Digital Agency Model Struck By Lightning

PORTLAND—Agencies with digital capabilities are a dime a dozen today. On the other hand, an agency with digital DNA that also creates compelling retail experiences, new products/companies and traditional advertising, is rare indeed. Ergo, I feel like I may be in the presence of an albino gorilla here at Struck’s Old Town offices.

John Gross, Strategist/Account Director, says, “We do killer websites, but we get that digital is storytelling.” And therein lies the Salt Lake City-based shop’s magic formula. Struck has an awesome toolbox, but the leaders of the shop know that tools, regardless of their power and shiny attractiveness, are just tools. The real work is using the tools to build something wonderful.

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Another of Stuck’s defining characteristics is its habit of taking on challenger brands like Asics and Jack in the Box; in fact, the agency considers itself to be a challenger brand.

I ask if being an agency from Salt Lake City is a perception challenge that needs to be overcome, even though the agency’s record of winning big accounts out of market is well established. Struck CEO, Daniel Conner, sees Salt Lake as a strategic advantage, if anything, and recounts a story about how executives from Lennar were wowed by the agency’s “second to none” thinking (which led to Struck being named AOR by the home builder).

Matt Anderson, Creative Director in the Portland office says, “To be a great agency, you have to solves your cleints’ really messy problems.” He counts Jack in the Box as a good example. The brand has been running its iconic Jack character TV campaign for 18 years, but there was no reflection of the brand’s attitude in digital. Struck has successfully changed the score by bringing an irreverent and mobile-first approach to this QSR.

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Struck believes in being “greater than.” Conner says it’s not just about messaging, it’s about creating better experiences. Generally speaking we all want greatness out of everything we do, he says. “At Struck we believe we can make it a bit better than everyone else, for our clients and ourselves. It was an internal mantra and a common cause we rallied around,” says Conner, “but we didn’t quite understand what it was until we gave it a brand.”

Pauline Ploquin, Chief Operating Officer at Struck, provides some context for the mantra with a story about how Struck went above and beyond to build its hospitality client The Grand America Hotel two new retail stores, a toy store and a bakery, from the ground up. “We came in as a marketing partner,” says Ploquin. But when Struck saw that the hotel needed a stronger retail strategy, the results led the agency to cross over into product development. Ploquin adds that the toy store they created, JouJou, may expand into a retail chain.

Gross says, “We’re not afraid to take a stand and push clients outside their comfort zone. In digital, safe equals boring.”

Anderson says, “The reason we work at Struck and not in some basement at McCann, or somewhere else, is because we want to do things that matter to our clients.” He adds, “We have never been in a position where we felt free to do something that didn’t count. Everyday is a street fight. We’re just always fighting for our lives.”

Anderson brings the agency’s “greater than” philosophy full circle. He says, it’s a way to keep ourselves honest. We ask “Is this great enough? Because if it’s not, sooner or later we’ll turn into one of those small regional agencies that does ads for oil changes.”

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I have to say Struck’s insistence on always being “greater than” has delivered impressive results. While working on a project for Gatorade, for instance, the Struck team realized that the shortcomings in Radian6′s social listening tool could be overcome through better visualizations. So Struck made its own product, called NUVI, which is now a stand alone business with 25 clients already on board, including Berkshire Hathaway’s Business Wire and other agencies like Fallon and TBWA\Chiat\Day.

Conner says there’s a technology boom happening in Utah, a.k.a. the Silicon Slopes. “Struck as a digital creative agency is riding that wave. In fact, we helped generate a lot of this wave. A lot of our designers and developers have roots in this world.”

“Great ideas don’t just live on Madison Avenue anymore,” says Conner. “In order to execute these ideas, you need to be where the talent is, and there’s a ton of development talent in Utah. Same with Portland, the talent’s here.”

About David Burn

Fired up to write it down. Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. Chief storyteller at Bonehook, a guide service and bait shop for brands.