Thanks to an impressive 179 percent growth rate over the past three years, Grand Rapids-based Agent X was recently ranked 1,637th on Inc. magazine’s sixth-annual list of the 5,000 fastest growing private companies in the United States.
The digital and experiential agency focuses on “creating and implementing digital, interactive and live experiences,” said Brian Steketee, founding partner and chief alchemist.
“When we launched this agency, it was (with) this premise: digital plus live,” he said. “It’s about asking, ‘How are we going to build a business that is about bringing advanced technology to create unique consumer experiences at the point between brands and their consumers?’
“If you can’t captivate the attention and create value between the brand and the consumer . . . it’s not going to be effective. Those words mean to me than things like smiles and ‘thank yous.’ It’s about making memories and people thinking, ‘I’m really glad I spent time with that brand.’”
Agent X aims to build that relationship through interactive technology events, mostly targeting the millennial generation. Most of Agent X’s employees are under 30, Steketee said, making them a qualified workforce for reaching the digital-native market.
Steketee, originally from Grand Rapids, got his degree in marketing and business administration from Colorado State University, before moving to Chicago.
The business launched in 2007 under the name Steketee/Greiner and Co., before merging into Agent X.
Agent X now has offices in Grand Rapids and St. Louis, with its home base in the 38 Commerce building downtown.
The company recently saw success with its "Charter Communications Charter Center Stage Battle of the Bands" event, which won best digital marketing campaign for Cable Fax’s Best of the Web 2012.
“The idea was Charter was looking to become more relevant with college students as they were moving into their apartments,” Steketee said. “We wanted to give a local band a chance to be in the limelight, play center stage in front of a real act.”
After creating an online contest for the event, Agent X brought in the lighting crew from Coldplay and the executive producer for Britney Spears for a festival featuring Panic! At The Disco, Plain White T’s and Fitz and Tantrums.
Agent X also helped create the world’s first Norton Cybercrime Index on an inflatable sphere that was interactive like a tablet. Simultaneous events were held in New York and London, allowing the public to interact with the sphere. The trick, Steketee said, was creating programs that formatted to the shape of a circle.
What Agent X created looked like something out of a Star Trek film, and won for best consumer engagement event marketer for the 2012 Ex Awards.
The company is also working on a 360 Immersion prototype, which will allow events to be attended and viewed online, using multiple live cameras.
“What we do is about bringing unique technology we build to create transformational experiences for consumers,” Steketee said. “We can bring them to events and sponsorship where they can be interactive.”
This kind of marketing is being used on a larger scale by companies that create viral campaigns, Steketee said. Agent X has a list of its favorite campaigns, which use humor and fun to create "visibly invisible” public relations work and advertising.
One event was in Coca-Cola’s “Happiness Machine” campaign, which put a special Coke dispenser in a college cafeteria. Cameras captured students laughing and celebrating as the dispenser not only dispensed extra sodas, but flowers, pizzas, sandwiches and even balloons.
If there’s a way to connect a product to the market in a fun interactive way, Steketee said, the marketing that can take a client there needs be explored.
“Every time a new technology comes out, we all find ways to turn off ads. What I love about us is we’re doing the same cycle but creating a good value exchange for consumers and brands,” he said. “We’re inundated all day long. People want to engage, not the other way around.”
For West Michigan, the right platforms that could grab that national attention are in events like LaughFest and ArtPrize, he said, and the road to getting there is through entrepreneurial seeds like Start Garden. The more awareness, awards and activities that can get the story of West Michigan out there, the better, he said.
The way to do that, he believes, is by a peppering of micro and macro events that engage audiences.
“These are fantastic ways of creating awareness for this market and showing the rest of the world that we’ve got a really culturally diverse base of talent here,” he said. “Our job is to identify the right platforms to keep doing that with.”