With the industry watching closely to see if it can succeed, Enfatico is working to create a new and effective agency model.
In 2007, when Dell selected WPP Group to co-create an agency that would provide all of its marketing communications, the PR industry was skeptical. Many remembered similar ventures that did not succeed. Still, Dell opted to streamline its global network of hundreds of firms and consultants to one single, integrated agency, investing $4.5 billion in the venture over three years.
By March 2008, the entity – first called Project Da Vinci – had recruited Kelly McGinnis, then senior partner at Fleishman-Hillard, as CCO. It then named Torrence Boone, former president of Digitas, CEO in May.
“My primary driver was – and still is – the ability to produce a different model to marketing to [be] able to respond to the seismic shifts taking place,” Boone notes.
In July, the agency unveiled its official name: Enfatico. Its PR team includes about 30 people, mostly based in San Francisco, but also stationed in Austin, Beijing, New York, and London. McGinnis recruited several members from her former employer, giving a taste of familiarity to the new endeavor, she says.
The agency spent much of 2008 navigating transitional issues, like building its staff. During that time, critics questioned whether the venture was bringing value to Dell. Yet, McGinnis says this perception was false, given Dell's expectations.
“Dell could not be more aggressive,” she says. “We didn't have the luxury to build, plan, and figure out what we were going to do. People were immediately walking in the door asking us to get to work.”
The agency was tasked with working on Dell's more pressing business priorities, like improving its standing with consumers.
“They've reinvigorated a sense of desire for Dell's products based on design,” says Andy Lark, VP of global marketing, communities, and conversations at Dell, noting Enfatico's work on the Adamo launch.
McGinnis points to the firm's CES exhibit this year in Las Vegas, which debuted the new luxury brand, Adamo, in Dell-themed suites on the 26th floor of The Palms, rather than on the conference floor.
Other successful campaigns have blended new and traditional media tactics. Enfatico held “urban meetups” for Dell in San Francisco, London, Toronto, and Beijing. The point was to invite consumers and the media to hear about Dell's design and personalize its story, McGinnis says. Depending on the location, the meetups included artists and celebrity DJs – all geared toward positioning Dell as hipper and more stylish than in years past.
Enfatico's PR and digital team worked in tandem on the planning for the meetups, McGinnis notes.
“We have overcome transitional issues and we've chalked up a few [successful efforts] now that's given us... confidence,” Boone adds.
Unlike its previous agencies, Dell evaluates Enfatico's entire marketing function, rather than each discipline separately.
Lark says the agency has helped Dell accomplish its primary drivers in building Enfatico – reducing costs and increasing efficiency.
Very few firms have clients so invested in their success. To help build Enfatico, Dell has contracted it for a “substantial” period of time during which the agency has a guaranteed revenue stream, Lark says.
Enfatico's vision involves tearing down conventional agency silos, yet its senior leadership still came to the venture with familiarities toward their own disciplines. Because Boone's past experience was in advertising and digital marketing, he sat in on PR meetings to get up to speed.
“I've seen [the PR team] do their idea invention and brainstorming to be more strategic,” Boone says. “I've seen the power that comes from merging PR and digital.”
He points to Dell's IdeaStorm and Digital Nomads as successful examples of the two disciplines working together. In October, Enfatico also launched its own blog, “The Next Storyboard,” to help satiate some industry curiosity on the venture. The entire agency team contributes.
Boone acknowledges Enfatico lost control of the conversations about the agency in the beginning.
“There was not a level of transparency,” he says. “There wasn't a CEO to shepherd for the first months, and the distracters zeroed in [on] the fact that they thought we were trying to be the be all for all clients. That's misinformed.”
Dell based Enfatico's PR function in San Francisco, rather than near its own Round Rock, TX, headquarters to keep the team connected and maintain an external perspective.
The firm has drawn talent who, in addition to their traditional PR expertise, aspire to push the industry's conventional boundaries. This has given rise to a startup feeling among the team, McGinnis says.
But in other ways, Enfatico's PR function resembles a traditional firm. Its San Francisco office is home only to its PR team, comprised of staff with mostly PR backgrounds.
Enfatico's plans for 2009 include expanding its client portfolio. McGinnis says the firm is currently involved in pitches, but declined to name the potential clients.
She says the right client would have to be able to leverage the existing network. But most important, she says, it would have to believe in the integrated model. Among other things, this means knowing PR cannot solve every marketing issue.
“We're agnostic on which discipline to use,” she says. “We're focused on solving the problem.”
*The title of this story in print appears as "Work in progress."