From One Green Bean to 55, the six-year-old agency has sprouted and matured far beyond its original PR roots. Lucy Clark meets the team at the top.
Quirky and offbeat are what One Green Bean aspires to be – and succeeds in being.
Its individuality is something that founder Kat Thomas has worked hard at. Everything from the agency’s internal structure and habits through to its thought processes and work is slightly different from the norm – just different enough to set it apart. Where else can you call yourself a ‘bean’, fight for the Golden Pigeon and take part in ‘speed bean bonding’, fascinator competitions and ‘80s disco bowling?
Established as a PR agency keen to expand into the experiential space, One Green Bean is behind campaigns such as ‘Fair Go Bro’ with Doug Pitt for Virgin Mobile and Lego’s ‘Festival of play’.
A team of 55 has sprouted from original bean, Thomas. With plans to expand overseas, it’s not stopping there.
Thomas founded the business six years ago in partnership with Anthony Freedman, CEO of Host.
“Anthony was keen to explore the opportunity surrounding PR,” recalls Thomas. “I was at a place where there wasn’t anywhere I wanted to work. We carved out a plan on the back of a beer mat.”
One Green Bean’s founding client was Virgin Atlantic, which led to it being added to the pitch list for Virgin Mobile. After winning a project for Virgin Mobile, the agency won the company as a retained client – and hasn’t looked back.
One Green Bean’s first piece of work for Virgin Mobile was the launch of its broadband proposition with a VIP party in Sydney. And a big, early days campaign for Virgin Mobile was ‘Right music wrongs’, which brought Vanilla Ice to Australia.
One Green Bean grew, with retained client wins and project work – all in the FMCG and lifestyle space. Today, clients include Commonwealth Bank, Diageo, Toyota, Virgin Mobile and Woolworths.
In 2010 the agency made its first digital hire, appointing Matt Kendall as digital business director. Now, about half the team specialises in digital and social.
“In 2010, we knew we needed some expertise in the digital space – primarily for our clients’ reputation management,” remembers Thomas. “We had clients who’d had bad experiences on social media – around things like product recalls or customer service. Suddenly, the news was quoting consumer responses on social media and it felt like client after client was falling victim.”
Managing director Matt Buchanan adds: “With a lot of clients, we work across their PR, social and digital. With others, like Toyota, we only work with them on the social side.”
The agency is also receiving different kinds of briefs compared to its early days. “We are getting involved a lot further upstream, whether that’s leading creatively, or collaborating with an above the line agency,” says Thomas.
Although a PR agency at heart, One Green Bean’s philosophy outstretches the traditional PR world.
“We have evolved away from the confines of traditional PR output,” says Thomas. “We pitch against ad agencies, experiential agencies and PR agencies. Our philosophy comes down to having an innate understanding of that value of creating campaigns that have two things – they are newsworthy and they are shareable.”
Although Thomas’ official title is executive creative director, the agency’s model doesn’t follow that of a typical creative agency.
“We don’t have a creative team that sits in the corner, and we never will have,” Thomas explains. “Everyone is creative. Our output is always going to be campaigns that are content driven.”
Buchanan was appointed last year to free up Thomas to do more creative work. “Clients were not getting the best out of me, as I was tied up with business development,” she explains.
Also leading the agency is Kendall, general manager Jemma Gabb and business director Lauren Bailey.
Describing the culture at One Green Bean as “buzzing, if slightly offbeat”, Thomas explains that some of the more off-the-wall traditions have evolved from when the team was tiny.
They include the Melbean Cup (a fascinator competition where creations must be client-inspired), Speed Bean Bonding to help the growing agency team get to know one another, Hacked Off (when media people visit the agency to share what hacks them off about dealing with PR agencies), and the Golden Pigeon (an award for outstanding work and going beyond the call of duty).
“It’s a very spirited workplace,” says Buchanan. “People are really loyal and buy into the philosophy and the fact that we want to do things differently. We try to hire people who have had a bit of a different path.”
Thomas adds: “It’s a clich√©, but we have a philosophy of work hard and play hard. In the last 18 months we have put a lot of structure around our training programs. We have become aware of the need to hang onto the people that we’ve got.”
Remaining agile is the priority for One Green Bean’s future – along with overseas expansion.
Thomas says a second office is on the cards “within the next six months”, most likely in Singapore because sister agency Host already has a presence there.
She concludes: “If I had been asked five years ago, I would never have been able to predict where we are now. But I am committed to remaining agile and moving quickly when opportunities come.”