Deutsch Vets Open Creative Agency With Investment Arm

Mike Duda and Brent Vartan Will Operate Bullish on a Pay-for-Performance Model

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Adland vets Mike Duda and Brent Vartan have opened an agency called Bullish Inc. and they want to have skin in the game with every client.

Within the agency, which will focus on brand strategy and creative execution, each account will operate on a pay-for-performance compensation model. For some clients, that could mean a bonus based on meeting key performance indicators, such as sales, brand shift and advocacy. For others, it may mean a return on taking equity in the client's business. Current clients include GNC and Balance Bar, a brand owned by vitamin and supplement company NBTY.

The new shop also touts a separate investment arm, which is the evolution of Consigliere Brand Capital, a marketing consultancy, armed with investor capital, that Mr. Duda started in 2010. Among Consigliere's earlier investments, which now become Bullish's investments, are Birchbox, Warby Parker and Harry's. The group has already raised over $10 million for a new fund and made investments in undisclosed packaged-goods, real estate and apparel companies.

"In 2010, I launched Consigliere, and knew that aligning the powers of brand and marketing in a similar way to how the financial firms were seemed to make sense. What I didn't fully appreciate, and should have done in 2010, was be a creative agency," said Mr. Duda. "Ultimately, it's what the consumer sees that matters and changes actions. We'll now act more like a creative agency with aligned economic interests."

Messrs. Duda and Vartan are also looking to be brand consultants. They're already working closely with VC firms that need marketing support for brands in which they've invested. For example, the partners have provided marketing direction and support for early-stage brands without acting CMOs. For others, they're helping them revamp their marketing departments.

In the past, Consigliere, "forged relationships with early-stage VC funds," said Mr. Duda. Now, he said, "we're looking to migrate to PE and investment firms." The draw, he said, will be in the new firm's ability to "make stuff" instead of just "theorizing."

The firm, which is launching with nine fulltime employees, including the founders, is currently working out of the Dumbo headquarters of Work & Co, a two-year-old agency founded by Huge's founding partners. Work & Co Partner Gene Liebel is also a Bullish investor, and his shop is a Bullish partner. Production firm The Bindery will also be a Bullish partner.

"Duda has figured out how to structure those deals, borrowing from the financial mechanics of his startup deals, and then make the clients' legal and financial people feel comfortable...harder than it sounds," said Mr. Liebel.

Messrs. Duda and Vartan met at Deutsch, where Mr. Duda was partner and chief corporate strategy officer. He left Deutsch after about a decade, in 2010, to start Consigliere. In late 2013, he joined Johannes Leonardo as CEO. He left that gig in 2015, when he and Mr. Vartan set the wheels in motion for Bullish.

Mr. Vartan joined Deutsch from BBDO as a planning director in 2008 and, like Mr. Duda, ultimately ascended to partner and chief strategy officer. He had joined Mr. Duda in launching Consigliere in 2010, while both were still at Deutsch. Mr. Vartan, who continued to work at Deutsch while working on Consigliere, left the shop in March. When asked when he knew he'd start Bullish, Mr. Duda's response was, "when Brent said I'm all in."

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