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    Meet Argonaut, the latest San Francisco agency to be launched by alumni of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.

    The shop, which opens this week, is led by chief creative officers Rick Condos and Hunter Hindman and president Jordan Warren. Condos and Hindman were most recently executive creative directors at Goodby.

    Warren is a former president of West Coast operations for the now-defunct Agency.com, which Omnicom rebranded as Signal to Noise in 2010 and shuttered in 2011. Warren also co-founded San Francisco agency Eleven in 1999.

    Argonaut has yet to sign any clients. The agency, though, is financially backed by Project Worldwide, a small but growing holding company that includes events marketing shops like George P. Johnson and has expanded through the acquisition of agencies such as Partners + Napier in Rochester, N.Y. 

    The new venture's initial team of six also includes lead technologist Robbie Whiting, head of strategy Max Heilbron and new business chief Conal O'Doherty.

    At Goodby, Condos and Hindman worked on brands like Cisco and Chevrolet. Before that, they partnered at Wieden + Kennedy in Amsterdam on Coca-Cola, helping to create ads such as "Happiness Factory."

    Argonaut follows on a long line of Bay Area startups founded by Goodby expats. In 2012, former partner and ecd Jamie Barrett launched barrettSF with Patrick Kelly. Other Bay area shops with Goodby roots include Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, Venables Bell & Partners and Eleven.

    "It really feels like the right time for us," Hindman said. "It's something we've been thinking about for a long time. But we ultimately know that it comes down to the people we surround ourselves with who will create the success that we'll have. I think it was that right moment where we ran across the right group of people."

    When asked about the name, Condos said Argonaut "both signaled our kind of feeling going out to do this, the adventure we were undertaking [and] the type of people that we want to attract and the kind of clients that we want to work with."

    Condos added that "there's a certain amount of quest for the unknown here and courage and striking out for unknown futures is exciting."


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    Volkswagen of America's minute-long 2014 Super Bowl spot from ad agency Argonaut, released online this morning, sports a pretty lofty concept: Every time a VW vehicle hits 100,000 miles, a German engineer gets his wings. Indeed, we see feathered appendages sprout from engineers' backs, and some of the guys float around a VW factory like angels in lab coats. The "wings envy" scene in the men's room is a cute touch.

    “We are thrilled with this year's creative, which highlights the enthusiasm around our brand and our vehicles' German engineering in a humorous spot that embodies the Volkswagen spirit," says Vinay Shahani, VW's vp of marketing. The automaker claims to have the most cars on the road with over 100,000 miles.

    VW believes the "Wings" concept has legs, as the engineers will appear in additional game-day videos across VW's social channels and offer live responses to on-field developments. They will also lead an "Internet-ifier 5000" YouTube homepage takeover on Feb. 3, the day after the game, remixing the "Wings" commercial with cat and baby memes from around the Web.

    The spot's tone, broadly farcical but not especially outrageous, is nothing like VW's noisy "Algorithm" teaser, which lampooned Super Bowl ads by showing the engineers using science to design the "ultimate" big-game spot crammed with puppies, bikinis, babies, dinosaurs, pirates, Carmen Electra and Abraham Lincoln (none of which had wings).

    I wonder if VW will take some heat for showing mainly white, male, middle-aged engineers? The most prominent woman in the factory slaps a dude's face because she thinks he's trying to get less than angelic with her in an elevator. Guess he could've used a wingman.

    "Wings," which premiered Tuesday morning on NBC's Today show, marks the client's fifth consecutive Super Bowl appearance. VW enjoyed its greatest game-day success with 2011's "The Force," a charming Star Wars-themed spot from Deutsch LA. I doubt "Wings" will soar to such iconic heights, but its silly humor flies well enough to make the ad memorable.

    CREDITS
    Client: Volkswagen
    Agency: Argonaut, San Francisco


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    The budget-friendly rum category doesn’t have many choices liable to leave the buyer feeling like he’s just bought something artisanal. But Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum is clearly out to change that with a campaign unveiled on Jamaican Independence Day.

    One TV ad, from San Francisco shop Argonaut, lucks budget-friendly rum out of the usual realm of parties and pirates and plunges it deep into the Jamaican heartland. Shot in the Nassau Valley on the Appleton Estate, which has been distilling rum for 265 years and counting, the scenery is earthy and indigenous, featuring lush vegetation and poignant close-ups of the men and women who work at the distillery. The ad is aptly titled, “From Jamaica with Love.”

