Small Agency 2010

Small Agency of the Year Southeast: Hook

A Combination of Classic Print and Unrestrained Guerrilla Efforts Has Paid Off for Products From Real Estate to Beer

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NEW YORK ( -- When Art Director Brady Waggoner, along with writer Tom Jeffrey, decided in 2005 to launch their own agency, Mr. Waggoner knew just the guy to engage: his dad, industry veteran Phil Waggoner, whose previous roles included senior partner at Minneapolis' Carmichael Lynch.

HAVING FUN WITH IT: Hook's yard-signage campaign (top) and work for Birra Moretti
HAVING FUN WITH IT: Hook's yard-signage campaign (top) and work for Birra Moretti
The six-person shop in Charleston, S.C., soon earned itself a name in the local press and ADDYs, churning out print with a classic design sensibility and refreshingly unrestrained guerrilla efforts. Hook made it impossible for people to ignore car-windshield flyers for the 2006 opening of restaurant Taco Boy, for instance. Until car owners looked closely, the flyers looked just like parking tickets.

For local Realtor William Means, Hook found that, while most real-estate agents directed advertising resources toward print media, new business actually came from yard signage. So in 2006, the agency turned those hard-working boards into hilarious brand ads, each referencing the home they flanked. "Butler not included," said one.

Within three months, William Means' listings doubled and held until the real estate market went belly up.

As many of Hook's clients slashed advertising activity, the three partners took a pay cut in 2009 but avoided layoffs. But through the downturn, local clients with project work continued engaging Hook, which charges by the hour to make itself even more attractive to small companies.

And in several cases, Hook has more skin in the game than the typical small shop, having established equity positions with clients U.S. Preventive Medicine, Sucker Jeans and Rehava Real Estate. The equity model encourages clients to see the shop as a true partner, not just a service provider, said Phil Waggoner.

And Hook is glimpsing signs of la dolce vita for 2010. It started last June, when the agency won the opportunity to work with U.S. importer Total Beverage Solution on Heineken-owned Italian beer brand Birra Morretti. Playing on the tension between Italian futbal vs. American football, Hook manufactured 5,000 hybrid balls crossing the black and white pattern of a soccer ball with the shape of a U.S. pigskin, as retail display features.

The campaign raised overall awareness by 5%-10% in its first 60 days, said Dave Pardus, president, Total Beverage Solution. He said Hook gives him the same beverage and CPG expertise he would get with a big shop in New York or Chicago. He added, "I get great share of mind with Hook, and it's never Beer 101 with them. They're always pushing the envelope."

If that first Birra Moretti effort is any indication, the "big creative push" now under way for the brand's fall 2010 promotion should be game-changing. "At Carmichael Lynch, we used to talk about the watershed moment being the day the agency won Harley Davidson," said Phil Waggoner. "Moretti could easily be the Harley Davidson for us."

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