Fast 50 2008: AKQA

In the annals of advertising history, 2007 will be remembered as the year of the digital acquisition frenzy. Ad holding companies Publicis and WPP, along with tech companies like Microsoft, spent billions of dollars scooping up the hottest digital shops, racing to import the future of advertising. And now only one of the industry’s most dangerous digital players–AKQA–stands alone. Last year, the 12-year-old agency, whose roster flaunts a five-star litany of clients like Nike, McDonald’s, and Visa, fended off the preying vultures in favor of independence by opting for a $250 million investment from private equity firm General Atlantic.

Who wouldn’t want a piece of the 700-person digital powerhouse that’s designed the interface for the Xbox 360, planted RFID chips in Nike shoelaces for a London marathon, and built a Pixar-quality interactive online universe spun out of Coke’s breathtaking “Happiness Factory” TV campaign?

“For us, technology is the backbone for all of our ideas,” says Lars Bastholm, the company’s executive creative director. “It’s an innate love of what’s the next thing you’ll be able to do in communication.”

Unlike most interactive shops that veer either too left brain or too right, AKQA has mastered the sweet spot, bridging the creative and the technical. After five consecutive years of profitability, last year they boosted revenues 39% to $100 million, recruiting new clients including Unilever, Doubleclick, and Cadbury-Schweppes. Its rapidly growing staff of 700 graphic designers, software engineers, coders, and art directors span the globe, working in the company’s San Francisco, DC, New York, and London offices, as well as Amsterdam and Shanghai, the most recent additions. The outlook for 2008 isn’t too shabby: With two clients sponsoring the Olympics, a recent acquisition of a search engine marketing company, and buzz of a possible IPO, it’s safe to assume the vultures will still be circling.