Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

Alex Bogusky Tells Fast Company He's Never Going Back to Advertising: Meet the New Gang at Crispin Porter

Alex Bogusky tells Fast Company he's done with advertising for good, no matter who comes a knocking. "I've had some offers floated by and I find it really confusing," he told me last week. "I was Chairman of the best agency on earth four months ago and I left that. What makes people think they can come up with a better offer than best?"

Four months ago when Crispin Porter + Bogusky issued a press release announcing his departure, they essentially buried the headline. "Five new partners have been named at the agency," the hottest ad shop in the country best known for its prowess with the press, wrote. It wasn't until paragraph three that it quietly revealed: "Also announced today was Alex Bogusky's new role as Chief Creative Insurgent at MDC Partners, the parent company of CPB."

The news of five new Crispin partners and the MDC "promotion" was a decoy for those both inside and outside the agency that its star talent, Bogusky, was leaving Crispin (and a few months later, MDC). "We downplayed it a little bit," Bogusky, who'd been at the agency for 22 years, conceded to me. And the subtlety worked. "To be honest, I think they announced it in a way it didn't occur to me what had gone down," says a Crispin senior writer who left the agency last month. "I never took the time to think about it until a month or so ago, now I can tell there's a difference in the place. It seemed abrupt, but I guess there's no other way to do it. If Obama at the end of his turn was suddenly replaced with the top 20 senators, not only is Obama leaving but we have a whole new way of doing things."

The big question for Crispin now is how well it's one thousand employees will do now that their old leader—a solo pop superstar—has been replaced by a big band. Let's meet the members of that band.

The Godfather

Chuck Porter: In the 1980s the award-winning windsurfing copywriter from Minneapolis freelanced for tiny Miami ad shop Crispin, where he met another freelancer, Bill Bogusky. In 1988, Chuck offered Bill's son Alex a senior art director job at what became Crispin & Porter—and eventually Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Porter, still chairman of CPB and universally loved by everyone, also became chief strategist of MDC Partners in recent years, attempting to spread the Crispin juju across all of MDC's 30-plus communications agencies. Since Bogusky's abrupt resignation from MDC earlier this month, Porter's face has been splashed all over CPB's Web site and he told Ad Age he's not shedding too many tears over his recently departed partner of over two decades: "We'll miss him, and anybody would love to have him as a contributor, but it's not like it leaves a hole." Right.

The Old Blood

Jeff Hicks: The Miami native with an MBA from Harvard has been the shrewd business engine behind Crispin since becoming its president in 1997 and CEO in 2004. Hicks and Bogusky—both intensely competitive—have known each other since they were 12, and are rumored to be rivals.

Jeff Steinhour: Crispin's Boulder outpost is not the first stint in Colorado for the agency's Director of Content Management—he graduated high school in Denver. But Steinhour, who joined Crispin in 1992 and became partner within five years, never fully committed to Boulder with anything like Bogusky's zeal for the place; he and his family spend their summer months in Boulder, and the rest of the year in Miami. When I interviewed him back in 2008, he told me that when there was disagreement among the agency's then four partners, their philosophy was pretty simple: "We keep it away from the kids. We always try to not let financial and things I would say that give people pause get in the way of trying to develop and produce great ideas. We try to not make them employees problems." While superficially Steinhour and Bogusky had little in common—"Alex has a very different set of hobbies. I don't do motocross, but I like doing a lot of stuff he likes to do, I bike, I hike," he told me—Steinhour's interests are still most aligned with his current partner, Hicks. "Jeff likes the water, he's a big fisherman, diver, hanging out on islands, in boats," Steinhour says, "I go fishing with him all the time." I'd gamble on Crispin's Sunshine State office growing post-Bogusky.

The Proteges

Andrew Keller: The father of two sets of twins who channels the native looks Napoleon Dynamite first interviewed for a job at Crispin in 1995—and didn't get it. "Alex had a question he always used to ask in interviews, 'If you weren't doing advertising, what would you do?' It was a trick question, basically if you said you wanted to do something else, he said why don't you go do that instead? I totally fell into it the first time," says Keller, who at the time told Bogusky he wanted to be a musician. Two years later he came back and got the art director job at the then 70-person shop. Twelve years later, Keller is now half of the duo carrying Bogusky's creative mantle as Crispin's Co-Executive Creative Director. The Atlanta native confesses Bogusky has not only groomed him, but has beaten the pushover out of him: "One of the things I learned from Alex is that being nice about someone's mediocrity is the worst kind of mean."

Rob Reilly: Keeping the tradition of Crispin inter-marriages alive, the husband of new Crispin partner Laura Bowles shares his title—and his office (Bogusky's old office)—with Keller. Before becoming Crispin's Co-Executive Creative Director, the copywriter had five years under his belt at the agency as Global Creative Director of Burger King, the agency's most notorious account, and partial mastermind of the King.

The Disciples

Laura Bowles: The wife of Crispin Co-Executive Creative Director Rob Reilly, Bowles made her mark as account manager of selling the unsellable: convincing Crispin's former client, Volkswagen, to do things like turn real car crashes into ads. After thirteen years at the agency often considered a testosterone-juiced boys club, the Arizona native broke through as Group Account Director, a role she shares with Heather Faunce.

Heather Faunce: Like Bowles, Faunce is a group account director. Faunce came from Leagas Delaney, and has worked with hot clients like Virgin Atlantic. She's also been part of the team working with Microsoft, the account that helped put Crispin on the cover of Fast Company back in 2008.

Jeff Benjamin: Crispin's in house geek has been the mastermind behind growing and integrating the agency's digital muscle into all its work. Since joining Crispin in 2003 after a stint at Goodby, Benjamin has not only become the shop's Executive Creative Director, but most recently was president of the Cyber Lions Jury in Cannes. Says one former Crispin copywriter of Benjamin: "I think being a genius in the digital world may not go hand in hand in with being the most outgoing sociable people-person," he says. "When he walks the halls he's not joking—he's quiet and contemplative."

David Rolfe: One of Crispin's many "boomerang" employees—the affable Rolfe left Crispin for DDB in 2005 and came back in 2007—the agency's Director of Integrated Production also sports himself as a sideline wine critic. Says Rolfe of Bogusky's departure, not too worry: "He was such a powerful figure throughout our history that he also could design his exit the entire time. He designed the long-term structure of the company."

Winston Binch: The loquacious and opinionated former guitarist of indie rock band Stereobate heads Crispin's team of 250 digital jockeys as Managing Director of Interactive. Binch joined Crispin in 2005, after being raised at R/GA working on Nike digital, and has this to say about the expectation Bogusky has set for the next generation. "We've always had a mission for the agency and we've inherited it," says Binch. "Leave advertising better than you found it, and I think Alex accomplished his goals."

[Photograph by Peter Yang]