Only a couple of months old, Giant Spoon, the agency start-up founded by some of the former senior team of Omnicom's OMD unit, has gotten off to a giant start landing three blue-chip pieces of business, and is in talks with half a dozen others. The new accounts -- GE, NBC Universal, and BuzzFeed -- are as diverse as the way Giant Spoon is set up to service them. What they all have in common is that Giant Spoon's trademark approach to ideas-driven strategies is at their core.
In the case of GE, Giant Spoon is handling the kind of media strategy work the team would have handled when they were servicing the business at OMD, which has been GE's long-time media shop, and which has worked with Giant Spoon to create a new hybrid model to form what amounts to a custom agency to handle GE's strategy and execution.
For NBC Universal, the approach is more like playing the role of an in-house network TV advertising and promotions department, coming up with ways of introducing new shows that break through the clutter and capture consumer attention -- and hopefully, viewership. That should be a no-brainer for Giant Spoon, given that the most senior member of the team, Alan Cohen, cut his teeth as the head of marketing at NBC during the heyday of network brand marketing during the 1990s. Part of Cohen's playbook for doing that involves partnering with big consumer brands in co-promotions that extend the reach and amplify the impact of the entertainment property's marketing -- and vice versa.
In the case of BuzzFeed, Giant Spoon is acting more like an internal “marketing solutions” team, coming up with ideas that will attract advertisers and agencies to use the popular social news publisher, and to come up with integrated campaigns that make a connection between an advertiser's brand and the publisher's content and audiences.
“I don’t think this is a typical agency/client relationship,” says Jonathan Perelman, vice president-agency strategy and industry development at BuzzFeed. “Certainly, they aren't doing a lot of media-buying for us. It's more about bringing us ideas that create campaigns that are in line with our ethos as a publisher, which is about making shareable content that people want to engage with.”
Perelman calls the relationship with Giant Spoon “pretty unique,” and struggles to define it explicitly.
“The lines of demarcation aren't that clear,” he says. “I think the nature of this business is changing so rapidly that we are always looking for new and improved ways of taking advantage of partnerships and relationships that are different from the past, and this is one of those.”
In essence, Perelman says Giant Spoon exemplifies -- and most likely was conceived because of -- the fluid nature of the advertising and media marketplace, where lines of content, as well as relationships, are blurring between publishers, brands and consumers.
“One of the things about Alan and the rest of the team at Giant Spoon is you cannot put them in a box,” says Linda Boff, executive director-global brand marketing at GE. “What they do best is come up with ideas.”
One of the most important ideas the team came up with helped it land GE's business, which was a method for collaborating with OMD to service the account. Dubbed “The Grid,” it essentially creates a custom agency to service GE’s business by combining the best elements of Giant Spoon and OMD. The Giant Spoon team focuses on the ideas that drive the media strategy, and OMD executes the media buys that activate them.
“For us, it's the best of both worlds,” says Boff, adding: “What we love about Giant Spoon is they are ideas-led and they are connoisseurs of media and they understand trends. They understand the zeitgeist and what's popping, but they're led by ideas that help move brands forward. For us, what drives impact is what's interesting, and they are great at understanding what ideas will have an impact.”
While as Boff notes, it may be difficult to put Giant Spoon in a box, the agency is actually putting things in boxes to attract the attention of clients like Boff, Perelman and others. The contents of the boxes, which Giant Spoon's Cohen calls “discovery boxes,” contain a mix of design-centric consumer products that optimize some underlying cultural theme or trend that is transforming the way people think about media. The first one the agency distributed (see sidebar story in this issue of MediaPost's Agency Daily) features the theme of “social entertaining,” but Cohen says other versions will tap into new and emerging cultural trends that are reshaping the way people experience media.
In effect, the boxes are doing just that -- serving both as calling cards for new business leads as well as reinforcing the relationships and experiences with existing clients by reminding them of the role Giant Spoon plays identifying and organizing important trends and themes that are at the heart of its “ideas-driven” strategies and executions.
The gimmick seems to be working -- since beginning with making noise on the new business front with “discovery boxes,” and a series of events co-hosted with Wired magazine on “emerging trends in innovation,” Cohen says the agency has started talking with about a dozen promising account leads, another half-dozen of which he expects to consummate into some form of agency/client relationship. Exactly what form those relationships take, he says, could be almost anything.
“We're an everything agency,” he explains. “Whatever a consumer touches, we will do. If that's going to a store, listening to a band, putting on a pair of glasses -- that's all media today. And that's what we're about.”
One thing Giant Spoon is not about -- at least not in version 1.0 -- is buying big media. Cohen says the plan, for now, is to simply focus on strategy and creative ideas that drive media experiences, and to partner with big media-buying shops and agency trading desks to execute and manage the impressions side of the business. He says Omnicom is its preferred partner on those deals, but pragmatically speaking, he says he will work with any media shop a client wants to partner with.
“We're an overlay to traditional agencies for ideas and strategies,” says Cohen, adding: “We launched this because we think there is room for a thinking man's agency.”
It's lines like that that illustrate why Giant Spoon is great at positioning ideas, and it's not surprising that its first great ideas are about itself, what it represents, how it is differentiated, and how it can leverage that -- whether it's putting objects in boxes or ideas on stage -- the whole idea is to engage an audience. In this case, a small, but uber-important audience of marketing executives who decide what agencies to hire.
As for the name, yes -- it too was designed to capture the attention and imagination of that target audience, but it actually has a double connotation.
“The name came from the fact that we wanted something that is instantly recognizable,” says Cohen, adding: "The concept was that any spoon can give you an idea, but a giant spoon gives you big ideas. That's what we tell our clients."
As for the other connotation, Cohen says the agency actually cleared and registered the trademark Giant Spoon for two uses: one as an agency, and the other for a coffee bar.
wildest dream, I would like to have a set-up where there is a Giant Spoon coffee bar downstairs and an ad agency office upstairs. That's the real truth behind the name,” he explains.
The lovin’ spoonful: Giant’s founders pictured above are (l-r) Marc Simmons, Trevor Guthrie, Alan Cohen, Jon Haber