If New Zealand is an advertising underdog in a global sense, then Wellington is now an advertising underdog in a national sense. It wasn’t always that way, however. The city was once renowned as the heart of the creative nation, with Colenso kicking things off, Saatchi & Saatchi gaining an international reputation and Italian restaurant Il Casino often the place where inspiration seemed to strike. But steadily, big chunks of business moved north to Auckland, government accounts shrunk and agency consolidation began.
Similarly, Clemenger BBDO is often seen as an underdog, sitting in the shadows of its big brother Colenso BBDO. And that was even more overt in the early days.
The Clemenger Group took a 20 percent share in Colenso in 1973 (it opened in Wellington in 1969 and added an Auckland office a few years later). And it also bought into Rialto and HKM. In the ‘90s, both agencies were struggling (Andrew, who worked at HKM, says co-founder Mike Knowles described the agency as “a skyrocket that blazed into the heavens and fell to earth as a burnt stick”), so Clemenger decided to merge the agencies with Colenso, which was now primarily focused on the Auckland market, and create a new entity in Wellington.
Andrew tells a great story about “a horrendous meeting one day in the HKM boardroom” circa 1998 with Hilton Mackley (co-founder of Colenso and chief financial officer of the Clemenger/BBDO Network), Peter Clemenger, Peter Biggs and himself.
Clemenger: ‘I’ll tell you what we’re going to do Duster. We’re going to merge these two agencies. Knowles is out and you and Peter Biggs are going to run it. Now, I’d like you to play God for a moment. What would you like to call the business?’
Andrew: ‘I’d like to call it Clemenger BBDO.’
Clemenger: ‘Well, you can’t have either of those names. We’re going to call it ‘The New Colenso’. ‘I can see you’re not enamoured with the name Duster. Why not?’
Andrew: ‘Well, I just don’t know how long it will be new for.’
Clemenger: ‘I believe it’s been called New Zealand for quite some time.’
Andrew says they were being careful not to offend Colenso with the establishment of the new Wellington agency and while it was known as the new Colenso for three years, it changed to Clemenger BBDO in the early noughties.
From the start, Holt says Clemenger BBDO defined itself in competition with Saatchi & Saatchi. But while it’s now assumed the mantle of Wellington’s biggest agency, does it still feel like it’s in the shadows somewhat?
“Creatively it’s been regarded as an agency renowned for quality work,” says Andrew. “It’s always punched above its weight and we’ve had plenty of international recognition. And that’s why Clemenger Group always sees it as a really important part of the portfolio alongside Auckland, Melbourne and Sydney.”
Holt says “you have a choice of whether you live off history, or live up to it”. And that’s the motivation for Clemenger BBDO.
“You’ve got to write the next page and make it as good as the ones that have come before.”
A lot of agencies give back to the communities they operate in, whether through pro-bono charity work or efforts to help the local economy grow, but Andrew says Clemenger BBDO makes it a priority. In some ways, this unified sense of civic pride has been further accentuated after John Key’s comments and Holt says there’s a “groundswell of activity around telling the city’s economic development story”.
“Wellington is very much a relationship city,” says Andrew. “We live there, we’ve got 70 odd people in our agency [or around 110 when you add in Touch/Cast and OMD, which are in the same building] and it’s important to give back. And when you head into a pitch, people remember that stuff. We do it for our own profile, but we also do it because if we didn’t get involved these things wouldn’t happen, like raising funds for Christchurch with a cricket game at the Basin, helping with the ambition to make Wellington the craft beer capital of the country with the ‘Wellington in a Pint’ campaign, or wrapping our old building [in Kent Terrace] for TheLord of the Rings premieres, which we did out of our own pocket.”