Agency A-List: AKQA

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Tom Bedecarre
  • Builds out its offerings
  • Expect acquisitions
  • Revenue jumps 40%
  • Client-product role
  • Helped launch "Halo 3"
One of the biggest stories of 2007 was digital giants aQuantive and Digitas getting snapped up by bigger ad players. If you're wondering who will be the next to make a big move, take a long look at AKQA, an agency that's very quietly turning itself into a full-service marketing partner that just happens to have digital roots.

After private-equity company General Atlantic took a majority stake early last year, AKQA picked up SearchRev, likely the first of several deals to build out its offerings. Any aggressiveness on the acquisition front from AKQA should be scary for its competitors. The San Francisco-based shop, helmed by CEO Tom Bedecarre, has long been among the best when it comes to designing websites and interactive ad programs; now it's branching out to shape customer experience in a bigger way.

Consider that, in the very near future, you'll be able to check e-mail while on the red-eye to New York, and you'll have AKQA, in part, to thank because of its work for Aircell, which is introducing in-flight e-mail and instant messaging to carriers including American Airlines and Virgin Atlantic Airways. Aircell tapped AKQA to create three parts of the web experience, giving the agency creative input on how a product is likely to change the way travelers communicate.

Development role
It's an example of how AKQA is redefining the traditional agency/client relationship. Marketers are calling on AKQA in the development phase to help make the products they're advertising more pleasing to consumers. The agency has already built out web experiences for a number of marketers, including Comcast Corp., Visa International and Orange in the U.K. Aircell was turned on to AKQA after seeing the agency's design of Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox Live interface.

AKQA's 2007 portfolio ranged from a redesign of the U.S. Postal Service site to announce new "Star Wars" stamps to mobile campaigns for Coca-Cola Co. and Visa. AKQA also helped with one of the biggest entertainment launches of all time, with its website design for Xbox's "Halo 3." Working with McCann Erickson, San Francisco, AKQA created the online component of "Halo 3's" "Believe" campaign. The site allows web surfers to take a virtual tour of a still-life diorama featuring all the characters and weapons in the game, with 360-degree zooms and information buttons about the fighters in the game.

AKQA's work for Coca-Cola's Sprite grabbed attention with a campaign that invited consumers to participate in the marketing process through a national contest to create a theme song for TV spots featuring basketball star LeBron James. According to AKQA, the site received more than 250,000 visits with an average interaction time of 7 minutes, 24 seconds.

Revenue increased nearly 40% with wins from Unilever and Cadbury Schweppes. In 2008, look for AKQA to continue to pump up its offerings, possibly in media and web optimization. Don't be surprised if the agency starts to look more like aQuantive, which became a business in marketing services, ad serving and ad networking before Microsoft bought it for a cool $6 billion. After all, AKQA's private-equity friends aren't in it for the fun of it.
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