Virgin Mobile Expands Creative Roster, Shifts Media Duties

Toy, Bartle Bogle Join Incumbent McKinney to Work Jointly on Upcoming Branding Push

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Virgin Mobile USA has shaken up its roster of creative and media shops as its chief marketer, Bob Stohrer, seeks a broader mix of agency partners to work on the brand.

Virgin Mobile USA's new trio of creative agencies will share the responsibility of executing a forthcoming brand campaign.
Virgin Mobile USA's new trio of creative agencies will share the responsibility of executing a forthcoming brand campaign.
The marketer will continue to work with its current roster agency, Durham, N.C.-based independent McKinney, for creative, but it has also tapped two new creative shops: Publicis Groupe-backed Bartle Bogle Hegarty and independent Toy, New York. On the media side, the marketer has shifted buying and planning duties to Havas' MPG; that work was previously handled by Publicis' Starcom and McKinney, respectively.

Ad-hoc creative projects
The company's new trio of creative agencies will share the responsibility of executing a forthcoming brand campaign. They will also be asked to work on ad-hoc creative projects ranging from in-store customer experience to viral campaigns.

"We've asked the agencies to extend out of their comfort zone a little bit," both in terms of the work they are doing and working with each other, Mr. Stohrer noted. "There's plenty of work to go around for everybody, it's just not traditional advertising, per se."

Given the current economic climate, agencies seem more willing to bend in ways they may not have before. "The world today is such that everybody has to embrace new forms of collaboration; we have to get over ourselves," said Anne Bologna, CEO of Toy, New York. "Any agency that can't get over themselves is going to find themselves with not very many clients in the future."

Other agencies either declined comment or could not be reached by deadline.

Mr. Stohrer, a onetime marketer with the National Football League who took on the role of CMO last year, the move to a multi-agency model was necessary because the "traditional advertising agency model just wasn't working."

"It wasn't about the agencies, it was about how and where our brand exists," he said.

Virgin Mobile markets its pay-as-you-go wireless plans and handsets online and at some 40,000 locations nationwide. It spent about $14 million on U.S. measured media in 2007, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Shops are 'on retainer'
In terms of compensation, the shops are all "on retainer." Virgin Mobile has asked staff devoted to its marketing account to be "creative-heavy" rather than a mix of account, strategy and other roles.

A key consideration in the new agency setup was housing the media duties at an agency and holding company independent of the creative partners. "For the new model to work, we felt that media-planning and buying had to be independent of any other shops," Mr. Stohrer said. "I'm really pleased because it's an experiment that they were all willing to sign up for, and the work and collaboration so far has been great."

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