Crispin Porter Offers Lessons in Being Media Agnostic, Well Positioned

VW, Coke Move Accounts to CP+B Because It Does Good Work

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What is left to say about Crispin Porter & Bogusky?

The name has been invoked almost as often as Starbucks, Apple and Google by the seismographers who would chart the rending shifts in today's marketing landscape. Ad gongs have been bestowed, myriad tributes written and rivals turned an unpleasant shade of green.

When Burger King hired the Miami shop early last year there were no shortage of execs from other agencies willing to note that: the fickle client would soon move again; the bad client would prove impossible to work for; the win would ruin Crispin's culture. Yet BK is still having it Crispin's way, the work has been exceptional (at times so good it ought to embarrass rivals), and Crispin's culture is, for better or worse, very much in tact.

(The carping goes on. Crispin's recent parting with Gateway prompted so much gloating that Crispin fan Ernest Lupinacci of Anomaly suggested the moniker be changed to Crispin Porter & Schadenfreude.)

As Crispin was handed two juicy accounts earlier this month, Coca-Cola's Sprite and, meaningfully, Volkswagen of North America-with such stakes and a legacy, a perfect challenge-pundits took a backhanded swipe. That win, they said, was all about the relationship with VW's new chief marketer, Kerri Martin, (formerly of Crispin-client Mini).

But VW's management wouldn't have moved their business if it wasn't for one simple fact: Crispin lives, thrives and produces great work for a 21st century marketing environment. As Chuck second-name-over-the-door Porter puts it: "If by relationship you mean we hit it out of the park together before and we would all like to do it again, then yes, it's the relationship. But smart, responsible marketers are no longer giving out work based on their golf buddies."

Actually, they are, but less and less so in this era of transparency and accountability. Agencies would do well to heed Porter's words. The Saatchi 17-General Mills and Interpublic-BofA debacles emphasize the need for the agency world to move beyond its outmoded focus on who has the relationship and push for business based on the quality and efficacy of the work.

What else could Mad. Ave's giants learn from Crispin? Above all else, that media planning has to be integrated back into the creative process. CP&B does what it does in part because its creative and media planning process are inseparable, with no hand-offs to this or that expert. Not only do other agencies separate the two, but in many cases they still have creatives who deliver ads in a specific medium.

Yes, I know the toothpaste can't be squeezed back into the tube-the holding companies aren't about to give up the revenue derived from their unbundled media agencies, and if they did, it would deprive media planning of resources precisely when they are most needed-but it's time for the big players to find a better way of integrating their efforts. (SMG Inside, anyone?)

The other thing Crispin has that others lack is a clear positioning and a story-as a marketer you know what you're getting when you sign up. There are others with a clear, well-articulated story- BBDO, the only agency that could reasonably claim to be even hotter than Crispin, springs to mind. But there are many more who bandy about trademarked processes and complex terminology, yet fail to stand for anything or try to stand for something clearly at odds with reality.

Ambiguity is attractive to an agency. With such diverse client cultures it's natural to want to be all things to all people. But isn't it telling that the winners know what they are and how to communicate it?

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