Mike DaRe (pictured), who becomes MD of Smarts USA, has spent the past decade leading earned media, entertainment, sponsorship and culture-led marketing for Diageo brands including Crown Royal, Bulleit Bourbon, and Johnnie Walker. For past three years he's been global head of culture, entertainment and Johnnie Walker Red Label, based in Amsterdam.
The Pennsylvania native previously spent nine years agency-side, at Ogilvy and New York agency Taylor, working with clients such as MasterCard, Proctor & Gamble, LG Electronics, Reebok and Microsoft Xbox.
Smarts - which is headquartered in Belfast, with bases in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow - is the third UK consumer-focused agency to announce a New York move this month, following W Communications and Good Relations.
DaRe told PRWeek: "I think the opportunity exists for a lot of brands based out of the UK and Europe, or elsewhere globally, to expand into the US. That will certainly be our priority.
"Beyond that, having the presence here from the US side with US brands is going to be really important too... because US brands, at least in my experience, are starting to look more globally as well. It's about having that door swinging both ways, for both US clients and European or global clients, to make sure they are well represented."
The agency will be based on Fifth Avenue in the New York office of Smarts' holding company MSQ. DaRe said the agency would look to hire "sooner or later", adding: "I want to make the talent that we hire work really well with the clients that we are proving a service for. If that means they're not necessarily in New York, we're open to that."
He said Smarts' focus is ensuring clients' "cultural agenda comes through in everything they do", rather than feeling the need to "attach themselves" to current trends - noting "how unnatural and uncomfortable" that can be.
Smarts said the New York move follows "unprecedented growth" in its UK, Ireland and global business, with recent new client wins including Visa and Seedlip.
Global CEO Pippa Arlow said: “Smarts US will give us new opportunities to help brand partners achieve their business goals by building cultural relevance that resonates with people and keeps them front of mind.
“We have consistently delivered against our clients’ stretching commercial objectives because we believe a brand’s cultural agenda shouldn’t be a standalone function, it should be right through-the-line - connecting every element of brand communication.
“I’m delighted to welcome Mike to our team. He has a superbly relevant track record in building and leveraging connections between brands and culture-shaping entities to deliver hard-edged business results and he is ideally placed to drive our growth in the US.”
MSQ chief executive Peter Reid said: “This is another hugely exciting move as we strengthen MSQ’s agencies and further establish our presence in the US. It’s a sign of our continued ambition to become one of the world’s most forward-thinking tech-enabled marketing groups and of the constant desire for change that drives us."
Speaking to PRWeek in 2019 after MSQ received new investment from Lloyds Banking Group's private equity arm LDC, Reid said developing the company’s New York hub, and potentially moving further into Europe, would be a focus for the future.
Smarts was named Best Agency Outside London at the PRWeek UK Awards 2020. Revenue in 2019/2020 jumped 24 per cent to £6.6m, and operating profit exceeded budget by almost one-third to reach £1.8m, as the agency added 13 new clients.
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