How Cliff Freeman Plans to Shed Its TV-Only Rep

Hopes to Define Itself as a Digital Player via Idea Lab and Snapple Webisodes

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NEW YORK ( -- Some say cliff Freeman & Partners needs new business. Cliff Freeman believes he needs a Subservient Chicken.
Cliff Freeman's TV-centric reputation is 'inaccurate,' says a client. Nevertheless, Mr. Freeman and his agency is looking to evolve.
Cliff Freeman's TV-centric reputation is 'inaccurate,' says a client. Nevertheless, Mr. Freeman and his agency is looking to evolve.

Perhaps they're the same thing. The marketing world is driven by perception as much as reality and increasingly it's obvious to PR-savvy agencies that a single command-taking chicken, "Art of the Heist," or BMW Film can go a long way toward luring modern marketers. So perhaps it's unsurprising that 19-year-old Cliff Freeman & Partners -- known for, quite literally, launching gerbils and wolves into TV history -- is looking for a digital success story to change the shop's reputation as a 30-second-funnies house.

"If we had done Subservient Chicken, we never would have had this conversation. It only takes one thing," said Cliff Freeman, chairman-chief creative officer. The agency's TV spots for clients including Little Caesars ("Pizza Pizza"), Fox Sports, and Staples, among others, are extraordinarily well known, but some of its most talked-about campaigns are far from current.

Not part of creative conversation
None of those four signature clients are currently on its roster, which now includes Snapple, Shoney's and CBS. And while some of the agency's work, particularly for Snapple, is getting buzz, the name Cliff Freeman is not usually part of the same creative conversation as Droga5 or Crispin Porter & Bogusky.

All of which brings the agency, which claims $100 million in billings, to a crossroads. "Some agencies that have been absolutely known for television, it will be sort of evolve or die," said David Eastman, CEO of, "because money and eyes and consumers are moving away from TV." Of course, TV still takes the majority of ad dollars, but in today's increasingly digital-centric media environment, the shop's success with TV is a disadvantage. "People don't have a lot of time. They just label you as one thing," said Mr. Freeman.

A new brand name isn't the answer. "It would be one of the moronic blunders of the world to get rid of a brand that has such a national reputation," said Jeff McClelland, Cliff Freeman's CEO. "Doing the work for clients is what will change perception," said Judy Neer, president of Pile & Co.

Idea lab and webisodes
And so Cliff Freeman & Partners is evolving with an entity called CFP Digital & Unique Media Lab, an idea lab that focuses on the following areas for clients: podcasts, Slingbox, cellular, interactive, satellite radio and video. Launched in spring, the lab, according to Mr. McClelland, has two senior digital-lab technicians who also function as broadcast producers. Beyond ideas, the lab can produce webisodes, online videos and online animation. So far, the lab's work has revolved around Snapple, and the agency is proposing to develop webisodes that will complement the marketer's new TV spots, which are being filmed in China.

In September, the CFP lab will also have a creative director of emerging media and an online graphics person-both are yet to be hired. Other creatives and brand strategists will rotate in and out as necessary.

'Inaccurate' reputation
Randy Gier, chief consumer officer at Cadbury Schweppes, which owns Snapple, says Mr. Freeman's TV-centric reputation is "entirely inaccurate." He cites the idea for webisodes and the shop's work for Snapple White Tea, which is running on sites like YouTube. "It's a byproduct of the fact that he's historically done great TV," said Mr. Gier. "People assume that's all he does. But what he really does is connect consumers with brands."

"Culture is content-driven, not media-driven," said Mr. Freeman. "Fortunately for us, our content has always been great, and it's always been untraditional. ... Broadcast to broadband is really an easy transition."

Or maybe not.'s Mr. Eastman said that the biggest global brands tend to go to already-established specialist digital agencies (like his own) for their digital work.

But then he added, "On the other hand, you could say they only need to have something, their Subservient Chicken, and maybe clients will sort of think, 'Well, they can do it."'
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