Laura Aldington, Jon Austin and Simone Gupta are also known as Supermassive, the new agency launched recently and with a bang in Australia. In a wide-ranging discussion, the team shares their story, inspirations, views on challenges and enablers in the market, and what drives them forward in helping redefine the advertising and agency landscape for the better.
You can listen to the podcast here:
We are being very careful and thoughtful about what we pitch for and how we pitch, as I think all good agencies should be.
Alright. Welcome to Managing Marketing, a podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing media and advertising with industry thought leaders and practitioners.
My name’s David Angell, and today, I’m joined by Simone Gupta, Laura Aldington, and Jon Austin, who are collectively known now as Supermassive.
My first-ever group podcast; I’m a bit nervous, actually. There are three big brains against one, and all of yours are individually better than mine anyway. It’s not looking good for starters.
It’s not true.
Thank you for having us.
I don’t know about that. Welcome, and thanks for much for joining me.
Yeah, thank you for having us.
So, we’re sitting here in a lovely part of Sydney, in a great sort of converted space that you’ve started your journey on. And you are what? Seven or eight weeks old now.
I’d love to just start with your story. I’m always interested. Obviously, I’ve worked with two of you. I’ve worked with Lauren, with Jon directly in the past. But I’m really interested in the stories about how new businesses were born.
And if it’s the cliche we sat in a pub one night and it’s the back of a beer mug, then that’s fine. But talk to me, what’s the creation story here?
Yeah, I’ll take that one.
Sure, you can take it. See, this is like three people who you look at.
Yeah. So, David, I’m not sure how much of it that you are aware of, but we have worked together in a couple of different iterations over the last sort of 13 years.
Jon and I actually first met at DDB when I was on the board at DDB running Mango. And Laura and Jon worked together in Host and then in Host/Havas. And then we all worked together most recently in the Havas Village.
And whilst we were working in our last roles, me running PR, social, and entertainment businesses, and Laura running the sort of traditional advertising and the CX business retail business. And then Jon overseeing the creative output across a lot of those businesses.
And one of the things that we found was when we brought our unique skillset together, we ended up doing some far most interesting and effective work. And I think just quite simply, we enjoyed working together. And I think that that goes a long way.
And so, whilst that was happening also, what has been happening probably for the last 15 years is that traditional advertising is becoming less and less engaging and effective, essentially.
And one of the studies that we often cite when we’re talking about this is the World Advertising Research Centers, when they did a sort of an analysis of the top 100 campaigns (I think it might been last year or the year before) and found that the most effective advertising out there doesn’t look like advertising.
So, we know our industry and how consumers are taken on board messaging is changing. But what we also know as well is that people love being on these small screens and tablets and they love looking at the things that they enjoy.
So, whether it’s music, sport, entertainment, connection, friendships, social platforms, we know that there is plenty of time that our customers and consumers are spending.
And yet we can see that some of the more interruptive methods of advertising are not being as effective.
And so, the conversation between us when it’s like if we know that advertising is becoming less and less effective, not to say that there’s not a really strong place for paid advertising, but we know that people really consuming a lot of entertainment. How do we bring our unique skillset together?
Laura has grown up in some really robust strategic environments. And Jon’s just a fantastic understanding of non-traditional creativity in my own background.
How do we bring those together to really sort of set a benchmark in non-traditional advertising and earned ideas, but that’s grounded in really robust strategy.
And what the industry often serves is PR businesses, none that I’ve ever worked in, of course. But PR businesses that often have some great ideas that can be sticky and can catch the attention of media.
But maybe not be grounded in robust strategy usually because the investment in strategy just usually hasn’t traditionally sat in sort of consumer PR businesses.
And that traditional creative agencies are going in some cases more and more traditional with ideas that don’t work in earned.
And Laura always laughs when she says, “How many times has a creative come to you and asked you to PR an ad?” Like a lot of times. A lot of times. Not this one, but a lot of times.
She’ll point at me.
And so, with all of that together, the idea for Supermassive was born.
And then also, part of that process was sort of a couple of months ago, as the idea was forming of what this business could be bringing this particular unique skillset together, we went and talked to a very small handful of CMOs and senior marketers and talk to them about the challenges they were facing and where an offering like this might sit.
And we got overwhelmingly positive feedback of, “Yes, we feel like this is needed.” This kind of thinking is needed, but also, some other problems that need to be solved for them by a more senior lineup.
Which sometimes they’re not getting from their agency because the people that are in the business are a bit more junior in the senior lineup. They’re not getting repair time with the senior lineup.
So, that’s sort of what all went in the mix. And then Jon and Laura listening to a Muse song and the name was born.
Sorry. I was just going to say, where did you get it from.
Absolutely. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. We were cranking the Muse song. We talked a lot about green lights.
And I think what’s so cool for the creative flair is that the day after we had settled on the name, NASA revealed this news story that they discovered a new supermassive black hole, which felt like getting the green light.
Yeah. Fantastic. That’s serendipity. I love what you were saying just then, Simone, about owned, and earned, and strategy, because that’s one of the biggest, I find that constantly in agencies, this misinterpretation of what has become known as POSE, paid, owned, earned, shared.
