A few weeks ago 16-year-old UK creative agency CHI&Partners announced it was becoming The&Partnership London. You could simply assume that the name change is part of bringing the agency brand more smoothly in line with The&Partnership network of which it forms the central hub, but that would be reductive.
This is a chance for the agency to reiterate its mission statement and define itself clearly for the new era ahead, at a time when agency models are in flux. Keen to find out what sort of agency The&Partnership wants to be recognised as, LBB’s Alex Reeves chatted to chief executive officer Sarah Golding (pictured right) and managing director Sarah Clark (pictured left).
LBB> The rebrand is getting a lot of industry attention. What does it represent for the agency?
Sarah Golding> Clients are loving it and we’ve had a lot of positive feedback internally and externally.
It’s more than just a name change. This isn’t about rebadging an ad agency. The move to The&Partnership London sets out our direction of travel and our purpose - it underlines our position as the strategic and creative heart of The&Partnership, our network.
The reason we’ve done that is because we believe that the next generation agencies are going to be those that capably bring together what I would call the holy trinity of creativity, data and technology. And doing that in new and exciting ways. If that is the assumption, we’ve got something at the vanguard of that and that is our group and network - The&Partnership.
LBB> Your phrase “big, bold and bionic ideas” is very evocative of the kind of agency you strive to be. Can you unpack that a bit for us?
SG> In my role as President of the IPA, I have a ‘Magic and the Machines’ agenda, which isn’t just for this agency - it’s for the industry, writ large, for media and creative agencies. I’ve spent the last year learning from the front about AI and emerging technologies like AR and VR and new applications of these technologies in our industry and world.
I firmly believe and keep saying (probably ad nauseum) that AI and machine learning will transform and are transforming our industry. They're changing everything from media, creative and planning processes to the formats we use to connect brands we work with and on, with very specific audiences.
Sarah Clark> Also, the big, bold and bionic thought is really about our belief that you want to create big, insightful ideas that endure through time, but we want to continue to deliver them in really bold ways that people notice and talk about and then make them bionic through our use of progressive technology.
SG> And to be fair, some of our very best examples to date, in terms of creative effectiveness, have been big, bold and bionic. Whether that was the hoverboard that we created for Lexus
, or when we created the first ever Facebook-only brand launch for iD. In the summer of last year we created a responsive social and data driven campaign of 80 unique date-stamped ads for Argos
. These are already examples of where The&Partnership London is leading the way in data-driven creativity and creative innovation, but from now on our mission is to lead the way in big, bold and bionic creativity.
SC> In October we launched the bitcoin bonus
. That was specifically designed to reward our teams and talent in the agency for coming up with the most progressive and exciting tech ideas.
LBB> It must be a risk to get caught up in the ‘bionic’ part, because it’s all shiny and new. How do you feel about working on the ‘big, bold’ traditional component of creativity?
SG> It’s still about great insights and brilliant creativity. That doesn’t change. The bionic bit is important today because we’re having to apply creativity to today’s marketing challenges. That’s why I think big and bold isn’t enough anymore. It needs to be big, bold and bionic.
But also, an important focus for the agency has to be the talent.
SC> The bitcoin bonus is obviously part of that, but at a broader level we are investing in what we call &People. And that’s really recognising that we want to nurture a diverse team, but aren’t limited to one channel or another, but fluent in all of them. We want everyone to think in more integrated ways than ever. And things like our SPARK initiative
are only serving to accelerate that new kind of thinking within a new agency.
LBB> Of course the name change does mean you’re losing your founders’ initials. Was that a tough decision?
SG> We still look to Clemmow, Hornby and Inge with real pride. Especially given that Clarky and I both were here at the very start and we worked closely alongside them. You know what start-up agencies are like. There are five of you in a room trying to crack pitches and problems. We both feel extremely lucky to have worked with all three of those founders.
SG: Johnny [Hornby] is very much still with us. He’s the founder of the global network The&Partnership. But the name no longer reflected where we’re going and our role within the network. The&Partnership network is a joined-up, data-driven, full-service, new way of doing things. Over the last year, the network has doubled in size off the back of the success of its embedded agency model, and it’s a real challenger now for the big holding companies.
We’re at the heart of that so our name and positioning needs to reflect that.
LBB> And at the heart of that is The&Partnership’s model of staying independent, where the majority owners are still the founders and partners, but backed by the might of WPP as a partner and significant minority shareholder. It’s not one or the other, right?
SG> Yep. The best of both worlds. It’s having your cake with jam in!