I started my career in San Francisco as a photographer working for advertising agencies. This was way pre-Internet in a world of TV advertising dominance. In those days, San Francisco agencies led with their ½” reels. Today, one would suspect that they lead with their digital, mobile and social portfolios. Interestingly, for a couple of new Bay Area agencies, the lead is proudly TV.
It seems that San Francisco has lately been a hotbed for new agencies. I first heard about Argonaut and barrettSF in the rather breathy “San Francisco’s Thriving Agency Start-Up Scene“ article by Stuart Elliot in The New York Times.
It’s intriguing to see new broadcast-oriented agencies go for it at the tail end of our recession and in a world of daily “traditional advertising is dead” articles. So, what’s up with the optimism? From the Times:
“The Bay Area is quite vibrant these days,” said Robert G. Vallee Jr., chairman and chief executive at Project WorldWide. “There’s a lot of opportunity out there.”
Agencies in San Francisco are benefiting from a trend in which marketers that once used only agencies with which they had defined relationships on accounts — agencies of record, in industry parlance — are handing out creative assignments to other shops, Mr. Vallee said.”
The Times article reports that Amy Hoover, President at Atlanta’s TalentZoo, identified another trend that must be top of mind at every SF agency:
“The San Francisco ad market is being influenced by the entrepreneurial spirit of nearby Silicon Valley as agency employees are inspired to go into business for themselves with “a lot of breakoffs, guys starting their own thing.”
Argonaut looks the part. It has the SF creative types from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, Agency.com, DraftFCB and even more Goodby and a website that drives its San Francisco brand. The website is lean and cool but I’m not really sure the manifesto is distinctive or what the sales proposition is beyond the standard we are an advertising agency that thinks. Here is the message…
Let’s be clear here. We’re an advertising agency. We make things that surprise and delight the world. But our focus is also on helping clients tackle their hairiest business problems, not just their advertising challenges.
We’re about people first – the best talent teamed with the bravest clients. We don’t have a hit list of brands we want to go after. Instead, we have a list of people we’d kill to work with, again or for the first time.
We’re looking for courageous souls and fearless thinkers more interested in making history than repeating it, all in pursuit of work that both drives business results and leaves a dent in culture.
But, beyond the website messaging, the crew is clearly heavy-hitter and the work, at least what they show for Chevy, Coke and HP in their show reel, is major league TV.
Another Goodby offshoot, barrettSF is also a TV heavy shop (wow, Goodby’s HR department must be working overtime.) barrettSF has a fine goal: “We want to be the best advertising agency in the world.“ This message isn’t supported on the site but, hey, why not. Their own lean website also drives home the San Francisco vibe and branding (SF creative sure like the Golden Gate Bridge.) Again, from the Stuart Elliot article:
“I’m not sure many people start agencies with the initials of the city,” said Jamie Barrett, a partner at barrettSF. In May, he left Goodby, Silverstein, where he had been partner and executive creative director, to start the agency with Patrick Kelly, another former executive at Goodby, Silverstein.
We are proud of the market and excited about the market,” said Mr. Barrett, whose fledgling shop has two clients, the California Redwood Association and the Pacific-12 Networks. He and Mr. Kelly are bringing in a third partner, Pete Harvey, who also joins from Goodby, Silverstein.”
The barrettSF work section is also serious with spots for Chevy, Ebay, HBO, the NBA, Nike and Saturn.
So, what’s up here?
I am sensing that there is a core of experienced antsy agency executives that feel the need to break out (especially in the Northern California world of start-up mania), get their hands dirtier and offer clients, hopefully the large ones these agency execs have become accustomed to, world-class creativity from a leaner more nimble shop. Timing and the benefits for clients is mentioned in another article on barrettSF from ADWEEK:
“It’s a challenge for agencies, but a great time for clients because small, new startup agencies have a tremendous amount of top-level talent that is underutilized,” said Ken Robinson of Ark Advisors. “It’s a terrific opportunity to get people who are going to work even harder to prove themselves and give you tremendous access and great insight.”
All said, I find the concentration on TV by these agencies curious. Is there really that much stand-alone TV work out there? Clearly, clients are filling up the commercial blocks and agencies like 72andSunny are growing based on their TV work. However, beyond the big advertisers, isn’t the market moving to digital?
It will be interesting to watch Argonaut and barrettSF as they evolve. I must assume that what the websites show today is an early incarnation and that both agencies will evolve their messaging to sell a more holistic approach and, importantly, create needed differentiation between these two ex-Goodby groups.
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