Media Department of the Year -- Crispin Porter + Bogusky

The proliferation of media -- branded entertainment, mobile devices, blogs, podcasts, and online advertising, not to mention guerilla stunts and viral techniques -- can be a pain in the neck for most agencies. Not for Crispin Porter + Bogusky. MDC Corp.'s hot shop embraces the unknown with a big bear hug.

Crispin has distinguished itself as a creative powerhouse for work on behalf of clients in myriad categories -- the BMW Mini, Burger King, Ikea, Virgin Atlantic Airways, among others. Recently, though, the agency has proven that it can approach media with the same cheeky attitude. In 2005, Crispin's media department was just as likely to spur those gee-I-wish-I'd-thought-of-that smacks to the head as their cutting-edge creative department always does.

"They do not confine themselves to the traditional 10 media. They don't think in terms of TV and magazines," says Jim Meskauskas, an independent media consultant. "They don't sell media. They sell creative, and they just do media. People don't hire them because they know how to buy day parts. They hire them because of the 'Subservient Chicken,'" Meskauskas explains.

In the saucy, wildly hyped online campaign that began in 2004 and continued rolling through 2005, viewers could order someone in a chicken outfit to perform just about anything. It was a clever and far more risqué take on Burger King's longtime "Have it your way" tag line that sought to lure young men to the fast feeder.

Regarded as a creative white knight for tough-luck clients, Crispin has seen its billings balloon to more than $500 million from $45 million in just five years. The 300-person shop boasts a short but pithy client roster. Last April, it parted with Molson Beer only to be tapped two months later by SABMiller's Miller Brewing Co. for a project. The agency won a Clio award in May for unusual Virgin banner ads, and in June Crispin swept the Kelly magazine awards. Its "Come Clean" Web site for method household products won the Cyber Lyons Grand Prix at the Cannes International Advertising Film Festival.

Last September, Crispin landed Coca-Cola Co.'s Sprite brand. That same month, it gave up BMW's Mini account when it won Volkswagen of America -- a comparatively deep-pocketed but troubled rival. Crispin is sharing media planning duties with VW's media buying agency, WPP Group's MediaCom, New York.

Crispin is loath to take on creative work without responsibility for media planning, regarding it as integral to the creative concept. Much of the credit goes to Jim Poh, vice president and director of creative content distribution, who joined the agency in 2001. One search consultant recalled a conversation with one of Poh's former supervisors when he worked on a packaged goods account years ago. "He was always coming up with off-the-wall ideas instead of just television GRPs [gross ratings points]. As a very young media guy, [Jim] was always thinking 'What can we do?' " she says. Poh's overtures were met with underwhelming enthusiasm at the time.

Some observers wonder if the agency is too clever for its own good. Despite enthusiasm over the 2005 "Sith Sense" Star Wars ad for Burger King, for example, sales were off. Franchisees blamed the marketing, according to a report in Advertising Age.

Because a media idea may spark a creative execution, Crispin wants media planners, brand planners, and connection planners to sit together. While agencies have long tried to sell clients on that concept, most advertisers saw it as a shameless plug for retaining media. Now, some are catching on -- and Crispin has led the way.

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