Managing director James Rowe speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper about launching one of the UK’s most loved and successful agency brands into one of the ad industry’s biggest and most cutthroat markets
“It has been a whirlwind in the best possible way,” says James Rowe of his time up to now as managing director of adam&eveNYC. The agency, one of London’s most loved and successful, officially launched in the United States in January 2017 after it was invited to pitch on - and eventually win - Samsung’s North America business.
James has been in the adam&eveDDB family since January 2013 when he joined as an account director. “It was one of those things that I think we'd always wanted to do,” he says of the agency’s ambitions to expand its footprint to the US. It was a case of finding the right time and the right client and Samsung turned out to be exactly that. James also had a bit of a niggling dream to live and work in New York too. “It's always been something I've wanted to do, growing up in the ad industry,” he says. “New York is the market. It's huge, it's all those things that I think people get excited about. The sticking point for me was I didn't want to leave adam&eveDDB… so the stars aligned in that respect.”
Since those early days of 2017, adam&eveNYC has been on a roll. The first year was about bedding in and focusing on doing good work for Samsung. That all went to plan. At the beginning of year two, James and the team were invited to pitch on Jim Beam, arguably the most quintessential American bourbon (although Jack Daniels fans may have a thing or two to say about that). That account was won. This year there have been wins for JetBlue and Peloton. The agency placed in the top 20 agencies in the US for the One Show and adam&eveDDB was named international agency of the year by AdAge.
To put some of that in concrete business terms, adam&eveNYC has experienced roughly 25% growth year on year, every single year since it launched in the market. From the two people that arrived in New York in 2017, the agency has expanded to almost 60 people. “Even when we [adam&eveDDB] got big [in London], we still went after everything and pursued every brief, every client, every opportunity as if we were a startup and we never lost that hunger,” says James, who believes that mentality has proved successful in the States too.
When planning the look and feel of the agency, James and the management team in London wanted a mix of talent that they could bring over from London and people already embedded in the US market. Stuart Harrison, head of strategy in New York, was brought over from adam&eveDDB in London, for example, while ECDs David Brown and Daniel Bonder came over from BBH New York. “I think winning Jim Beam gave us the confidence that what we were doing here was working,” James says. “The people that we had brought in and the mixture of talent from the UK and the US was paying off and our positioning in the market was working really well. That excited clients, I think. It was a different type of agency and feeling than perhaps the US market had experienced in the last couple of years.”
An interesting point about adam&eveNYC is that DDB New York also operates in the city, whereas in London, adam&eveDDB is the sole DDB offering in the market. “It’s definitely been interesting,” says James. “We think about it [adam&eveDDB] as one agency with two locations, more so than two drastically separate agencies.” That is apparent in its management structure. CEOs Tammy Einav and Matthew Goff, and CCO Rick Brim all oversee both the London and New York offices. “Our aim was always to expand our footprint of what we were doing in London into the New York market to offer that service to a larger range of clients - to expand what we were already successful in doing in London into the US market,” adds James. “We've always had that hunger and energy of a startup and the agility and extreme partnership with our clients that comes with that as well. I think what you get from coming to adam&eveDDB is the ability to really directly partner with our teams, and what we love doing is directly partnering with our clients and offering a slightly more boutique offering - what I call a ‘creative partner shop’ in this market. I think that sets us apart from DDB. DDB is a great, historic and really grown-up brand in this market. We are slightly younger, we are slightly more agile, we are a slightly more boutique. I think you see that through some of the clients we're working with as well.”
When asked about the work he’s most proud of from his time in New York, James is quick to single out the hilarious ‘ad-within-an-ad’ for Samsung and Ryan Reynolds’ gin brand Aviation. “I put that up there with the best work we’ve done here in the US and certainly some of the best work that I’ve done in my career. It was fun but hard, all for the right reasons,” he says. “There was the ‘living the high life at home’ series for Miller High Life with Errol Morris, which was shot during lockdown in his home, and the ‘Champagne of Beers region’ which I think is really great.” They also launched Facebook’s cryptocurrency ‘Libra’, a project from the agency’s earlier days where they were brought on before the product even officially existed. “More recently I think the work that we're doing for Peloton is really interesting and really exciting,” he adds. “We worked on this campaign over the Olympic period. That brand is such an exciting company right now that’s going through some change from a brand perspective, moving away from just talking about the bike and the techs and specs and really thinking about the community that makes that brand and that product so special. I think you can see that in what we did over the course of the summer. We've just helped them launch Peloton apparel, which was again a really exciting step for them as a brand to push out into the apparel market. We partnered with them on that and we've got some other things in the pipeline for Peloton.”
James sums up the venture of launching a business in New York as a ‘real challenge’ but one that he wouldn’t change for anything. “It's been amazing and wild and exciting, and I'm really proud of what we've built here and what we continue to build. For me, it was such a privilege to come out here and build on something that I truly, genuinely love. When you've got a brand and work somewhere that you truly believe in, the opportunity to share that with new people in a new market is one you just can't pass up.
“There have been some things we've got massively right. There are some things we've got wrong,” he adds. “We've learned and I've learned as we've gone through that. But I think where the agency stands today with the clients that we have, with the work that we're doing, we can only be proud of what we've achieved. With the vision that we have for the agency - to be the most creative agency in the world, whether that's coming out of London or New York - we have a really great footprint now to continue achieving that. We've been fortunate to have ‘agency of the year’ type accolades in the UK and now it's about expanding that globally.”