And people say,” We’re going to do a paid, owned, earned, shared strategy.” And no, no, that’s not the strategy. That’s the way the strategy’s played out.
So, I think the underlying strategy is often missing. People sort of defaulting to the cleverest channel. And it doesn’t have that grounding.
Laura, what do you say? I mean, that’s the strategic lead here. I mean, does that resonate with you?
Yeah, absolutely it does. I think that non-traditional creativity needs a bit of a rebrand actually.
Because I think that when people think of non-traditional creativity, they think of it as an indulgence or something that’s sort of tacked on that’s almost like a stunt or a short-lived initiative, rather than something that can deliver really incredible and disproportionate results for brands.
And I think the difference between the two is actually, does this piece of work or this idea transcend the paid media that it’s put in?
Often consumes more than just a traditional advertising campaign, but most importantly, is it aligned to some strategic business objectives that we have in an organization, and how is it helping us to deliver those?
And I think to Simone’s point, that’s where bringing together a more traditional background with an earner background is where we can actually get those two things to coalesce together.
I think, I mean, a lot of what we’re talking about brings me to the next thing I wanted to talk about. I think a lot of what we’re talking about, and Jon, I guess I’m looking at you a bit here.
Some of these sort of ways of doing things that have become the norm aren’t necessarily grounded in the right way to put pressure on creativity. Do me something clever. Do me something, do me something. Now, where’s the grounding?
And I think there is a lot of pressure on creativity in this market particularly.
Your website, you’ve kind of just said it, really, an independent creative studio with a vision to set a new benchmark and end a non-traditional creativity. How hard do you think the benchmark is right now?
And let’s be honest, I mean, we don’t have to name names or anything, but how can-
We’d like it if you did that.
But how hard do you think the benchmark currently is? How much pressure do you feel as a creative lead that there has been on creative out in the industry?
Sure. Look, at its very best, I think that the creative benchmark in Australia is awesome. I think it’s audacious and it’s brilliant, and we’ve just seen that it’s Grand Prix winning.
But I think that that also kind of lets us off the hook a little too easily, because I think that you can’t really gauge the creative output of a nation or a region by its 1%.
So, the question is, what is the standard of creativity in Australia? And that’s a different answer because I think that by and large, just like most other regions, almost every other region, it ain’t great.
I think that’s because we are viewing creativity through an aperture that is quite narrow. It’s quite thin, the way that we apply our creativity.
And I think more specifically, the types of ideas, the shape of ideas that we are outputting as a benchmark really aren’t that creative.
I think we often say at Supermassive to our clients, for an industry that talks a really good game about understanding their audience and understanding audience insights, we are ignoring some pretty major signals they’re sending our way pretty loud and clear.
And we can’t claim ignorance on it. We can’t because we all know the stats. We all have heard that 92% of people think that ads are more interruptive than ever.
What is it? 81% of people hit skip, hit the skip on. 82% of people aged 18 to 24 have some method of blocking out ads. So, we know all these stats.
We know that for the first time ever, the majority of people are no longer watching linear TV. And yet we still spend months debating and going back and forward the smallest details on these driest host 15 second retail TVCs.
And then to Simone’s point, we convince ourselves that shareability is putting that TVC on social. We think that banner ads and performance media alone are going to sway audiences who couldn’t give a shit about our brands.
I think that what really annoys me is that we still cram as much information, and messaging, and branding, and DBAs into the first unskipable few seconds of a pre-roll.
And then we hope that people, not only will remember us, but will feel some sort of affinity for us before they hit that mash button.
I think one for me is that I’m still seeing spec portfolios from creators who are trying to break into the industry, which should be this no holds barred celebration of non-traditional creativity and fresh thinking.
But really what I’m seeing in them I think ads in the most traditional and arguably increasingly obsolete places, because that’s what they’ve been taught our industry values the most. And that’s the problem.
And I think that the truth is, Sim mentioned it before, our audience has massively changed in terms of how they consume comms, how they engage with brands.
But the truth is, our industry is very reluctant to change with them, willfully reluctant to change with them. And even, we are still, we expect our creative to be effective when talking to them.
So, when we talk about what are the things that are getting in the way of creativity these days, I think that it’s us. I think it’s the industry. I think that we have steadily trained ourselves, and our clients, and our partners to be our own most enemy.
And as a result, creatively speaking, I think that we are at times shouting into the void while punching ourselves in the face and patting ourselves on the back.
I think that’s a great answer.
And it sounds very pessimistic, but I also, look at, I’m an optimist at heart. And so, I look at the flip side of that and I go, “Actually, that’s really exciting.”
Because when you think about what is enabling creativity in this region and around the world, it’s the passion and it’s the ferocity in which audiences are engaging in the stuff that they love, and culture, and entertainment.
And there is quite literally new worlds of gaming, and movies, and music, and content, and purpose, and fashion, and fandom all waiting out there, all desperate to disproportionately engage if you are willing to respect that for a seat at their passion and play by their rules.
