Toying With His Emotions: Bogusky Loves Small Shops

Crispin Creative Chief Says Entrepreneurs Will Lead Us from Recession

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Alex Bogusky
Alex Bogusky
It's not easy to go out and start a business. Yet somehow, small businesses represent 75% of our gross domestic product. Isn't that astounding?

It's especially amazing in light of today's headlines. We focus so much on the GMs and the Chryslers, we can completely overlook the real engines that drive our country, and the real engine that will pull us out of this recession.

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The same is true in the marketing industry. Right now, our country needs these scrappy small-agency entrepreneurs to keep doing their thing, because they will indeed dig us out of this mess faster than the holding companies and big agency networks. No offense. I'm part of a glorious holding company that I love, and I'm confident that larger agencies like ours (I can't believe we're large, because I still remember being employee No. 16) will offer great help to their large clients. But what I'm thinking about right now is the other 75%.

The smaller agencies that make up part of that 75% and will be doing the marketing to help lead us out of recession deserve a tip of the hat. The reality is they can do things for their clients the big monster shops can't. With fewer people and less overhead, they offer the nimble and fast approach to problems a lot of nascent brands need.

The reason I came to Crispin was to get out of being a small-business owner. It was too much stress. So I can't help but have a soft spot for entrepreneurs who went out and created agencies. It's an act of extreme courage. There are so many agencies that should be commended, and I'd like to write about all of them, including the Butler Bros, who sent me a T-shirt that I really enjoy wearing. But the softest part of my soft spot is reserved for the agencies that have spun out of CP&B over the years.

The first agency born of a CP&B alum came from a surprising place: a guy who was still a kid when he decided to hang his shingle. At least he seemed like a kid. I remember working on a "Truth" campaign with him. He had been at the agency about 15 minutes and created some of the national launch work, and I looked at him in the edit suite and was like, "Dude, I've been working like 15 years to get to this point, and here you are, 15 minutes out of ad school. I could hate you right now." But I couldn't hate him because he was such a damn solid individual and a true talent. I should have known from his accelerated path that he would want his own agency before he turned 29. So as a young man, Steve O'Connell struck out on his own and started a shop called Stick and Move.

Stick and Move is a real tough agency out of Philly. Steve liked to get out into nature, so it's not a huge surprise to see the agency doing work on products like Leatherman, Thule racks, Vitaminwater, Hydrapak and Schwinn bikes. I like everything I've seen come out of this shop. The only thing about Stick and Move I'm not crazy about is the name.

Whatever happened to naming agencies after the partners? Call me old-school, but if you have a name like Ari Merkin, the world needs to see it on some letterhead and real big on the side of a building. Merkin is a wonderful name, and the word is actually worth looking up in Wikipedia. You won't regret it.

Do it now. I'll wait ...

Ari's partner is Anne Bologna. How do you not go with Merkin Bologna or Bologna Merkin? It's beyond me. As much as it pains me not to have a Bologna Merkin in the phone book, I like their agency name a lot. Toy. We all like toys, and Ari knows that great marketing is a lot like a toy consumers play with.

Ari is absolutely the most dedicated advertising fanatic I have ever met. A freak. This is mostly a compliment. As a client, it's magic to know this guy is building your brand. As a co-worker back in the day, it could be grueling. Ari went through partners like pads of tissue paper. He's a writer trained as an art director, and he's crazy good at both. Most of the times I had to break up a fight with Ari and his art-director partner, I had to admit Ari was right. Finally, I decided I would try to be his AD. I think I lasted about a week, maybe two. The thing that was hard wasn't that we battled. We argued, but that was easy, because Ari has a beautiful heart, and he makes you love him. It was just hard to actually be wrong all the time. At Toy, Ari and his team have put together the classic and the new to create amazing campaigns for OfficeMax, YouTube, Macy's and the Oxygen network.

The Extended Stay Hotels fart spot is the most elegant and beautiful fart joke ever, and the new J&R campaign has positioned them in my mind as the current kings of the New York City school of creative. But one of my very favorite pieces is the work they did for the Amazon Kindle. I remember opening the package they developed for Kindle and thinking that I didn't want to throw it away. I had to find a way and a reason to keep it around. It's that pleasing. And everything from the package to the advertising was flat-out classy and oh-so-to-the-point for an audience that loves words.

That brings me to a recent addition to my list of favorite agencies: Goodness Manufacturing. Can you have too much talent under one roof? That will be the test for these guys. Tom Adams, Paul Keister and Bob Cianfrone represent a lot of big-time creative horsepower in one very small agency package. Along with agency super-producer Rupert Samuel, it's like an agency version of one of those supergroups from the '90s. The culture of an organization is what ultimately determines success. And I love the name Goodness because it makes it obvious that these guys are making their culture central to their business.

It's been fun and funny to see them doing work for a few former CP&B clients like GT and Pearl Izumi, and coming up with new and brilliant ideas. The GT "Catch and Release" work is my favorite thing I've seen from Goodness, and I think points the way to what we will be seeing in the future. They've tapped into the bizarre dichotomy of ultracompetitive aggression and environmentalism. The ads show riders posing with their trophies from the day's ride, in the form of another rider, his head held up as if the rider were Sarah Palin posing with an elk she had just harvested.

Late entry to my list of favorite agencies: I heard about this agency as I was finishing up the previous paragraph. Mark Simmons, who used to be the managing director of our L.A. office, has joined a couple of friends to launch a shop called Big Agency Defectors (or BAD) The idea behind BAD is to develop big ad ideas quickly and efficiently without a lot of the baggage involved with many big traditional agencies. They have a simple and pretty cool fee structure, called "20:20:20": For first-time clients, they will develop three broad creative routes for $20,000, blow any one of them out with specific executions for another $20,000 and then charge a 20% commission on production to produce them. Any twist on the agency model is good in my mind.

I get filled with emotion when I think about all these agencies, and it's akin to pride. But pride's not really accurate. For one thing, that word would overstate my contribution, and for another, I spend too much time secretly hoping they don't get too good too fast. Basically, I feel happy and privileged to have had the chance to work with and learn from them. And if I was a client, I know who I would call. I'd call CP&B. But if CP&B had a conflict, I would call one of these guys.

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