All nine Heat employees are former staffers of Black Rocket, the shop that helped put the Yahoo! brand on the map. The Internet portal made up about 60 percent of the agency's business and when Yahoo! left the agency, Black Rocket folded.
"That was tough. We had put a lot of our heart and soul into that brand," says Steve Stone, Heat's president and creative director. He and general manager Bob Ellis formally uncorked Heat in February.
The new organization is already making a name for itself, courtesy of an innovative campaign for publisher Condé Nast that promotes print as a potent advertising medium. Targeting media buyers, the plan includes a clever combination of online buys on sites frequented by media people and cross-promotional placements in Condé Nast publications, as well as bus shelter wraps, telephone kiosks and other strategically positioned outdoor media.
"That allowed us to [promote] some specific [Condé Nast] titles, say, outside the GM Building in Detroit or near [movie] studios in Los Angeles," says Ellis.
Heat recently snared new business from Moderati, a Japanese company that markets custom ring tones for wireless devices.
Stone says he doesn't want Heat to get, well, overheated. He and Ellis plan on keeping the agency small to maintain what they say is a "studio-type feel." That would not preclude them from handling larger clients on a per-project basis, Stone says. Heat outsources its planning and buying work to former colleagues who act as consultants. "We have a network of people here in San Francisco who are great at what they do, but they don't want to take on full-time jobs. We can pull them in at any point for projects," Stone says.
The principals plan to spend the summer taking care of current clients and putting together longer-range plans for Heat's future. The idea is to grow just large enough to generate sufficient revenue to attract top designers and creative minds.
"In the short term," Ellis says, "staying small and flexible will allow us to figure all this stuff out."