Behind the doors of…Colenso BBDO NZ

Behind the doors of…Colenso BBDO NZ

Colenso BBDO New Zealand has rocketed onto the world stage in recent years. While it looked like an overnight success story it was anything but. The Nick duo tell Jessica Kennedy about the bumps along the way 


Colenso BBDO New Zealand is testament to the fact that to be successful, some calculated risks are necessary.

Colenso cemented its place as a creative force this year when it became the first New Zealand agency to take out number one in The Big Won report. In addition to being the world's most awarded creative agency it is also the most awarded direct marketing agency is home to the world's number two ranked executive creative director, Nick Worthington. All of this success was to recognise a year which managing director Nick Garrett describes as a "roller coaster ride". 

"No agency found 2012 easy, I doubt many found 2011 easy," he says. "It was hard to see the work, or the revenue, coming three months ahead of you."

It was in this climate that Colenso underwent big changes. It lost its biggest client, Vodafone, and then, due to international alignments with NAB, won the Bank of New Zealand, forcing it to resign its Westpac account.

"We made some hard decisions, things that impacted staff and saw big hits in our revenue to get the right client in," says Garrett. "We looked like an overnight success but it was probably two-and-a-half years' worth of hard work."

Losing Vodafone led to a tough period in 2011 but the agency's staff "proved how gutsy they are. It was pretty remarkable to win all that business back in new business after one year", Garrett adds.

While the change was "tumultuous", he says it was necessary to ensure it lives up to its definitions of success: "brilliant creative work that is highly effective, a mutually respectful partnership with clients, and making an honest buck".

"We realised that it was very rare that we did all three on any big piece of business," explains Garrett. "So we set a goal."

Those three ingredients form the basis of Colenso's 'commercial creativity' foundation, meaning the agency, instead of simply supplying advertising, defines itself as a creative service provider that solves business problems.

The philosophy

"New clients are always surprised by our focus on the commercial aspect of creativity," Worthington says. But it is when CEOs and board members realise Colenso is not just 'that group you bring in at the end to tell a story' that the magic happens.

He explains: "When you get invited into the board rooms, you can actually really see what the problems are, and you get much more trust."  But Worthington says that is "hard earned" and comes through long trusted relationships.

Colenso has also undergone a structural shift in recent years, with a focus on integration.  AIM Proximity is no longer its own business unit, says Garrett: "We're not now giving business to AIM Proximity. Proximity is a philosophy and a team within Colenso." 


The work

Colenso's toughest business problem is teaching New Zealanders how to be good with money. 

"We're starting the journey of creating a meaningful difference for BNZ," says Worthington, who estimates it will take three or four years. "Teaching New Zealand how to be good with money is a huge business problem. Actually, it's a national issue. But it's right that a bank addresses it."

Working out how a brand can justify charging consumers $1 more for milk and build the Fonterra brand back up is another challenge Colenso recently leant its creative muscle to. 

Following the insight that light ages milk, the brand created a light-proof cartoon. Campaigns by Colenso asked consumers to taste the difference and said: "If milk was meant to see the light, cows would be see-through." Commercial creativity was also in play in the DB Breweries campaigns 'Sorry about the twigs, folks' for Monteith's Crushed Cider, and for Export Dry, which was based on the premise that "wine is over".

The culture

For an agency that has had so much success, you could expect to find some big heads.

But Worthington, who Garrett credits with putting a cracker under the agency's standard of work, is anything but. "There are no egos, there's no department bullshit," says Garrett.

The saying behind the success is "there's something in the carpet" and it's everyone's job to ensure they "sprinkle a bit more in", explains Worthington. "Someone asked me what the difference was between working at Mojo to Colenso," he says. "I described Mojo as a beautiful steam train that you jumped on saying 'this is awesome'. But the engine was cold and there was no coal or wood, so it took you half a day to get the machine running. 

"At Colenso, it's like jumping on the circle line – you come in in the morning and everything's running, it never stops."


The future 

Colenso's aim is to create work with a global footprint. "We've always wanted to export more of our work," says Garrett. 

That goal seems on track with Pedigree Donation Glasses set to run internationally, and the agency winning a global Fisher & Paykel launch. 

"You never expect to be number one in the world, that seems ridiculous," says Worthington. "But to be up amongst the best is awesome and that's where we'd like to stay." 

It's a feat he believes is "totally" doable.

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