leaders so it's becoming more inappropriate for anyone's name to be on the door. Sam Crispin has been gone since 1992.

Ad Age: Speaking of names on the door, what's the reaction been to the "B" in CPB leaving MDC Partners last week?

Mr. Porter: It surprised me how much reaction there has been since Alex stepped away from day-to-day creative duties a few years back. Andrew and Rob have been running everything. Alex left CPB officially in January. He did the stint at MDC, but he has a [different] agenda. He and I have been talking about it for a long, long time; he's one of my oldest friends. He wants to speak out and advocate certain positions, and that's really not compatible with working for MDC.

When I was in Cannes, he sent me the blog post he wrote about advertising to children and asked me what I thought. I said it was well written and made some great points, but I also said he needs to make a choice because it's not [compatible with the business we're in]. And the next morning he resigned and sent me a note saying, "I resigned like you recommended" and I was like, "I didn't tell you to do that!"

He was a great addition because he's an enormously talented guy, but the role he was playing at the MDC level wasn't a fundamentally strategic role for MDC. We'll miss him, and anybody would love to have him as a contributor, but it's not like it leaves a hole.

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