So, that’s why we are really committed to leaning into entertainment over interruption. Why we want to make people want stuff by making stuff people want.
Why we are determined to create things that draw people in on their terms rather than just pushing shit out into the world, unwelcome into people’s lives.
Just to build on what Jon was saying as well, Jon and I were involved last year in D&AD Shift. Are you familiar with that program?
I know what it is.
Yeah. And we were just blown away by the quality … for listeners that don’t know, but the graduates are people that have not been through university, so they’ve got no real formal training.
And then it’s sort of like a three month bootcamp kind of thing, isn’t it? Which was sponsored last year by Google and Adidas. The work was incredible.
It was modern, it was fresh, it was unreal.
Yeah. And the diversity of the people, like do you know? Like just the diversity of the group that that particular cohort was. And so, it was reflected just in how they’d approach these briefs that they’re given.
And that I think is really interesting that that generation are coming up into the industry and that we sort of start to break down some of the agency models so we’re not just teaching them the old rules.
Absolutely. Totally. Yeah. It’s about embracing new ways of working with incredible new creators and creators rather than forcing them to adapt to what are increasingly ineffective ways of working.
Well, I mean, that was a great answer from both of you. So, there’s a couple more inhibitors I want throw, and an enabler as well.
Because I think as soon as you said, like the … I think it’s awesome. And I immediately went, “Yeah. Long tail.” And then you said it. The 1% is awesome.
And so, that’s why I’m interested in enablers, because what is making that 1% different. 99% of the standard being lower, there is a multi-billion dollar industry behind and some very influential voices behind putting ads where they go at the moment.
And advertising in pre-rolls and doing all the things that have been tradition is driven by that there’s a huge financial inhibitor. It’s in people’s interest to keep that bad, particularly personalized, digital, television, everything else going. So, there’s a huge financial sort of inhibitor.
And I think based on what I’ve seen in my career and particularly as a consultant, and that there’s another huge inhibitor, and that is fear.
I mean, it’s interesting you say the agencies of teaching. I’m not sure that the agencies … and I’m not talking about media agencies here actually, whether they’re much more of a financial thing.
But on the creative agency side, I don’t think necessarily that people are being taught by habits. I think marketers are incredibly scared to change because they have procurement people on their back, they have chief execs on their back who have very, very set ideas and old ideas about what works.
They’ve been measuring it in a certain way and they’re scared to change that. They’re scared to fail, they’re scared to … all of that stuff. I think that they are real inhibitors.
So, is the inverse of that 1% where you are finding your clients and they’re enabling you?
Is it bravery? Is it a new model organizations as well as new agencies?
It’s really interesting. I think that it is a combination of things, isn’t it? That it’s really interesting that you say fear. I think that a lot of people have become disincentivized to stick their head above the paradigm.
I think that success has become not obviously failing or success has become sliding under the radar rather than success is making an impact.
And so, therefore people go, that was successful because we kicked the can down the road and we didn’t fuck up.
And I mean, that is a metric of success, but I think that it also, doesn’t breed audaciousness. It doesn’t breed new ways of thinking. I think that it breeds rote thinking and patterns.
And what blows my mind is that in the face of overwhelming evidence that we are talking to fewer people, we are making this impact. It seems easier and safer to do nothing rather than to move, to reflect a shifting audience.
Kick the can down the road is exactly right. You see that so many times, so many times. It’s like, “We’re going to do it six months, we’re going to …”
And to be fair to CMOs, they’re drowning. I mean, they’re absolutely drowning in short-termism, in outdated notions, in data pressure, in all sorts of other things.
Of course. I mean, it’s easy to point the finger at marketers and at clients, but I think that we have carried this conversation on with them.
I read it on LinkedIn recently. It was a great post and someone said, “No client has ever bought an idea that wasn’t put in front of them by an agency,” which is true.
We are putting this stuff in front of them and then complaining when they buy it. I think that we are on this path of mutual destruction.
Look, I mean, and that’s absolutely right when I talk about fear. Of course, fear exists in agencies, and lack of bravery, and also, line of least resistance.
Yeah. I mean, I think it’s interesting the concept of bravery. And we talk about it a bit. And I think part of our offer is, it shouldn’t feel brave or risky to do great work that talks to the audience that it is intended for.
And if it is grounded in strategy and robust point of view, it should feel like the right thing to do, not the risky thing to do.
And actually, it’s a braver path to do something that is going to be largely ignored by your audience. Because I mean, that really is a path to destruction.
So, I think we sometimes don’t make it easy for ourselves when we imply that the kind of work that we want to do is incredibly risky because I’m not sure that it always is.
I think risky is a very different thing honestly. I think the bravery sits in making the change. The bravery is not in doing something that is perceived by that because it’s risky.
The bravery is backing something where others might perceive it as being risky. But from what you know and you’ve got the ends of the partners with the strategic background, and that this idea has been thought through not just plastered on top of a paper thing sort of.
I’m losing my analogy, but yeah, I mean, I totally agree. I don’t think doing something risky just for the sake of doing something risky is just irresponsible.
