With so many advertising agencies out to prove their thinking can work outside the protective environs of their ivory tower, we’ve seen an influx of brands hit the market that are not only the brainchild of agencies, but funded in part or whole by them as well. The case studies are well documented, and some of the people behind this movement even took part in our last PSFK Conference New York in 2009.
This phenomenon got me thinking about the inverse scenario. What about brands that start services agencies? I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some such agencies and have always found their perspective to be grounded in, well, reality. While their counterparts seem to be starting brands to justify their existence, it seems like most agencies that are born out of brands come into existence either because of the need for a creative outlet or a happy diversification accident through some sort of organic impetus, whether it be a request from a “client” or simply a need for new revenue streams.
Over the next few weeks we’ll be doing a weekly feature on these types of agencies. Our goal is to see what kind of thinking and work these brand architects are putting into the market, and how their experience affects what kind of advice they give clients. No matter what types of services they offer as agencies all of them have one thing in common, they have already built a successful brand from the ground up. Some of the people we will be talking to include Gin Lane Media (Lola brand), Alife Creative (Alife brand), and Virtue (Vice brand).
Our first interview is with Peter Bittenbender, co-founder and all around boss of Decon Creative Group. His company started out as a video production agency and then expanded into their own music label and advertising agency.
When and with whom did you start Decon Creative and what was your vision in the beginning?
I started the company with Jason Goldwatch in 2002 to serve as the production company for a project we were doing together entitled One Big Trip. We launched with the goal of doing cutting edge video projects but quickly formed our record label in 2003. I have always preferred doing things myself, but can’t really say that we had a clear vision in the beginning. We just did everything on our own and over time people began to take notice and then hire us for their work. The agency and design arm happened organically, but my father was involved with design so I guess it was always in my blood.
I never really imagined 8 years later Decon would be working with such high-profile artists and brands, it was completely a “snowball effect”, cliche as that might sound.
How did you get your first agency client?
Our first agency client was videogame company 2K Sports and the business came about via a license for a song from our label. First year, we licensed one song and then I kept in touch with the marketing person and by the following year we were in full swing doing an exclusive soundtrack for the game and national tour. Every year the opportunities just grew and we eventually worked on almost all their titles. So in that case the record label opened the door to start our agency and people keep saying the music business sucks!
But on the real, I think that is what makes us unique because we have so many points of entry with new biz. Someone might not need us for Video work but what about our Design arm, or how about some great music and so on. We have a lot to offer so it makes the pitching process quite exciting as there is always something to discuss.
What kind of services does Decon currently offer? Do you present yourself as a single entity or communicate the video, label, and agency models as separate companies/projects?
We really embrace the DIY motto and have worked on a variety of projects over the years. We have 4 departments and they can be engaged together or individually, ranging from our Creative Agency, to Video to Design and then our record label. Our preference is campaign work where we can activate all our disciplines but we also love just going out and shooting cool content or focusing on developing new talent. We definitely present the integration first and foremost but depending on the client we might make a pitch that skews more for Video or maybe Strategy, really depends on the client.
Are your resources shared between the agency and media company in terms of staff and infrastructure?
We are only 15 people but work like 50, or at least that’s how we feel at the end of each day! Most of the team is multi-disciplinary and oversee a variety of projects from all 4 departments. People like myself, Sebastian, Jason, Alma and Kavi are involved in most aspects of the company but then we also employ designers and editors who are pretty focused each day on their specific projects. At this stage, everyone really does a little bit of everything but that’s good and keeps us all creative and on our toes.
Who are some of your clients and what are/have you worked on for them?
We are fortunate to work with some awesome brands, short list of current stuff is below. Check the site for the full resume!
HBO – creative work for their new show How To Make It In Music. (design, strategy, original music production and lifestyle marketing)
Teva – AOR work without the title, but that is about to change! Everything from branded content to interactive to design and strategy. Teva has been a great client and we have loads of cool stuff planned for 2010. Check The Naturist if you haven’t seen it yet!
Epic -Working closely with the Epic team on a few artist releases, including helping to launch the debut projects for Nneka and Nipsey Hussle. Really acting as a partner, incubator style resource to grow the appeal of these amazing artists. Check for them both!
Alize – Helped launch 3 major initiatives last year ranging from a National Tour to Branded Content.
Do you find that making content for your own record label (music, video, web) helps when it comes to agency work? How is the process different?
100%. The experimental stuff we do with our passion projects has helped to open a lot of doors. The videos for the label have become a calling card to help sell our services and also help constantly demonstrate how much content we actually produce. Biggest difference, BUDGET. Our label our $, so the budgets aren’t close to agency work but we also have equity in the projects so we see the value in a few different ways.
How do clients react to your diversified model?
To date it has been all positive and everyone seems to love the efficiency and cohesion of the model. It has definitely helped us to sign some of our artists and given us a leg up on a few bids. Because we don’t have to outsource we can be more flexible at times with costs and in this climate that can make or break a deal.
Is you company culture defined by one aspect of the business more than the other(s)? Do you prefer working on one side more?
The label and the access to talent definitely helps with the credibility factor but really everything plays an equal part in culture of the company. Obviously, we are known for certain things over others but it is the integration of everything that makes us unique and gives us our cool factor. I jump between all departments and can be art directing an album cover one day, on set the next and then in the studio so that is really what I most enjoy, the variety of it all. I do really like the music side and enjoy the challenge of trying to find new ways to excite people in this climate. What is happening with Jay Electronica now is really amazing and it is rewarding to be part of that movement.
You are in a unique position of being in two businesses that are often chastised for their “archaic” methods, with records labels being heavily scrutinized for the past ten years, and ad agency’s also feeling the pressure to innovate their models. What is your recommendation for these two industries and how does your company deal with the challenges presented in each one?
My main advice is to try and do things as creatively as possible. Obviously, the major labels and big agency networks are having issues so don’t expect to grow your business by following their lead. We have the ability to make changes and better the systems that have been in place for decades but that can only happen by pushing the boundaries of what has been done previously. Take chances because just staying in your comfort zone will probably never fix the issues that plague these major industries. Whether it is strategic partnership or niche focus, make sure your business has something special that can attract and retain clients. Integration is all the rage now but that doesn’t mean it is the best thing, it works for us but it has taken years of struggling to reach this level and we are still far from established. Also, more important than almost anything else is try and do something you enjoy because each of these industries are 24/7 and you will get drained fast if you don’t love what you are building.