PLANET WAVES

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Planet Design Company has a big name, but a small location: Madison, Wis. But these days location isn't quite what it used to be. "Our passions drive us where we want to go geographically -- which accounts we go after or how we get our work done," says John Besmer, one of three Planet principals/creative directors, along with Dana Lytle and Kevin Wade. "Good work happens wherever people are doing it." E-mail and Web sites take care of the rest.

And Planet takes care of Web sites, among other things. New-media assignments are booming for the company. Launched in 1989, Planet now has 25 employees who do advertising, design and new-media work for clients like Rollerblade, Adams Outdoor, Blue Note Records, Miller Brewing, Guild.com and a handful of local brands. Planet also does project work for agencies like Leo Burnett, Wieden & Kennedy, The Leap Group and SquareOne.

"We all have pretty bad attention deficit disorders, so it's nice to have the option to work on smaller things like a CD packaging project and then move on to bigger things like a brand identity campaign," says Wade, who, at 37, is the company's senior member. His biggest challenge at Planet: weathering the growing pains. "There's a lot of decision-making that takes a lot more time than I thought," he says. "I'd rather focus on just the creative stuff, but we need to maintain the broad vision for the company, too. We definitely don't plan to keep growing ad infinitum; we'll put the brakes on at some point soon."

About two years ago, Planet had 12 people and somehow the firm was "too big and too small at the same time," explains 32-year-old Besmer. "We'd always been of the 'bigger is not better' mindset, but we needed to do more than just a piece here or

there to help our clients. We needed to tie it together and cohesively steer their brands, so we changed our thinking."

Originally hired to do a brochure for Rollerblade, Planet soon became responsible for Rollerblade's advertising, trade catalog, interactive CD-ROM product packaging and sales material. They tied it together so well for the client -- the company saw a 73 percent increase in POP usage with Planet's system -- that parent company Benetton Sportsystems recently tapped Planet for all of its brands: Nordica, Prince Tennis and Ektelon Racquetball.

"It sounds corny, but things with Planet have gone better than any experience I've had in the past with any agency," says Mariko Miyamoto, senior director of advertising and merchandising at Benetton Sportsystems. "They have no attitude, no ego. They're about getting the job done and having it be killer. As far as whose ideas they are, well, let's just say meeting with them is definitely nothing like your typical agency meeting."

With a 60-hour workweek not unusual, Besmer says "perfectionism" has become a problem for him and his partners. "We're all driven by the need to make everything as close to perfect as possible. Every piece has to be ready for an art museum." Some pieces, in fact, are for an art museum -- Minneapolis' Walker Art Center. "We're anal about the quality of what we do," Besmer adds, "but on the downside, we spend way too much time here."

Despite plenty of buyout offers from larger agencies, Planet for now plans to stay the course and remain independent -- even if it means long hours at the office. "Right now we have the freedom to be as dumb or obnoxious or elegant as

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