And that way, “Let’s do a media first.” And that’s not strategy. That’s just a way of putting his hand up and trying to sort of be noticed.
And consumers don’t reward you for that, for being the first person to do something in a channel. That’s something that we do for our own gratification.
That’s right. That’s exactly. So, threading that needle is fine line, but the agencies who put that stuff either because they just don’t want to be told no, and they just need to get it done and with the least amount of hours.
And that’s a whole other conversation about how agencies get paid for inputs on that. What’s the value of the output, not what’s the cost of the input? That engenders agency to be effective and not skew out anyway.
Even from a creative perspective, though, something that we’ve spoken about, we as an industry love risk taking or fresh thinking, but only if it works. Only if it’s seen as being successful.
If you dare try something new and it doesn’t hand out exactly as you’d hoped, you get torn apart, you get torn down by other creatives, you get slagged off.
And it is certainly not instilling a sense of confidence in the next wave of creative creators coming up. Seeing these horrible comments, seeing risk or fresh thinking be absolutely reviled by their industry, which is supposed to be supporting them.
So, I think that we are only doing ourselves a disservice as well by not supporting all forms of fresh thinking.
Agreed. And you’re right. You are all right about not pointing finger. We are sort of locked in a bit of a dance on it. And it takes fresh thinking, and fresh agencies, and fresh people being brought together with unique skill sets that can help change that.
I mean, I love what you said about the D&AD thing. I mean, no, I don’t think anyone with doubt the talent exists. Creativity exists in spades. It’s just getting over the line and breathing life into it when all the evidence is there.
But there are financial, and fear based, and whatever you want to call it, pressures against it. That’s the biggest thing. And any agency or client who can help enable that is I think doing the industry a service.
I think so. Yeah.
We’ve gone a bit dark, isn’t it? Get on the positive. Let’s talk about something else positive. I’ve never been brave enough to put my own name by my agency door. I’ve worked in lots of agencies, I’ve never been brave enough to do what you do.
Did you have inspirations? Did you have anyone, did you have a mentor or inspiration or something that really guided you?
Yeah, a couple of things, I think. But we’ve all been really lucky to work in all sorts of different agencies over our careers, different shapes and sizes.
But I think the ones that bubbled to the surface and that we have particularly stood out to us in creating this proposition are the ones that had a point of view on the industry and their place in it.
So, I grew up at Host for many years, which as you know, launched with a completely unique model that had collaboration at the heart of it long before collaboration was the kind of buzzword of the industry. And that’s where Jon and I met.
And I worked alongside One Green Bean when that was launching, which Sim then went on to run, which I think is fair to say at its launch, we defined PR in this market.
I worked at Anomaly in New York, which famously it does exactly what you just mentioned around changing its pricing model away from head hours and into output based pricing amongst many other things that it does differently.
And there is no doubt, it would be doing those businesses a disservice to not acknowledge that they have been part of our inspiration. And there’s a piece of them in the DNA of Supermassive through us and our experiences in working at them.
And I think the other thing is there’s just such a thriving scene in this country of some of the best agencies, not just in Australia or the region, but actually in the world, born and bred in this market.
And it’s worth saying they have offered us so much wise council, and advice, and support and I’m thinking particularly about Lindsey at Special and Chris at Housing & Co. that have been so generous in helping us answering some of our questions and giving us the benefit of their learning.
And we’ve been really blown away by the goodwill that we’ve been showing in launching this business into the industry. It’s been one of the great delights for us over the last couple of months.
I love that. I think it shows genuine. Like what were we just talking about? We were talking about different aging, new model ways of thinking, making a difference to creativity for good and removing some of the barriers and inhibitions.
What sets that more than new model agencies helping each other out trying to build that momentum?
Definitely. And that I think a rising tide floats more boats. And I think we are really grateful to some of the agencies that have gone before us in charting a path where in the agencies have a place in this market and they’ve brought credibility to the scene. So, we admire them greatly.
So, yeah, I think we’ve had inspiration in the sort of long tail of our careers working for various inspiring founders in indie businesses, but also, some of the people that are thriving today, are being very helpful.
Well, you did say the eye word a few times there, indies. And we’ve talked about new model agencies. And I do want to ask a little bit about … and I can’t tell you without doing air quotes “indies versus networks.”
There is a disclaimer here. Personally, I do get quite tired of the indie versus network topic.
And as someone who often places agencies to run on pitches and stuff like that and I see the reverse briefs I get to meet and saying, “No, we want indies not networks or networks not indies.”
I think it’s much more nuanced than that. I think it’s much more nuanced than the sort of the David versus Goliath thing.
But am I just jaded? Am I wrong in that? Is indies versus network still a valid lens through which we can view the industry?
Yeah. I mean, we’ve all worked previously in indies with inspiring founders. We are only a two-month-old indie.
And we’ve also, all had rewarding, sometimes challenging, sometimes joyful careers in networks. Personally, I’ve worked in three of the networks, most recently Havas group.
And also, I was coming out of the umbrella debate about it at 360 and bumped into a client who had sat in on it just for fun to see what everybody was saying.
