"I think of this company as half Disney," says Bagot. "Ninety-five percent of advertising doesn't do anything; it's just an intrusion. I'd hope our campaigns are something that people want to have in their lives."
A campaign foe Seattle's sports radio KJR 95--AM took on the guise of a quirky correspondence school with posters that proclaim it as the "Sports Radio Institute of Knowledge." Hung in bar toilet stalls, the ads took direct aim at the macho target. Or, more recently, in a campaign for Seattle's Eastsideweek, a paper for the area's yuppie suburbanites, Big Bang proposed the ludicrous: that Eastsiders secede from their urban cousins. Reinforced with buttons, T-shirts and posters bearing a Confederate flag being cut in two, the ads suggest that the workaholic Eastsiders establish their own time zone to pack more hours into the workday.
The campaign "was a decisive effort to take advertising beyond the printed page," explains Koniakowsky, pointing out how readers could visit an Internet site and vote on everything from the secession hoax to such burning issues as whether or not Olestra and strip malls should be permitted in the new country. "Howard Gossage used to do that," he adds, invoking the name of the legendary San Francisco adman. "He'd involve people in an issue."
Indeed, involvement and entertainment are key to stretching client's dollars, an important skill for an agency with a staff of about 10 and billings under $5 million. Running shoe manufacturer Brooks Sports, at $1.5 million and up 30 percent in sales of late, is its biggest client, followed by a smattering of accounts including an AT&T-sponsored concert series, Northwestern Trust, the Seattle Opera, Digital Stock, Taco del Mar, STA Travel and newspapers Eastsideweek and Seattle Weekly.
This is the kind of all-encompassing "big idea" marketing that Bagot says he and Koniakowsky left their respective shops-Livingston & Co., Seattle, and dGWB, Irvine, Calif.-to do. "I wanted to get back to that energetic feeling that anything is possible," he says. "That's why we have 'idea' in our name-it's funny how ad agencies forget about ideas."
However, survival was foremost on the agenda for the financially troubled Livingston & Co. when Bagot left his creative director post there last year. (In March, True North bought the agency and merged it with the local office of Borders Perrin & Norrander.)
Bagot and 29-year-old account manager Bill Grant decided it was time to jump ship, so they left and opened their own shop in May with Grant as agency president. Bagot immediately thought of Koniakowsky as a co-creative director/art director and partner. "He was the first person I called when Tracy Wong left Livingston," Bagot says, of the creative director's departure to local startup shop WongDoody. Even though Bagot had only met Koniakowsky a few times, he says they shared such a like-minded philosophy about the business that they had kept in touch.
Joining Big Bang wasn't a tough decision for Koniakowsky either. As CD at dGWB, he was unhappy with the way the agency was aggressively pursuing new business, while neglected clients Vans, Shimano bicycle parts and STA Travel, to name a few, strode out the door.
Koniakowsky began preparing to move to Seattle from his home in Southern California, but then realized he couldn't surf to his satisfaction in the Pacific Northwest. So instead he set up a Big Bang office in Carlsbad near San Diego and brought in Kirt Gentry, a copywriter who'd worked with him at dGWB and the freelance unit Acme Advertising, where they'd earned a load of awards collaborating with art director Sakol Mongkolkasetarin on Pacific Snax. But more importantly, Gentry shares Koniakowsky's laid-back sensibility, sense of humor and aversion to cloudy weather: he recently fled a job at Fallon McElligott when he arrived for the new position in the middle of a mean Minneapolis blizzard.
Unlike some agency branch offices that are treated like "bastard stepchildren," the 41-year-old Koniakowsky says "we don't feel like an outpost in Southern California." Rather, the Big Bangers believe having two offices-represented on their stationery via a single art deco style factory building-gives them a chance to reap more business. Gentry and Koniakowsky, who are moving into an office in Solana Beach near San Diego, supplement their Big Bang work with a little freelance, while the Seattle office has just moved into a new space and has added account execs and art director Jason Busa to handle the workload.
Better still, they point out, the bi-coastal arrangement (north/south, not east/west) allows them to be in touch with two diverse subcultures. "Outside of the cowboy, the surfer is one of strongest American icons," Bagot says. "It's very dry down there; it's wet up here. Wade is into beach culture. We're into fleece."
Ironically, the setup has led to a more productive work flow, he believes. "They'll say this work is good and these are dog crap," Bagot jokes. "When people are all around, you talk about everything but the work; it gets very personal.
"I remember Andy Berlin had a sign in his office that read: 'Never let your feelings get in the way of the work.' I always thought that was totally fascist. Shouldn't you let your emotions raise the level of the work? You should, but at the same time, you should listen to people's objective opinions; your mind isn't always honest with you."
But as much as they enjoy the working arrangement, neither would hail it as "virtual," born out of modem links and the Internet. In fact, if Koniakowsky had his way, he might ban computers. "I read about this design firm that declared itself a computer free zone," he says, sounding excited. "And I think that's really cool."
"I never say virtual, because we're really very nonvirtual guys, " Bagot adds. "Wade is a guy who likes ink on paper. I think our work is personal and handcrafted."
Seldom does Big Bang print fall under big headline/body copy formulas. The TV work, which is expected to grow with larger clients, so far is limited to some low-budget spots for the AT&T concert series and an upcoming campaign for the Santa Anita race track in Southern California. The variety of styles is something that creative director John Vitro, of San Diego agency Vitro Robertson, attributes to Koniakowsky's aptitude for design: "He possesses a strong design background, which is rare in an art director," Vitro says, recalling his time working with Koniakowsky at San Diego agency Franklin & Associates in the '80s. "He doesn't really have a style-he can do very elegant work and later that afternoon do something that's hip and in your face; that goes back to being a good ad person who always looks at the product."
A native Texan, Koniakowsky spent his 20s getting by as a graphic designer. When he hit that 30-year milestone, however, he focused on advertising, getting a job at Franklin. "At first I thought I had to throw all that design stuff out the window, and in the '80s you did," Koniakowsky recalls. Thankfully, design crept back in the '90s, and Koniakowsky put his skills to use, as evidenced in the illustrated b&w ads for Eastsideweek that mimic a vintage town meeting proxy and the campaign for Gath surf helmets that shows a photo of a surfer with a tomato for a head and the headline: "You're only one wipeout away."
Bagot, 32, grew up thinking he was destined for the account side. In his senior year at Berkeley, where he was studying business, he met Mike Moser and Brian O'Neill at Chiat/Day/San Francisco (now Goldberg Moser O'Neill), who persuaded him to cross over into copywriting. After working at McCann and BBDO in San Francisco, he landed a job at Goodby Berlin & Silverstein. Several One Show pencils later (for work on Findlandia vodka, Royal Viking Line and The San Francisco Examiner) he left for Livingston & Co. But Bagot, a self-described advertising populist, says the strategic thinking hammered home at Goodby never left him, something that Grant is quick to stand behind. They're so crazed about knowing their product and target that Grant subjected himself to weeks of lunches at local Taco del Mar, a restaurant chain they picked up last year, which serves mission-style burritos that are, according to Grant, oversized diet-busters that attract college students like cattle. So out went any mention of good taste and fresh ingredients and in came a batch of ads, posters, T-shirts and table tents that tell it like it is: get a lot of bloat for your bite. Within nine months, the chain has added 14 stores, Grant says.
"We need to come up with something that people can wrap their heads around," he adds, neatly summing up the Big Bang style. "The logo is hardly visible because the ad is to get them involved, to be surprised and entertained. I think that