Linus Karlsson, the chairman of Commonwealth and former chief creative officer of global brands at McCann-Erickson, has opened Ming Utility and Entertainment Group, an independent enterprise dedicated to creating experience-driven ideas centered on utility/design, technology and entertainment. Mr. Karlsson, who will be chief creative officer and chairman, launches the company with partners Brian DiLorenzo, chief production officer of McCann, who will serve as CEO; and President Tara DeVeaux, who last served at BBDO as exec VP-account manager.
According to Mr. Karlsson, the idea to launch a company like Ming has long been in the works, since both he and Mr. DiLorenzo were working at Fallon, Minneapolis around 15 years ago. "We were at a restaurant talking about starting a company," said Mr. Karlsson. We had realized all these different ideas were coming out of Fallon -- BMW Films; Buddy Lee for Lee Jeans; Timex; Brawny. It feels like once in a while, an agency touches upon work like that, but we want to make that our core. If you look at work that has been applauded in the last few years, the most amazing piece of content wasn't done out of an agency -- it was done by CAA and Chipotle. Or Red Bull. That's telling us we have to do something differently. I don't know what we're waiting for. I'm tired of waiting."
Such projects already feature on the CV's of the company's founders. Between them, they've launched multiplatform out-of-the box efforts that combine entertainment and technology, such as Target's "Kaleidoscopic Fashion Spectacular" (Mother, New York) and HBO "Voyeur" and "Imagine" (BBDO New York). While at McCann, they also launched digitally enabled utilities like Nature Valley "Trail View," an award-winning Google Streetview-based app that takes viewers on a tour of America's national parks, as well as a digital rethink of the Ikea catalog that brought the brand's products closer than ever before to consumers' homes via mobile technology.
On the entertainment side at Commonwealth, they also steered a music-driven campaign for Chevy that involved creating an original track, "Strong," with country star Will Hoge.
"A lot of these projects spoiled me for wanting to do other things," said Mr. DiLorenzo. "This honestly came from a passion for wanting to build things ourselves. It's really exciting to strip everything down and create the vehicle for these passions, to have a great relationship with McCann and to be able to go outside of the normal realm and test ourselves a little bit."
Ming will be independent but will partner with McCann Worldgroup on various projects and utilize the network's resources. The company will also be able to team on brand ideas with other agencies, even those outside of the Interpublic Group of Cos. network.
The new company will be headquartered on Peck Slip in downtown New York and will also maintain an outpost in the McCann headquarters in midtown Manhattan.
While running the new company, Mr. Karlsson will remain chairman at Commonwealth, while Mr. DiLorenzo will continue to support the agency's global production.
The partners say that Ming projects will originate not just from clients, but also in-house and through partnerships with their various contacts -- whether they're directors and production companies or entertainment talent.
"I've found in the last three months as we've been preparing to launch, I've gotten so many phone calls from content creators, whether they're musicians, or actors who want to be a little closer to the work and the creative," said Ms. DeVeau. "What we're hoping for is that we can provide a much more collaborative environment where the talent can connect directly to the creatives."
As for the company's name? It represents another thing that Mr. Karlsson has long pined for. "When I was a kid, I always wanted a cat, but my parents wouldn't allow it," he said. "I was going to name it Ming."
The company is currently staffing up -- focusing largely on tech-savvy creatives, although none of the new hires could be named at press time. Along with the shop's new office space, it will also open an adjacent storefront that will act as both a retail space and gallery for local artists.
"We have lots of different groups in McCann Worldgroup, we invest in lots of different places and we partner with lots of others, even if we have within our network similar resources," said McCann Worldgroup President-CEO Harris Diamond. "When we do the latter, we have to look for something that intriguingly is going to make a difference for our clients and in Linus' case we see that. He's an incredible talent and brings a unique perspective to things he wants to build, and this made a lot of sense to me."
The partners hope that the company's nimble, malleable structure will accommodate a range of projects. "Going into this interview [with Ad Age], I thought, 'I hope they don't ask what Ming is,'" said Mr. Karlsson. "You want it to define itself. By defining it too early you pigeonhole yourself. It's most important to talk about the opportunities. We can't do everything, but we can do anything."