And he said, “I just buy the people.” He said, “I buy the people.” And where they come from, he worked for an Australian brand, so he was in the looking position to not have to be part of a global arrangement.
But then the other bit is, and I mentioned earlier that we went and talked to some clients as we were resetting up, and we talked to our own clients in all of the last previous jobs.
And one very senior CMO did say to her, she said, “The difference in the room that I’m seeing …” And you may see it in your role because you are involved in a lot of pictures.
She said, “What I’m seeing just the difference in the room is an indie business comes in usually with the founders and they’ve just got more energy and focus on the business problem.”
And interestingly, she’s also, an ex-network, but she said, “And what I’ve seen with the network businesses, they’re coming in, you can feel that they’re a bit tired from some of those additional pressures that they’re under.”
And so, I think that that was like a focus group of one. But I know that just from our personal experience in the last couple of months, we’ve just got a lot of time back to actually focus on the clients that we’re talking to.
Obviously, we’ve just had the P&O which has already been announced. And-
Yeah, congrats on that by the way.
Yeah, that’s amazing.
It’s been fantastic and just brilliant client team as well that share our ambition and have been very supportive of bringing in a brand-new business on board as their agency.
But what we found is that we’ve got more time to spend on the actual problem. We were finding in our role, we were just getting less and less time to spend on the challenges that clients are facing, which many are unvaried.
And even though we’re like the most experienced people … I don’t just mean us three, I mean they’re slightly senior bench in the businesses are being pulled in different directions.
Now, that’s not to say that’s going to happen in a large indie, there’s always-
And it does happen-
And it does happen, yeah. And with growth and more people, come people challenges.
But we are getting feedback from the clients that we’ve already converted that are on board. And the ones that we’re talking to that are sort of in our warm pool of clients is that they are feeling the difference of having just some experienced thinkers fully focused on their business.
And now, we know, we’re not naive that that’s something that we have got to learn how to scale. But despite the name, we don’t want to have 200 people in this business in like two years time. That isn’t our ambition.
We do want to use this experience to help clients through all of these challenges that they’re facing and to working categories like travel where we’ve got really deep understanding because we’ve got long history in that category.
And just help clients navigate their shrinking teams that they’ve got, the complex stakeholders that they have. Like that’s where we want to be of help.
We’re not just producing comms. We’re helping them in their role, navigate the complex environment that they’re in.
And it’s working in this short two-month period, us working in this way, we are getting that feedback reflected.
So, the question was, is it indies versus networks? But there’s a lot of great people, great talent, and good work coming out of networks in this country. And there’s absolute place for that with certain clients of a certain scale, for example.
But yeah, so, I don’t think it’s a one versus the other in that case.
No, I kind of agree. I think I’m interested in what you said about the CMO, just run by the people. Because honestly, I’ve run agencies with three figures, and I’ve run so many pitches. I’ve seen so many agencies.
As a pitch consultant, if you’re doing your job, once you navigate the client past some of the worries that they have, which aren’t actually relevant with all due respect.
And sometimes that is around, “Oh my God, they’ve only got one creative team. Why haven’t we got three creative teams that can just come …” All of that stuff. But once you navigate past that, it does absolutely would come about the power of the people.
And the one thing I’ve seen if I had to say sort of indies these versus networks, is a talent crisis. But smaller, independent agencies are so well placed to attract the more experienced.
The more junior level, it’s all about salary gouging and stuff like that. And with all due respect to them because we’ve all been there. Relatively inexperienced people just taking a big salary jump, going to a job in a brief, all that stuff.
But the smaller independents are able to attract really smart, experienced people. And then the tenure is well on that.
And aside from all of the other stuff about this is your personal money, it’s all your business. And that also, drives energy.
And I see that time and time again in you. You just sense that we are really committed to this as opposed to we’re paying lip service to a big name.
So, I think the buying people … it sounds like a horrible phrase, actually, like buying people, but it’s true. It is the biggest single differentiating factor.
Look, and I don’t want to blow our own trumpet but I will. One of the things that I know that the three people here have been really good at throughout this is building really good quality teams.
Yeah. We’ve all built loyal teams. We’ve all built highly talented teams. So, we know that that’s going to stay with us.
We’ve got literally three black books of people that we already know some people are happy to take the risk and come in in a startup.
And that’s from years of practice and who we are as people. But also, you just use a practice of working outright, that the absolute magic of how do we build this team for this particular client and who do we put on it and things like that.
So, I think that that’s very much going to go in our favor.
Yeah. Except for all of the things that we could reckon not worrying about, being able to find the right people and create a great culture is just not yet true on that list for us.
And we’ve had a huge amount of interest in talent, actually. So, I think you’re right. The appetite of talent to work in a different environment and be part of something as it’s growing and developing is huge.
And I think back in my own career, and actually I joined Host, I was probably a group account director, but came in when it was a relatively young agency and I stayed with it until a few months ago.
So, I think that’s the classic story of someone finding their home in an indie and developing a career there.
So, that’s all really positive, isn’t it?
