Now, the 5-year-old creative and strategic boutique run by a trio of former P&G executives is poised to crack P&G's roster as agency of record for two undisclosed new brands nearing test market, having beaten out well-heeled competition from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago; Saatchi & Saatchi, New York; and Grey Worldwide, New York, according to Barefoot executives.
The P&G brands will add to a growing list of national AOR assignments Barefoot's gained in the past two years, including Chattem Consumer Products' IcyHot, SportsCreme and Capzasin-HP topical analgesic brands, and BriteSmile, a national chain of 1-hour retail tooth whitening spas launched last year.
Barefoot also did national outdoor and print for last year's launch of Van Melle's Mentos Cool Chews. And although it's not AOR for any of them, the shop handles in-store, print promotion and direct-to-consumer work for a growing number of other P&G brands, including Head & Shoulders, Physique and Vidal Sassoon haircare and Cascade, Comet, Dawn, Mr. Clean and Swiffer homecare products.
Barefoot has doubled to 25 employees in the past year, prompting a move to a new space near Cincinnati's new Paul Brown Stadium with room to at least double staff again if needed. The shop did not disclose revenue or media billings. (Barefoot teams with media independent Empower MediaMarketing, Cincinnati, for media buying, and Web designer Eviciti, Cincinnati, for interactive work.)
But Barefoot's national client list already rivals that of Cincinnati's largest shop, Northlich, which is AOR for H.J. Heinz Co.'s StarKist brand and P&G commercial cleaning products and whose BrandStorm unit does developmental work for new products from P&G and other national marketers.
For the most part, however, P&G and other Cincinnati-based national advertisers, such as Broadwing, Chiquita Brands, Federated Department Stores, Kao Corp.'s Andrew Jergens Co. unit and Kroger Co., have taken their creative work out of town.
"Cincinnati agencies trade accounts among themselves and don't really go after things outside the region much," said Doug Worple, 36, founder, president and executive creative director of Barefoot. "If we benchmarked against the best agencies here, it wouldn't necessarily take that long or be that big a hurdle. Against a Fallon or Martin, we've still got a lot of work to do. But everybody [at Barefoot] understands that's where we want to get."
Mr. Worple's ambitions were more modest when he left P&G in 1993 after serving as brand manager on the Crest Complete toothbrush launch and doing a one-year copywriting internship with Burnett. He wanted to extend that job full time as an agency copywriter, but ran into the harsh reality of P&G's policy prohibiting marketing executives from working for its agencies for at least 12 months after leaving the company.
So Mr. Worple free-lanced instead, aided by contacts provided by P&G's then VP-advertising, Ross Love, before deciding to start his own shop in 1995.
The "Barefoot" moniker came from a passage Mr. Worple clipped from the Association for Humanistic Psychology Newsletter and had tacked up in his P&G cubicle for several years: "If I had my life to live over," the passage reads, "I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall."
"One of the reasons I liked [the name] so much is that it's the complete opposite of the wingtip world of Procter," Mr. Worple said. "I wasn't going to have any issues credibilitywise from a strategy standpoint. My issues were going to be, `Oh, he was a brand manager, how creative can he be?' "
Barefoot started with a variety of project work, including print promotion for P&G brands and a TV ad for Chattem's Phisoderm. But Mr. Worple wanted the security of AOR assignments. He started by landing two prominent Cincinnati-area accounts in 1998 -- the Maisonette Group of restaurants and the Newport Aquarium.
Chattem's topical analgesics brand followed last year, as did the BriteSmile account earlier this year.
As P&G has moved to more targeted marketing vehicles and retail advertising, Barefoot benefited, too. The agency handled direct-to-consumer print and retail floor graphics for last year's successful Swiffer launch, with some of its print promotion work picked up for national magazine ads and Barefoot's tagline -- "When Swiffer's the one, consider it done" -- picked up throughout the campaign, handled by D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York.
Barefoot also teamed with database marketer TargetBase to run the direct-mail pre-launch "diffusion marketing" portion of the Physique haircare rollout, developing offline work.
FOR NORTH AMERICA
The new P&G brands, which Barefoot would not name, are targeted at North America, putting the agency on a level field with P&G's global shops for the accounts, said John Yengo, 38, exec-VP and partner of Barefoot. The work is likely to be print and direct-to-consumer.
"With Procter, we just sort of eased our way in, project by project," Mr. Worple said. "We got things that definitely were not on the radar screen [of the roster shops]. With the smaller things we're doing, we already have the credibility to do [larger assignments]. It's not like they're just going with a local print promotion agency."
Mr. Worple has bolstered his management team with fellow Procter alums. In 1998, he added Fran Dicari, 36, as a partner and exec VP. He's a former P&G brand manager who helped establish a Cincinnati division for promotion agency Waylon Co.
Then, in May, Mr. Yengo, who Mr. Worple had tried to lure twice before, finally joined Barefoot, with the title partner and exec VP. As a P&G marketing director, Mr. Yengo had launched P&G's $400 million Febreze brand in 1998, turned down an offer to become VP-marketing at Amazon.com later in the year and then took at job as VP-marketing for IBM Corp.'s global consumer business.
"I followed my head instead of my heart," Mr. Yengo said of his decision to go with IBM instead of Barefoot. At IBM he entered a new world of marketing partnerships with Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp. and launched the ibm.com e-tail campaign for the home and home office market. But he said it wasn't as rewarding as what he did at P&G, and when Mr. Worple asked him to join Barefoot a third time, he didn't want to say no again.
The P&G alumni network has been good to Barefoot from a client standpoint, too, helping the agency land the BriteSmile account in May, when former Crest brand manager Mike Whan became president-worldwide marketing.
"The first person I called was Doug," Mr. Whan said. "They're a good creative house. Because they're small and growing, there's not a lot of big agency bureaucracy and extra billing and 14 people to go through before you finally talk to the creatives. . . . Because they're P&G alums, I feel like we speak a similar language without having to go through a lot of charts and graphs."
BriteSmile, now in 18 of the 20 U.S. markets it has targeted for its initial rollout, is doing only local newspaper, radio and national trade magazine advertising targeted at dentists, but is spending about $1 million per market per year, Mr. Whan said.
Barefoot's work developing TV ads to help revive the Phisoderm facial cleansing brand five years ago was what convinced Bob Marshall, VP-marketing at Chattem, to give the shop more work.
"They've also done some very solid problem-solution advertising for our IcyHot," Mr. Marshall said. "We've been running that campaign for the past 18 months and we've seen double-digit growth at retail, which we would attribute almost exclusively to the media and the creative."
"Having been the client, we know how we want to be treated," Mr. Worple said. "When I was on Crest Complete, I would throw out an idea and the agency was like, yeah, whatever. I think I've proved by now that maybe it wasn't such a bad idea. . . . We don't have a `not invented here' attitude."