McBride & Co. Christen Cutwater

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Cutwater's Chuck McBride
Cutwater's Chuck McBride
Chuck McBride is indeed back. Well, he never left, really. He's still in San Francisco, still in the same office, with most of his old staff. As of Wednesday, however, the sign on the door of his former TBWA/Chiat/Day/San Francisco shop changed to "Cutwater," all ties with TBWA were cut, and the agency became a standalone Omnicom entity. It also repositioned itself as a "next generation" shop, more integrated and dedicated to bringing interactive, design and branded content into the mix. Joining McBride, whose title is ECD, are president Brad Harrington, former co-president at Seattle's Cole & Weber United, and strategic planning head Rob Klingensmith, former planning director at TBWA/San Francisco.

McBride says he's been wanting to start his own agency since he was 38 (he's now 43), and with the earlier departure of former TBWA/S.F. president Mike Allen to 180, among various other factors, the timing finally seemed right. "This wasn't a play to get money," McBride says. "This was a play to put together talented people of different disciplines to try to create a new kind of agency because we understand this business is changing radically. Why sit back and be a part of an old school when there's so much fun, learning and excitement around moving into the future and doing things differently, but still maintaining the brand story centricities that agencies are so good at? This isn't about throwing anything out, it's about adding to the complement of service to clients, so they don't have to have seven meetings, they can have one."

The name of the new agency, "Cutwater," refers to the forward edge of a ship's prow that enables easier passage through the water's currents. "It's really about charting the way," say Harrington. He and McBride had been in discussions about this venture for the last six months, Harrington says, yet they arrived at the decision to join Omnicom only recently. "Up until even two weeks ago, I would have said it's not going to work with the networks, but at the end of the day this made the most sense in terms of the control they're giving us and the support from John Wren and everybody at Omnicom in terms of attracting business for us and doing some other things," he explains.

According to previous reports, the agency was to be led by a creative supergroup, comprised of McBride, Harrington and possibly Wieden vet Hal Curtis, who, it was later announced, was going to remain at W+K. Harrington says, however, that the supergroup proposition remains intact, and the agency will soon be beefing up with lead talents from the interactive and design worlds in order to make good on its goal to be a truly integrated shop. "People in those areas traditionally don't get a seat at the table but are at the back end of the process. We're trying to bring them to the front."

"It's not like we're walking away from advertising," Harrington continues. "We're going to do great television spots and great print, but it's also about pervasive brand entertainment, products, how do you make a brand more interesting other than with television?" McBride adds, "We're just trying to augment different disciplines around that so that the story becomes that much deeper, that much richer, that much more 'holisticially integrated' so the stakeholders within the brand pod are multidiscipline and not just two ad guys coming up with an idea who then hiring an online firm to go execute."

The agency has acquired—or depending on how you look at it—retained, many of its former TBWA accounts, including Ray-Ban, Seagate Technology as well as assignments for Motorola. It's also pitching for work on Jeep. The turnover perhaps throws into confusion the status of the relationship between McBride's former shop TBWA and the adidas account, which he helped TBWA to win with 180 Amsterdam in 2001. The client announced earlier this year that due to the consolidation of its own brand marketing group in Germany, 180 will now be handling most of the brand global work, but "the partnership between 180 and TBWA is completely intact" and "TBWA remains the global network for adidas."

As to how Cutwater differs from any of the other gazillion shops repositioning themselves as integrated agencies, "It's about the talent that exists there and creating catalysts and great ideas and conviction behind those ideas," Harrington says. "We can all talk about doing things differently, but it really comes down to the talent."
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