AKQA Vets Open Pereira & O'Dell

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Following their departure from AKQA, San Francisco, digital heavyweights P.J. Pereira and Andrew O'Dell have announced their new venture. Pereira & O'Dell is open for business, with 15 full time employees, three clients, an office in S.F. and backing from Brazilian advertising and finance bigs. The plan? It resembles traditional advertising.

"This industry has been growing through making every shop more specialized," Pereira says. "That's been interesting from an efficiency standpoint, but it started to break the process into so many different silos that everything became more efficient but less inspiring.

"One day direct marketing agencies were spun off traditional agencies; those traditional agencies spun off digital agencies, which also spun off search marketing agencies. They're great, but very few companies need the most sophisticated search strategy in the world. The majority of them can do well with a great idea and some nice and smart ways of doing that. I'm not saying that search is not important. But all of the disciplines in marketing, they have been taking themselves so seriously that they are making themselves overly complicated, and that kills the spark, the inspiration part of it; we're in the inspiration business."

The inspiration, he says, comes from a curious approach to whatever problem arises, entirely independent of media. "We're doing multidisciplinary campaigns that go from product design to content, sometimes going through digital, sometimes going through traditional advertising; we don't really care about where it's going, we just feel like when the idea is right we just know it's right, we talk to the client and they buy into it."

Pereira & O'Dell launches with clients Lego, Pony and the University of Phoenix already in the fold. It's a unique mix: Lego's the ubiquitous champion of childlike creative and awards show darling, Pony the underdog apparel and footwear brand not afraid to take potshots and the University of Phoenix the academic institution that's seen a solid increase in enrollment due in part to its massive online presence pushing its telecommuting degree program.

Between clients and capital, Pereira & O'Dell certainly doesn't find itself struggling at the outset. $30 million in capital arrived from ABC International, formerly known as YBY Group, a Brazilian fund managed in part by former president of Brazil's Central Bank and associate of billionaire George Soros, Arminio Fraga. "The good thing about that deal is we don't need to use all the money they gave us," Pereira says. "We're going to use it in a smart way when we think it's right, the smart opportunity, the right investment to make. If we don't, we can wait. We're not rushed. They want us to do our thing."

Brazilian adman Nizan Guanes joins Fraga in the management group. Guanes' ventures include founding DM9, the agency where Pereira began his career as an intern and Africa Propaganda, the second-most awarded agency in last year's Cyber Lions in Cannes. "I have so much respect for him," Pereira says about Guanes. "When he asked me if I wanted to do it again, we just had to wait for the right time. The right time has happened."

Both founders have backgrounds starting digital shops; O'Dell helped start Lot21 in San Francisco and worked as VP of business development for Carat when it acquired the firm in 2002 until moving to AKQA two years later and becoming president. Pereira, who's received virtually every creative award worth winning, founded Agencia Click in Brazil before he came to AKQA in 2005 to assume the executive creative director role.

Pereira emphasizes the flexibility of additional specialists coming into the agency based on needs, from brand identity to content development, and the dynamism he hopes it will create in the culture. "Every time you're doing something and there's a new element to it, you have to bring a specialist, the kind of person you've never worked with. It becomes dream work. It's a little bit stressful at first because you have to bring people in to a process they're not used to, and have to adapt to a creative process but this is also part of the business.

"It's great to have a chance to work with people that are better than you. The traditional advertising agency, that happens with great directors. Now, the game is wider and you can have more fun. It's also the great architect, the great programmer, the great game and product designer. I'm waiting to see the day where I have to work with a creative lawyer, for example. I'm pretty sure some day it's going to happen, as part of the creative process. I don't know what the project is, but I'm pretty sure one day I'm going to need to have a lawyer working as part of the creative team." Standard practice when you start a new agency is cooking up the bluster and working up a self-definitive philosophy. Pereira says when he and O'Dell left AKQA in January they had a 'What do we do now?' moment, but soon found they were doing enough concepting for potential clients they had no time for self-definition, and liked it better that way.

"The first day after AKQA, we got together and our plan was to spend two months writing about ourselves and trying to define who we were," Pereira says. "But then soon after that we were invited to pitch some ideas to Pony. So we had to leave our own work for later and start to do that. When we thought we had enough time, Lego happened." Neither Pony nor Lego were won with competitive pitches, but Pereira says the agency will be working with the clients on a long term basis. Pereira says there was similar luck in finding people; despite talk of a dearth of digital talent, the nascent agency received plenty of books, but the open structure stretches digital smarts further. "The fact that we're mixing them up cuts the problem in half," he says. "Now you don't need a team of two digital creatives, you only need one digital creative and one PR person teaming up together, and the other team is a direct marketing person and an advertising guy. It doesn't take a digital creative to do digital work. What it takes is a combination of two people who come from different areas. Once that happens, they can totally do digital. They just need to come up with ideas, and then the ideas naturally flow into the direction they have to."

So, is this the first full service agency started by digital natives?

"I think it may be. I don't know of any other. I know about digital agencies that claim to be full service but aren't. Most digital agencies have a very strong production mindset, they come from a production structure so at the end of the day, they don't do that on the surface, but they sell the things they produce, they sell the things they can do. We want to build an agency that what we think we can do is inspire consumers. The rest is the consequence. The fact that we're the first ones coming from digital, and you're saying that, it's not me, maybe there's another one we haven't heard about; it's kind of surprising to me. Because at the end of the day, digital is the strongest power behind all that transformation happening in the ad industry. All that change is happening mostly because of digital. So why hasn't a full service agency been started from a digital DNA? I can't see any reason why not."
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