Agency Profile: AKQA

AKQA is building a talent stable that looks like advertising's version of the New York Yankees. In recent months, the San Francisco-based shop has hired a cadre of talented executives that include interactive advertising president Kate Everett-Thorp (from Carat Interactive), global creative director Rei Inamoto (R/GA), and executive creative director Lars Bastholm (Framfab).

"We try to attract a group of all-stars with a shared vision of creating what we hope will be the most influential creative agency in the world," says AKQA CEO Tom Bedecarre. One might wonder whether such stars could work well together as a team. No problem, Bedecarre insists. The agency values an entrepreneurial and collaborative culture.

AKQA is on a roll. Its New York office, which opened in April, has already snared new business from Coca-Cola. Each of the agency's five offices is hiring, and Bedecarre wants to take on the world. "We have clients interested in our taking a bigger presence in Asia, an area where we see some real growth potential," he says. AKQA already has an office in Singapore, where it works for Nike and Microsoft's Xbox game system; other offices are in London and Washington, D.C.

Soft-spoken Bedecarre talks about creating "brand immersive" experiences. For example, helping to launch the Halo 2 game on the Xbox platform, AKQA had developers create a special alien language and offer clues to help gamers decipher it. The campaign resulted in a record 2 million copies sold in just a few days.

"They'll go the distance to make sure the work is not only up to our standards, but to theirs as well. You can't ask for anything more out of a partner," says Brian Rekasis, global advertising lead for Xbox.

In April, AKQA kicked off a 12-hour online giveaway promotion for palmOne's Treo smartphone designed to funnel traffic to the product's microsite, where users could "play" with a virtual device.

"They took a complex product and communicated its benefits in digestible bites that resonate with our audience. When reviewing their work, we often say it makes us a little nervous, which we need," says Scott Hancock, senior marketing communication manager at palmOne.

The 2004 "Ideas Happen" campaign for Visa invited 18- to 34-year-olds to share their desires and passions, and then write about how a simple piece of plastic could help them fulfill those desires.

"What was so brilliant about the campaign is that we were not telling young adults what was important to them, they were telling us about how Visa enabled all of [their dreams] to happen," says Jon Raj, Visa's vice president, online advertising and emerging media platforms.

AKQA chalked up a revenue increase of about 20 percent last year, Bedecarre says. New clients and global expansion, should make 2005 look just as good, he adds. "It's fun," he says, "to be in business with the wind at your back."

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