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Managing Marketing: The Motivation Behind Starting an Advertising Agency

Chiquita King

Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Chiquita King is the Managing Director and Ant Melder is the Creative Partner in the agency Coffee Cocoa Gunpowder. Together they share the motivations of wanting to start their own advertising agency after many years working in the larger global agencies. They also talk about their vision for the agency, they explain the agency name and discuss what they believe will make their agency distinctive and different from the rest. It is essential listening for anyone thinking about starting a new advertising agency.

You can listen to the podcast here:

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Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we sit down and talk with marketing thought leaders and experts on the issues and topics of interest to marketers and business leaders everywhere.

Today I’m sitting down with the founders of a new agency interestingly called Coffee, Cocoa and Gunpowder. And the managing director is Chiquita King. Welcome Chiquita.

Chiquita:

Hello. Thanks for having me.

Darren:

And Ant Melder, the creative partner.

Ant:

Hello Darren.

Darren:

Welcome, Ant. It is a new agency. When did you officially start? It wasn’t that long ago was it?

Chiquita:

29th of April so we’re just about to head into our 5th month.

Darren:

So, you’re babes. But you’re not are you? Both of you have got extended experience in the advertising industry. Ant, give us a bit of a background of your experience.

Ant:

Both of us have got a couple of decades experience in the industry both in big agencies and more boutique agencies. Myself, across London and Sydney. In London I was at Saatchi and Saatchi for many years. I was also at a place called ‘Iris’ in London.

And then when I came over here about 6 years ago I was at M&C Saatchi for a few years, which is where I met CK (Chiquita). And we were jointly running the Optus account over there and we went over to. And we went over to DDB for a bit.

And then circumstances changed and the timing was right and we came together.

Darren:

So, CK what about you? Give us a potted history of your experience?

Chiquita:

Most notably, I spent 8 years at an agency called the ‘Jupiter Drawing Room’ in Johannesburg, South Africa —possibly one of the best agencies I’ve ever worked in.

Darren:

Was that your first job in advertising?

Chiquita:

Yeah, it was my first proper job in advertising. I had worked in agencies prior but it was more ‘can you get the brochures across town, answer the phones?’, which is fine but I really fell in love with advertising at Jupiter. And I was there for 8 years and had 3 babies there. I was promoted from account manager to the business unit director running one of the biggest pieces of business in the agency.

I absolutely loved it and learned so much. Then I emigrated to Australia and worked at Lavender with Will. I love Will—I’ve got a lot of respect for that man and a lot of gratitude because they sponsored the move. And I spent 4 years there and learnt so much. It was quite a strategic move for me as well because I didn’t know the world of digital, CRM, data—how that whole world unfolds so it was a very pointed move. I loved that.

I worked a little bit at Leo’s and then at M&C where Ant and I met. I loved working in Optus. It was the first time I had ever worked in a Telco. I love working on categories I’ve never worked on before. And then from there to DDB.

Darren:

So, when the announcement came out that you guys were going to be setting up your agency I was really impressed with the number of comments in the trade media, particularly around your leadership skills.

So, from your perspective (and you’re probably going to be way too humble) what drives that? What is it about your leadership style that has garnered so much adoration from the people who have worked with you?

Chiquita:

It’s an interesting question. I have a love for people. This is a people business; a very emotional business and you are really responsible in any leadership position for setting the tone for how things are done.

Every day is going to be really challenging. There are complex problems that we deal with and you are not going to solve that on your own. So, you need a team of really talented, incredible people around you and to extract the best from them you’ve got to develop a culture and an environment in which they want to work.

You’ve got to set the tone in such a way that they will run through walls for you. I don’t think that has to be fabricated; it’s just a little bit of care.

Darren:

It has to be real doesn’t it?

Chiquita:

It does have to be authentic otherwise people see through it.

Darren:

Thank you—that’s the word; authentic. I’d almost forgotten it because it gets overused. Ant, is that what attracted you because choosing a business partner is quite a risky process but clearly you’ve made this decision.

