The New Breed
I’m often asked, “Who are the up-and-coming creative shops in America?” Everyone knows Wieden+Kennedy, Martin, and Crispin (I remember a time when my answer to this question included all three, though). But, identifying the emerging creative powerhouses requires scholarship of the creative advertising industry. As always, it’s all about the work. Creative Product is the only criteria here. I have an innate filter when studying agency websites: the more the agency talks about itself and its positioning (generally, the “About Us” stuff) — the weaker the creative usually is. Agencies that don’t show their work at all scare me. I’ve learned to just avoid reading the “About Us” stuff until the work blows me away.
Caveat: this is not a “ranking” of the following agencies. I tend to abhor attempts at quantitative agency “report cards” or a BCS-type ranking of ad agencies. This is business and the creative business is largely subjective. But these are the folks in EST you should keep your eye on to breakthrough into Promised Land of elite shops:
- Barton F. Graf 9000 — I’ve been a big fan of Gerry Graf since his Snickers work with David Gray at BBDO/NY in the mid-90’s. The Notre Dame alum has his shop poised to breakthrough to the highest level. The work for Ragu, Little Caesars, Kayak and Dish is terrific. These guys might be the best creative shop in New York RIGHT NOW. This agency is proof that doing great work is the best way to get New Business.
- Baldwin& — David Baldwin left McKinney in 2008 and opened up his boutique in downtown Durham shortly afterwards in early 2009. In four short years, his agency has won “Best Small Agency” by Ad Age. Although the agency has moved to Raleigh, I’d look for them to emerge as a national player on the foundation of its stunning Burt’s Bees work.
- 22squared — The body of work at this Atlanta hybrid is impressive across all media. Not many agencies do best-in-class work from TV to Social. Their 2013 Grand Effie finalist status was a coming-out party on the national stage. I look for them to be the next great Independent. They’ve leapfrogged BBDO Atlanta as the top shop in the city and they will overtake Martin and McKinney as top Southeast agency within the next year or two. Everyone knows them for the Publix work — but they’re killing it on Baskin-Robbins, Buffalo Wild Wings and Southeast Toyota is great automotive advertising.
- Silver + Partners — Would anyone in their right creative mind bet against the force of nature that is Eric Silver? Rebranding Amalgamated in his namesake was pretty smart. The work they do for Honest Tea and Ben & Jerry’s is even smarter. There’s a lot of ex-BBDO guys out there; Silver, Graf and Wakefield are among the best. If I’m a brand marketer with a need for better creative, one of my first calls goes here.
- BRIGHT RED/TBWA — Ever since TBWA acquired Chiat\Day in 1995, they have established one of the great global networks. But, this newly re-branded outpost in Florida is quietly becoming the state’s top creative shop (I consider CP+B a Colorado shop). When TBWA puts its name on something, good enough isn’t good enough — it needs to be great. I like what they’re doing in Social.
- The Fantastical — This is purely speculative as there is no body of work to evaluate at this fresh Boston-based upstart. But, I’m playing a hunch here on Mike Ancevic and his new crew. Recent validation provided by the hotly contested TripAdvisor pitch victory. More to come from this outfit, particularly in the travel and upscale leisure space.
- Neiman –This 35-year Harrisburg, PA shop took the risk on developing a Center City Philadelphia presence in 2007. Today, housed in the old Mike Douglas Show studio, they are on the verge of supplanting Red Tettemer as the creative cheesesteak king. What they did for Yuengling was really cool. And watch out for ECD Rich Wakefield, he’s every bit as dangerous as his predecessor, Grey’s Jeff Odiorne. I look for them to be the big Mid-Atlantic breakthrough on the strength of the work.