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Agency Profile: 180 LA

Posted on August 3, 2009 and read 6,673 times

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brettcreditpic Agency Profile: 180 LABrett McKenzie
Chief Writer, SBN2
ihaveanidea


I’m sitting across from William Gelner, 180 LA‘s Executive Creative Director, and I have to smile. You see, William and I have done this before. A few years ago, I was in the Big Apple to visit Bartle Bogle Hegarty New York. We were doing an agency profile on BBH (which you can read right here) and William, then a Group CD, was tasked with showing me around. So sitting with him now was like deja vu. He dressed the same, had the same hairstyle, the same glasses, the same Run DMC figurines I recalled in his office at BBH. But there was something different about New York William and Los Angeles William, yet I couldn’t put my finger on it.

I do remember William mentioning to me that his entire advertising career to that point had been in New York. “You know, I never even imagined leaving New York,” he says now. “It was my town, and I still enjoy going back there. But the opportunity to work at a place like 180, especially building something new out here, that was too much to resist.”

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You don’t even have to step inside 180 LA to realize the first thing the agency has going for it: the location. Los Angeles is a sprawling metropolis with many diverse locations, but it’s hard to beat the trendy yet laid back city of Santa Monica as a spot to set up an ad agency. And it’s harder to beat 180′s location within Santa Monica; to the east, the Third Street Promenade is a block away. To the west, well pack your swimsuit because you can be sunning yourself on the beach, swimming in the Pacific or strolling on the famous Santa Monica Pier mere moments after leaving the office.

But how exactly did 180 end up out here in LA anyway? “It was sort of the perfect storm,” explains William. “Since its inception in 1998, 180 Amsterdam’s primary client has been Adidas. This relationship had led to 180 doing amazing work for Adidas all over the world. The only place 180 wasn’t really doing the work was in the North American market, which was being done by TBWA\Chiat\Day. It seemed that, over time, the client was feeling that North America having a different brand face than the rest of the world wasn’t ideal. There was a desire to have more of a consistent look, feel, tone, face of the brand. 180 soon won the US portion of the business as well, but part of that decision was for 180 to open an agency here in the US, preferably on the West Coast since Adidas North America is in Portland. In addition to this, 180 pitched and won Sony Electronics, as well as a Sony global assignment. Sony Electronics is based in San Diego, and they wanted to have 180 on the ground nearby as well, so the stars aligned and we quickly set up shop out here on the West Coast.”

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180 LA officially opened its doors in January of 2007 with a staff of only four people. By the time Williaam arrived in May, it had grown to a whopping eleven full-timers, with many of them coming from the Amsterdam office. Fast forward two years later, and the LA shop is a busy and bustling seventy people strong, including a copywriter who 180 hired at last year’s Portfolio Night. Close to two-thirds of the agency is made up of what you’d call the creative department, but it has a slightly different make-up than your typical agency. This includes bringing in experts in retail design, a discipline much desired by Adidas, Bombay Sapphire, Boost Mobile and other 180 clients. “Retail is where the rubber meets the road,” says William. “It’s where the real decision of whether or not you’re going to buy something is made. We really believe in doing branding that works in the retail space.” Of course 180 isn’t only thinking retail. The creative department is well staffed with traditional roles like art directors, writers and CDs, and interactive, digital and production people as well.

180 LA chooses not to maintain a formalized team structure within the agency, “Each client has its own set of issues,” says William, “and those issues change from time to time. It makes more sense to group creatives by their abilities to take on certain issues.”

When such an issue comes down the pike, the early conceptualizing is usually given to a CW/AD/CD team. Once some sort of big idea is formed, other creatives are brought into the process, to think of different directions for the idea to head in, be it digital, retail, mobile or whatever. At this point, 180s strategists, planners, account people and producers get involved, to make sure they ideas can actually be executed on time and on budget. The creative director then culls everything but the best ideas, and this is what the client gets to see. Take note: the ideas aren’t dictated by media. “We try to make sure there’s no feeling of ‘we have to use TV because that’s what we were told’,” explains William. “Picking the media in advance tends to close options, and sometimes the best idea isn’t a double-page spread, but a magazine insert that leads to a mobile solution that leads to an event.”