Ant:

I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t with CK. Going back to your question before about the various comments in the media. They just spoke to something I knew: CK’s unrivalled integrity. Right throughout every decision across a campaign, a project, life itself, she’s just got this integrity.

And we have brought it to the agency we have launched. Why do people hold her in such high regard? I’ve realised that the bar is actually quite low. If you just literally do what you say you’re going to do—that’s all you need to do. And already you’re ahead of a lot of people.

Darren:

Thank you. You’ve just given me what I believe is the perfect definition of integrity. It’s amazing how people get it so wrong. But for me, integrity is just doing what you say you’re going to do, being who you say you will be. Yet people come up with all sorts of weird definitions.

It’s bizarre isn’t it, for an industry that relies so heavily on language we often bastardise terms like integrity and authenticity. These are fundamental words about the human condition and yet marketing and advertising, we like to take them and make them mean new things.

Ant:

I also think there are a lot of meetings and a lot of fluff and we like to say stuff that makes us sound big and special. The other ethos we really like is that Bill Bernbach thing about ‘a printable is not a printable until it costs you money’. It’s so easy to just talk about stuff and harder to deliver on it.

When things from the financial point of view are put in front of you; you’ve talked about it but are you going to do it even though it’s going to cost you? I think it’s a great test.

Darren:

I think it is the ultimate test in that we are working in a commercial environment where profit is the measure of success but at what point are we willing to put profit ahead of our fundamental values as a human being?

So, CK, you talk about building an environment, a culture, within an organisation where people want to work but obviously, striking the balance of being profitable so that you can continue to provide that environment. Do you see that as a challenge or is it just part and parcel of running a business?

Chiquita:

I think it’s just part and parcel of running a good business. It’s quite simple and I think it’s just about how you treat people. It’s not that hard to be considerate. When you have the opportunity during the day to be kind, be kind.

It doesn’t really cost a lot to do the little things that make the biggest difference. One of our agency values is choosing to be present. So, when you’re having a conversation with somebody and asking them how they are, they will give you clues as to where they are at. And if you pay attention to those little things you can actually build around it and pave the way for a relationship where they feel like they matter.

I think that’s one of the biggest things I actually learned at Jupiter (where I spent 8 years). And the boss I worked for 6 of the 8 years was really tough on me; she didn’t make things easy. She raised the bar again and again but she made me aware of my own potential.

And as a result I just wanted to do more and more. There was something about how she made me feel and that was that I mattered, that I could contribute and had something to offer. And that is how we want the people in our agency and the people in the teams I’ve led to feel.

Because when people matter and they feel like they have a place and they’ve got something to contribute and share, there’s such a value exchange there. And it’s not hard; it doesn’t cost money.

Darren:

So, here’s a question for both of you. Why an agency? I’ve got over 3,000 agencies on an agency register in Australia for all different types. What was the decision-making process? The 2 of you were having a conversation and you went ‘I’ve got an idea, let’s start an agency’.

Ant:

It wasn’t a sudden eureka moment. It was a conversation and a feeling that grew over 2, 3 years until the timing was right. So, we didn’t suddenly wake up one day and say, ‘let’s do it’. The feeling that grew over a couple of years was that the more you learn and grow and the more experience you get and the bigger things you handle, the more you start to think I could do it a different way.

We both love this industry; we’re so passionate about the work. And there are 3,000 other agencies but you start to think we’ve got a different, newer, better way. Maybe it’s ego but you start to think maybe we could do it better with our combination of skills, personalities and being on a wavelength that’s different to other agencies we’ve worked at. We did start to think we could have something unique and special.

Chiquita:

We’ve worked for some incredible people in some incredible agencies and through that experience there’s a much bigger personal conviction and belief that we just wanted to be the premise of everyday. It was somewhat different to the philosophies and beliefs of agencies we were working in.

