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Beating the seven year itch

4 December 2019 Article by Mike Larmer


Many of you know Chemistry enjoyed its seventh birthday in October. During this time, we were ranked eighth in the world for creative effectiveness by the International ECHO Awards. Not bad for a small agency at the bottom of the world. So how did we go from a direct start-up to a 20-strong creative and strategic partnership working with some of New Zealand’s best brands?

Solving business problems

When we first started out on our journey, one of the hardest questions to answer was “who is Chemistry and what do you do?” I used to feel secretly guilty about trotting out the usual agency platitudes.

I think that’s because all I ever really wanted was to explain in plain English how we’ve invested our time exploring the potential client’s business to create a view about its challenges – how we have a unique idea to address them, and that Chemistry has amassed some incredibly senior and experienced people, all experts in their field, who can deliver exactly what is needed. Just give us the opportunity and we’ll pretty much guarantee success.

All agencies work hard to encapsulate what they do distinctively, and that’s not as easy as it once was. We would say ‘we’re results-driven’, or ‘we’re direct, one to one, experiential and digital’ and so on – but what it really came down to in the end was to always be problem solving. From our first day we set out to solve our client’s business problems in a unique way, and to always see our client’s success as our success. And that’s still our core purpose today.

Staying relevant

In the seven years we’ve been around, marketing and advertising and the media landscape have completely changed. To be relevant, today’s agency requires a new type of organisation and a new talent. That’s because clients are capable of changing faster than most agencies.

Many of New Zealand’s brands are breaking down their interdepartmental silos to free up the potential of their people through new organisational structures, embracing Agile philosophy. Whatever your view on Agile, the message is clear: agency or brand all need to evolve or be left behind and risk becoming increasingly irrelevant to our audiences.

But despite all these signals of change, most agencies are not changing. The traditional holding companies continue the long held practice of consolidation and brand merger. Two decades ago it was the merger of brand and direct – now it’s the merger of digital and brand. But these days their track record of driving value from consolidation can no longer address the vulnerability that lies at the core of how they operate with clients.

The new agency needs to offer clients something different. In the past, agencies were valuable because they had all of the answers. The new agency is valuable because of its innate ability to learn faster and adapt creatively and strategically to respond to new opportunities – faster. The new agency needs to have the skills base and cultural aptitude to be able to assertively formulate creative and strategic hypotheses whilst accepting that there will always be more data and results and analysis than time to interrogate.

Investing in the right people

So what is Chemistry’s killer secret? We believe it’s investing in a particular type of person who can evolve and embrace new norms and innovations as a key part of who they are – and what they help us offer our clients. Whether it’s a top graduate or seasoned creative, our people are now valued for their aptitude for learning new skills and embracing new technical abilities. And rather than being limited to Gen-Z, we have found this is a personal quality that transcends age.

Yes, we might have sacrificed short term margin to be able to afford the best talent and experience, but we see it as crucial to cement Chemistry people together with one focussed cultural philosophy: that it is okay not to know all of the answers.

In this way, agencies like Chemistry do not simply remain relevant. Our presence in a client’s marketing ecosysytem becomes paramount. We give our clients more ability to join up a myriad of marketing components to deliver greater strategic value and creativity, faster, and in doing so can help create the growth and brand unfair advantage all clients require, both now and in the future.