"After a couple of them, I got a text message from Andrew saying, 'Good news, people like working here!'" said a chuckling P.J. Pereira, Mr. O' Dell's partner and chief creative officer at the shop.
Still, stopping for a moment to get a read from employees wasn't a bad idea, when you consider how fast the shop -- which opened its doors in April 2008 after its namesakes decamped from global digital giant AKQA -- is growing.
When Pereira & O' Dell nabbed the winning spot as Ad Age's Small Agency of the Year for the Western region last year, it counted about 50 people. Today it's close to 70 people and expects to have at least 90 staffers by year-end. The rapid additions in headcount are supported by astounding revenue growth: Pereira & O' Dell reported $10 million in revenue in 2009, a 161% increase from $3.8 million in 2008, and projects revenue of $15 million for 2010. The ink is barely dry on lease signed for a second office on the opposite coast, in lower Manhattan.
At the agency's headquarters just down the road from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, there are no offices and all staffers sit at shared tables. While many in adland have overcomplicated their agencies with specialists, Pereira & O' Dell opts for hiring talented generalists. They maintain that collaboration trumps hierarchy, all ideas are created equal and cross-pollination is key.
Those beliefs have resulted in some of the best campaigns in the last 12 months born not just out of a small agency, but out of any agency.
To show that its client Muscle Milk isn't just for beefcakes, Pereira & O' Dell decided to transform the least sexy thing they could think of: a pilgrim. In a three-minute hilarious video, a man dressed as a pilgrim flaunts a toned body while dancing and singing about the health benefits of the drink. It launched, appropriately, last Thanksgiving, and in 11 days, "Sexy Pilgrim" garnered a whopping 3.5 million views on the web.
Pereira & O' Dell was also behind a special edition Muscle Milk bottle that used augmented reality technology to make basketballer Shaquille O' Neill appear to jump out of the bottle -- thus putting the brand at the forefront of new consumer-engagement tactics in the beverage industry.
Although the agency has established a "channel-neutral" methodology when approaching advertising, PR, content and tech solutions, digital still underpins everything it does. And marketers are calling upon it as a result.
Last year, it expanded its Corona relationship to win all digital marketing duties for the Corona flagship, Corona Light and Victoria, Mexico's oldest beer brand that just launched in Chicago as a test market.
"Because of digital being the core of our demand-building strategy, I wanted to find the best West Coast-based shop," said Mike Jackson, senior VP-global sales, marketing and distribution of start-up electric car maker Coda Automotive. "I took a day to go up to San Francisco to spend a day with [Pereira & O' Dell] and walked away really impressed ... their creative and technical capability is unsurpassed."
The agency was named this year to launch an e-commerce site for the new car brand, which will launch formally during the Los Angeles Auto show in November.
For Lego, its founding client, Pereira & O' Dell continued to build the brand with adult-targeted communications, most recently, "LegoClick." Elements of the campaign included an online community for inventors and artists, an awards show to celebrate the creativity of kids and an iPhone app that Legofies photographs. The app became the number one downloaded app -- in Japan.
"It was supposed to be U.S.-based work, but it had an audience all over the world," said Mr. Pereira. "What is the difference between work and ideas today that are global and local? At a certain point, if people like them, you can't contain them and they become global if you have good digital devices to spread them."
Months later, "LegoClick" is still generating Tweets, blog comments and shares online. "You know you have an incredible piece of work when after a long period of time it generates the conversation you wanted to create," said Lego Brand Relations Director Michael McNally. "We have to believe the work we've done together with Pereira & O' Dell has contributed to the supernatural sales results we are seeing." Sales are up 32% at a time when many toy companies are struggling.
Next up on Pereira & O' Dell's agenda is setting up shop in New York to better afford the agency access to clients on the other side of the country, as well as in Europe. The shop snagged highly awarded creative Kash Sree, who has spent time at JWT, New York, and Bartle Bogle Hegarty doing work for the likes of Nike, Axe and Nintendo. He will lead the New York office, and is committed to making sure that key management are locally grown.
"You need New Yorkers to actually do it right," Mr. O' Dell said. "We just want to give them our philosophy as a company, which is to maintain absolute diversity in terms of the people we work with, the clients we work for and the type of work we do."
"It sounds a little corny but we just want to be good people, and there's a lack of that, we think, in the business."
When you're an ad agency based in a locale like Portland, Maine (picturesque, but out-of-the-way), persuading clients to drop in for a visit isn't the easiest sell. So Via devised a nontraditional approach it refers to as "new-business networking."
About once a month, the shop holds salon discussions at New York City venues, inviting academics, artists and chief marketing officers to pick apart a timely topic. Already, a few hundred marketing execs have signed on to a salon-based LinkedIn community Via set up where they can share ideas and, perhaps, a kind word about the agency. Those conversations have lead to real business opportunities in the past year -- like an assignment for Disney Studios and project work for Samsung.
Such novel thinking is fitting when you know the meaning behind Via's name. It's Latin for "the way" but also stands for vision, instinct and action -- the basis for how the shop attacks every marketing challenge.
"In the last year, what I'm most proud of is that we never stopped innovating and advancing in what was one of the more challenging economic periods to manage through," said John Coleman, who founded the agency in 1993 with a handful of employees. Today, it has grown to 65 staffers and is prepping to move to a new home in Portland, Maine's iconic Baxter library. "I'm just so impressed by the people I'm fortunate enough to work with, and the clients."
Those clients include Fairpoint Communications, Discover Card, North American Breweries and Welch's. Via's even got a spot on packaged goods giant Unilever's roster.
For Unilever's Klondike brand, Via created a crowdsourcing model to come up with creative ideas and cost-effectively execute a wave of national TV spots. The model, which includes working with Filmaka, a global digital studio of 16,000 filmmakers, gives the client an estimated delivery cost of $42,000 per spot.
For Welch's, Via jettisoned its long-running campaign featuring cute kids talking about how tasty grape juice is to one in which foodie Alton Brown explain the health benefits of Welch's Concord grape.
"We're a 140 year-old company, but sometimes you can lose sight of what really makes you special as a brand and make that relevant to today's consumer," said Brad Irwin, president & CEO of Welch's. "We've seen our core purple grape juice business grow strongly, particularly this year." At a time when consumers have increasingly turned to private label products, Welch's Grape Juice volume sales exceeded budgeted levels by 20% during the campaign.
Via brings the same vigor to attacking pro-bono projects as it does for paying clients. To heighten awareness for the Salvation Army, Via went door-to-door last year, asking 50 local businesses to use their buildings as a medium for a guerrilla outdoor effort that included hand-painted storefront windows, boulders and car windshields. In all, 5,000 hand-created units were made -- and no money was spent on media.
Said Mr. Coleman: "Anyone who tells me that the younger generation doesn't know how to put their heart and soul into work -- I disagree with it."