Agency.com Looks to Regain Its Reputation as Digital Powerhouse

Resuscitation Plan Includes New Heads at All Four U.S. Offices; New York Installs Key OgilvyOne Exec

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Honest resignation. Perhaps that's the best way to describe Chan Suh's attitude when he talks about the recent direction Agency.com, the interactive shop he founded in 1995, was heading. In both his mind and those of industry watchers, it had become complacent, fading from interactive hotshop pre- and post-boom to a relative footnote in 2007. But switch the subject to what he has in store for the agency, and his demeanor changes instantly.
Chan Suh, the founder of Agency.com, stepped back in 2004. Now he's returned as CEO.
Chan Suh, the founder of Agency.com, stepped back in 2004. Now he's returned as CEO.

"It's like getting the band back together," Mr. Suh said. "It's time to agitate again."

New title, new leadership
Mr. Suh, who had stepped away from agency operations in 2004, the year after it became wholly owned by Omnicom, is back running the agency; in May he added CEO to his chairman title. And he has installed new leadership at all of the U.S. offices: Riccardo Zane begins today as president of Agency.com, New York, after leaving OgilvyOne, and there are new heads in San Francisco, Chicago and Dallas. Andy Hobsbawm, who founded U.K. firm Online Magic, which merged with Agency.com in 1997, is also back in a day-to-day role leading international, where Agency.com has a stronger reputation.

Prior to his time at Ogilvy, Mr. Zane helped merge iLeo with a number of small direct-response and consumer-relationship-management groups to create Arc Worldwide, which he notes was profitable by year one. Mr. Zane also notes his group at Ogilvy, where he led interactive and CRM at the consumer marketing practice, doubled its revenue last year and is on track to double it again thanks to winning Kraft's Oscar Mayer account last week, the last pitch in which Mr. Zane participated at Ogilvy.

He said he's mindful that this kind of production is a big part of the reason he's been brought in to lead Agency.com, New York.

"That was a big turnaround story and not one dissimilar to Agency.com," he said.

Survival
In 1998 Agency.com was the largest interactive shop in the world. While Agency.com was hit hard in several areas during the dot-com crash, it also did what many could not: survive.

Omnicom invested early, in 1996, and then acquired the agency in full in 2003 -- and shortly after that Mr. Suh felt confident he could step away from day-to-day duties, assuming an advisory role as chairman. But in the fast-changing interactive industry, an agency can seem old at 10, and a shop is only as good as its latest project, client win or hotshot creative. Agency.com started to stagnate.
Riccardo Zane is now president of Agency.com.
Riccardo Zane is now president of Agency.com.

It saw major defections in the second half of 2006, which also, of course, marked the now infamous Subway pitch video that was intended to go viral but instead became the subject of much industry ridicule. The defections were commonly blamed on a realignment with TBWA, an excuse Mr. Suh dismisses, saying Agency.com's relationship with the Omnicom sibling is "one of partnership" and that there's no legislation that says they have to work together. He also suggests there was too much attention paid to the Subway pitch video. "We have to eat our own dogfood. ... [We have] to try these things to truly understand them."

Offline discplines
Mr. Suh's goal for Agency.com is to boost its emerging-media capabilities and bring the shop to traditionally offline places. Agencies that can only handle online ads and web design, he said, are liabilities at times when client campaigns live in multiple media.

"Our clients need all of it, not just digital or analog," he said.

In April, the New York office also hired Mat Zucker, a well-regarded exec from R/GA, to lead creative. Incidentally, Messrs. Zucker and Zane share an Ogilvy pedigree, although Mr. Zucker departed for R/GA shortly before Mr. Zane arrived at Ogilvy. Still, Mr. Zane helped persuade Mr. Zucker to make the jump.

"We have a foundation that was a strong one but there's a need for us to be more specific and focused and deliver strong results," Mr. Zane said.
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