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Agency Rating: 3

Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York, went through a reversal of fortune in 1999. After losing several key clients in the last two years, it signed up new accounts, won creative awards and bought itself out from parent Saatchi & Saatchi, New York.

The agency started 1999 on a down note. It lost Ameritech Corp.'s cellular and paging business when the company was acquired by SBC Communications. After the losses of Little Caesar's pizza and Allied Domecq Spirits USA's Sauza tequila in '98, Saatchi was rumored to be entertaining buyers for the shop.

But the new-business front improved in the second half when the shop landed assignments for launch campaigns for and, the $15 million account of Church's Chicken and the $45 million account of Budget Rent A Car. After years bristling under Saatchi's wing, Freeman claimed its independence in a $4.6 million management buyout.

Creatively, the agency stuck to its knitting in 1999: humorous, often un-PC spots that pushed the limits of taste for clients including Fox Sports and Staples. But the new accounts also helped the shop expand into other media as it created radio and online ads for its dot-com clients.

Trying to top the gerbil cannonballs in its campaign, Freeman came up with an equally wacky first effort for Budget. Ford Motor Co. objected to seeing its cars promoted by vomiting bear cubs, but the client was happy.

Looking ahead

Creative Director Eric Silver will likely take on more of the spotlight in 2000 in recognition of his work for clients such as Budget and Fox Sports.

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