I do want to ask about pitching because clearly that is quite challenging for you because it’s like your capacity can only be so great, and yet you want to grow your business, yet you need to scale it the right way.
And so, which are the right clients and all that stuff. And pitches are hard, and invasive, and everything else.
But how healthy do you think the current dynamic is? I mean, there are good pitches and bad, but broadly speaking between agency and marketing, the pitching world, what do you see as either worrying or positive trends.
And how are you going to approach pitching as Supermassive?
I mean, I think we acknowledge that pitching as a part of the industry and we’d be naive to think that we won’t need to or indeed want to be part of competitive pitch processes because we absolutely will.
But we are being very careful and thoughtful about what we pitch for and how we pitch, as I think all good agencies should be.
I think to answer your question about the macro perspective, I think it’s pretty clear that the current industry model of pitching by and large is pretty unsustainable.
It devalues our most valuable IP because we give it away and it exhausts teams. As you said, it’s a high volume of unpaid work. It puts pressure on margins that stops agencies being able to tackle some of the endemic issues around training and development and diversity and all the things that matter.
And I think worst of all of that, it inhibits their ability to spend their time and energy on their existing clients, who are the people that really deserve the best of their attention and time.
But we’ve been really pleasantly surprised to discover I think a new appreciation of that amongst a lot of clients.
And there seems to be an openness to perhaps trying an agency on a brief, which I think is a much more accurate measure of how that partnership would play out anyway, sort of.
Or at least ensuring that the ask in a pitch is fair and commensurate with the size of the prize at the end of it.
And so, we have seen clients much more willing to judge agencies on their capabilities and case studies and chemistries. Or at least asking questions that aren’t a full-scale pitch as you sort of describe it.
But I think the other thing that’s proven to be quite useful for us is that we’ve got quite a clear start point as a business in terms of what we’re about.
And I think, if I remember it was you actually that taught me when we work together, the best place to be on a list is either right at the top or not on it at all, rather than be an agency that is languishing in the middle. And I think-
Number one and number six. You’ve been attentive-
Number one or number six. Exactly. And I think what we offer is very, very right for the right clients and probably not that interesting to the wrong clients.
And for us, that’s a far better place to be than half right for everyone, and therefore not quite right for anyone.
And so, I think that having a differentiated point of view on who we are, what we stand for, is helping us not be in that many competitive pitches actually. And helping us have conversations where clients are willing to give us a brief or continue a conversation with us on those terms.
But look, pitches are pitches and sometimes they’re great and we’ve certainly got no … it would be early days to say we’re never going to pitch for business because that would be a bit naïve.
Pitches can be another word that rhymes with pitches and starts with B. But that’s not-
But not always. Not always.
Not always. That’s a pitch consultant in quotes too. Look, I mean, I said before, I haven’t started my own agency, but if I had to put myself in your shoes, possibly the single biggest joy I’d have right now, is the freedom of being able to say that.
Yes. And we have found-
Because God knows, I mean, I found sometimes my cost in my career in networks when I have pushed back and said, “No, and we’re not doing this. We’re not doing this pitch. It’s ridiculous.”
It didn’t help me, didn’t help my career, it didn’t help my relationship with the paradigm. You have that freedom now. That must been amazing.
We do have that freedom and we have exercised it already. There’s been a couple of opportunities that just haven’t felt right and we’ve decided not to pursue them.
And that is as much about not wasting clients’ time as it is about our own position on it. I think if we know quite quickly if we’re the right agency, and if we’re not, that’s fine.
And so, we don’t decline pitches with an arrogance or anything like that. I think we just look at our opportunities.
And as you said, we’ve only got so much energy to put into opportunities and we have to make sure that we’re putting ourselves forward for the ones that we think we are going to do our best work in. And so, that’s really the filter that we’re using to assess opportunities.
One of the most common things agencies say to me on a pitch at the early stage is they feel that they can’t say no to me either, because then I might want to put them on another pitch. I’m like, “Dude, there’s strength and integrity.” I would much rather see an agency say no and not waste anyone’s time, including their own, than come along half bait.
What’s the point? What is the point of that? You are wasting a valuable place another agency could take. They might be really hungry for it.
And perfect for it as well. That’s right.
Perfect for it. And again, I’m going back to indies versus networks, but you do have … and I can name my own, but I can name another couple of independents who are brilliant at that. They have their position, they have their proposition and they stick to it.
And if that means that someone doesn’t like them over here, that’s okay because someone’s going to like them over here. They have the autonomy of choice, which I think is a really powerful thing.
And if you think about it, that flows through to the pick. When you talk to earlier on about people seeing energy in the room from a small independent in a pitch scenario, there’s a chance these are because they actually genuinely be in the room in the first place as opposed to being forced to do it by …
I mean, I’m kind of generalizing to make a point. There is a high likelihood that that agency is there because it wants to be as opposed because it has to.
Yeah. Because they’ve gone through their criteria of who do we say yes, who do we say no to? “These are no yeses, let’s go for it.” Rather than the like, “Oh, maybe.”
