Normally, we're not overly enthusiastic about "wacky" job titles, but Carah von Funk whose nom d'affaires is Loose Cannon, just about gets away with it, in that her multidisciplinary background would make it hard to wedge her into a readymade agency designation. Her combination of skills has commingled effectively with the Crispin Porter + Bogusky creative/media/strategy players, and the result so far has taken agency ideas into vinyl toys, TV series, books and, on the horizon, feature films.
"The idea originally was for me to come in and sit between media and creative," says von Funk. "But it's evolved into something of its own thing." Describing the role now, von Funk says "Well, I'm kind of up in everyone's grill-doing a bit of account service stuff, working with production people, working with media people." With so much breath and ink being expelled on the need for agencies to expand their framework, which in turn means embracing new skill sets, getting all up in an assortment of grills could become a more common agency job description. CP+B, true to its innovative form has seen fit to employ an idea person that's also an idea facilitator and idea liaison-an expert on the ins and outs of talent, distribution, story development, events, law, publishing and other disciplines that further the cause of big ideas and taking a brand to the people where they live. "When we first brought her in, we really tried not to have the role nailed down," says CP+B CD Alex Bogusky. "We believe that if you bring in smart people and give them a rough outline of what you expect, then they will find their own level. The original notion was that she was a person that would take on the nontraditional media. But so much of what we do is not on any rate card, so we had to make it clear to people that that we meant was if it was untraditional for us. If it is something we have never done before and we have no idea how to do it, then she might be brought in."
By her own admission, von Funk's background is "insanely diverse." Starting out in film school at NYU, von Funk went on to work in independent film production (including an inaugural gig on Errol Morris' Thin Blue Line), and in the studio acquisition and development world, working in the story department at Samuel Goldwyn Co. von Funk then took the next logical step-law school in Ohio. "I was interested in producing and I saw that all of the big producers had law degrees-they could sit down between creatives and producers. I never intended to practice law, I wanted the mediation skills." After graduating, von Funk spent three years in the Midwest ("something everyone should have to do," she says), and headed back to New York and her own events company, followed by a role at '90s new-media darling Razorfish. Later she launched her own artists management company, Mama Reps, which repped credible art-driven talent like Ryan McGuinness, Rostarr, and David Ellis and The Barnstormers and linked them up with cool-seeking brands. But it was all after the fact, says von Funk. Brands weren't built into the essence of the endeavor.
Her current role harks back to the Razorfish days, when she was involved in everything from publishing (the company's imprint was behind McGuinness' flatnessisgod and Danny Clinch's Discovery Inn), to animated series, to music, events and magazines. "It wasn't only making stuff but figuring out how to sell it, distribute it," says von Funk. "It was about defining the creative culture of the agency."
At CP+B, Von Funk has been involved in several new projects that take the agency's ideas and its clients into new cultural venues. The agency has licensed Burger King's "Have it Your Way" and "Home of the Whopper" for T-shirts, which will be sold at retailer Urban Outfitters. Burger King will also appear on the shelves of another culturally credible retailer, the Kidrobot store in Manhattan (see sidebar). Kidrobot is working with von Funk and CP+B on a high-quality action figure of the now famous Subservient Chicken. The figure (see sketch above) will be in keeping with the coveted, finely wrought creations found in Kidrobot stores. "It will be a very detailed, poseable, high-priced limited edition," says von Funk, noting that a smaller version will also likely be available. Plans are also underway for a similar rendering of the Burger King King character.
Other content projects include a series of books on CP+B marketing campaigns-"small, lyrical, graphic books that can be used for educational purposes but that are also really fun and visual accounts of how some of these campaigns came together." von Funk also cites a cool, brand-centric TV show idea that has been sold to the Learning Channel, which will produce the show. "We don't want to do 'branded content' or product placement as they've been done before; we want to create engaging compelling stories that have a brand that is part of the story. We're approaching it as, If you like the idea you can buy it. If its' not good enough for someone to put up their money, it's not good enough to be made. It's having experts in allied industries say, 'We want to do this.' " Of course, this model ideally will evolve to one that sees a financial stake turn into a potentially lucrative back end. And as for the theoretical evolution of agency compensation, Von Funk says "that is the big beast.""Agencies are starting to see that they're not in the service business they are in the creation business. We now have to show a brand what that means. CP+B is compelled to create marketing that people seek out. I came here because I like their ads better than a lot of the shows I was watching. Marketing itself, when it's done well and tells a story, is a new product. It creates brand equity and also creates a brand mythology that may not have existed before."
"We've been working to create these new models for the last three or four years," says Bogusky on the compensation issue. "Prior to Carah's renewed enthusiasm, I had pretty much given up." And with the existing model, by the time an agency has created something for which there could be a back end prospect, intellectual property claim is already gone, he notes. "But as the definition of advertising expands, I think the compensation model will evolve. Probably to a tiered business where some ideas would go to the client from CP+B and others would probably be presented by CP+B productions. Right now our approach is to concentrate on learning and experimenting in an effort to create good results that help explain to clients the potential value in a new model. Once we do that, our hope is that the contractual stuff will work itself out." While many would assume that retaining rights translates to unlimited riches, Bogusky points out that it's not necessarily so, and that money is (really) not the big motivator for the agency. "Plus, you have to be honest and realize that the client's brand may be bringing a lot of value to a project," says Bogusky. "Evaluating those intangibles will be a challenge to what has been a pretty straightforward business. One thing that has become obvious is that we can't find ourselves in a situation where every project for every client is a negotiation. The only people who will benefit from that are the lawyers."