Long before Julius Caeser built the Roman Empire, a glorious civilization in southern Mexico was carving sophisticated hieroglyphs in the stone walls of its great palaces and temples.
Today, Caesar has his name on a casino in Las Vegas and one of those ancient Mayan hieroglyphs is being used to market an advertising agency in West Los Angeles.
La Agencia de Orci's new logo was originally used in pre-Columbian hieroglyphics to symbolize that what followed was going to be really important; translated into English, the symbol would mean, roughly, "Communication which is sacred."
It's purely coincidental that the symbol looks a lot like a Nike swoosh, only backwards.
"An association with Nike is always very pleasant, even though it was not our intention," said La Agencia Co-Chairman Hector Orci, whose agency specializes in Spanish-language advertising.
Orci's new logo is of interest for more than just its heritage. It's an example of something surprisingly rare: an ad agency practicing what it preaches.
Very few agencies bother to come up with their own logos, slogans or brand identities, even though they are paid handsomely to create these things for other companies.
There are, of course, exceptions. But most local agencies seem to think it's enough simply to come up with a stylistic nameplate for their letterheads, and leave it at that.
"Most agencies are terrible at marketing themselves," said Michael Marsak, who runs advertising consultancy Effective Marketing Strategies Inc. in Marina del Rey. "Most of them have an episodic approach to new business programs. They put together a reel and a brochure, send them out once a year, and then when they don't get a response they forget about it."
La Agencia de Orci's new logo will be used on correspondence, materials used in new-business presentations, internal communications, business cards, and so forth.
"It's a good opportunity to remind clients and prospective clients what we stand for," Orci said.
A much bigger local agency, Saatchi & Saatchi Pacific, has taken the concept a step further.
Saatchi's parent, under new Chief Executive Kevin Roberts, is trying to reinvent itself as a shop focused on great creative work. So over the summer, Saatchi & Saatchi Pacific Executive Creative Director Joe McDonagh took the agency's long-time, little-used slogan "Nothing is Impossible" and gave it a makeover.
McDonagh hired artist Gary Baseman to paint a series of works illustrating the "impossible" theme like a pig flying, hell freezing over, money growing on trees and a square peg going through a round hole. The attractive prints have been plastered on thousands of postcards, printed on T-shirts, posted all over the agency's Web site, and postitively hits you over the head when you visit the agency's Torrance office.
"We wanted to communicate corporate hip," McDonagh said. "We can't sit here and act like we're a little boutique. However, we have to bring that same passion and commitment as a little boutique, or we can't compete."
Do these self-promotional activities work in attracting new business? Nobody really knows, but the handful of agencies that aggressively support their own brand identities say it certainly can't hurt. After all, if an agency can't build its own brand, how can it do the job for somebody else?
"We as an industry sometimes become our own worst enemy," McDonagh said. "We advise our clients to aggressively promote their brands, and sometimes we do nothing for ourselves."
Speaking of brand identities...
Sometimes, a marketer's identity or reputation can really get in the way.
Public relations agencies tend to get typecast, especially when they are known for specializing in a certain industry. That can put a major crimp on attracting new clients, because once you're known as a health care agency, very few movie studios come knocking on your door.
A somewhat extreme approach to that problem was taken recently by giant holding company Shandwick PLC, which apparently decided that its L.A. technology specialty agency was too specialized so it created a new one to specialize in a different segment of technology.
Century City-based Miller/Shandwick Technologies is a fast-growing, 22-employee agency that focuses on business-to-business and consumer technology. Its former General Manager Frank Pollare was recently assigned to start a splinter agency known as Shandwick Convergence, which will also specialize in technology only in the field of "emerging" technologies targeted to a mass consumer audience.
The difference between what Miller/Shandwick does and what Shandwick Convergence does is a subtle one; Miller/Shandwick is best known for marketing complex, high-tech products to a business or early-adopter consumer audience. Shandwick Convergence is aiming at entertainment-oriented products like interactive television or DVDs, or mass-consumer stuff like online malls.
"It's easier to start from scratch than to try to change a reputation, and we didn't want to do anything to detract from the reputation that Miller/Shandwick has," said Pollare.
Meanwhile, another typecast Shandwick agency is playing a big role in the formation of the new one. Rogers & Cowan is transferring its technology clients into Shandwick Convergence, and former Rogers & Cowan Executive Vice President Marcie Williams is joining Pollare at the new agency which is based in Rogers & Cowan's office a few floors below Miller/Shandwick's office on Century Park East.
"Rogers & Cowan has been unable to grow as quickly as it would like in technology, likely because they're Rogers & Cowan, and Rogers & Cowan is equated with entertainment," Pollare said.
Pollare will report to Rogers & Cowan Chief Executive Thomas Tardio. Pollare's replacement at Miller/Shandwick has not yet been chosen.
News Editor Dan Turner writes a weekly marketing column for the Los Angeles Business Journal.
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