“Oh no, we can’t take it down otherwise there might be a hole in there.” And of course, a lot other stuff.
Yeah, it’s been good. We’re already seeing who will be right. And it’s based on a few things. The ambition, the chemistry, the kind of brands we want to work on and-
And where our experiences best fit. Whether we have the right people.
And whether we’ve got the right experience as well. That is something that has happened to me at times in the past in networks where just smoke and mirrors, experiencing in a certain category or a certain discipline. And that puts pressure on.
I think talking about liberation, actually the most liberating thing for us has been able to just be authentic about who we are, and what we do, and what we believe in, and how we work.
And to Sim’s point, we are never pretending to be anything that we are not when we’re having conversations in the room because there’s no pressure for us to do that.
And as a result, we’re just having better quality conversations with the right clients and therefore our conversion is much higher because we are not making it up.
Like we really believe everything that we’re saying, we mean it. And if we say we’re going to do something, we’ll do it. And there’s a real integrity (to use your language) around that. That is a great place to be.
And it’s taking us out of the sort of race, sometimes that kind of messy pitching conversation into a completely different place, I think.
Yeah. I mean, I think it’s a basic human truth, isn’t it? The more confident you get, the better quality you’ll be. I mean, it seems it’s a one thing breeds the other.
And I love integrity in this industry, everything’s now happening. And I think saying that to stuff or choosing your own path is absolutely part of that.
Jon, we haven’t heard from you in a bit.
Let’s do it.
I mean, the creative genius is sitting there quiet in the corner. It’s not like a creative genius. Talk to us.
I’m not a genius in this room, mate.
Well, talk to us. Tell you what, this is good for you. I do want talk about future talent and I think, I mean, we all of course account leadership. I mean, every area needs talent and future talent. But I do love thinking about creative talent. We’ve sort of talked about it before.
For a young person coming into the workforce “advertising” in quotes for various sort of cultural reasons, practical reasons, doesn’t have the coolest ones do. But as we all know, attracting new talent is vital, particularly creative talent.
Do you think, and are you already having an influence as small independent agencies to try and revitalize that, make it more attractive? What can we do with the people coming in?
Sure. That’s a really good question. What drew me into the industry years ago, were I think the same two things that probably drew most of us. Firstly, I wanted to have fun and I wanted to work with fun, interesting people.
And I had this reductive, like offensively cartoonish vision of like an accountancy firm. And I just didn’t want that.
I’ve since learned that most accountants are my most fun, wildest people that you can meet. So, apologies to accountants for my horrible generalization, but it was like this rebellion against the kind of work that I didn’t want to do. The kind of industry I didn’t want to be in.
And the second thing was I just wanted to create stuff that would impact people in the same way that stuff like Damon Stapleton’s Trillion Dollar campaign, or the Cadbury Gorilla, or what the sacrifice really impacted me. That’s really what drew me into the campaign.
And I still think that while so many things have changed, those are two really compelling reasons for people to join the industry. And they do, they really do drive people.
I think the talent is more eager than ever actually to work in places that feel fun and genuine and full of interesting people to work.
The opportunity to work with brilliant people like Laura and Sim who have built careers on being authentic and genuine and having integrity. That’s really appealing to people. And also, they want to work in places to give them the chance to create stuff in the vein of the stuff that inspires them.
But in that vicious cycle, I think what’s inspiring them less and less are the very traditional ads that we in the industry understand that-
What propagate it.
Exactly. I’m manifesting.
So, that is the stuff that they’re actively trying to avoid. I can’t speak for other indies, but like Laura said, our inbox are full of creatives and creatives from all around the world wanting to work with us, wanting to partner with us, which is such a huge compliment.
I think or I hope that that’s because we’ve made fun, and joy, and integrity a real priority at Supermassive. And I think that that does come through in how we talk about ourselves and how we show up in the world.
And secondly, we are embracing, I think quite a singular creative philosophy that perhaps better inspires modern creatives. I think that our creative philosophy is one that lives and breeds some culture.
I think it’s a philosophy, as we spoke about, which I really do believe it means that our processes and our mindsets can and should change to accommodate modern creators rather than modern creators coming into a place and going, “We love how you did that differently, but come in here and do it the exact same way that we do it, it feels so counterintuitive.”
I think that from our perspective, that’s how you implement creative effectively, and therefore that’s how you generate effective creative.
So, I certainly hope that agencies like us and like other indies can have an influence in revitalizing industry to make it more attractive because I think that we need to. I think it’s the key to unlocking and amplifying the exact type of creativity that audiences will love and will have a disproportionate effect.
And out of interest of people contacting you, (and again, I’m thinking more creative here) I’m interested to know how diverse that group of people are.
I guess particularly gender diversity, but also, social, and cultural diversity as well. I want some hope here for the future that there’s going to be more diverse types of people coming through.
Absolutely. There certainly is. I think that Sim mentioned before our connection to D&AD Shift. And I really love that initiative. I spoke with them this year. We’re going to go see their showcase tomorrow.
So, at an industry level, I think there are starting to become avenues in which people, a far more diverse breadth of creative talent can make their way into the industry.