It’s not to say that it’s better but it’s different and it’s ours and it’s something we believe in. And it got to the point that conviction was overwhelming. We don’t want to just have another agency; we want to have an agency that has got a point of view on the world and that is really what led to our proposition.

Darren:

And one of the things I like is I now understand the source of your fundamental proposition which is people are everything. The experience you’re both sharing is one where people have had the biggest impact on you, positive and negative and you’re actually putting that at the centre of the business.

What does that mean for you, CK? What would this business (not agency) look like in 2 or 5 years’ time? What would be the essential thing that would make you go ‘we’ve been successful’.

Chiquita:

I think first and foremost it would be centred around the people and the agency—that people actually work for Coffee, Cocoa, Gunpowder, the team. And I think when you walk into the agency 2 years from now it will be tangible. There will be a certain energy; it will be what you feel, hear, there will be laughter, that crazy sort of panic vibe you get some times.

But you will walk in there and know this business is centred around people because the people in it, through their smiles, sunshine pouring out of their eyes (yes, there will be panic and stress because that’s ever-present in this business) but there will be a spirit, a tangible notion of this is a team that is pulling in the same direction.

Darren:

So you’ll have a measure every day that you walk into the office of this is what I wanted to create? What about you Ant?

Ant:

That resonates with me. I’m really excited (this sounds a bit Tony Robbins) about helping people fulfil their potential. One of the reasons I love this business is because you are surrounded by smart, clever, interesting people and some of those people are younger and some are older but I love the idea of helping people reach their potential.

When people are on the way to doing that it does create a buzz, an energy. CK talked about going back to formative experiences—the Jupiter Drawing Room—I had a similar thing right at the start of my career. I worked for some guys called George Bets and Simon Reynolds, a small agency in Sydney.

There were a couple of things. They would regularly turn down pitches or resign accounts if values weren’t aligned creatively or ethically. That really gave me a strong sense of ‘wow, you would do that because your ethics are so important’.

And the other thing was they just created this vibe that was a family vibe. George is like a rough and ready working class guy and his mum would come in every Wednesday with this massive pot of Greek food that she’d cooked and everyone would sit around the board table and have this moussaka.

And I just remember those days as some of the happiest days of my life because everyone was doing work that they were interested in and were doing better and better work that they believed in and it created a buzz around the place. I’d like to recreate that buzz and vibe.

Darren:

The industry is going through some real challenges at the moment, especially overseas in the US, we’re hearing of major brands building in-house agencies, and the rise of the consultancies that are moving into the space, largely through digital and technology rather than creativity.

But they’re certainly buying up creative agencies, cherry-picking them. What would you say is the fundamental thing? I’ve got a perspective but I want to hear it from you. What do you think it is about advertising agencies that makes them unique? I mean makes it really hard to replicate in any other circumstance. Ant?

Ant:

Going back to creating a culture. A culture of an agency can be a special sauce. You can have the same people with the same or similar skills in one environment that just cannot deliver what the same people can deliver in another sort of environment.

I think that’s a mixture of the influences coming together, all being on the ship and trying to go in the same direction. My wife works in Deloitte and I walk into Deloitte a lot and they are really smart, intelligent, bright people, clearly but the environment is as far from an agency as you could ever imagine.

I just can’t imagine the kind of creativity coming out of that kind of environment as I can out of a good agency.

Darren:

It’s a different culture because largely it comes from a very different place to an agency in that they’re much more analytical. It would be understandable. If they had the same sort of environment as an agency you would wonder if they were a consulting firm.

CK, what about from your perspective?

Chiquita:

I think they’re different freedoms. It is born out of that cultural thing. The type of talent and collection of people you pull together in an agency; there is almost a different set of rules and expectation. And there is a freedom that facilitates the exploration of problems and finding solutions to problems in different ways.

One of the best parts of the job is sitting at a creative review and inviting teams to unpack work. And they’ll start with ‘I was reading this’ or ‘I saw that’—the source of inspiration–wow. There is no limit to where an idea can start so there are different rules and expectations in an agency.

