All good things must come to an end and the announcement this week that Text100 and Bite would disappear and be replaced by a new brand – Archetype – draws a line under two of the most famous names in technology PR.
The Next Fifteen Communications Group firms blazed a trail in tech PR in the nineties and noughties, especially on the West Coast, and were responsible for launching numerous high-profile communications careers.
Speak to anyone in the Bay Area PR scene and they will either have worked at one of the firms or known someone who worked there. It was a great training ground for communicators and also led to an influx of Brits - and Irish - who came over from Text100’s base in London to work with tech companies in San Francisco and Seattle.
Text100 lifer and now Next Fifteen CEO Tim Dyson headed to the U.S. from London in 1995 to work on the Microsoft account in Seattle. Aedhmar Hynes followed him over in 1997 to set up Text100 San Francisco, primarily to work on the Xerox PARC account.
The scrappy new agency competed with established tech players on the West Coast and built a reputation for providing solid business advice, eschewing the fluffy nature of some of the dotcom boom froth, and insisting on fee-based arrangements rather than risky stock-oriented contracts.
This stance stood Text in good stead after the dotcom crash, when the firm’s pragmatic message resonated with companies looking to dig themselves out from their serious business challenges. In 2001, IBM became a tent-pole client relationship that subsequently stretched over 17 years.
Check out LinkedIn threads that sprang up after the Archetype announcement and you’ll see misty-eyed reminiscences from Texties and Biters about how these tech powerhouses launched their careers and there are still regular reunions of alumni.
One of them noted: "It empowered a group of 20-somethings to just do it – the lack of hierarchy and willingness to let people try things was refreshing and pretty formative for me."
For its part, Bite was initially formed in the U.K. in 1995 to run the Apple account, as Text100 was conflicted out due to its work with Microsoft. The launch of Bite marked the birth of Next Fifteen’s multi-brand global PR agency strategy, which now encompasses other high-profile firms including M Booth and The OutCast Agency.
Bite acquired Applied Communications in 2003 and another Brit, Clive Armitage, moved over to San Francisco to run it. The firm quickly grew through its work with some of the biggest tech brands in Silicon Valley and beyond, including Sun Microsystems, AMD, and HP.
Text100 and Bite did well with this type of big-budget tech client, but budgets shrank after the financial crisis of 2008, and never really returned to such great heights. Armitage went back to the U.K. in 2008, continuing as CEO, and in 2013 set up a new digital marketing firm within Next Fifteen called Agent3.
Sun was a particular cash cow for Bite but those revenues disappeared when the company was acquired by Oracle in 2010. AMD transferred its business to Edelman in 2011.
A $3 million fraud case in Bite’s San Francisco office unveiled in Next Fifteen’s 2012 accounts didn’t exactly help matters either.
Subsequently, short-lived new regimes under the leadership of first Andy Cunningham and then an interim spell by Tim Dyson failed to revive Bite’s fortunes, before Helena Maus moved from sibling firm OutCast to take the reins as CEO in 2015 and triggered something of a comeback.
Whereas historically Bite had been subsumed into Text100, especially in Asia-Pacific and Continental Europe, the loss of the larger firm’s three biggest clients in the past 18 months – IBM, Lenovo, and Cisco – persuaded holding company Next Fifteen’s leadership to try to revitalize the fully merged brands with Bite people at the helm this time.
They re-formed under the leadership of Maus almost six months ago and the new Archetype branding has finally been unveiled six months later, apparently inspired by Jungian philosophy.
Twelve months after Cohn & Wolfe’s reverse mega-takeover of Burson-Marsteller at WPP, Maus must now also combine two different agency cultures and move the new unit forward in a positive direction under one P&L after a tough couple of years, especially at Text100.
Longstanding Text CEO Hynes departed last September soon after the merger was announced. Other senior execs followed suit, including North America regional director James Beechinor-Collins. The firm’s Rochester office has been shuttered, Boston is somewhat diminished.
The elevation to CEO was a reward for Maus for reinvigorating a storied agency that had fallen on hard times. New business started flowing through the door, including assignments for the likes of VMware.
Some Text100 alumni I spoke to for this piece suggest the firm hadn’t evolved sufficiently and had started to become irrelevant, no longer sitting at the cutting edge of PR practice as it did in the dotcom era and beyond. They expressed surprise at the amount of time it had taken for Next Fifteen to come up with a brand name for the newly combined entity.
On the flip side, others believed the loss of IBM and Lenovo was a blessing in disguise and had actually freed up Text100 to pursue other clients from which it had previously been conflicted out. They suggested much of the lost IBM billings had already been replaced with new business.
Next Fifteen’s annual financial results are due in April, so I guess we will soon find out. Last year’s numbers were reasonably positive, with Text100’s 2017 revenue up 3% year over year and the group posting a 5.2% organic rise in the same period.
Next Fifteen agencies have typically competed for business with each other, increasing the probability that one of the holding company’s firms would win. Now, there is one fewer agency brand in that mix.
Added to that, the enterprise tech sector in which Bite and Text100 specialized has seen a drop in budgets, as well as a shrinking of the media that follow it.
Having said that, at a time when almost every company now proclaims itself a technology business, the Text100- and Bite-style offers should in theory have an advantage in the marketplace.
It will be up to the new entity’s leadership to truly bring the cultures of the two firms together and create a new, strong, and fresh (A)archetype for the future that can match the storied history of its predecessors.
As another former Textie said on LinkedIn this week: "If you achieve half the success of brands like Text100 and Bite, you are in for one exciting journey."