Highdive is Ad Age's Gold Small Agency of the Year
No agency—big or small—has squeezed more out of its talent than Highdive in recent months. The 4-year-old Chicago-based shop made two Super Bowl ads that both cracked the top five of USA Today’s Ad Meter, in addition to winning agency-of-record assignments for Jeep and Boost Mobile. Those would be major accomplishments for even the largest of agencies. But the fact that Highdive did it with a full-time staff of just 30 people speaks to the power of the shop’s unrelenting focus on putting client needs above all else, while fostering a “whiteboard” culture that facilitates constant brainstorming over meaningless formal presentations.
The agency’s crowning achievement—the “Groundhog Day”-themed Jeep Super Bowl ad starring Bill Murray—almost didn’t happen. Brand owner Fiat Chrysler pointed out the game fell on Groundhog Day and Highdive in October pitched the concept to link the ad to the classic 1993 flick. Weeks went by before Murray signaled interest in reprising his character in the movie, weatherman Phil Connors. “We wrote it off because we didn’t hear anything,” recalls Highdive Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer Chad Broude. Then, at the urging of Fiat Chrysler Chief Marketing Officer Olivier Francois, Murray agreed, but wasn’t available to shoot until the weekend before the game. The agency shot the spot over three days in Woodstock, Illinois—the Chicago-area town where the movie was filmed—and it went on to take first place in the Ad Meter and earn an Emmy nomination. The shop also won plaudits for its Super Bowl ad for Quicken Loans’ Rocket Mortgage featuring “Aquaman” star Jason Momoa.
Broude founded the agency with fellow DDB alum Mark Gross. The leadership team also includes Megan Lally and Louis Slotkin, who logged time at Leo Burnett. “We loved growing up in the big agencies,” Slotkin says. But, speaking about the broader industry, “there is just a lot of negativity between clients and agencies … a lot of folks saying not-so-nice things about each other on both sides and that negativity was showing up in the work,” he says. So one of Highdive’s founding principles is to ”create the healthiest client-agency relationships in the world.”
New business momentum
Highdive goes out of its way to give clients credit—it politely declined media requests for interviews in wake of its Super Bowl hits. “We figured we’ll keep our heads down, let’s do great work and the spotlight will come to us,” Slotkin says. It already has: The Super Bowl ads fueled new business momentum and the agency expects to announce at least a couple of new clients soon. That means Highdive is hiring more full-time employees, but it will stick to its model of bringing aboard freelance help when needed. “We have a nice balance of AOR and project-based relationships,” Lally says. “So we grow in a way we feel like we are not going to run out of runway.”
Execs will also stick to their whiteboard obsession. “It’s a very easy way to get us and clients on the same side of the table fast,” Slotkin says. “We’ll do a four-hour pitch presentation, no PowerPoint, everything on the walls. Clients walk in, the presentation is up. They don’t have to wonder where we are staring, what is the middle, what is the end, which can be super frustrating.”
And even during the COVID era, when every day indeed seems to be the same, the shop has been able to replicate the process on Zoom. Google docs now serve as the “live” whiteboard and its recent client wins all came via Zoom. Highdive is weathering the crisis in ways that would make Phil Connors proud.
Below, watch Highdive's award acceptance video, which includes a cameo by Murray.