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The Partizan heads of state have anchored their business on one bedrock philosophy: lead with your talent. Who wouldn't, when your well-earned credentials were built on spotting the pied pipers of creativity in this business? U.S. chief Steve Dickstein gained his sterling rep when he launched Propaganda's commercial division, and after much struggle, he managed to convince advertising fuddy-duddies that the minds behind MTV madness would be the conduit to clutter-busting work. European head Georges Bermann founded Partizan in 1986, in Paris, and had the prescience to spot burgeoning talents like Michel Gondry and later, Traktor, after he opened a London outpost. The would-be partners met in the U.K. when Dickstein was setting up Propaganda's London branch and the two eventually hammered out a deal to bring Partizan into the Propaganda family. But in 1999, when Dickstein was let go in the face of new ownership, the two decided to go out on their own, launching Partizan Entertainment in the U.S., with Dickstein at the helm.

The pairing proved fruitful. Traktor amassed international awards for its U.S. work from the get-go, earning Cannes Gold in 2000 for Fallon's MTV "Jukka Brothers" campaign, then landing the Grand Prix the following year for Cliff Freeman's freaky athletics for Fox Sports. Odds are there's more to come with their curious campaign for Nike Presto. Gondry has been a perennial plaudit collector as well, most recently with his Lego-inspired clip for the White Stripes, which busted through even MTV clutter, landing the Breakthrough nod at this year's Video Music Awards. "Our aesthetic is generally toward the top end of the market," Dickstein points out. "It may not be the most profitable part of the business, but it's the area that we're most comfortable with and we're proud of the association." Despite the current environment of shrinking margins, in which A-list directors vie for creatively lackluster boards, Partizan's business as a whole has managed to grow. "Before going to the States we were doing $10 million in billings," French partner Bermann says. "Now it's much more than that." Ironically, "In the States we have a strong presence, but I consider our American operation really a startup at the moment. I think in the next two or three years is when we'll really develop the company." Which is where U.S. honcho Dickstein takes the lead.

"I was charged with developing the existing roster and making better use of the skills of Traktor," Dickstein explains. He's clearly achieved the latter. As for the roster, "I really need to have more directors here, but I have the responsibility to be successful with every director. That equation for me is the hardest thing. Some companies might have an ever-expanding roster and be really successful with it, but there's a machine-like quality to that, which I have a hard time with. I sign one director at a time and try to make their careers really work." Dickstein says he singles out directors for their talent, not what categories they can be squeezed into. "It's against my aesthetic as far as supporting creative people," he stresses. "Creative people don't just do one thing. My ideal for directors is to have agencies say, 'If we give them this project, what would they do with it?' That's the highest compliment."

The U.S. lineup currently includes Traktor, Gondry, Federico Brugia, Paul Goldman, Suse Uhlenbrock, Jaume, Dominic Murphy, Doug Nichol and hip-hop video veteran Chris Robinson, most of whom work internationally. "There are very few that are just U.S.-centric, which is actually a weakness in our game," Dickstein admits (although he's on the verge of signing another international find, New Zealander Melanie Bridge - just because he couldn't withstand the sway of her creative). MTV heavyweight Robinson, who joined the company last December, is a noteworthy addition, since his involvement hints at key directions for Partizan's future development. For one thing, he piggybacked from former shop Squeak with executive producer Rosanne Cunningham - the presence of both effectively ramps up Partizan's music video division. (Robinson helped Partizan to get 11 nominations at this year's VMAs, Dickstein notes.)

More important, his clout in the hip-hop world adds street cred to the Partizan mystique and has helped to usher in new opportunities in branded entertainment. Through Robinson, Partizan and Fallon partnered on a multimedia branding campaign starring the NBA's Kevin Garnett for And1. "I had a limited budget but I wanted to put And1 on the map, and I needed to find a partner in the same way we did for the ambitious BMWFilms campaign," explains Fallon director of broadcast Mark Sitley. "Chris Robinson knows the Timbalands and the Jay-Zs and can get people to jump, in a world where people don't jump." The collaboration, which so far has yielded two spots and an online component, continues with more executions in the fall, formed an odd intersection of talents involving Robinson, Timbaland and the Fallon creative team of Swedes Linus Karlsson and Paul Malmstrom.

Is such creative convergence what looms ahead for production companies and agencies? "No one has a direct answer," Dickstein admits, although he says he's involved in a number of other such partnerships he can't disclose. "Everybody knows that the current model for how television makes money is being severely challenged and that other models are going to come in, but my best guess is that this will be an added attraction rather than a replacement."

Whatever models arise, it looks like Partizan is already where it's at, and maybe where it always will be. "The whole business is about talent and getting relationships with talent," Dickstein insists. "As managers, we can help position directors, support them in making decisions, but what's ultimately important is their talent. That is irreplaceable. You can walk the walk and talk the talk for people who aren't talented, but you won't get anywhere with just that."

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