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From startup to major player in three years: the rise of New York’s Barton F. Graf 9000

How do you get from fledg­ling ad shop to major agency in three years? Ger­ry Graf, CEO of three-year-old New York agency Bar­ton F. Graf 9000, is prob­a­bly the man who can give the defin­i­tive answer.

The art of the clev­er­ly absurd

Graf resigned as CCO at Saatchi and Saatchi New York in 2010 to set up Bar­ton F. Graf 9000 (or BFG 9000 as it’s affec­tion­ate­ly called). Before that, he’d chalked up an impres­sive CV, hav­ing worked for years at anoth­er pres­ti­gious New York agency, TBWA\Chiat\Day. You don’t need to be a vet­er­an account man­ag­er to fig­ure out that this guy knows more than a thing or two about Adland.

In its first three years of exis­tence, BFG 9000 has estab­lished a well-deserved rep­u­ta­tion for its char­ac­ter-dri­ven, often bizarrely hilar­i­ous ads, a notable exam­ple of which is its recent offer­ing for Lit­tle Caesar’s piz­za (one ad fea­tures a cou­ple order­ing a piz­za in a Lit­tle Caesar’s restau­rant – so delight­ed are they at not hav­ing to wait for their food that they exu­ber­ant­ly leap up and down four times to give each oth­er dou­ble high-fives, then once for a sin­gle high five).

Art direc­tors with attitude?

Ear­li­er this month, Graf hired erst­while TBWA\Chiat\Day col­leagues Scott Vit­rone and Ian Reichen­thal. The two have since been run­ning Wieden+Kennedy’s New York cre­ative depart­ment as co-exec­u­tive cre­ative direc­tors, the role they’ll now be adopt­ing at Graf’s agency, along with anoth­er for­mer W+K cre­ative, Bran­don Lugar.

“Scott and Ian”, as the duo have become known, won a cov­et­ed Cannes Lion award for their work on the “Sheep Boys” ads for Skit­tles and on the “Man Mom” cam­paign for Com­bos. They also helped repo­si­tion South­ern Com­fort dur­ing their time at W+K with their strik­ing “Whatever’s Com­fort­able” campaign.

Speak­ing to AdAge, Graf said:

“We’re not a start­up any­more. We’re a major agency. We have nation­al clients, glob­al clients. It was real­ly this year when we moved into phase two that I start­ed think­ing I need­ed heavy hit­ters. Scott and Ian are the world’s best cre­ative direc­tors. Scot­t’s sense of design is fan­tas­tic and Ian’s one of the best pure writ­ers around. They’re real­ly going to give us a lot more cre­ative handles.”

Art direc­tors and account man­agers will prob­a­bly agree: get the cre­atives right and much else falls into place.

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