By Creating Products That Connect Marketers and Consumers, Brooklyn Biz Is Growing Into Its Name.
By Kunur Patel, January 23, 2012.
Aaron Shapiro, CEO and partner at Huge, is crouched on the floor of his rubble-covered office, grinning at a gaping hole in the wall. He's grinning because the hole is a metaphor for the shop's success.
Last year, the Interpublic Group of Cos.-owned shop doubled headcount -- it has more than 420 staffers in the U.S. -- as well as revenue, to $100 million. As employees streamed out of the New York headquarters over the December holidays, constructions workers streamed in to claim more space for an agency that's finally growing into its name.
Founded in 1999, Huge is among the biggest agencies in Dumbo, the neighborhood nestled down under two bridges in Brooklyn. Huge is also a big reason the neighborhood is often referred to as Digital Dumbo. And though it's a mere five miles from Madison Avenue, the shop couldn't be further from adland in many ways.
Though Huge counts blue-chip marketers such as Comcast, Pizza Hut, PepsiCo and Unilever as clients, it doesn't make ads for brands. Rather, it products that help marketers connect with consumers in new ways.
"In the old days, we were a design firm," said Mr. Shapiro. "Now all our clients are transforming for a digital world."
Huge's goal is to help clients solve business problems in a digital world.
For Pizza Hut, for example, the difference between the former business as usual and today's reality is simple: People aren't going into its stores anymore. For retail clients Target and Ikea, the shift has been the influence of online research and marketing on offline sales.
One of Huge's most successful digital products last year was a newfangled way for consumers to access HBO programming on mobile devices: HBO Go apps.
With on-demand viewing becoming a norm, and more and more gadgets prime for video, the HBO Go apps package the network's collection of original series and movies so that subscribers can have anytime portable TV.
After seven months, the iPad app had been downloaded more than 5 million times, which is nearly 20% of the network's total subscriber base.
Hans Deutmeyer, VP at HBO Go and Max Go, said the apps have led to viewership spikes. He now wants Huge to help figure out how HBO content lives on a range of other devices.
"They're working with us to map out the entire user experience in how the HBO brand is represented on all these devices -- connected TV, web and mobile -- so it's a consistent experience," Mr. Deutmeyer said. The first TV app launched late last year on Roku. The apps will soon be available on Xbox and Samsung TVs and Blu-ray players.
Online, Huge is also working on ways to make HBO shows interactive. The agency helped build features -- think pop-up notes appending trivia or director's comments on an episode as you watch it -- for HBO's Prohibition-era series "Boardwalk Empire."
"Huge is not an agency that builds websites; it's really building web businesses, and that's what we needed in a partner," said John Williamson, senior VP-general manager for Comcast.com, which hired the agency early last year.
Mr. Williamson said that Comcast.com has seen "significant growth" in sales and self-service adoption since Huge redesigned the site with a focus on e-commerce and customer service.
Huge has managed to propel growth and momentum via the investment from Interpublic, which took a majority stake in the agency in 2008 and has helped open outposts in Rio de Janiero and London. The firm proved its mettle even after the departure of David Skokna, its founder and creative polestar.
So, after a year that made Huge twice as big, what's Mr. Shapiro's plan for 2012? "Don't screw up."