Usually, when you hear about ad agency veterans opening up their own shop, the principals consist of someone with a copywriting background, someone with an art direction background, and someone with an account management background. But Seattle’s PB& isn’t structured that way — and that’s proving to be an effective move.
Founded in 2016 by strategist Britt Peterson Fero and production expert Pete Anderson, PB& has already made a splash with a number of high-profile projects for Visit Seattle, Budweiser, and other clients. As for the roles of the principals, “In a traditional agency model, strategy and production are often pigeonholed at the beginning and end of the process. But there’s a lot that happens to an idea along the way,” Fero said. “We’re freed up to get to the idea faster and then bring in the resources to make it real.”
Added Anderson, “An idea might call for an architect or a retail designer, not an ad team. We think of it as ‘strategic consultancy meets Hollywood production company.’” Without an account management leader, both Fero and Anderson share oversight of the client relationship for each project.
Agility Provides the Key to Success
Like many of their peers in the ad world, the PB& team have heard the frustrations of clients who believe many agencies are slowed by their processes and often have trouble responding to cultural moments and business situations.
That’s why clients are receptive to the PB& model, according to Fero. “The way the world changes now, flexibility is more important to clients than ever before,” she said. “Marketers want agency partners who are willing to understand what the challenge is, and then design around it. There’s still a process many agencies have to go through that’s too cumbersome.”
The agility of PB& was on full display in early 2017 when Seattle residents were asked to “shine a light” in a show of solidarity for immigrants and refugees after President Trump proposed a travel ban. As Anderson recalls, “As soon as the idea was announced – it was 4:00 on a Monday – Britt looked at me and said, “Do you think we can capture this for Visit Seattle?” On 24 hours notice, the PB& team created a video to commemorate the event and even got hometown artist Macklemore to provide the soundtrack.
The key to successfully using that kind of cultural currency, according to Fero, is an understanding your client’s brand and how far it can stretch. “One of the strengths of this city is how welcoming it is of everyone — its diversity. When you really know the brand, you can use moments like these when they occur, and it totally makes sense.”
Relationships were the key to landing a big project with Budweiser. In the Pacific Northwest, the land of hoppy IPAs and other craft beers, Bud might seem like an odd client to have. But Fero believes it’s a good strategic fit. “What’s special about Budweiser is its history, set of values, and a story that Northwesterners can connect with,” she said. “You’re talking about a brand which is all about the pursuit of passion, ambition, and following your dream. Those are really strong PNW values. We decided to show them and celebrate them.”
Seattle: A Challenge and an Opportunity
The presence of Amazon and other tech startups has infused Seattle with a lot of resources to pull off big ideas, according to Anderson. “Being in Seattle, you’re exposed to a lot of new ideas. There’s lots of talent here, and I can find just about anybody to build something here or try something different,” he said.
But even with the explosion in entrepreneurship, ideas and talent, Seattle still takes a backseat to cities like San Francisco as an advertising town. The PB& team is fully aware of the perception challenges facing ad agencies based in the Emerald City. “Seattle is a town full of amazing, creative startups, but it’s not known to be an advertising mecca,” said Fero. “I think it’s an overlooked market. And I think the agencies here, collectively, haven’t been great about building our own brands within the city.”
Nevertheless, PB& has big goals and is actively working to raise its national profile. Among its target prospects are blue-chip companies and consumer packaged goods clients, for which Fero and Anderson both have prior experience. “We’re hungry,” Anderson said. “We have senior-level people ready to take on really tough challenges.”