You are expected to go places that other businesses just don’t even consider, which is amazing.

Darren:

That requires it to have a culture that isn’t like other businesses doesn’t it? Because if it’s the same as your accounting firm, lawyer and the office.

Chiquita:

Different rules.

Darren:

I don’t think it’s possible to replicate the culture of a great agency inside a much larger organisation because it does require creativity itself to be on that border between complexity and chaos. The whole creative process borders on chaos because it’s about finding patterns or ways of doing things that no one’s ever seen before.

Chiquita:

Chaos is a great word for it.

Ant:

I remember walking into Wieden Kennedy’s office in Brick Lane, London and at the time it was (still is) one of the great agencies. You walk into the creative department and go ‘oh my god, how does anyone get anything done in this place? There are elastic bands flying around, heavy metal music’s up full tilt but somehow out of that chaos comes this amazing work.

Darren:

It is unique. When you’ve worked in great agencies you get that sense of something special. I think people want that. Marketers know they need that almost chaotic approach to problem-solving but I think also from a business point of view there is probably some questioning or a little bit of mistrust because it isn’t a process that goes ABC.

And yet a lot of it is process. One of the things I like on your website is ‘forensically understanding the problem’ because that is a process isn’t it?

Chiquita:

Absolutely. Often the brief, certainly over my career, if you really indulge in a conversation and you are fretting about what are your clients fretting about, what is keeping them up at night is keeping you up at night, you will start to explore and unpack the layering of that problem.

Often a really good part of the conversation and what does build trust and a really good partnership is you go ‘I know that’s the problem stated on the brief but I’ve got a whole lot of questions’. And you just indulge in a conversation and often you get to a much better point where you go ‘ok, the task is actually this and this is how we’re going to get there’.

I don’t think any really good brief is linear. It’s really messy and you’ve got to deconstruct it but if you’ve got the passion and you’re working with a bunch of smart people you can get there with amazing outcomes.

Ant:

I think you can tell the work that is quite surface level. It’s like this plus this equals this and it’s alright but you can tell they’ve not really gone deeper on the brief and interrogated and really understood the problem behind the problem to finally go ‘oh, that’s what it is’.

And that’s what allows you to make that leap where you go ‘how did they get to that solution?’

Darren:

But there’s also that great creative work where you go ‘wow, I can see where that’s come from but I would never have gone there’. One of the things I find really interesting about the creative process is in hindsight it’s almost logical.

Ant:

It’s straightforward.

Darren:

But at the time you were sitting there going ‘here’s the problem, where do I leap off?’ That’s why I say to clients especially, ‘you’ve got to think of this as a process down to a point where somebody has to make that creative leap or a number of creative leaps. Then it goes into process again because it’s the implementation of that idea’.

There’s really just one point that is almost beyond definition, which is that moment of conceptualisation. The more work you do up front, the deeper you go, the more you question, the curiosity and courage to actually challenge the conventional helps set up that moment of creativity and then you go into a process.

Trying to talk about the whole thing as being magical is where people get lost because it’s not really; it’s a process. But it needs that essential ingredient in the centre to make that whole thing work.

Ant:

I was watching a Mark Ritson video piece the other day, he was breaking down a Tide ad campaign, which is such an amazing campaign but when he breaks down what the brief was and how it’s about clean clothes and how they got there. And then you get to that point and then you blow it up and then you execute it.

Like you said Darren, you kind of go, ‘oh that’s really straight forward, that’s really obvious’ but the creative wisdom to get that to that point, how can you replicate that?

Darren:

That’s also a measure of terrific creative because the fact that no one else had done it and then it gets so much attention and people talk about it and reflect on it, it becomes part of popular culture doesn’t it?

You say Tide ad and if people watch the Superbowl they go, ’oh yeah I know the one you mean’.

So you mentioned the name before CK, so Coffee, Cocoa and Gunpowder, so where did it come from? Why? How? First of all it’s a bit of a mouthful; it doesn’t have your names in it, there’s no King or Melder or was it because there wasn’t a third person.

