Fashion advertising agency Laird + Partners is aiming to ramp up its global client base and digital services division following an investment by Toronto-based MDC Partners.
The Canadian holding company, which has stakes in more than 45 advertising, marketing and communications firms, acquired a majority share of Laird + Partners for about $13 million. Trey Laird, the agency’s founder, has retained a significant minority stake in the company he founded in 2002.
This story first appeared in the September 19, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“I knew I wanted to go to the next level globally. So many of our clients have initiatives in Europe and China. And our digital business is growing like crazy and we want to be able to fuel that growth,” said Laird, chief executive and creative officer, of his decision to sell a controlling share of the firm, which employs 79 people in its New York office. Key executives at Laird + Partners are president and chief operating officer Paul Donaher, chief financial officer Paula Daly and executive vice president and creative director Hans Dorsinville.
The company plans to open a London office to service European clients, followed by an office in China, said Laird. The agency has been increasing its international business, winning Coty Inc.’s Rimmel account last month. Over the weekend, Laird flew to Paris to work on a rebranding campaign for the Karl Lagerfeld label, as well.
“Our ambition is to be able to get Laird + Partners further, faster, using all of our human and financial resources,” said Miles Nadal, chairman and chief executive officer of MDC Partners, which is publicly traded on the NASDAQ and Toronto Stock Exchange. For the 12 months ended June 30, MDC Partners posted net revenue of $850 million.
MDC Partners until now has focused on the packaged goods, retail, financial services and automotive categories. The company is eager to increase its exposure to fashion and luxury accounts, said Nadal. Among MDC Partners’ portfolio agencies are Crispin Porter + Bogusky, whose clients include Old Navy; Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners, which works with Target, and the public relations firm HL Group, whose client roster includes David Yurman, Diane von Furstenberg, Prada fragrances and Hudson.
“I think it’s a marriage made in heaven,” said Diane von Furstenberg, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, a client of Laird + Partners. “Trey is one of the most talented people in the industry, and Miles is a friend of mine, an extraordinary man who has assembled many companies while allowing each of them to keep their entrepreneurial spirit intact.”
Prior to this deal, Laird held discussions with three of the four big agency holding companies, which include Omnicom, WPP, Interpublic and Publicis Groupe. “I was a little bit cautious because I didn’t feel most of the people I spoke to were the right fit culturally. When I met Miles, I immediately connected with him,” said Laird.
Among Laird’s current and recent work are prominent campaigns for Tommy Hilfiger, Tory Burch, St. John, Gap, Bottega Veneta, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Project (Red) and Coty Inc. fragrances with Beyoncé Knowles, Halle Berry and Sarah Jessica Parker.
“I really felt that he got what we were doing at Gap and he was an integral part of the team,” said Millard “Mickey” Drexler, the former ceo of Gap Inc. and the current ceo of J. Crew Group. “We spoke the same language and shared the same vision. It worked out beautifully.”
Laird does not currently work with Drexler for J. Crew, but the two do regularly take Soul Cycle classes together.
Laird + Partners created the Fashion’s Night Out campaign with the Glee cast this year.
“The wonderful thing about working with Trey on FNO is that his vision for it is as big as the night itself,” said Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue and architect of the event. “I think anyone else might have ran as fast as they could from the enormity of FNO, but he only saw it as another challenge to rise to, which he did, with incredible results. Trey has this enviable—and unparalleled—ability to elevate everything he touches, yet for all the taste and style and coolness he brings to his projects, he has this knack of making them human scaled and touched by warmth and emotion.”
Laird + Partners jostles for accounts in a competitive set that includes Lloyd & Co., Lipman, Laspata/DeCaro, A/R, Kraftworks, Baron & Baron and Badger & Winters. The firm has built a reputation as an integrated advertising firm with as much expertise in strategic branding and holistic marketing as working with the industry’s top photographers, celebrities and models for print, television and digital components of campaigns. The firm also offers media planning, brand identity and store design services. “We really try to marry that strong conceptual and strategic side with an insider visual sophistication when it comes to fashion,” said Laird, pointing to the ongoing “Meet the Hilfigers” campaign as an example of a compelling, concept-driven campaign that doesn’t just rely on pretty pictures.
In recent years, the company has branched out beyond fashion, with clients like the DoubleTree division of Hilton Hotels and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, for which it created television spots for the Mott’s apple juice brand. “They wanted to appeal to women in a visually impactful way. I like that we can do fashion and then turn around and do super-mainstream clients,” said Laird.