Coffee plus cocoa plus gunpowder… it’s a combination that’s likely to spark fireworks. And it’s the name of a new agency launched in Australia this week that is hoping to shake things up. Built into CCG’s model is a commitment to people – and that’s not just a fluffy cultural mission statement. Founders Ant Melder and Chiquita ‘CK’ King have pledged that, from the off, 5% of agency profits will feed into the Coffee Cocoa Gunpowder Foundation – and that will stand in perpetuity, no matter how big the agency becomes. The goal is to use that money to sponsor people who need help.
But this model isn’t the only reason that the agency will light a spark locally. In the Australian market, companies founded by women or non-Caucasian men are few and far between and the twosome hope that they can inspire tomorrow’s talent by showing that there is a place for them in leadership roles.
CK and Ant met while working at M&C Saatchi and also worked closely at DDB. A native of South Africa, Chiquita started her career at the Jupiter Drawing Room and moved to Australia in 2009 where she developed her CX and digital experience. Ant has worked at top agencies in London and Sydney, from Saatchi to Iris and DDB Sydney – and has recently launched a podcast called Brown Riot celebrating industry talent from diverse backgrounds. Rallying behind other independent spirits, CK and Ant cite agencies like Uncommon in London and Joan in New York as key inspirations behind their decision to break out and try something different.
LBB> What triggered the decision to launch an agency?
CK> Creative ambition, belief in each other and timing. We’d both long harboured ambitions to do this and started talking about it a couple of years ago. For various reasons the timing wasn’t quite right then but there was a shared belief that with our combined experience and perspectives, we could bring something unique to the market. Earlier this year it became clear that the timing was spot on and our perspective on things is now more relevant than ever. Looking at the agency landscape and starting to have conversations with marketers, it’s clear that a different way of doing things will be welcomed and can lead to amazing work. I’ve always believed in the potential of our agency whereas now I believe in its success. So, we’re feeling seriously inspired and energised.
LBB> How did the two of you meet?
Ant> We met at M&C Saatchi Sydney where we co-led the Optus (Australia’s second biggest telco) account. There was an immediate gelling of skillsets, working styles and, most of all, creative ambitions. We subsequently also worked together at DDB Sydney so we’ve jointly experienced lots of highs and lows – not just building great client relationships and doing work we’re proud of together, but also being in the trenches on tough projects, hardcore pitches and challenging situations, too.
LBB> What is it about your respective personalities and experience that made you click as business partners?
Ant> Complementary skills, enormous mutual respect and a shared worldview. There’s no-one else in the industry I’d do this with. CK’s talent, experience and integrity is unsurpassed; she’s absolutely loved and respected in the industry, by clients and agency people alike. Also, we have such rock solid belief in our abilities, we’re both passionate about this industry and our priorities are completely aligned. Doing great work and being a positive force in the universe. Both of those elements are individually awesome but we believe that when they’re combined they’re exponentially powerful.
We are both passionate voices for change and progress in the industry. For diversity in terms of gender, race and so on. With a female founder and non-Caucasian creative leader, we want to be role models for young people at the start of their careers, examples for them to ‘See it’ so they can work their butts off and one day ‘Be it’.
CK> Also, we’re looking into the figures on this but the number of female founded and owned agencies is way lower than it should be. I want my daughter to know that she is not limited in any capacity and likewise for any other female talent in our market, I want them to reach for the stars and know that it takes effort – immense effort in fact – but you can effect change in ways you believe is essential. You learn from mistakes and experiences and those have most certainly crystalised my desire to lead people in a way that makes them want to run through walls for us. I also want this agency to be a place that continues to open doors for our talent throughout their careers.
LBB> Can you explain a bit more about the model and how it will work?
CK> We have an entity called the Coffee Cocoa Gunpowder Foundation. 5% of all agency profits will be fed into the Foundation – from day one and in perpetuity. Whether we’re a small boutique or grow to become a global behemoth, that 5% promise will always stand. Clearly, we’re at the start of our journey now and the 5% has minimal worth, but we’re fired up to build and grow. Knowing that our success means others will benefit sharpens the desire to make this work. We’re also excited to work with like-minded clients because when you work with us you share in our promise to make a tangible difference.
LBB> How are you going to decide where to put that money?
Ant> Our agency ethos is PEOPLE ARE EVERYTHING. That comes across in the work we do, the way we do business and the way we give back. In giving back, the key word is ‘people’. We’re going to identify individuals with the potential to succeed who through circumstance, injustice or lack of basic resources, can’t fulfil that potential. The funding will help them achieve the things they’re capable of. The individuals we endorse will be people whose talents, ambitions and ideas can in some way benefit the wider community. For example, we’re inspired by people like Deng Adut and Malala Yousafzai.
CK> We might help a refugee from a war-torn country whose education has been interrupted; an immigrant retraining to become a lawyer; a youngster with amazing sporting potential; a student with an amazing idea but no funds to develop it.
We really like the idea of our staff having an influence on the people we sponsor. Imagine the value that offers as a proposition for our star performers. A change to make a highly tangible difference to an individual.
And we also want to closely follow the progress of the people we help – and encourage them to give back to the community in turn. Creating an ongoing chain of positivity and support.
LBB> What sort of models or options did you explore before deciding on this one?
Ant> We thought about a model that works exclusively with ‘ethical’ brands but we ended up deciding that was too limiting and the discussion merits a much broader stage. We’re at a point where brands have the power to make a real difference and consumers are demanding much more from them. We love that quote from the sustainable food advocate Anna Lappe – “Every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” And we also saw a company mission statement the other day that resonated with us – ‘Don’t be A Dick’. We thought if we can help brands tie those two thoughts together, we’ll be onto something powerful.
LBB> Why is it important to you both to run your business this way?
CK> We are both passionately in love with this business. In what other industry could you spend your days working with a mix of incredibly intelligent and talented people using ideas to solve problems? And we both believe that creativity is not just an amazing tool for growth but also a force to leave the world better than we found it.
LBB> You're just about to launch the agency, but what advice would you give to other people sitting on the fence about whether they should launch an ethical/alternative model start up agency?
Ant> We actually don’t see it that way. We just want to do brilliant work and give back as a by-product. People have said to us, ‘The economy’s not great – are you sure this is the right time to be launching a creative agency?’ We think Victor Hugo put it best when he wrote: “No army in the world can stop an idea whose time has come.”
LBB> How will that ethos translate to the rest of the agency's practice?
CK> Our ethos will run through everything we do. Going back to that thought about the approach - the kind of work we do, the way we do business and the way we give back. Our work will always start with people and have a forensic understanding of their wants/needs at the heart of it. We will see the world through the eyes of a consumer, not a brand and aim to deliver things that are truly useful/helpful/valuable for people.
The approach extends to our service proposition too. And our people focus will come through in every interaction: with our clients, our team and our partners.
LBB> How do you feel about making the jump from big network agencies to your own indie?
Ant> We’re equal parts excited and terrified! We’ve been inspired by brilliant indies doing great things in other markets. Places like Joan in New York and Uncommon Studios in London are smashing it. We want to bring a bit of that energy, attitude and bravery to our market.
CK> When thinking about our next career move we were both considering roles in some great agencies. But there’s something about having the ability to succeed and fail on your own terms which is both frightening and liberating. And the most important thing is to not die wondering, right?