Most of you won't be surprised by the appointment of CPB to its
now familiar post as Agency of the Year. You might be surprised
though by how utterly boring were our reasons for the choice (those
imaginative readers who email us every year alleging that our picks
are the result of everything from payola to sex favor swapping,
step away from the keyboards, monkeys, and prepare to be
disappointed): the agency just did better, more resonant work for
more clients than anyone else.
Though we naturally gravitate toward forward-thinking work and the companies behind it, we're not blinded by channel chicanery for its own sake. Great ideas that come from great audience insight, executed with greatness, win. All the things we spend the whole year talking about?breaking through, engaging audiences, creating content that can compete with any kind of entertainment?the agency just does, and for an inarguably wide range of brands?the client roster includes fast food, cars, household and beauty products, an airline, dried meat, big retail, beer, a search engine, bike gear, a lad's magazine, and an anti-tobacco body among others. All of the work CPB submitted?from TV spots to fake print ads in Auto Trader, to DVDs to masks and rubber grips?just worked. It got into faces and into lives and into the cultural stew, which isn't a wank on the agency's part nor a lapse in marketing judgment on ours for recognizing it. It's what we think makes a difference, ultimately, for brands. We could be wrong. CPB could be wrong. But right now, at a time when the smartest people in the industry are making shit up as they go, the agency's brain trust is making up stuff that often seems, in its own sometimes silly way, important. And it's translated into business success for the agency. After parting ways with Ikea, Molson and Mini, the agency's well known M.O. translated into nothing but upgrades?including new business from Miller, and the Volkswagen and Sprite accounts.
But it's hard to look at the work and the clients in isolation from the agency itself. CPB also puts its money where its pretty mouth is on one of the other things we spend time talking about?the agency model. Again, nobody gets points for just for trying to create some novel new one, but the shop has structured itself to think big and act decisively, and perhaps more importantly, to make the sanctity of its own brand, its own culture a high priority. That alone may not be a sufficient condition for winning Agency of the Year, but right now it seems like a fairly important thing to focus on.
But how do they do it? Below, we present our attempt at a simple answer to that loaded question?CPB Deconstructed. First, some insight on the agency's workings from two guys who set the agenda. Second, a rundown of the work?with perspective from the creatives behind the campaigns.
CPB Deconstructed?The Agency
Here, CPB chairman and MDC A&R man Chuck Porter and agency CCO Alex Bogusky break it down. Creativity asked, basically, this question: How have you guys been able to do this; what do you do internally tha allows you to conceive and sell this work and build the agency's culture? OK, that's a question and a half, and we also asked some follow up questions?we couldn't help it.
I don't know how other people do it but I know how we do it. The reason we're able to get the stuff produced that we get produced is that we really try to function without fear. We try not to be afraid of what the client will think of something or really anything else. A long time ago we had what was a big client for us back then, Del Monte. We had them for a few years and we disagreed with them a lot. Finally I said, "We have to fire these guys." At the time was a big deal for us; we were a little agency but we did it. It created such a great resurgence of enthusiasm in the agency in the short run it was way better for us. We learned that lesson early on. We've been lucky, we've had success and it's enabled us to approach problems with 96 percent of our mind on what's going to be magic here and less than 4 percent of our mind on "I hope are we aren't going to screw up." The only thing people are afraid of around here is not being brilliant. So you end up with ideas that maybe in a lot of places would end up stuck to the wall that we end up getting produced.
Does it reliably translate into success for clients? Yes. Maybe that's the other thing we've seen?is that when we do uncork one, when we produce stuff, out-of-the-ordinary stuff that a lot of people would be afraid of or is different from the way people have always done it, a lot of that stuff has had great explosive success in the marketplace. We ask our clients to trust us a lot. If we're not successful for them it becomes more difficult for them to trust us. If you are wrong very often, pretty soon they don't trust you anymore. There is an enormous incentive to be right.
What are some of the things you've done to maintain the agency's culture?
Institutionalizing this is a complicated thing. I don't know how great we're going to be at it. I think so far we've done it pretty well. I think there are certain elements in our culture that have a lot of staying power and that I see still working. From day one, I always believed in treating everyone we hire as if they are at least as smart as we are, to allow them to solve their problems. We've always been very hands-off management. The other thing I think that's been true forever is that when new people come in they don't get expectations from top management they get them from the people they work with every day. The most senior people don't have to sit down and say here's what we expect?it's in the air. I think that's still true.
You often hear people speculating on your win of an account like VW?much as they speculated about BK. How will VW change things?
We've been hearing that for a long time. My view is that audiences are audiences and they are not all that dramatically different in terms of what engages them. Kids have different sensibilities than older people do. But nobody likes to be announced to?nobody likes to talk to a salesman. So, I think its kinda boloney. I always hope we're going to be brilliant but I don't think we're any less likely to be brilliant for VW than we have been for any of our other clients.
The Seven Habits of one Highly Effective Agency. Bogusky addresses the core question with a handy list of agency characteristics, and throws in some thoughts on the King, popular culture and where funny hats can take you.
We have great account people. It's something that new creatives always comment on. And a funny thing has happened over the last few years?you can't tell the account people from creative people. There was a time when account people wore suits then they started wearing business casual; now everyone is dressed the same. We all have to dress up sometimes. But for the general agency wear, the fact that everyone has elected to dress in similar manner is because everyone is doing the same job. The account people don't want to separate themselves from creatives and vice versa. They are all ad people trying to produce good work. I wish I would have known that, I would have asked them to wear sneakers and jeans a long time ago. But once it happened I realized why it happened and I think it's a good sign. But we do have amazing account people who think of their job more as production people than as "account service work."
We like to put funny hats on. (See below for a link between this characteristic and Burger King).
We don't protect our ideas. Within the agency we don't protect our ideas from one another. We share them because we think ideas are abundant, they are everywhere. Here, it's professional to give away ideas and add ideas and not professional to have one idea and spend all your time trying to protect it.
That leads to: we trust each other. We are all going to get credit for the work. Everyone will remember your rightful part in it and everyone will benefit.
The last thing is we shoot fireworks from our asses.
Those account people ? how would you characterize them?
We are lucky in that we have two account guys, Jeff Steinhour and Jeff Hicks that are prototypical. We use them as the prototype and literally try to mould everyone else in their image. They are linear thinkers who understand the reason why we use creativity in what we do for our clients. But the reason why it's important they are linear thinkers is that they help us translate some of the leaps we make for our clients who tend to also be more liner thinkers. Especially with Hicks I rely on him for that a lot. Its fun for me- he'll say explain this- and he can turn that into a Powerpoint deck. Which is critical because we don't believe in the value of any creative that isn't actually produced. I think you can fool yourself into thinking you're good by pointing at the unproduced work in the corner and the things the clients have decided not to buy.