Small Agency of the Year, Northeast, Gold: Deeplocal

Team of Engineers and Artists Wants to Prove That "Technology Is Not the Stopping Point'

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Put a former punk singer, an artist of deviant projects and a hacker seasoned in reverse engineering in a room in Pittsburgh and what do you get? A weird little agency, albeit one that ran away with the Small Agency Award for the Northeast region.

Deeplocal CEO Nathan Martin
Deeplocal CEO Nathan Martin
With a head count of 10, Deeplocal invents and engineers new products on its own, while also performing paid service work for advertising clients.

The firm expects to more than double last year's revenue to over $2 million in 2011 and plans to expand its offerings on the West Coast. But the growth is not coming from social-media-hungry clients tapping its capability in that space; it's coming from projects that tie technology to the real, physical world.

"We don't want to become an ad agency," said CEO Nathan Martin. "That's not our goal. But we're starting to work with more and more brands directly. We've been trying to prove that technology is not the stopping point."

As a result, the firm recently brought on an account person from Lowe who is the closest thing to a typical agency executive. But that hire is balanced out by another addition -- a guy who owns a skateboard company and stays as far as possible from the internet, said Mr. Martin.

The range of recent hires reflects the range of the firm's projects: from developing and selling software programs to developing for Toyota a Prius Bike helmet with mind-powered gear-shifting.

For Toyota, agency of record Saatchi & Saatchi brought on Deeplocal to create a prototype for the Prius "Ideas for Good" push. The thinking was that Deeplocal would create the first idea, and that would generate buzz, submissions and votes for similar projects in the next phase of the campaign. That first prototype was a disaster-relief tent that used the Prius' Solar Powered Ventilation System to power the tent. The second was a roller-coaster track and car.

The work: Toyota Prius Hybrid Roller Coaster
The work: Toyota Prius Hybrid Roller Coaster
"With a lot of small agencies, you get one thing or another -- great creativity or great program management -- but with Deeplocal you get the whole package," said Bob Zeinstra, national manager of product marketing, Toyota Motor Sales.

The firm has worked on various other projects for mainstream brands. For Gap, it built a system to track a reindeer during the holiday season, with sales and discounts tied to the animal's movement. It also worked with Nike on its 2010 World Cup "Write the Headline" effort, which projected game headlines in different languages onto urban buildings.

The challenge now for Deeplocal is how to absorb its growth and bring in consistent brand work without losing its cool factor. In other words, can an anti-agency model play in an agency world?

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