Agency Profile: The Media Kitchen

Last year, when Donna Whelchel opened a package of family photos from Snapfish, the online photo processor, she found one that didn't look quite right. It was not the two adults in the foreground that caught her eye, it was that thing in the background that looked like...

"A UFO," said the Atlanta woman, one of 750,000 unwitting participants in one of last winter's more creative advertising campaigns. Devised by The Media Kitchen on behalf of Sci Fi Channel's epic mini-series, Taken, the project involved the insertion of a spoofed snapshot in each film-processing order.

"On the back of that photo, we actually did a logo and a tune-in message. It had never been done before. We got millions of impressions," said Paul Woolmington, chief executive officer and "head chef" at the quirky New York agency.

Woolmington takes pride in his staff's creativity, while deriding the lack of it at many mega-agencies, which he calls "huge buying operations."

"Creativity is just not something they are known for," Woolmington said. "If you do a head count of those very large operations, you'll find that the vast number of people are in the business of implementing and spending other people's money."

The Media Kitchen derives about 30 percent of its $450 million in annual billings from non-traditional media, like the snapshot campaign, that defy categorization. Woolmington likes to call it "media neutrality."

"We greatly prefer to be paid fees by our clients, which keeps us honest. The Taken campaign was extremely cost-effective, relative to its impact, but the point is, if we had been paid a commission based on just buying TV or print, we would never have done it," he said.

The Media Kitchen recently picked up new business from Song, a few-frills carrier owned by Delta Air Lines. Over the Summer, beachgoers at places like Martha's Vineyard, the Hamptons, and Nantucket were treated to a skywriting campaign with a simple message: "Wish you were here." It worked. Traffic to the website soared, and ticket sales doubled during the campaign.

"What better demonstrable proof of some crazy notion you have?," Woolmington said.

Bigger clients are starting to take notice. Brown & Williamson, the multi-billion dollar tobacco giant, recently tabbed Media Kitchen to handle its $47 million planning and buying account. It could well tax the agency's creative minds to develop campaigns for a mainstream client firmly situated in a highly regulated and controversial industry, but Woolmington isn't worried.

"We pitched against the gorillas, the biggest in the business, and emerged victorious. That we were able to win that sort of account is a very important inflection point for us for the future," he said.

Founded in 2000, Media Kitchen is part of Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners.

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