Ant:

No, no, no I think that was one of the reasons it was Coffee, Cocoa, Gunpowder because one of the things was that we didn’t want it to be King & Melder or Melder & King, we didn’t want to do the names thing and sound like solicitors.

It’s a mouthful but it’s different and I don’t think there has been one meeting where clients or potential clients that we’ve walked into where someone in that room hasn’t started by saying, the name, why, what’s the point.

So it’s been a brilliant conversation starter. We’ve got some reasons why we’ve called it that, that we can talk through. One of the things is everyone seems to have their own view, ‘Oh I thought it was this’ and we say oh okay it can be that as well.

Different interpretations, the bottom line is all those three elements, the Coffee, Cocoa and Gunpowder are things that inspire emotion in people, and different kinds of emotion so that’s really important to us.

So the coffee kind of gives you a jolt and wakes you up, the cocoa that’s a bit more arm round the shoulder and reassuring and then the gunpowder that kind of blows shit up.

Darren:

So I’ve obviously been watching too much Sesame Street because I thought ‘one of these things doesn’t belong here and one of these things isn’t the same’ because I can drink two of them but if I drank the third one then I’d be in serious trouble.

Ant:

You can drink the gunpowder, there is a gunpowder tea.

Darren:

So from a creative process was this self-evident when you came up with the name

Ant:

It was CK’s idea, the name, by the way.

Chiquita:

It was just, how about Coffee, Cocoa, Gunpowder and that just stuck. Everything else on the board just slipped off. I was like, I love the sound of it, Ant loved it and it’s kind of stuck. It was just so easy and effortless to put some meaning behind it too.

As Ant was saying earlier everyone just kind of embraces it and as long as you embrace it, it can mean whatever you want it to as long as it kind of works for you.

It’s been an amazing conversation starter and it is a mouthful and that’s okay.

Darren:

So no one has tried to shorten it to CCG?

Chiquita:

Once or twice and we’ve gone how about Cocoa Gun if you prefer.

Ant:

It sounds very corporate CCG.

Darren:

Yeah it sounds like an Insurance company.

Chiquita:

But Cocoa Gun is like we’ve got everyone on the Cocoa Gun trial and we love that as well.

Darren:

One of my favourite chocolates is Cocoa black.

Chiquita:

So there you go, Cocoa Black is great.

Ant:

Because we walk into some buildings and say to the receptionist Ant and CK from Coffee, Cocoa, Gunpowder and you see the receptionist go, ‘what’.

Chiquita:

It’s quite funny actually on almost every occasion the receptionist will then give the respective client a call and go, ‘your meeting has arrived’; it’s fun.

Darren:

So I mentioned the value before of people are everything and CK you mentioned about developing a culture where people are having fun and it’s bringing the best of people out and Ant you mentioned the same about allowing people to fulfil their ultimate potential.

What does it mean for you as an organisation? It must have implications on the way you recruit people, the way you handle staff? What are the implications because if you put that as the foundation of your values, what are the types of things you have had to consider in developing the business going forward?

Chiquita:

If we think about the people that we are looking to be a part of the team and be with us over time and build this out to be something remarkable and special and relevant. I think about the sort of people we’ve already hired they’ve got — we should talk about our head of social, Hayden.

So for example he kind of understands the world of social to a degree that he talks a language.

Darren:

A deep speciality.

Chiquita:

Totally, he’s got this whole other world and passion and love which is comedy. In fact we took some clients two weeks ago to dinner at a show where he did this whole stand up improv, which was incredible. The first show I’ve been to like that and it was remarkable.

So we are looking for people that have a deep speciality and skill but almost like plus one; something that adds a whole different dimension, you want a world which just brings something special to the table.

Darren:

Which is what it means to be a human being doesn’t it? You are not one dimensional, you are multi-faceted.

Ant, from a creative point of view it must have implications when you are choosing the partners that you will work with such as in production, the choice of directors. There are film directors out there that are perhaps a little more self-centred or self-focused. Does it have an implication or is it all about just the best person for the job?

