Close-Up: Live Issue - How can you be a success in the US?

When opening in the US, agencies need to know how to cross the cultural divide.

Last week, Profero announced it was opening an office in New York, terming the move to the US as the "last step towards building a global independent business".

For a digital agency with offices across Europe, Asia and the Far East, it is no coincidence that it has left the US until last. America has a daunting reputation for its complex and multilayered market, and its cautious clients.

There is no equivalent to London's central hub - agencies are scattered across thousands of miles. Examples include Fallon in Minneapolis, Wieden & Kennedy in Portland, Goodby Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco and Crispin Porter & Bogusky in Miami.

The sheer scale and complexity alone is enough to put many off. But Profero is part of a growing number of London agencies that want to defy the odds. Others include CHI & Partners, which opened in New York last September, Naked, which opened in New York in 2006, Mother in 2003 and Bartle Bogle Hegarty, which opened in 1998.

Expansion into the US is often driven by client needs (CHI's New York office was set up to service Carphone Warehouse's US enterprise, for example). But it is also driven by cash: there's a lot of opportunity in the US, even in a downturn. America's ten biggest advertisers each spent in excess of $1 billion last year. Even sub-brands command astronomical spends - take PepsiCo, which recently split its $245 million Gatorade and $32 million Tropicana accounts between two agencies.

But with bigger budgets come greater responsibilities, as the Naked partner Will Collin explains: "In the US, business is done by the book. Clients expect you to have a rigorous process that they want to see quantified and delivered. In the UK, it does feel like everyone's freer to freestyle it."

Profero hopes that through its relationships with US clients such as Western Union and Johnson & Johnson, it can attract more companies that want to target global audiences using locally developed digital media.

The agency is very serious and is relocating its co-founder Wayne Arnold to head the New York operation. He explains why he thinks there's a gap in the market: "We know certain global clients are frustrated with American ideas that are then localised to each market."

But how do US companies react to UK agencies chasing the American dream? Collin says as a nation of "risk-takers and entrepreneurs", the response is generally favourable, though he adds that a conservative attitude still holds among some of the larger networks.

Carl Johnson, a founding partner of Anomaly, says the US is too concerned with the highest echelons of corporate America to take an interest in new agencies. "Unless you're doing something that is of interest to them or doing good work on clients people have heard of, no-one is going to come looking for you."

But Victoria Davies, the managing director of CHI & Partners, adds: "The pool of business is wider, so agencies don't feel as though newcomers to the market are simply out there to steal their lunch."

Nevertheless, breaking into the US market is notoriously difficult. The whopping billings offered by the world's biggest advertisers tempt many agencies to set up stall in New York. Many struggle to have any kind of impact and some don't make it at all.

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AGENCY HEAD - Victoria Davies, managing director, CHI & Partners

"Don't try to go and 'conquer America'. It's important to find the best of what you do and apply it to the culture and marketplace.

"Keep a sense of wide-eyed humility. Americans sense British arrogance very quickly.

"Don't base any strategic or creative judgments solely on New York. The city is culturally and creatively closer to London and not representative of America. Know that every state is different, and communicate with audiences in a way that respects that.

"Change your outlook of success. You don't have to win Coca-Cola to be successful, you can win a project. Individual projects are so big they can change your entire fortunes as an agency."

AGENCY HEAD - Gwyn Jones, chief executive, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

"Decide which path to pursue on new business, but scale your ambition appropriately. There are massive pieces of business available, but going for everything can lead to uncertainty over whether you're there as a serious contender or a novelty item.

"The incremental growth model is harder to sustain in the US. Pitches and reviews tend to be bigger, and landing big business can shock the agency's system because of the margins involved. Be prepared for a rollercoaster ride."

CREATIVE - Linus Karlsson, creative director, Mother New York

"The US is as easy/difficult as you make it. We've always worked very hard and never taken anything for granted. We're not thinking too far ahead, we're just focusing on our next challenge and taking it one day at a time. When you do that, luck is sometimes on your side, and when luck is on your side, everything feels easy and fantastic.

"Four years suddenly feels like a couple of weeks.

"The US has a glorified idea of big, and how much better big is. Too often, big is the very definition of success. Growth and value are in constant battle. Mother is about value. Growth is meaningless, and potentially deadly, without value."

AGENCY HEAD - Carl Johnson, partner, Anomaly

"In the US, origin is a blunt selling point. Don't think of yourself as a 'British agency'. It is the kiss of death.

"Having a management team of different backgrounds helps to be more outward-focused.

"Work on big clients that people have heard of. Corporate America is many US clients' main focus of attention.

"Consultants matter a great deal and there are numerous of equal importance. They need to know who you are and what you do.

"Release all the British cynicism and leave it at the airport. You're in a country which considers itself the 'capital of opportunity', and British cynicism is the antithesis of that view."