    Argonaut, whose creative team decamped from San Francisco to spend time on the Appleton grounds, captured the backing track from an impromptu hammer-and-barrel session performed by two of the estate’s workers, with lyrics added by Kingston-based reggae artist Brushy One String.

    The message here is clear: This is the real stuff that the locals drink. “If you could take the cane fields, the sunshine, and the people and the music of our home, and distill it into a single spirit, this is what it would be,” intones the narrator. “One hundred percent Jamaican from cane to cup.”

    “It’s rare to find a brand with such a rich and deep story waiting to be told,” Argonaut creative chief Hunter Hindman said, in a statement.

    Appleton’s latest effort is in marked contrast to most of rum’s usual fare, such as Cruzan’s recent spots featuring talking Macaws and crabs, and Caucasian actors.

    The “From Jamaica With Love” campaign also includes print and digital ads and events in select markets across the U.S., including Atlanta, Austin, Miami and Portland, Ore.


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    Project: WorldWide staffers received a late holiday gift this year when they returned to work and were given unlimited paid vacation time. The independent employee-owned network of 12 agencies is moving from the more traditional policy of accruing vacation days for personal time off, to flexible time off where there is now no limit.

    "In an entrepreneurial company, you want a results-driven culture of trust. You want to find the right people, and it's important to give them the right choices to blend work and life," said CEO Robert Vallee Jr., who explains there's no limit on the paid FTO other than "reasonableness." "Everybody's got a job to do, deadlines and targets are set, and you're still expected to meet them."

    Project: WorldWide is taking its cues from one of its agencies, San Francisco-based Argonaut, which has successfully used FTO since opening in 2013. Northern California tech companies and employers like Netflix also have switched to FTO, with CEO Reed Hastings shedding "an industrial-era habit" in favor of a "focus on what people get done, not how many days they worked."

    Citing recent survey data, the Society of Human Resource Management said just about 2 percent of U.S. companies have opted for FTO policies. (In the ad industry, there appear to be just a small handful of shops like TBWAChiatDay and Deutsch LA that use it.) Bruce Elliott, manager, compensation and benefits at SHRM, advised that the most important thing to consider is whether a culture is ready for the FTO change: "Do employees know the standards of performance expected of them? It must be clearly defined so they can plan out their work and have more opportunity to use time off when they can."

    Elliott added that for employers, an FTO switch bleeds off the cost of accrued benefit time owed to staffers. He added most FTO employees don't take more or less time than they would under traditional policies.

    TBWACD president Luis DeAnda said so far FTO has been a "positive experiment" and explained, "It's not necessarily equating to staffers taking more time off, and in fact, we have been encouraging managers to take accountability to reinforce and remind their teams about the intent behind the program. ... For many of our international employees, the program helps them feel better about taking extended breaks to make trips back home less time restrictive."

    Laura Agostini, chief talent officer at JWT, looked at FTO versus PTO but stuck with traditional time off augmented with extra all-agency days off. "I don't like talking so much about work/life balance as much as how work/life fits our employees' range of lifestyles," she said. "I almost feel FTO is not as equitable. If I'm a team member and I see someone else on the team taking a lot of time off, how do I feel?"

    And proving the case that FTO is not an option for everyone is the Tribune Co., which quickly rescinded a new unlimited vacation plan in 2014 at the Los Angeles Times when employees threatened to sue over the lost monetary value of accrued vacation time long-term staffers had amassed.

    How it's working at one agency

    Argonaut believes in giving employees the space to find things that inspire. Imagine a job where you're paid to go off and write a screenplay, take a family vacation in Malaysia, study improv, learn film editing or just walk the Santa Cruz boardwalk with your fiancé. 

    That's a snapshot of some of the recent out-of-office time enjoyed by the 85 staffers at the agency, which also gives employees $500 a year to "enrich their creativity." "We're an industry hinged on creativity," said Margo Menapace, head of culture and talent. "You have to find the things that inspire you." Menapace added that the only catch is making sure the time off is appropriate with work schedules and deadlines: "We trust you. We know you're going to come in, get the work done and be responsible."

    While FTO didn't start as a recruiting tool, it's become one. Matt Ashworth, who's worked at some of the West Coast's best agencies, quit full-time agency work in 2013 before becoming an ecd at Argonaut in 2015. "FTO definitely influenced my decision to take a job because taking time away when you need it has always been how I work. … You hire good people, you give them the freedom to do their jobs and great things happen," he said.

    This story first appeared in the Jan. 25 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.


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