The moment the elevators go ‘ding’ and you step into Clemenger BBDO Sydney’s foyer, you know this is an agency with a bounce in its step.
“As a group we had the best year we’ve ever had. Which, in light of the doom and gloom that other people talk about, is significant,” says CEO Andy Pontin.
While he doesn’t want to break down the exact numbers, Pontin says: “What I can say is that Clemenger Sydney was a big part of the Clemenger Group having a great year.”
From the sunny receptionist to the buzz you can hear from the kitchen as the staff gather for their weekly delivery of burgers, courtesy of client Hungry Jacks, and the boisterous enthusiasm of the agency’s four key leaders, the impression is that all the cogs in the 160-strong agency are oiled and moving as one.
“We feel like we are riding the crest of a wave at the moment, where it’s all just coming together,” enthuses executive creative director Paul Nagy.
And the glue that is holding it all together is a culture which Nagy says has been built from the ground up over the past two-and-a-half years.
“An utter disaster,” is how he jokingly describes the agency before quickly getting serious: “That’s probably not the best start,” Nagy laughs. “Look, I think the culture is one of the greatest strengths of the agency at the moment.”
The rapport Nagy, Pontin, managing partner Gareth Collins and executive planning director (or agency leviathan, as he requests to be described) Al Crawford share that forms the backbone of the agency.
“We’ve recognised that when we do work together, and all the teams work together like that, we produce our best work,” says Pontin.
“All agencies talk about how important their people are, but more important than the individuals are the combinations of individuals.” The result, he adds, is an agency that is “relentlessly anti-elitist, relentlessly collegiate and collaborative”.
The St Leonard’s office has recently undergone a redesign to facilitate and reflect that philosophy, with more common spaces, communal tables and divisions removed.
“It’s nice and open and it comes from a belief that if we get the right people on any project, we know we can produce something amazing,” says Collins. “It’s changed not only the environment, but also the way we work.”
It is not hard to imagine that the agency’s culture or staff morale may have taken a bit of a hit during the two small rounds of redundancies that were made last year. The cuts came after clients pulled in their budgets and were unavoidable, explains Pontin: “Unfortunately it’s a reality of the advertising industry, the only place you can cut in a professional services industry is your biggest cost, which is your people.”
But the economies have turned around and when B&T visited, the agency was getting ready to welcome new creative duo Ian Broekhuizen and Malcolm Caldwell, from Publicis Mojo, into the fold.
Clemenger Sydney has been firing on all cylinders.
The team has won eight out of the last 10 pitches it has participated in (including Legacy and Visa), and last year won its first Gold Lion in 20 years for the ‘Aus to USA’ outdoor campaign for Virgin Australia.
The agency has also just picked up a Grand Lotus at Adfest for Mimeisthai, the spoken-word trending machine created for Tedx Sydney.
Clemenger BBDO Sydney is also behind Skittles’ ‘Telekinize The Rainbow’ campaign, which allowed Facebook users to move skittles on the screen with their mind. Telekinize used eye-tracking movements from players’ webcams to move wi-fi controlled robots.
V-Rentals, Campbell’s ‘There is only one real stock’, Virgin ‘The Romance is back’ have all been driven out of the Sydney office.
“We’ve got the client list that is the envy of the city. We’ve got the best people, no doubt about that,” says Collins.
“Creativity is the last legal means of competitive advantage,” says Nagy. “Creativity has never, ever been more important.”
But how does the Sydney team feel about having such a creative powerhouse, Clemenger BBDO Melbourne, as a cousin?
“Who wouldn’t want to have shared DNA with an agency like Clemenger Melbourne?” responds Pontin. Nagy says those that knock the Sydney office are “in some cases maybe a little bit jealous of what we’ve got here”.
The team also believes it’s never been a better time to be in advertising. “The industry tends to be a bit down on itself at the moment, and I think that’s completely false,” says Pontin. “I think it’s a brilliant time to be in advertising because you can either look at all the change as a challenge, or you can look at it as an opportunity. Not enough people are seizing the opportunity. I think they’re trying to defensively survive, rather than positively thrive.”
“The year ahead is full of opportunity for us,” says Collins. “The challenge is realising that.”
Another challenge will be remaining flexible and nimble to ensure the agency is able to “roll with the punches” the changing market deals it.
“I always walk around with a shit-eating grin, because the business does give you its fair share of kicks to the baby-maker,” Crawford says.
“But, even though I walk around like a shriveled version of Yoda, I walk tall within the agency because we are in a good place – and it’s going to be great.”
*This feature first appeared in the May 17, 2013 issue of B&T Magazine. Later that month Clemenger Sydney won the Tourism Australia account. For more on the win click here.