Holmes Report 18 Feb 2011 // 12:00AM GMT
Cake’s proposition is beguilingly simple. It calls itself an ideas company that helps brands become part of peoples lives, through PR, social media and experiential campaigns. In its 11 years of existence, though, the agency has demonstrated an unerring ability to navigate the complex waters of consumer behaviour to deliver on its promise of ‘brand entertainment’. When Cake was founded by music publicists Mike Mathieson and Mark Whelan in 1999, the duo’s contacts in the entertainment industry, combined with a typical dose of entrepreneurial flair, ensured a strong start. By 2002 the agency had won Budweiser and was already starting to develop a reputation for digital expertise, alongside a more traditional ability to create compelling set-piece stunts. Unsurprisingly, bigger fish took notice - and in 2008 Cake was acquired by Havas Media.
That the agency appears to have hardly missed a beat since the buyout is probably testimony to stable leadership team. Cake CEO Mathieson is now also global entertainment director of Havas Sports & Entertainment, with the agency restructuring its team slightly in 2010 to better reflect its business offering. Five-year agency veteran Chris Wood was appointed managing director, while managing partner Jim Dowling, who has spent a decade at Cake over two stints, now oversees all planning, strategy and social media. Board director Davnet Doran now has responsibility for experiential, with long-term staff member Michele Charles becoming head of PR. Cake also welcomed back one of its earliest employees, Jez Jowett, who returned from the advertising world to become global head of digital and social media.
Cake also took the opportunity to reposition its offering in 2010, shifting away from ‘brand entertainment’ to ‘ideas incorporated’, a reflection of how brands must now be incorporated into people’s lives, by being of use, adding value or entertaining. Cake has always possessed one of the country’s stronger content creation units, developing the kind of branded programming for Orange and Vodafone that is usually the preserve of ad agencies. But the new positioning better takes into account the agency’s well-developed social media offering, which this year added Jon Morter, who rose to fame as the campaigner behind the Rage Against the Machine Facebook Group.
After a relatively difficult time in 2009, Cake bounced back strongly in 2010, winning 15 new clients across its three core disciplines. Orange was the biggest, with the agency taking on strategic duties on all of the brand’s partnerships across film and music. On the PR side, new business also arrived from West End Marketing Association and Westfield Stratford City. In social media, meanwhile, Cake bagged Yahoo’s global World Cup project, and also rolled out a successful global Facebook campaign for Hyundai Kia, around that brand’s sponsorship of the 2010 World Cup.
Growth did not stem purely from new business alone: Cake also added to its Ikea consumer PR account by picking up its first foray into exhibitions, Grand Designs Live, and the social media brief for the brand’s Dublin store, piloting a strategy that will eventually roll out to all 19 stores. Other key existing clients include BSkyB, British Airways, Coca-Cola, Carphone Warehouse, Carling, Visit London, V Festival and Unilever, for which Cake is one of the global roster agencies.
In terms of campaigns, there were plenty of interesting assignments to choose from. The Yahoo World Cup social media and experiential drive eventually drove two million people to Yahoo’s football site. The firm also created 30m maze in the heart of Trafalgar Square for the West End Partnership to raise awareness of the attractions of the London district. Cake also launched a ‘Swap for Swag’ recycling programme for Coca-Cola at summer music festivals, comfortably exceeding the KPIs set by the client. And awards recognition was not lacking, with Cake winning a Cannes Silver PR Lion, a Revolution Award for Best Use Of Online PR, and two PRWeek Awards.
The agency’s ownership by Havas now gives Cake access to a global network; the agency has launched a New York office that focuses on digital and is also starting to play a bigger role on global PR and social media reviews.—AS