Snapchat, The Daily Mail, and WPP banding together to launch a marketing agency called Truffle Pig was the talk of the Cannes advertising festival this year.
Back then details were scant. We knew that the three companies wanted to form a different type of agency: a kind of hybrid between a content marketing agency and a social agency. We found out it would be led by Alexander Jutkowitz (who is also the CEO of WPP’s digital content consultancy SJR Group) and that all three companies would be equity owners of the business. But back then, there were no clients yet and no examples of work to give people an idea as to what Truffle Pig is actually all about.
We caught up over the phone with Jutkowitz, Truffle Pig’s CEO, for an update on what’s happened since that sunny morning on the French Riviera back in June.
It’s still early days, but Jutkowitz revealed Truffle Pig does have some clients on board now. He also gave us a little more background on how the deal came about, and what his goals are for the agency.
Jutkowitz originally wanted to call his other agency Truffle Pig but he says “I talked myself out if it”
The actual deal between the three companies was only signed just days before Cannes kicked off.
Truffle Pig spawned out of a conversation between Daily Mail US CEO Jon Steinberg and Sir Martin Sorrell about creating a “new kind of agency.” Subsequently, Sorrell brought Jutkowitz on board, who was friends with Steinberg already.
It was Steinberg — who has a close relationship with Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel and once compared him to a “young Martin Sorrell” — who contacted Snapchat in the hope of creating the agency together. And he also masterminded the Cannes announcement, which took place on the Daily Mail’s yacht.
The Daily Mail has made a huge deal out of Cannes in recent years, and this year Steinberg and his team ensured that the brand consistently made headlines at the show, with a celebrity-filled party attended by the Kardashians, announcing a new TV show starring Dr Phil, and kicking things off with the Truffle Pig press conference.
Many media brands already have their own in-house creative studios that act a bit like agencies to help advertisers create branded content — like Guardian Labs and BuzzFeed Motion Pictures. Huffington Post last year took the content studio idea one step further by forming a partnership with ad agency Leo Burnett to co-create paid content for clients.
“There are content studios, but they’re like two-legged stools. We’ve never seen one with three legs. It was pretty challenging to pull off,” Jutkowitz said. He doesn’t go into detail about why it was so difficult — but the idea of tying together journalists at one end, tech geeks at the other, and agency staff admittedly sounds like a task.
It was probably apt that the name “Truffle Pig” came from the ad agency — or Jutkowitz to be precise.
“I actually want to call Group SJR Truffle Pig, but I talked myself out of it. But I floated the name to Evan, Martin, and Jon and they were totally on board. One thing I didn’t factor in, though, was that the goal and objective of the name is so emblematic of what we’re trying to do in seeking out great things. The Truffle Pig name has really been driving our thinking — it was an unintended consequence,” Jutkowitz says.
During Cannes, I asked a number of attendees — ranging from top agency CEOs, to brand marketers, to PRs, and other journalists — what they thought about the Truffle Pig announcement.
Some people mocked the name and its “www.TrufflePig.farm” website URL, one rival said it was merely a “PR stunt,” while others expressed confusion about what Truffle Pig actually is and what it intends to do.
“I could never have imagined the reaction would be as loud, far-reaching, and favourable. Ultimately, I think what the marketplace recognised is that this is something different and in its infancy. It’s perhaps a watershed moment and we need to think about the way we structure these types of organisations. We all talk about disintermediation, the complexity of platforms, and disruption. And [Truffle Pig] is at the apex — but not at the end — of convergence,” Jutkowitz told us.
So what is it that Truffle Pig actually does?
Truffle Pig aims to marry The Daily Mail and Elite Daily’s content teams and massive audience (and the company’s data about that audience,) with the “disruptive power” of Snapchat (and its lucrative younger audience that advertisers find notoriously hard to reach,) and the advertising expertise of WPP.
Truffle Pig’s sell to advertisers is that the three companies have the data to tell them when, where and how to target audiences. And it can create bespoke content that can sit on all kinds of platforms — not just Snapchat and The Daily Mail — then feed back to them how successful that content was at achieving the marketer’s goals.
The agency currently has 15 staff (but it is recruiting for more, complete with on-brand job titles such as “farmer,” “seed planter,” and “shepherd”.) They’re all full-time Truffle Pig employees, not Snapchat, WPP or Daily Mail staffers taking on a side job, but Jutkowitz says he’d be open to recruiting from any of the parent companies — or taking on freelancers with particular expertise, such as virtual reality, for example.
Jutkowitz says the types of people working at the agency so far include “content strategists, visual storytellers, analytics, innovation seekers.” When pressed on what the last job title means, he said: “We are looking at every platform and every technology that allows us to tell stories in different ways. We want to know what’s next and be ahead of the curve.”
Truffle Pig doesn’t have any “stories” to speak of yet — it’s early days, and it probably won’t be until the beginning of next year that the agency will start sharing work — but it already has six clients on board. Jutkowitz won’t tell us which companies they are, but he says they come from a range of sectors including consumer goods, financial services, and education tech.
Jutkowitz also won’t really budge when asked about how the business model works. He says the agency charges a combination of different types of fees depending on the client, and that profits get repatriated back to the three equity partners: WPP, Snapchat, and The Daily Mail.
He won’t tell us how the equity is split or even which company has the majority stake, but says the CEOs of each parent company and other staff at each stakeholder all continue to play an active role in the business and take part in both formal and informal meetings.
Part of the reason Jutkowitz won’t answer those questions is because he thinks they’re not the most important part of the Truffle Pig story. He believes more agencies are going to start looking like Truffle Pig over the next few years: a combination of tech, media owner, and ad agency.
“We are at an inflection point. The story is that we are seeing the beginning of something entirely new; a new way of doing things. The world has created agencies before, but why did Truffle Pig get so much attention at Cannes? I’d argue because this is the story of the evolution of the agency, with these kinds of partners, and how significant it could be for the marketplace,” Jutkowitz said.
He compares this “new order of thinking” to the evolution in the way the advertising and marketing industry has placed a priority on creating branded content. When Jutkowitz started SJR nine years ago and began creating content for GE (which is often lauded for the way it opted for thought leadership on issues over advertising its products and services,) he said the discipline was not called “content marketing,” which made it difficult to recruit talent, or get marketers to allocate their budgets towards it.
“Eight or nine years ago, content was not on anyone’s agenda. Now content is every conversation you have today. So I’ve been through it before once already with SJR. This could be a watershed moment. Stuff is happening. The stars are aligned,” Jutkowitz said.
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