The World: Anomaly's pioneering approach entices Byrne

Wieden & Kennedy's Nike chief is joining a New York hotshop that is shaking up the ad agency model. Lucy Aitken reports.

Just imagine. You're the creative director for Nike at Wieden & Kennedy Portland. You have worked for the network for the best part of a decade and kept the trophy cupboard full of glittering prizes. What's your next move?

"I couldn't go to a big ad agency," Mike Byrne, the creative brain behind Nike's 2002 Cannes Grand Prix-winning "tag" spot, says with a palpable shudder. Instead, he has chosen to move to Manhattan to join Anomaly, a creative hotshop that opened in 2004 and is eyeing Asia and mainland Europe for future expansion.

What is the agency's appeal for someone of Byrne's calibre? "Anomaly has ambition, and that's the biggest attraction," he says.

"I am inspired by the pedigree of the people. This is the best job in advertising. It's the job that you leave W&K for."

As you might expect from its name, Anomaly is no ordinary advertising agency; it is more of a response to the countless calls for agencies to drag themselves into the 21st century.

Here's a quick recap of just three of the bugbears with the traditional ad agency model. First, advertisers bleat that agencies understand their advertising needs but not their business requirements. Second, clients are still not entirely convinced that they are being sold the most appropriate solution for their needs just because their agencies have incorporated the words "media neutral" into their credentials. Third, the Ogilvy scandal over doctored time-sheets, and Interpublic's refunds to Tesco and Weetabix as a result of over-charging, are just two examples of what is wrong with how agencies charge for their work.

The Anomaly co-founder and former TBWA chief operating officer, Carl Johnson, argues that it is impossible to charge by the hour for ideas. "You end up saying 'I'd like to buy a pound of advertising' and that turns it into a commodity. We want to be paid on the power and strength of our ideas," he says.

Those ideas might not even involve advertising; they may turn out to be more product-oriented. And when they are good, they will have the potential to keep earning revenue for Anomaly.

Take Coca-Cola, one of Anomaly's clients. The agency may create a concept, devise a brand name, design the packaging and launch it. Writing an ad might not even enter the equation. When it comes to remuneration, Anomaly proposes a price that is open to negotiation with the client. Perhaps even more revolutionary is its eagerness to incorporate an entrepreneurial dimension into the client relationship. "We're always looking for royalties, a licence or a share of revenue - something whereby the success of what we're doing for clients increases the amount of money we earn," Johnson says.

With the PayPal online payment system, Anomaly devised new technology that enables customers to pay for products via mobile handsets and the agency receives a percentage for every transaction. Johnson reflects: "If that works, it could be bigger than anything we ever do with any client."

Anomaly also works on its own ideas rather than waiting for a client win to act as a creative trigger. It boasts a 60-strong workforce spanning a range of disciplines to help offer advertisers impartial advice. Johnson adds: "I don't want to sound arrogant, but we are absolutely determined to confront the old limitations of the advertising industry."

Anomaly has been tipped by industry pundits as the next Crispin Porter & Bogusky, but Johnson is uncomfortable with that label.

"There are probably more overlaps with Crispin Porter than with anyone else, but our goal is not to follow it, even though it is a phenomenal agency," he says. "Most people talk about Crispin Porter's output, but we are as focused on our business model."

In less than two years, Anomaly has picked up the kind of clients - Coca-Cola, The New York Times, ESPN Mobile and the new airline Virgin America - that would persuade even the staunchest defenders of the traditional agency model to give it a second glance.

Spence Kramer, the vice-president, marketing and communications, at Virgin America, says: "It is unlike any other agency I've ever encountered. With a traditional agency, nine times out of ten, the solution is an ad. At Anomaly, they're product-focused; it's not always about communications. They dig into every aspect of our business, from arm-rests to uniforms."

Virgin America pays Anomaly a retainer and also has a deal in place whereby it will share revenues if the agency comes up with revenue-generating ideas. Kramer also singles out for particular praise the agency's skill in eking out a media budget. "Quite honestly, Anomaly is the only agency that has ever talked about how to turn a $10 million budget into $100 million," he says. Instead of buying media space, the agency has leveraged Virgin America's media budget through partnerships with like-minded brands, including Apple, Target, Google and Yahoo!.

A former director of advertising at ESPN, Kramer knows Byrne from his W&K days and is in no doubt whatsoever that he has made the right career move. He comments: "Mike is the classic example of a creative guy who is interested in moving the needle from a business point of view. His first question is never 'what is the advertising objective?' but 'what is the business objective?'. He will fit in with the culture."

Leslie Winthrop, the founder and chief executive of AAR Partners in New York, also thinks that Byrne's appointment will enhance Anomaly's reputation: "Byrne joining should help to increase the depth of the agency by boosting its brand work."

Kramer says Anomaly's modus operandi should be a wake-up call to other agencies: "The traditional model relies on putting more people on a piece of business so they can charge more money. I don't think the traditional model, based on numbers of full-time employees and hours, is going to survive that long. Anomaly has created a new paradigm, and other agencies would be silly not to follow suit."