Small Agency 2010

Small Agency of the Year, West: Heat

Credits Success to Right Mix of Innovative Technology, Sharp Bay Area Talent, Strong Client Relationships

By Published on .

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In the past six years, Heat has developed a formula for success all its own -- melding innovative technology from Silicon Valley, alternative-minded Bay Area talent, and relationships with clients that feel like intimate friendships. In 2009, Heat earned $9 million by working with "friends" such as EA Sports, Bare Escentuals and Yelp.

Founder Steve Stone comes with an advertising pedigree and strong opinions. He was behind the buy-back of the Havas-owned shop Black Rocket -- which helped Yahoo go global starting in 1996 -- and its relaunch as Heat in 2004.

Heat has helped EA Sports increase its video-game sales with smart, nontraditional work.
Heat has helped EA Sports increase its video-game sales with smart, nontraditional work.

Mr. Stone attributes some of his 40-plus-person agency's success to its ZIP code. "The work here will always feel different than other markets," Mr. Stone said of his long-term hometown. "People who settle here are a different breed. You'll never find an agency in San Francisco that will do a campaign with a jingle. If we do, it'll have an interesting twist on it. In San Francisco, the campaign is based on truth. In New York and Chicago, it's contrived."

Those fightin' words are backed up by results.

Heat's biggest client, EA Sports, couldn't agree more. "Many of our games have been on the shelf for 10 or 15 years, so we needed an agency that would do nontraditional work," said Dana Marineau, EA Sports' director of advertising. "They're like a business partner to us. They care about selling video games as much as we do. That's unique in this business."

In 2009, Heat beat out big competition such as Wieden & Kennedy and TBWA/Chiat/Day to take home the EA account, which allowed Heat 14 new hires.

When asked to explain how an agency can be a "business partner," Ms. Marineau said Heat often stopped EA from spending. "Unlike other agencies that care only about putting out a big gorgeous piece of creative, Heat will be the first to say, 'Hey, we don't need to use such an expensive creative here.'"

A client just as happy, but with a completely opposite target audience, is makeup brand Bare Escentuals. It already had a loyal following and enjoyed success on QVC, but BE wanted exposure to hipper, urban consumers. So BE hired Heat in 2010, and the shop came up with the idea of a boutique in a van -- an experiential wagon that provided free "make-unders," samples and coupons to passers-by during lunch and happy hour. Combined with a social-media campaign, the "Rethink the Quickie" wagons were a success. In just two weeks, Heat helped Bare Escentuals increase its Facebook fans from 52,000 to 124,000.

"The trendy thing to do is talk about 360-degree marketing," said Mr. Stone. "We're more 365-days marketing ... we are talking to our target all year long."

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