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Mullen Is No. 3 on the Ad Age Agency A-List

Marketers Like JetBlue, Zappos Find Agency's Bundling of Creative and Media the Perfect Fit for Their Needs

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NEW YORK ( -- Agencies spend a ton of time thinking about their client's brands and comparatively a lot less on their own. But with the proliferation of new agency models and the sheer number of choices out there for a marketer today, it's never been more important for the shops themselves to have a meaningful identity.

For Mullen, its new "Unbound" philosophy has been the underpinning of its recent success, largely because -- unlike some of the trendier taglines adopted by other agencies -- it's not trying too hard. The philosophy simply rings true to the shop's history of never being bound by the traditional separation of media and creative services. And, judging by the increasing number of clients who want media and creative services housed under a single roof, Mullen's decision to make its bundled model well-known is a smart way to go.

"I understand why people want unbundled, but we think we get better work hanging it all together," said Marty St. George, senior VP-marketing of commercial strategy at JetBlue. "We are a small spender in our category so every dollar we spend has to carry the weight of three to four dollars and integration is the way to do that."

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Videography: Steve Raddock
Jet Blue senior VP-marketing and commercial strategy Marty St. George talks to Ad Age about why Mullen is a good fit for the airline.

When Mullen last year scored JetBlue's creative and media account after a highly competitive pitch, it was a confirmation that its late 2009 win of customer-favorite Zappos account wasn't a fluke. Mullen had successfully evolved its reputation from a safe choice for marketers into a contemporary, forward-thinking shop valued by challenger brands.

"Our prior campaigns didn't recognize the human side of the business, they were cute and funny but missing something," said Mr. St. George. Now, "we love the fact that the videos are well-pointed at the advantages of JetBlue vs. our competitors." Launched in October, "The You Above All" campaign included a YouTube home-page takeover and the launch of a JetBlue branded channel that featured videos depicting real consumers in real situations being deprived of basic services.

See work from Mullen on Creativity.

"This is all an amalgamation of things and part of a larger plan we set in motion years ago," said Joe Grimaldi, president-CEO of the Interpublic Group of Cos. shop. He led a daunting cultural overhaul within the agency, moving headquarters from a beautiful mansion in the rolling hills of Massachusetts into downtown Boston.

"Moving to Boston was simply the best thing we have ever done," Mr. Grimaldi said. "It transformed the mind-set of the agency into a company and workspace that supported a high-collision environment that could give birth to new cutting-edge ideas. It's also driven talent in our direction."

In 2010, the agency increased revenue 24% while expanding its work force by hiring 187 new people. The clients Mullen added to its roster last year were as diverse as the assignments it landed. The agency was named creative and media account lead for JetBlue; creative lead for Alberto Culver's Tresemme; direct-response agency of record for Qwest; PR and social media agency lead for Century 21 and creative agency of record for Foxwoods Resorts & Casino.

But Mullen's Boston office wasn't the only bright spot for the agency. It was the North Carolina office that won Tresemme, along with its Men's Wearhouse accounts; its Pittsburgh bureau won a project from Under Armour for the brand's outdoor products group and, working with the American Diabetes Association, persuaded 1 million Americans to join its "Stop Diabetes" movement.

Mark Huggins, executive director of brand marketing for Olympus Imaging America, said his company's relationship with Mullen began 10 years ago when the agency was managing its PR account. After letting Mullen run creative duties on a couple of campaigns the relationship expanded.

"Mullen does a great job handling a fully integrated campaign," Mr. Huggins said.

Here's what it's doing: Mullen developed a soup-to-nuts effort for the Olympus Pen E-PL1 camera to engage fans of Olympus through a series of media activations. The push included TV spots, an ad in Wired magazine's iPad edition and an augmented reality demo of the camera, all aimed at getting social-media attention. Mullen's idea also included shooting all aspects of the campaign with the camera.

The result helped drive sales of the camera far beyond expectations and generated hundreds of millions of PR impressions, and hundreds of thousands of visits and page views to the augmented reality demonstration site.

Mullen's senior execs believe that this is just the first step of a bigger evolution for Mullen. "I'd like to see us attract some more hundred-million-dollar, high-profile brands," said Alex Leikikh, managing partner and director of account service. "We're just writing chapter one of a significantly long book."

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