Enter the pop-up agency concept

Call Us Walter

You’ve heard about the pop-up store: the retail outlet that appears one day – “popping up” – is there for a few days or perhaps weeks, often tied to an event of some kind, and then shuts down.

The idea has been around for the past decade. There are good examples in many countries. In London, there’s a shopping mall containing pop-up stores. And the government’s got in on pop-ups, too.

What many pop-up stores have in common is their role in bringing awareness of a brand to a location or an event rapidly and often in dramatic style, providing a bricks-and-mortar presence without the complexity and cost of long-term commitment to a physical location. The owner of the location who rents it to the pop-up benefits from income, even short term, for a venue that would have continued vacant or otherwise not realize a return.

It’s an imaginative concept, one that’s easy to see how and why it works, and the appeal it can have to companies looking for a rapid insertion method for a finite time with a relatively simple exit route.

It works for retail. What about for service businesses like consultants and agencies?

That’s a question JWT has found their answer to in the shape of Walter, a “start-up, start-down ad agency powered by JWT.”

AdAge reports that the WPP subsidiary will open Walter on March 8 and shut it down on March 12, just five days later. It will operate at and during this year’s  South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival and conference in Austin, Texas.

[…] Why are they doing this? Namely to scout for and build a relationship with the start-up they see as a contender for the coveted next Instagram or Twitter or any number of other consumer services that have blown up at past festivals. Along the way, they’d like to connect this venture early-on with JWT’s clients.

To get on Walter’s radar, you apply as if entering a contest (or perhaps it really is a contest). From the terms and conditions on the website:


The Program begins at 12:00 am Central Standard Time (“CST”) on February 22, 2013 and ends at 10:00 am CST on March 8, 2013. To enter, submit a one hundred forty (140) character application describing what type of innovation your idea represents (“Application”) and a request to schedule a meeting (“Meeting Request”) with Sponsor’s agency team (“Sponsor Team”) in one (1) of three (3) ways:

(a) Visit the Program website, which can be found at www.calluswalter.com (the “Website”) and submit the Application and Meeting Request as instructed;

(b) Tweet your Application and Meeting Request between 12:00 am CST and 10:00 am CST on March 8, 2013 and Meeting Request using the hashtag #waltersxsw. Note that only the first five (5) Applications received via this method (i.e., the first five (5) Tweets received) will be eligible. If you post updates to or receive updates from Twitter.com via SMS from your wireless phone, your wireless service provider may charge you for each text message you send and receive. Please consult your wireless service provider regarding its pricing plans; or

(c) Receive an invitation from the Sponsor Team to submit an Application and submit the Application and Meeting Request to the Sponsor Team directly.

Wow! I’d say the lawyers had a big hand in writing that!

But it is an imaginative idea. It is a breath of fresh air across the stale and traditional corporate schmooze approaches you see at every event – SXSW is no exception.

It also recognizes the needs of start-up businesses who go to SXSW, offering them an approach that perhaps will strongly resonate with them. And making it likely that JWT will make useful connections that could be valuable over time.

As JWT’s North American CEO, David Eastman, says, quoted by AdAge:

[…] The pop-up shop is also a departure from the way agencies typically operate at SXSW. “The big agencies have parties and people go but beyond that, I’m not sure what they were doing. What I like about Perry’s idea [Perry Fair, chief creative officer at JWT’s Atlanta Office] is that its realizing [that] SXSW is a marketplace for venture capitalists and start-ups, people with ideas looking for partners. All the components of that ecosystem are there except for the agencies, who are there, but aren’t there as an agency.”

If an ad agency can come up with this, why not a PR agency?

Looking forward to seeing something new at Le Web in London this summer and in Paris this winter…

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. twitter_rebeccacaroe

    Neville – it’s certainly a PR-worthy idea. I am often frustrated at the slow reaction speed by agencies with regard to new tech and new tools and technologies.

    It’s always been notoriously hard to pitch ideas for brands THROUGH their agency of record – and yet, I’d have thought this idea-scouting was part of the perfect strategic relationship between a brand and their agencies…. research, filter, select new things to put forward to the client that fits their brand plan for the year.

    We research new tools that could help new business development and share them with clients.

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