Agency A-List 2013

Mullen Is No. 8 on Ad Age's Agency A-List

'Hyper-Bundled' Model Gets Credit for Shop's Success

By Published on .

Photo: Chris Churchill
Mullen: John Moore, Alex Leikikh, Mark Wenneker, Kristen Cavallo

A couple of years ago, Mullen President Alex Leikikh shared his aspirations for the agency with Ad Age. "I'd like to see us attract some more $100 million high-profile brands. We're just writing chapter one of a significantly long book."

In 2012, the firm was well into chapter two. While it has maintained its position as an agency that specializes in challenger brands, it's also attracted attention from market leaders such as Google and has won business across the spectrum of marketing services.

Mullen ended the year with a healthy 16% boost in revenue and a strong new-business track record that included Google creative assignments (including work for the new Nexus tablet and Play brand); creative for U.S. Cellular; creative for Grey Goose Vodka; media for National Geographic and public relations for Tropicana's Trop50 brand. It's also a dark horse in Honda's first review in more than 20 years, earning a spot as one of three finalists for the automaker's account.

The Google work sparked the opening of a San Francisco office last year. It also packed more bodies into its already-crowded Boston headquarters and across the network Mullen made 137 new hires in 2012.

It made investments in digital and analytics, and Mullen placed a continued emphasis on integration. Some executives, for example, have hybrid roles that cross disciplines and others might move from department to department until they find the right fit, what Mr. Leikikh likens to "the island of misfit toys."

"We've grown every department at the company," he said. "We've really brought a lot of fresh thinking into the digital and social space. Everything we do always starts with a paid, owned and earned perspective attack."

At the heart of Mullen's growth has been this "hyper-bundled" model. While creative still accounts for about 70% of the firm's business, the agency is diversified, so the remaining 30% is derived from PR and media-buying and -planning accounts.

And more clients are taking advantage of the shop's model to reach consumers more effectively. When Mullen won U.S. Cellular last February, it went beyond the traditional creative campaign. Putting the brand's customer-service positioning front and center, it released the usual TV, print, radio and out-of-home ads, but then introduced a social component dubbed "Call Someone Who Cares." Real associates responded to angry tweets with cute, customized musical-response videos. The effort boosted social mentions by 177% and soon after the launch the company reported the first positive sales results in two years.

Based on the results and the firm's leadership, U.S. Cellular expanded Mullen's scope-of-work to include direct marketing.

Its highest-profile campaign in 2012, however, was for JetBlue. The shop came up with the idea of "Election Protection," which offered consumers an easy way to leave the country if their presidential candidate didn't win, which generated massive amounts of buzz amid the frenzied election news cycle. It undoubtedly helped contribute to airline's impressive results in last year's second quarter, when JetBlue had its highest revenues in history.