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San Jose agency helps varied roster of clients realize Liquid-ity

Tucked into millions of copies of the next Time and Newsweek magazines will be an accordion insert showcasing Hewlett-Packard Co.’s laptops and touch-screen computer.

It’s an example of one of Liquid Agency’s latest projects. Tasked with finding a way to demonstrate how HP’s personal computers can appeal to consumers of all backgrounds, the San Jose firm worked to develop and execute the advertising campaign over the past several weeks. The insert, with the theme “the computer is personal again,” features photos of different HP computers, from a low-budget laptop to an ultrathin, lightweight one for travelers on the go.

“It doesn’t look like your average advertisement, and that’s what advertisers want,” said Page Murray, director of advertising for HP’s worldwide marketing and communications group.

For almost a decade, Silicon Valley technology companies have tapped Liquid Agency when they need help with branding, marketing and advertising, from setting up an eye-catching booth at a trade show to reaching out to consumers over Twitter. In addition to HP, its clients include Microsoft Corp., VMware Inc. and Intuit Inc., as well as non-tech businesses such as Adidas AG.

Liquid — its name refers to how a brand is “liquid” and ever changing — was founded by Scott Gardner and Alfredo Muccino. Both executives had more than a dozen years of experience before launching Liquid. They started afresh after their previous firms were acquired during the dot-com bubble. Gardner was at Image Network and Muccino was at Muccino Design Group.

They have since expanded by opening an office in Portland in June 2008, where they service Adidas and Microsoft among other clients. Most recently, in early November, Liquid merged with Marty Neumeier’s Neutron LLC, a digital think tank in San Francisco.

Although not a large agency, it still manages to compete in the big leagues. Gardner, the CEO, said its clients reap the benefits of employing a high quality team and getting better access to the senior staff — at a lower cost than a large agency. How much lower varies by project, but when bidding for a large corporate client against large global advertising agencies, the price can be 20 percent to 30 percent less expensive.

“We’re one of the few agencies that has been really able to work consistently with the big brands on significant projects,” he said. “Those companies are coming to us and have faith that an independently owned, medium-size company can handle jobs that typically might go to a large global agency that are extremely expensive and, in some cases, extremely slow.”

Like others in the industry, Liquid has made sure to tap into social media as part of its services. In a campaign for Adidas, it produced a site for Adidas’ and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Climacool gear. Through the site, fans could not only purchase Climacool clothing, but also sign up for Twitter updates from Earnhardt’s team. Gardner said the new site was a success for Adidas.

Liquid has also helped a number of Silicon Valley firms. Technology companies are tapping agencies such as Liquid because they need to reach out to consumers better, said Ben Bajarin, a consumer technology analyst for Creative Strategies and who has been a guest speaker at a Liquid event.

“They’ve done a good job helping the companies look at what they’ve got from a technological standpoint and put an artsy spin on that,” he said.

Liquid expects to grow revenue about 18 percent this year, despite the economy. With the acquisition, Gardner said that the company will be able to offer a broader package of services, from strategic consulting to advertising. He also sees potential for growth with Liquid’s current clients. This could include branching out to offer additional services or into another product or department of a company.

HP’s Murray, who also works with other advertising and marketing agencies, said he expects his company to team up again with Liquid.

“Every agency has different strengths,” he said. “Bigger ones can throw bigger resources (at a project). With Liquid, you get the senior people. They’re involved with the business all the way through. I found the people smart and strategic and incredibly responsive, which was critical in a project like this.”

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