Close-up: Live Issue - Crispin Porter & Bogusky. The US ad agency that trounced 'cog' at Cannes

This little-known US shop has taken the industry by surprise.

So who are Crispin Porter & Bogusky? The names may only just have come on to your radar after the agency became the unexpected winner at the 50th Cannes International Advertising Festival this year, with its "lamp" execution for Ikea.

With a reported 15 votes, it scooped the Grand Prix for Film, which had been tipped to go to Wieden & Kennedy for its Honda "cog" spot.

"It was a great surprise for us because we thought 'cog' was going to get it," Alex Bogusky, the creative director at CP&B, explains. "We thought it was a hoax until we actually got to the ceremony. It is very flattering."

"Lamp" was just one ad from a much-awarded "unboring" campaign for the home furnishings brand. Humorous and quirky, the spot's entertainment value means it doesn't come across like a commercial.

Written by Ari Merkin and art directed by Steve Mapp and Mark Taylor, "lamp" tells the story of a table lamp dumped outside in the wind and rain, only to see its shiny replacement through a window. The combination of sentimental music and moving direction by Spike Jonze, through Morton Ankle Sander in Los Angeles, makes the viewer pity the lamp.

Suddenly, a comedy Scandinavian man appears, with the line: "Many of you feel sorry for this lamp. That is because you are crazy." He then reminds us that: "It has no feelings."

CP&B won the estimated $45 million American Ikea business in February 2002 from Deutsch in New York, which had enjoyed an 11-year relationship with the client.

A significant win for any agency, for CP&B the Ikea account was confirmation that its star had finally risen. For although the Miami-based CP&B is emerging as a new creative hotshop, it in fact has a long history, having been founded as Crispin Advertising in 1965 by one Samuel Crispin.

For a long while, it existed as a rather small, nondescript and unknown agency, lacking in high-profile clients and notable creative work. In 1988, Crispin took on Chuck Porter, a freelance writer who had worked mainly in New York, as his creative director. The agency then changed its name to Crispin Porter. Porter brought in a new team, including Alex Bogusky, a 24-year-old art director.

When Crispin retired in 1990, the ensuing shake-up saw Bogusky made creative director - just after his 30th birthday - while Porter became the chairman. "Alex and I think alike, with the same ideas about how the agency should be managed, so after around five years, when I was becoming tired of being the creative director and I discovered that he was much better than me, I gave him my job," Porter says. In 1994, the agency was renamed Crispin Porter & Bogusky.

In recent years, the agency seems to have found a new lease of life. In 2000, CP&B declared annual gross income of $12 million and billings of $145 million. In 2002, its billings rose to $215 million.

A full-service integrated agency, it now has 160 staff, with very strong creative, media planning and buying departments, branding, design and consultancy shops. It has 22 clients, including BMW Mini Cooper, Ikea, Coca-Cola, Molsen Beer, American Legacy Foundation, Virgin Atlantic Airways and AvMed healthcare products.

The increase in billings is no doubt due, in part at least, to the improvements in creative work seen at CP&B during the past few years. Its work for the Florida State anti-tobacco campaign, "body bag" in 2000, won the Television/Cinema, Public Service category at the London International Advertising Awards. It then went on to win at the One Show, the Clio Awards and the International Andy Awards in 2001.

CP&B's work for Mini has won 22 awards including Media Lions and gold Lions at Cannes in 2002. It acquired the Mini account in 2001 with the task to launch the car into a market with no brand awareness, dominated by people carriers. "The Mini campaign was unique in terms of new automobile introduction," Porter explains, "and it set a new standard for that market."

Virgin Atlantic was last year so impressed by the quality of work produced by CP&B that it called off a pitch and handed the account to the agency.

In January 2001, the agency's growing profile caught the eye of the Canadian marketing services company Maxxcom, which bought a 49 per cent stake in CP&B, for an undisclosed sum. The remaining 51 per cent stake of the business is divided between the four partners: Porter; Bogusky; Jeff Hicks, the president, and Jeff Steinhour, the director of account service.

Despite some rumours about Maxxcom being a bit of a drain on the agency, and not moving forward as quickly as CP&B, Bogusky seems happy with the situation. "Presently, Maxxcom's stock is up and we have a good relationship with it. It is super-cool in that it doesn't get involved, except to offer help," he says.

Following the sale of shares to Maxxcom, CP&B set up a Los Angeles arm, but its timing was unlucky: its doors opened on 10 September 2001.

"This obviously was not a fortuitous time," Porter sighs. "However, we did not open this office to gain business in LA, but to gain talent. Most of the clients run out of that office are not based there: they could be in Minneapolis, for example. However, lots of people are attracted to this area and we wanted to attract the content creators."

But despite such an inauspicious start, the Venice Beach office is now doing pretty well. It has been out of the red for nine months and handles business for the Fine Living Network, the Pony trainers brand, the FX Channel and Rock the Vote.

CP&B's relatively rapid promotion to the major league might have gone to the agency's head, but the laid-back attitude of staff and partners alike means they will probably keep their sense of perspective, Porter suggests.

"I think it is cool to win awards and heartening because we are getting so many calls. I don't think clients care too much about them but, from our point of view, it is important for our team and gives them a sense of achievement," he says. "It doesn't change the way we work or how we think about ourselves. We are just a bunch of people who go into work everyday and do our thing."

Porter thinks the culture and the agency's core principles have remained consistent over the past ten years. Inspired by his freelance background, he claims that he and Bogusky have simply tried to run the shop a day at a time and face things as they came up. They are passionate about the work and about trying to create something different, breaking away from the doldrums of the majority of ads and creating something that stands out, he says.

And while they have no plan to open an overseas office as yet, the partners haven't ruled it out. If they did, they would aim to maintain the relaxed family like culture they have in Miami, Porter says.

"It is very flattering to be seen as the hotshop and take the opportunity to grow but I wouldn't want us to lose the naivety and innocence we have," he adds.