Close-Up: Anomaly crosses the Pond to spread its vision

The New York agency with a 'chameleon' approach to business opens UK shop with a fresh take on IP.

Anomaly is a guided missile rather than a sniper's rifle; you don't have to know the answer before you fire," Paul Graham, the first founding partner of Anomaly's new UK agency, shoots back when asked why he is so confident the business will be a success.

It's a bitterly cold afternoon in January, and the bar at the Hospital Club is empty. But the enthusiasm of Carl Johnson, who launched Anomaly in New York in 2005, and the low-profile 33-year-old Graham echoes around the room.

Anomaly UK will be a carbon copy of the model introduced by Johnson in America, founded on three principles: a multi-dimensional skillset, building its own brands and charging based on value. On that latter point, the agency also equally divides its revenue streams into part-advertising fees, part-intellectual property share.

What the agency does not intend to be, however, is just as interesting. For a start, it has no desire to pitch for an advertising account. Indeed, Anomaly would actually prefer to collaborate with ad agencies.

"That whole mindset we've all spent years in, the 'us versus them' shoot-out, is anathema to us," Johnson adds.

So what does the agency offer? Hmm. Refusing to define what it is, Anomaly remains an anomaly.

"We called it Anomaly deliberately," Johnson says. "We don't want to be compartmentalised. We're not a design agency, a digital agency, an advertising agency, a branding company, a product placement company or a media company. We are whatever we need to be to help grow business."

As companies collapse in the economic downturn and marketing budgets are slashed, there's no doubt that 2009 is going to be a tough year. So why did Johnson decide to launch in the UK now? His decision was twofold. First, a number of opportunities arose with existing clients and IP projects are underway that would benefit from the agency having a UK presence. And, second, he wanted to launch the agency with the right person at its helm, and met Graham, the former managing partner of Saint, who he describes as an "iron fist in a velvet glove".

It is also recognised that a recession provides the ideal opportunity to launch a specialist division or agency, as clients revaluate the way they are spending. "Recessions do benefit change agents," Will Collin, one of Naked Communications' partners, agrees. "Clients are looking to do things differently. It causes people to question assumptions that have been unthinkingly accepted and look to operate in a new way."

Turning its back on pitches, (Johnson says if he never pitched again he'd be "ecstatic"), the agency in New York picks up most of its business through word of mouth.

"You build a name for yourself, you meet people, they hear good things, they don't quite know what you do but they know it's interesting. Our biggest strength has been the clarity of our brand positioning; surprisingly, even though you can't define it, they know it's not 'one of them'," Johnson argues.

The same approach will be taken in the UK, a market that Johnson and Graham are confident is ready and has already embraced IP. "The truth is, everybody is out there looking for the next big idea that will make them money, and that is what Anomaly is going to be doing as well. We're going to be in a hundred different industries," Graham says.

But others are less confident. One being Neil Munn, the chief executive of Zag, Bartle Bogle Hegarty's brand invention unit, who suggests Anomaly may find the UK a tougher market. "Broadly speaking, there seem to be more opportunities in the US to make things happen, and more companies willing to take and share risk," Munn says.

Johnson does admit that IP is really hard, especially when so much money is at stake; it is not a fun-side project. The most important lesson learnt from the States, which he has passed on to Graham, is to always invest due diligence into IP ventures or you risk seeing good ideas around every corner.

"We've become way more cynical and rigorous about where we place a bet. We're less cavalier and less 'hey, wouldn't that be cool'. Fuck cool. Where's the money? Seriously, where's the money, what's the risk, when's the return?" Johnson says.

Anomaly launches in the UK with two US clients on board: Umbro, whose campaign will launch in the spring, and Converse. Plus there are two IP ventures that will be on sale in the UK as well as the US.

One of these IP brands is i/denti/tee, a fashion and music joint venture between Anomaly, which owns a 30 per cent share, Edun Live, an ethical T-shirt company created by Ali Hewson and Bono of U2, the US digital agency Night Agency and Jay-Z's music attorney.

I/denti/tee is described as a "self-expression brand". Its first product, in collaboration with Hard Rock Cafe and iTunes, is a line of T-shirts, designed with music lyrics beginning with "I". Each T-shirt purchase includes ten free iTunes songs.

"IP is simple in that we want greater return for big ideas," Johnson says. "The best way of getting greater value for your ideas is to own a piece of the action. Rather than a fee, you want to own a percentage of a brand. Then you have recurring revenue streams every time you sell, but you also have an asset that you could one day sell. It's a completely different model."

So perhaps it's not surprising the new Anomaly does not have a five-year forecast, let alone a six-month plan or targets for 2009. This gives the team the freedom and flexibility to take on jobs that are right for the agency, rather than chasing "silly, easy money" to meet targets.

Equally the agency's plan for hiring people is in flux. At the moment it is Graham, his cat and four walls. Not the traditional blueprint for an agency start-up. However, the plan is to assemble a permanent team, in line with projects that come into the agency. "This means you are not forced to feed a beast because the beast exists; that's the kind of thing that makes you do work you shouldn't do," Johnson says.

Over the coming six months, Graham plans to dip the agency's "toe in the water" with a "softly, softly" approach. But as the agency launches head-on into a recession, it would seem the guided missile also has a pair of balls.


- Converse - an Anomaly ad project

To celebrate Converse's 100th anniversary, Anomaly created a global campaign, "connectivity", featuring a line-up of icons from music, sport, art and fashion, shot in black and white, wearing the Chuck Taylor All Star shoe. The campaign included a collaboration between Pharrell Williams, Santogold and The Strokes' Julian Casablancas to create the free downloadable track and music video, My Drive Thru.

- Avec Eric - an Anomaly IP project

Anomaly has a joint venture with Eric Ripert, the Michelin-starred head chef and co-owner of the restaurant Le Bernardin. Anomaly owns a third of the Eric Ripert brand. It has created the Eric Ripert brand and handles all of the business deals, including a 12-part television food show, a book deal, designing kitchens, and handling other licensing deals and products.


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