Agency A-List 2018

Laundry Service Is No. 7 on Ad Age's 2018 A-List

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Laundry Service's clean team (from l.): Bea Iturregui, Robert Davis, Alyson Warshaw, Jason Stein, Jay Salim, Amy Hellickson and Mike Mikho.
Laundry Service's clean team (from l.): Bea Iturregui, Robert Davis, Alyson Warshaw, Jason Stein, Jay Salim, Amy Hellickson and Mike Mikho. Credit: Robyn Twomey for Ad Age

The reclaimed coffee warehouse housing Laundry Service in Brooklyn's waterfront Dumbo neighborhood is clean to the point of antiseptic. The big white airy space has sharp industrial lines, large windows with knockout views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, and lots of glass-walled spaces. If it's a statement piece, that statement is success (and, well, Brooklyn chic).

"This is our original vision, fully realized," says founder and CEO Jason Stein. "Content creation and distribution should be done in one place."

The space lives up to the Laundry Service moniker in more ways than one: Not only is it bright and shiny, it's tighter than it used to be.

Laundry Service moved here in 2017 after a string of victories, and has already outgrown its original 42,000-square-foot floor plan.

The seven-year-old full-service agency has come a long way from its social-media roots. Over the past year, it increased revenue by 63 percent—from $45.5 million to $75 million—nearly tripling its 2015 revenue of $25 million. In that year, Laundry Service was acquired by sports sponsorship and management giant Wasserman. Head count grew 44 percent to 436 last year alone, and remains deliberately diverse at every level.

The agency landed its first Super Bowl spot in 2017 with the legitimately funny T-Mobile "#NSFWireless" ad starring Kristen Schaal (an ad Stein himself didn't even lay eyes on until it aired. "How great is that?" he asks). It also counts Twitter, Grubhub, Bud Light and Michelob Ultra as clients.

Laundry Service may not be huge but it punches well above its weight—just like Saul "Canelo" Álvarez. The 26-year-old boxer was the centerpiece of a 2017 campaign the agency produced for Hennessy that yielded two TV spots, a five-part digital documentary, print, out-of-home and multiplatform social campaigns "all for the cost of a single commercial," says Stein. "We don't say, 'Hey, let's make a TV spot and figure out a way to put it everywhere.' We say, 'What's a 360 point of view that can live across all these places?'" In a world where agencies are being asked to do more with the same, Laundry Service delivers the goods starched and folded.

"They've been able to capitalize on this need for assets where clients want assets, more assets and more assets," says Casey Burnett, managing partner of The Burnett Collective. "Traditional agencies have been wanting to make big anthem spots that eat up all those dollars."

Stein calls his a "through-the-line" approach, where above-the-line and below-the-line converge.

It's a direction that may not work for every client. The Burnett Collective, for example, managed the review that won Laundry Service BMW. That was one piece of business the agency lost last year. "It didn't pan out for both sides, so they parted ways," says Burnett. "It was a question of fit."

But its account losses last year are eclipsed by its wins, including J. Crew, Celestial Seasonings, NBC Sports, Sephora, Nike and Foot Locker.

"No one really believed in us at the time we started. And now they're seeing [us] as more efficient," says Alyson Warshaw, Laundry Service's chief creative officer and, as it happens, Stein's wife. "Clients need everything in one place. They can't spend months figuring out one piece of content."

A key piece of that equation is Cycle, which Laundry Service evolved in 2016 from an internal influencer management division to a full-scale media company and content studio. Last year, Cycle opened new revenue streams for the agency by striking content-creation deals with ESPN and Discovery Communications, and launching shows like the interview series "Inner Circle" and "In the Zone" that live on social platforms.

"We're not just a social media agency or digital agency anymore," says Stein. "We've become a company that, as a creative AOR or lead agency, strategic 360 agency, we're helping clients inform their entire positioning in the marketplace."

Next up: Papa John's, won in the last year. The pizza chain is without its founding CEO, who was forced to step down after blaming sluggish sales on NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. Stay tuned for Laundry Service's spin on that.

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