It was like a scene straight out of Taxi Driver. An apparent mass slaughter at TBWA\Chiat\Day's San Francisco office is captured in cinema verite-style through the eyes of a traumatised survivor who limps into Chuck McBride's office.
"Don't worry," the blood-soaked TBWA\North America executive creative director assures him quietly. "It's gonna be all right."
The video, now available on YouTube to anybody aged over 18 and not of a squeamish disposition, turns out to be McBride's brutal take on the birth of Cutwater, the agency that has just burst from the corpse of its predecessor.
His stunt was meant as a kind of reassurance (albeit a strange form of solace) to TBWA\ staff fearful of the unknown. But his message was clear enough: no gain without pain.
Some pain has certainly been endured. The new agency has begun life with some 25 fewer people than the old one employed. Moreover, Cutwater was forced to open up without the Adidas business previously run out of San Francisco. Omnicom, TBWA\'s parent, may have bankrolled the start-up, but it was damned if it was going to let a signature account escape its clutches.
And the gains? For Omnicom, Cutwater allows it to contain the ambition of the talented but restless McBride. An Emmy Award winner for Nike's "morning after" spot, he also helped create the "got milk?" campaign, one of the most successful US branding initiatives.
McBride had been making no secret of his desire for a fresh challenge. Rumours abounded that he was either going to establish an all-star creative breakaway, or up sticks for San Francisco's Publicis & Hal Riney. Omnicom's hope is that the new operation can not only provide the kind of thrusting creativity that should be synonymous with an agency named after the forward edge of a ship's prow, but also that it can provide extra creative potency when necessary across the group.
"Cutwater is a timely addition to the Omnicom portfolio," John Wren, the group's chief executive, says. "It offers a fresh take on integration that is particularly relevant to clients in today's marketing and media environment."
Will Cutwater cut it? The early signs are encouraging. The agency kicked off with briefs from Motorola, Seagate Technology and Luxottica, which assigned the agency its Ray-Ban sunglasses business. But all that was trumped by DaimlerChrysler, which this month confirmed Cutwater as the winner of the creative contest among Omnicom shops for its $150 million-plus national advertising for Jeep.
Cutwater's approach to problem solving is reflected in the partnering of a classic creative, McBride, with Brad Harrington. As the co-president of Cole & Weber, Harrington is credited with building the Seattle shop's integrated offering into one of the best on the West Coast. Rob Klingensmith, a former TBWA\Chiat\Day planning director, completes the management frontline.
McBride and Harrington met for the first time only last summer at the suggestion of a mutual friend, a creative director. Having agreed that they could work together, they rejected the idea of going independent in favour of remaining within Omnicom's creative culture and having the opportunity to exploit its client connections.
"I'd been at Cole & Weber for ten years and regarded it as home," Harrington, now Cutwater's president, recalls. "I'd had offers from lots of successful agencies, but I found Chuck's proposition very interesting. He has always told stories in a traditional way, but he doesn't want to be the last creative in the US doing a 30-second TV spot."
Most intriguing will be how effective Cutwater proves to be in helping resolve one problem that has been specific to TBWA\ and another that affects traditional networks in general.
San Francisco has never been an entirely happy hunting ground for TBWA\, mainly because of client conflicts posed by the network's other West Coast office 500 miles away in Los Angeles. Cutwater effectively becomes TBWA\'s surrogate in the area.
The other issue concerns the ability of networks emotionally rooted in Madison Avenue to ward off intrusions by operations whose cultures are defined by Silicon Valley.
"Across the US, online companies are increasingly stealing traditional agencies' lunch," Harrington says. His contention is that the newcomers are succeeding not so much because they do integration particularly well, but because the advertising establishment does interactive so badly.
For the moment, it's possible to get only a limited idea of how Cutwater will operate. People will have to wait before making up their minds, Harrington admits, although he talks about what he calls a "creative round table" at the 50-strong agency, where a broad range of creative talent will come up with the cut-through ideas.
"We won't just be sending one team to create an idea," he promises. "What's more, we're committed to using the best talent, including directors, on our clients' behalf."
High-profile creative work is currently limited to Ray-Ban under the theme "never hide", and which features people who regard their shades as a fashion accessory rather than a protective screen.
More certain is that McBride and Harrington see Cutwater as a serious challenger to the likes of its Omnicom stablemate Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and Crispin Porter & Bogusky, rather than a repository for conflicting business elsewhere in the group.
"Clients who want to be in a particular agency don't take kindly to being shoved somewhere else," Harrington says. "We'll win on our own merit."