Andrew Essex is on a mission to return creativity to the forefront of the ad industry. Essex, founder and former vice chairman and CEO for Droga5, and his partner MT Carney, the former Walt Disney Studios marketing president, are building a "leaner and meaner and stronger" type of holding company built around human ingenuity.
Plan A places "creative, strategy and relationships" at the center of its business model by partnering with — not acquiring — like-minded agencies through an owner-operated model that offers them their own equity. Everyone is incentivized to focus solely on their craft, he says.
After launching this summer, the network currently includes creative/strategy agency Untitled Worldwide, influencer shop Beekman Social, actor Liev Schreiber's branded entertainment agency Van’s General Store, fashion advertising speciality shop Twin Studio, and its latest deal, full-service agency Badger & Winters.
Plan A is currently negotiating with two additional agencies — one is experiential and the other is design/user experience — with agreements expected to be announced in the coming weeks.
Plan A serves as a "concierge" service that assembles teams from relevant agencies to work on individual client accounts. This group of talent will share resources to solve client problems, Essex says.
This strategy already is working, as the company landed two accounts already without pitching, says Essex. And Zappos.com, part of Amazon.com Inc., hired the network to develop a campaign in just two weeks, following a review that lasted about as long, according to Kedar Deshpande, vice president for technology and quantitative marketing at the marketer, as first reported in The Wall Street Journal.
There isn't a shortage of potential agency candidates although Plan A’s standards are exacting. Rather than focus on client rosters, annual billings or breadth of services, Essex solely cares about talent capabilities.
"Size isn't specifically our end game," he says. "We are putting together a collection of world-class boutiques" amid a very fragmented market.
Plan A's footprint currently includes New York City, London, and Los Angeles and soon, San Francisco.
While Plan A prefers to partner with independent and unaffiliated agencies, Essex says he remains "open-minded" about all potential deals, adding that he would negotiate with a holding company-owned shop if it met Essex and his partner Carney's creative standards.
This company also will tap into the extensive networks of its leadership team. The well-connected founders serve on boards, like the American Advertising Federation, iPic and IHeartMedia, while the company investors and advisors include MediaLink’s Michael Kassan, CAA founder Michael Ovitz, and Reddit's Alexis Ohanian.
Essex realizes that there are many "new holding company" competitors spouting similar headlines about transforming the industry. However, Plan A's emphasis on creativity serves as a key point of difference to rivals like Martin Sorrell at S4 Capital who is focusing more on data allocation deals while Mark Penn's Stagwell Group is seeking the full-stack model, he says.