Ant:

I think it does have an implication in choosing who we work with because when CK talked about the team, there are also our partners who we work with and our clients as well. I think it has a big impact on both of those.

In all the staff, the partners, the clients we want to work with people that are on the same wave length as us and I really don’t think that means we need to compromise on working with the best people.

There’s a bunch of people in production companies and so on that have come on board and come to the party since we’ve set up that we’ve developed really strong ongoing links with that are the best in the business.

I don’t think you need to be throwing your toys out the pram and be super egotistical and screaming, shouting and turning tables over to do amazing work. We’ve got some amazing gracious, wonderfully humble and talented human beings on the team as partners and I love that.

Darren:

That’s great and the interesting test for you and I say this because I’ve had other companies, other agencies have started with a particular philosophy, not the same as yours and as they grow they often have to compromise those values. So the test will be how you enjoy the commercial success and growth and maintain those values.

Do you see any obvious challenges or is this something that you are very comfortable with?

Chiquita:

I think it is something that can really stand the test of time and the reason I say that is because it’s actually a philosophy that Ant and I have built up our careers on. So this is not something that we hope will work for the future, our reputations are kind of built on the premise.

If I think about the relationships, the incredible relationships that I have been fortunate enough to build with various clients I’ve had over the years, they know that I will stop at nothing to help get the team that’s working on their business to deliver something that is really, really meaningful.

That again is because there is a spirit in a sense of collaboration where everybody is pulling in the same direction. When you have teams focused on that client because there is a sense of trust and partnership so it’s not just we do what the client says, it’s more that we challenge what the client says in a really sort of respectful way.

You can then get to something that is far more rich and diverse which drafts results. I think partnership is a big part of it but that is based on the people sitting around the table and the trust that you develop over time.

I believe it’s the right proposition for us and it has worked and I really believe it will continue to work. It’s simple and we can hold each other accountable for it because we know what it is, we know what it looks like and we know what it feels like.

Darren:

I know its early days but one of the biggest challenges will be scaling. That’s either scaling in the market that you are in, once organisations get to 100 plus people it’s very difficult to continue that or scaling when you want to move into other markets.

Enjoying that kind of success would mean that you have to look at setting up in other markets. Have you even had a chance to contemplate that or will you just cross that bridge when you come to it?

Chiquita:

Ant mentioned this earlier, we are very, very ambitious but there is a degree of pragmatism I think to that means. We would rather manage our growth in a way where we know what the future looks like but we want to be really careful about what we do.

Going back to the thing, doing what we say, we don’t want to drop a ball. We want to be thorough in all our deliveries so yeah excited. We are looking forward to the growth that will come but we want to do so as pragmatically as possible.

Ant:

I think to that question, Darren, if you build an agency on the proposition that people are everything and a really strong culture that we are trying to build you can’t then suddenly take it in a different direction and take on projects that are not relevant to that and have growth in certain ways that are not relevant to that and still maintain that DNA.

We are really cognisant of that, we don’t want to break the culture to get the quicker growth. It really is thinking about what is the best way to grow and having said that, god, we are so ambitious. We are not here to be a little agency in Surrey Hills; we are here to really make a mark and an impact.

Darren:

I think you’ve both tapped into what’s called, the zeitgeist. You tapped into a definite trend that is happening, not just in advertising but in society which is a realisation that people are everything. In actual fact it’s humanity that creates the value not just from a financial point of view but also from an emotional point of view and a physical point of view.

Look we’ve absolutely run out of time. It’s been great catching up with you CK. Thanks for making time to come and have a chat.

Chiquita:

Thank you so much for having us.

Darren:

And Ant all the best to both of you with the future. I’ve just got one last question.

Ant:

Go for it.

Darren:

And that is, of all of the agencies in the world is there one that you would like to exceed their success by miles?

Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals, Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by Darren Woolley and special guests. Find all the episodes here

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Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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