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While you might be assigned to a project due to your specific skill set, 180 LA, like most agencies, does welcome and encourage its creatives to come up with ideas beyond their normal expertise. “We may have a formula to determine who works on what,” says William, “but it’s far more of an art than exact science.” There is one notable exception at 180: the people who work on sports-specific projects for Adidas tend to be hardcore fans of that particular sport. “The best work is driven by insights. If the project involves, say, basketball, and you don’t know basketball, chances are you’re not going to crack the big idea that’s going to be relevant or authentic to the brand.” But don’t worry if you don’t know a full court press from a pick and roll. “With that one exception, I think that with every client that we have here, every creative from any walk of life should be able to come up with the big idea or execute against it.”

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So what’s the average day like for a 180 LA staffer? I asked William to throw in some context, to compare it to the New York scene he was so familiar with. “In New York I’d be up at the crack of dawn, eat breakfast, take my daughter and walk to work. I’d work and work and work some more, grab lunch at Bubby’s, come back and work until the wee hours, trying my best to get home before my kids went to sleep. Then I’d kick back with a glass of wine while sucking on exhaust fumes from the Holland Tunnel. Rinse and repeat.” Compare that with the 180 experience, which often begins with many staffers taking a pre-work swim or surf. This is often repeated at lunch time, when a lot of the team goes out for jogs on the boardwalk. Luckily the agency is equipped with showers to wash all that sea salt and sweat off.

followdwight Agency Profile: 180 LAWilliam credits this work environment not only to a laid-back West Coast lifestyle, but also to 180′s Amsterdam roots. “The Amsterdam office certainly has some flavor that we try to replicate here,” he explains. “180 is an agency that built on that principle of having a life/work balance. It’s one of the things I really admire about the agency. In Amsterdam, everyone rides their bike to work. They work hard, but they take five weeks vacation. We don’t really have the five weeks vacation thing here in the US, but we try to bring as much of the Amsterdam mentality as we can to LA. So many people ride their bikes or skateboards to work here. We joke that 180 Amsterdam is the Canal House, and we’re the Beach House!”

adidasyoutube Agency Profile: 180 LA180 LA is also doing a decent job at recreating something else the Amsterdam office is famous for: a multi-national staff. “We don’t have the level of expats that Amsterdam has, but if you walk through our halls you’ll find Brits, Dutch, Germans, as well as some boring old Americans.”

The Los Angeles office has only been around for 2 1/2 years, but that’s long enough to establish some traditions and rituals. Many of these center around 180′s rooftop terrace, a beautiful patio with views that stretch from Malibu to Palos Verdes. It is on this rooftop that announcements are made to the whole office; new staff and clients, staff and clients leaving, everything happens atop the 180 office. And on Fridays after work, the agency fires up the grill, cracks open the Dutch beer and Bombay Sapphire and watches the sun set over the Pacific. The rooftop is also a kick-ass place to bring prospective and current clients, as it truly encapsulates the Santa Monica vibe that 180 LA has.

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Being so close to the beach means that some 180 LA traditions must involve getting a little sand in your shorts. These include a crazy annual summer party in a giant rented-out beach house, right on the ocean near Malibu’s Carbon Beach. And there’s one final activity that can’t be scheduled in advance. When the weather is perfect and there are three-foot swells out on the ocean, William likes to call an impromptu office mass exodus to the beach, to take advantage of the best surfing conditions Santa Monica has to offer.

SEVENTH GENERATION “SHOW THE WORLD WHAT’S INSIDE” CASE STUDY

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Wow, it sounds like 180 LA might be the only agency with an SPF factor. But at the end of the day, what should we take away from this? What’s the core of the 180 LA philosophy? “I think one of the big misconceptions among both creative agencies and creatives is that you need to burn it at both ends to succeed, that you’re only going to be good if you work your ass off,” says William. “The truth is you’re only going to be good if you work hard. Being in the office until four in the morning doesn’t mean you’re gonna be good. I actually think that if you’re living to work all day long, you’re not living. You’re not bringing any of your life experience to work, which means you’re not really bringing anything to the table. Most likely you’re just copying what you’ve seen in the advertising annuals because you’re probably living and breathing advertising. Here at 180 we want people to have life experiences so that they can bring those experiences into the workplace. Different flavors, different textures, that’s what we’re about.”

It has finally occurred to me. The difference between chatting with New York William and 180 Los Angeles William… the latter one has gotten a lot more sun.






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