Perspective - Why Crispin Porter & Bogusky is the one to watch
A view from Claire Beale

Perspective - Why Crispin Porter & Bogusky is the one to watch

A few years ago, the agency everyone wanted to be was Bartle Bogle Hegarty. BBH's really quite unique blend of brains, creative firepower and business nous was the model to aspire to.

These days, though, the agency of lust is America's Crispin Porter & Bogusky. As the ad industry struggles to work out how to shape itself to meet the challenges of integration, neutrality, digital, procurement etc, etc, CP&B has become a totem of how to do it right.

It's the agency people mention to me most as a blue- print. And it's the agency people mention to me most with a mix of reverence and envy. Even Ogilvy, when it unveiled plans for a second-string conflict shop earlier this year, rather impertinently revealed ambitions to emulate the Miami hotshop's approach. Mind you, when I told the chief executive of one top-ten media agency we were running a feature on Crispin Porter, he said: "Crispin who?" Which says an awful lot about the chasm that still exists between media and creative. Integration phooey.

Anyway, beyond some of CP&B's breakthrough work ("subservient chicken" for Burger King, the US launch of Mini; and the agency scooped two of the hottest awards at Cannes last year: the Cyber Lions Grand Prix and the Promo Grand Prix), most people here in the UK seem to be a little hazy on the CP&B brand of advertising.

Our feature on page 20 will fill in many of the gaps. Crucial, I think, is the CP&B mindset that it creates products (ads, communications) rather than simply deliver a service. "We're a factory," its website says, "a factory that makes ads."

At a stroke, this philosophy addresses one of the key issues facing agencies: how to charge a fair price for the intellectual property they create. It raises the status of the agency and its work and sidesteps payment by time, commission or even crude fees. It gives CP&B a licence to share in the value its work creates for client companies, strips away the sense of agency as lowly supplier and enshrines the idea that CP&B is a business partner.

Even the service bit of CP&B has been redefined to raise its importance as part of this product-centric approach. So "account management" is called "content management".

Of course, at root, this business approach is still all about the work: only an agency confident in its creative product can be so bold in the way it structures its remuneration. I can think of quite a few UK ad agencies who would be closed within a year if they took this route. And you have to be pretty confident to refuse to pitch for business, as CP&B does (though "pitch" is one of those words that people choose to interpret in different ways: CP&B does do "a lot of explaining the model").

As for the talent crisis that seems to be crippling so many agencies here, CP&B has long since stopped fishing in the advertising pool alone for its staff; key recruiting grounds right now are the games and porn industries. And the agency's take on planning, with a strategic advisory board for specific cultural issues, is fresh and provocative.

But while UK agencies are looking to CP&B for a lead, there are plenty of US agencies dismissing the shop as a one-trick pony that's had its day. Volkswagen is rumoured to be shaky and some recent ads (for Haggar and for Orville Redenbacher) have been savaged.

There's no doubt that the backlash comes from CP&B's fame and the (unintentional?) hype that has built up around its work. Just as there's no doubt that UK agencies could do worse than study the secret of the agency's success. With this week's news that Nike is poised to hand CP&B a slug of its creative duties (presumably without a pitch), it's clear that the agency still has world-class credibility. The next question is whether CP&B has been true to its remuneration philosophy. A share in the spoils of Nike sales would be quite something.