But I certainly think that if you put forward the attitude that creativity will be unlocked by difference of opinion, different thinking, those people will see it like a beacon and they will flock to you. Because I think that it is quite different, unfortunately, to what a lot of places are putting up.
Which propagates the advertising we were talking about.
Yeah. Sorry, Sim. Go on.
I was just going to say as well also, there’s a lot of channels with social media like TikTok, and Instagram, and YouTube where young people have the opportunity to become creators without formal training.
They’re learning from their basically peer to peer online. And I think that a lot of that is very untapped, and we haven’t really seen them, what that generation grow up to be.
I mean, a 20-year-old who’s building a following, for example, an influencer … well, maybe a 13-year-old still, an influencer, or will they be entering an industry and taking all of that learning that they learn how to engage, and how to create, and how to sell and all those things.
I think that that’s going to be interesting over the next 10 years seeing what that generation does with that.
Yeah, I agree. I mean, it’s just such a meritocracy now. Of course, you don’t need the tech, you don’t need the expensive equipment like you used to do.
But yeah, I mean, you’re right. We haven’t really seen the — that hasn’t fully come through yet, has it? Those people haven’t all come of age. I mean, it is going to happen.
Exactly. And you can still see like in any environment, I mean, it might have democratized it, but real talent still rises to the top. You can see real talent.
There’s always the 1%, right?
Yeah, yeah. You can see it. It’s there and they may end up on an entrepreneurial route that doesn’t end up in sort of in our industry.
But I also, think that there is a stream coming into our industry. You can sort of just see it in little parts, in little bits of creators then coming in and working under this environment.
But see, wouldn’t that be great though if those creators, some of them did take entrepreneurial, some of them did go into creative, because those kind of businesses are the ones that are going to want people like you to do this and really get creative. It’s one thing leads to another.
Again, it will be a whole ecosystem and it will shift the approach.
I think our job as an industry is to make our industry an appealing place for that talent to migrate into.
Yeah. That’s kind of where the question came from.
Yeah. I mean, I think John mentioned it and it shouldn’t be underestimated, which is the value of bringing some joy back into our industry and some fun.
And I think especially after the last few years, it wasn’t a particularly fun place. Well, the world wasn’t a particularly fun place to be in full stop, but it wasn’t particularly fun in our industry.
And we are unashamedly having a great time at Supermassive and having a lot of fun and joy. And that doesn’t mean that we don’t take the work we do really seriously because of course we do.
But at some point, we’ve devalued just making places great fun to be in, high energy, lots going on, a good laugh.
And I think we’re taking ourselves quite seriously as industries in some regards, and it’s making it a less attractive place for young, creative, spirited, diverse people to want to come into.
And if I actually think back on my career, when I first started working, it was actually a more diverse place, not a less diverse place in many ways because it was so attractive to such a broad array of people.
And we found like I think there’s a lot of agents in the industry that are very focused on people initiatives, but it doesn’t compensate for a place that isn’t a great place to work.
You can put all the stuff in the world that you like in terms of benefits, and people, and culture strategy. If people aren’t enjoying showing up every day, and they don’t feel like they can be themselves, and that they can have fun and express themselves, that stuff doesn’t really matter.
So, I don’t think a small part of it is just making it a more attractive proposition.
Yeah. And that’s a state of mind for so many years, the concept of bolted on fun in offices was just so random. Let’s have a beanbag, and table tennis corner, and drinks till late on Friday, and that’s fun.
And that’s culture, which of course isn’t.
Yeah. It just doesn’t. It’s a state of mind. And I think-
And it comes from the leadership, I think, genuinely enjoying and believing in what they’re doing.
Absolutely. It has to.
Totally. I spent hours writing a very serious op-ed about our creative philosophy, got a little bit of traction online.
But then we posted a picture of whether Sim or I were eating pancakes. And it went bloody gangbusters. And that to me was just like, yeah, people are drawn to fun. People are drawn to joy.
Do I lament the wasted brain power or do I just eat more pancakes or what? Then maybe-
Well, you mentioned the merch before we started recording.
Well, that was going to be my last question. My final question, my surprise question, was going to be when are we going to see a Japanese inspired fashion and [crosstalk 00:54:01]? Because you have the perfect name for it. The merchs over here, right?
The merch ideas are coming in thick fast.
We’ve had a few from your camp actually for our summer merch line. Few ideas.
Oh God, Darren’s wearing his on a … he’s very taken with it already.
The solo campaign is in design at the moment, isn’t it?
We have had emails from all over the world with people wanting to buy our sweatshirts, so I don’t know what that says.
I have no doubt that this agency’s going to work out, but just in case it doesn’t, you’ve got a future in sweatshirts and hoodies.
We’ll make more of our merch than our hardcore business.
And gym wear and stuff. Brilliant.
It was absolutely lovely talking to all of you. I don’t feel too beaten up with all the three brains on top of me. So, that was really good. And good luck for the future.
Thank you so much.
Thank you. Thanks for your support.
Thank you for having us. Yeah, thank you.