In 1987, chuck porter joined the Miami-based ad agency that is now known as Crispin, Porter + Bogusky. Since then, the firm has blossomed. Annual billings have increased tenfold, to the $500 million range. And in 2004, Crispin, Porter was named agency of the year by the trade journals Advertising Age, which cited its $300 million campaign for Burger King, and Creativity, which called the agency "perhaps the leading creative force in advertising right now." How did Porter and his three managing partners pull this off? By not managing much at all. "We always assumed that the people who came to work here were just as smart as we were," Porter, 59, explains. "And we never really tried -- in any traditional way -- to manage people. Because I think that really good people are unmanageable to begin with."
As a guiding philosophy, this sounds close to reckless, and Porter acknowledges that with almost 300 employees, a certain amount of hierarchy is inevitable. Still, he offers examples, large and small, of how this aversion to managing is balanced against the realities of growth. The agency's newish home, a renovated movie theater in Coconut Grove, is a case in point. Porter's instructions for the designer: "Do not design this thing for efficiency. Don't put the printers next to the studio. Don't put the broadcast department right next to the creative department. Put them in all different corners so everyone's got to walk all through the joint every day."
Porter credits that freewheeling spirit with keeping the agency together as it added Burger King to a client list that includes the Mini Cooper and the antismoking organization Truth. Plenty of onlookers seemed to think (or even to wish) that Crispin, Porter's offbeat sensibility wouldn't work for a mass-market brand. As it turned out, the agency mixed memorable TV ads with nontraditional concepts like Subservient Chicken, a website featuring a guy in a chicken suit whom visitors could order to dance. It became a cult phenomenon. If Porter's team were as subservient as that chicken, it's hard to imagine they'd be as successful as they have been.