Crispin takes it up a notch

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2002 Rating: 4 stars

2001 Rating: Not rated

Crispin Porter & Bogusky has a fairly simplistic approach when it comes to differentiating itself from the larger shops.

"Our philosophy," says Chairman Chuck Porter, "is to zig when everybody else zags."

Miami-based Crispin zigged past its rivals in 2002. The agency, 49% owned by Canada's Maxxcom, had a phenomenal year. It scored $215 million in net new billings, 138% over its total U.S. billings in 2001; launched a critically acclaimed campaign for BMW of North America's new little Mini Cooper; and won business from Ikea and Molson Breweries. Crispin's Los Angeles office, which struggled for many months after an unfortunate opening date of Sept. 10, 2001, won its first two pieces of business in 2002. And Crispin chalked up one of just four Gold Lions in film won by U.S. agencies at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes. The agency was honored for its ad campaign, "Focus on the negative," for the Florida Department of Health.

NECK-AND-NECK WITH DEUTSCH

After all that, the 15-year-old shop-which had never even been among the contenders for the annual Advertising Age Agency of the Year report prior to 2002-went neck-and-neck with Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch for Agency of the Year. And while Deutsch was a deserving winner, Crispin's accomplishments deserved special mention. Even without its new billings, new hires and awards, Crispin stands out.

Says one creative director at an Omnicom Group agency: "Ours is a business of buzz. Lately, you ask anybody who the hot shop is and they all say the same thing: Crispin."

That buzz takes a long time to carry down I-95 from New York to Miami.

"I never really feel that [buzz], and I still don't," partner and President Jeff Hicks says.

Vice Chairman-Creative Director Alex Bogusky agrees.

"Outside of reading about ourselves, we don't get any sense of what people are saying out there," Mr. Bogusky says.

Though Cripsin is known in creative circles, the agency gained a national presence through its Florida Department of Health "Truth" campaign, designed to educate people about the dangers of smoking. That started in 1998. Four years later, Crispin launched the Mini in the U.S. and again generated heat in the industry for a campaign that eschewed TV spots.

Instead, the agency put the tiny car atop one of Ford Motor Co.'s huge Excursion sport-utility vehicles and drove it around Las Vegas, and stuck the Mini inside sports stadium stands.

The upshot? Mini's sales goal when the campaign began in March was to hit 20,000 cars by December 2002. That goal was revised to 24,000 after hitting the initial mark in October.

CATCHING IKEA'S EYE

According to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR, Mini spent $7 million on measured media through August 2002. "Rather than start with an empty nine-frame storyboard, we start from way far back from that," says Mr. Porter.

That mind-set and work is what caught Ikea's attention when the home furnishing company awarded its $40 million account to Crispin early last year.

"They identified in the pitch a real strategic opportunity that we now see translated into the creative, and that was to challenge the home furnishing that is out there," says Christian Mathieu, external marketing manager for Ikea. "They really understand the brand. I mean, `Florida Truth' was amazing. The Mini, although in its infancy [at the time of the Ikea review], was amazing. We're an advocate of trying to break conventions, and you see that in those campaigns."

It's something Mr. Porter says will never change. "Sometimes, when things are good, you get complacent," he says. "I don't ever want that to happen."

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