Being Peter Adderton
OK, so the CEO isn’t exactly John Malkovich.
But can you imagine that he might be the John Malkovich of wireless?
SAN DIEGO–Remember Peter Adderton, the helicopter-flying guy who was at the top of Amp’d Mobile before it went out in a blaze of fire? He’s still in the mobile industry, but he isn’t dealing with myriad venture capitalists and he isn’t trying to figure out how to run a company based on the interests of many different investors.
No, now he’s head of Agency 3.0, a joint venture with the William Morris Agency (WMA). Yes – that William Morris Agency, the talent and literary powerhouse known the world over.
But first, let’s talk about that helicopter. (In the interest of full disclosure, this reporter was a passenger in said helicopter on a sunny day in late May, traveling from San Diego to LAX. It makes you wonder why more people don’t just fly over the traffic, but then again, not everyone is inclined to get a license to fly, or buy a helicopter of their own. Suffice it to say: It’s fun.)
"I have never shied away from
the responsibility of what
happened at Amp’d."
Some people are passionate about cars. Some people are passionate about golf. Adderton, who’s friendly, regular-guy demeanor doesn’t jive with the rich-guy stereotype, just happens to be passionate about flying a helicopter. “I like a challenge,” he said.
The helicopter has, at times, wound up in the center of controversy. He had the helicopter when Amp’d was facing tough times, and that drew finger-pointing, even though, as Adderton confirmed, he bought the chopper himself, not the company. He wasn’t using investors’ dollars to tool around the country, although, always the consummate marketer, he did use it to promote Amp’d. In a not-so-subtle metaphor, the company’s name on the side of the helicopter shows signs of fading.
The helicopter comes in handy when he needs to attend a mid-day meeting in San Diego and then get back to the offices near Los Angeles. It allows him to spend more time with his family, either by leaving later in the morning or zooming over traffic in the evening. It also played a role when he was supposed to speak at the 2005 BREW conference in San Diego. He had to skip the speech because his wife, Jaye, was giving birth to their daughter Siena, who recently turned 3. The helicopter got him there in time.
The helicopter explains a few things about the pilot. He’s adventurous yet keeps safety top of mind, especially considering that he uses it to transport his wife and daughters. It’s efficient – something you need when you’re busy and constantly moving, both mentally and physically. And it proves a point: Don’t tell Adderton he can’t do something, because, as his wife testified to, he will prove you wrong. Adderton, 41, decided to learn to fly a helicopter at the age of 16 because his friends said he never would.
MARKETING AT THE CORE
Adderton is still challenging traditional modes of thought. He did it through Boost Mobile, which first started in Australia, targeting the youth market before others starting climbing out of the woodwork. He repeated that performance with Boost Mobile in the United States and eventually sold it to Sprint Nextel. Then he stepped up to the challenge at Amp’d, which despite all of its problems, is considered a pioneer when it comes to mobile content development. Amp’d is where “Lil’ Bush” got started before it went from the small screen to the TV screen.
Clearly, he has answered a lot of questions about Amp’d since its bankruptcy filing last year. “I have never shied away from the responsibility of what happened at Amp’d,” he said. But it’s also somewhat reassuring to note that other MVNOs are struggling as well, suggesting maybe it wasn’t all about operational, billing, financing and other problems that led to the demise of Amp’d, but something more inherent in the MVNO model.
Regardless, a lot of the folks who worked with Adderton at Amp’d are still in his camp, working at Agency 3.0, and people who knew him back in his days at Boost Mobile and Amp’d are still backing him now, too, in the form of financing.
For Adderton, it’s all about branding and marketing, which is where he got his start before entering wireless. Boost Mobile was all about bringing a technology to a youth segment that hadn’t yet been greatly exposed to the push-to-talk iDEN, which got its foothold among blue-collar workers. It was all about branding and marketing then, and it’s all about that now, although Agency 3.0 is attempting to do a lot more than meets the eye – from designing logos for wireless companies to figuring out and engineering the user interface (UI) for a phone.
The mission of the new agency isn’t crystal clear until you start hearing some of the projects the group has already started tackling. In announcing the company, a press release described it as “one part digital technology leader, one part next-generation marketing agency, one part strategic content developer.” Agency 3.0 is trying to go beyond the scope of the traditional agencies by serving clients in the new world of mobility, convergence and digital entertainment.
Adderton doesn’t want to talk publicly about Agency 3.0’s specific customers, preferring to let them do the talking. That’s a different strategy than the one at Amp’d, where there was a lot of talk about services before they saw the light of day. Part of Agency 3.0’s mission is to make content easier for consumers to find and use. “The bottom line is it’s about the consumer,” he said.
At his earlier endeavors, Adderton and his team struggled to find agencies that understood all aspects of the business. WMA was one of the few agencies that understood what role mobile played, beyond a simple banner ad. For example, how does a brand like Coke or Pepsi take advantage of the wireless broadband networks? Those are the types of things Agency 3.0 executives are thinking about.
Executives won’t say how much money WMA is contributing to the venture; ownership is shared among WMA, Adderton and the other principals on the senior executive team. Agency 3.0 has access to WMA’s talent, content and entertainment expertise, and its offices are close to WMA – in a WMA complex on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.
SHOW OF CONFIDENCE
WMA’s confidence in Adderton as a leader is apparent. WMA Chairman and CEO Jim Wiatt has known Adderton for about five years, and WMA was involved with both Boost Mobile and with Amp’d. “We were always impressed with his keen ability as a marketer,” Wiatt said. “He really understood the digital world.”
But the people surrounding Adderton at Agency 3.0 are equally important. “We’re very excited about this,” Wiatt said. “I think we’ll be very successful.
Greg Johnson serves as partner and president of Brands and Agencies; he brings more than 20 years of experience in digital marketing campaigns for top agencies, including McCann Worldgroup and Digitas. Steve Stanford is partner and president of Content and Entertainment; his background includes creating ICM’s Digital Media Group and being a co-founding partner and CEO of Icebox, the first site to create original programming for the Web using A-list Hollywood talent. He also was a co-founder and COO of Amp’d Mobile and vice president of marketing at Boost Mobile. Scott Anderson, partner and chief creative officer, is a highly respected designer in telecom, both in the United States and Australia. He was the creative head and co-founder of both Boost Mobile and Amp’d Mobile.
As the old saying goes, grandkids are grandparents’ best revenge. Adderton’s girls – he’s got three of them ranging in age from 3 to 9 – are sporting their father’s determination. One of them in particular has an answer for everything – making it hard for an adult to argue. For example, her mother was trying to teach her how to spell a word, and she said she didn’t need to learn to spell it because – why else? – she’s never going to use that word.
You might say Adderton had a hit with Boost Mobile and a flop with Amp’d. The third time around? Maybe that’s another charm. And if it’s not, you can be pretty sure Adderton won’t give up.