Marley and Moxie

In the dog-eat-dog world of online advertising, Moxie Interactive CEO Kris Zagoria landed a blue-ribbon assignment: design an interactive campaign for the movie “Marley & Me.”

Twentieth Century Fox’s marketing team picked Moxie to develop the online marketing campaign for “Marley,” which is based on John Grogan’s bestseller about an unruly but lovable yellow Labrador retriever, as well as the online campaigns for other Fox movies this year.

“A lot of agencies will come back with an idea for something done before. Moxie will come back with something different and really smart,” said Hilary Hattenbach, Fox marketing executive, referring to Moxie’s pitch for the Fox account.

While many brands are reluctant to experiment in social media, Moxie’s clients, such as Fox and Verizon Wireless, have taken the plunge.

For “Marley & Me,” Moxie created what Zagoria characterized as a “social shopping” application, an animated widget on Facebook and MySpace. The widget, which features the image of a yellow Lab wearing an oversized red bow, “fetches” gift ideas based on a person’s profile on either Facebook or MySpace. To date, Facebook and MySpace both report close to 4,000 are “active users” of the application.

And last summer, Moxie developed a digital campaign promoting “The Dark Knight” edition phone for Verizon Wireless and Nokia. Verizon Wireless customers got access to “The Dark Knight” ring tones, games, and other content, while the Web site, Fight for Gotham City, gave visitors the ability to create personalized online videos from the Arkham Asylum.

Against All Odds

Zagoria, 39, spent her youth in South Salem, New York, but adopted the South as home after heading to the University of Georgia, where she received a degree in studio art and landed her first job as an animator and special effects artist at a post-production company.

Zagoria said she never planned to be in business for herself. Nor could she have anticipated the obstacles she would have to overcome.

Just after she was married, a business colleague approached her about launching an interactive agency.

“I didn’t know if I wanted to make that kind of commitment. I had no business background,” she said.

Still, her husband encouraged her. “It’s a time when you take a risk,” she recalled her husband advising her. The partner would be responsible for business development; Zagoria would manage clients and projects.

Six months or so after the launch, the agency won Verizon as a client. When Zagoria’s business partner was a no-show at the kick-off dinner, Zagoria realized something was up.

“He wanted me to buy him out for a lot of money. It was a very difficult time,” she said.

Once she scraped together money to buy out his 50 percent interest, Zagoria discovered the agency had never paid its taxes. The agency was hit with a bill for $180,000 in taxes and penalties.

“And then, the [dot-com] bust happened,” she said. That wasn’t all. “For various life reasons, my whole core team left,” she said.

Zagoria credits three people she brought on back then as partners with helping to build a successful agency: Shelley Bertsch, chief operations officer; Bob Conquest, chief creative officer; and Joel Lunenfeld, chief innovation officer. All are members of the Moxie executive team.

“It’s the chemistry. It’s the magic of the people,” she said of her executive team. “We really balance each other. We have a combination of skills. We inspire each other and lean on each other. That’s definitely a magical combination of people. I owe everything to them.”

Zagoria draws praise from colleagues and rivals alike. Michael Kogon, CEO of Atlanta-based Definition 6 and a Moxie rival, described Zagoria as “high energy, hard charging, very good strategically and [very good] with people. She’s a wonderful lady, a fair competitor.”

However, he said he’s not as familiar with the agency’s culture since Publicis Groupe’s Zenith Media acquired Moxie in 2006.

So what’s it like for Moxie to be part of Zenith Media? Zagoria said it’s provided an opportunity for Moxie’s team to work with like-minded people from Publicis Groupe’s sister agencies such as Starcom MediaVest and Digitas, while developing partnerships with Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others.

“That’s probably the best thing for us coming out of the acquisition is the scale and access to all of the big players,” she said.

Because of Moxie’s size — as Zagoria puts it, it’s not too big and it’s not small — the 300-person agency can work as an incubator/innovation lab. “We’re usually the ones that take the alpha and beta opportunities and make them all happen,” she said.

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