Sugar & Partners managing director Jeremy Johnston has confirmed that executive creative director Damon O'Leary and creative director Dave Nash have departed the agency.
This ends a five-year stint at the agency for O'Leary and a four-and-half-year tenure for Nash.
"Over the past 18 months, we’ve been transitioning to quite a different model that revolves around project team methodology," says Johnston. "It places specialist planners, creatives and project managers alongside specific projects, rather than the traditional vertical agency departmental model – and we've been trialling it across a number of campaigns since early last year."
After this change, Nash and O'Leary both continued working at the agency on a contractual basis, but this is now coming to an end.
"Damon is finishing some projects in that capacity now, but I think it’s fair to say he’s not enjoying it as much as we’d both hoped," Johnston says.
"But the door is always open, as this model draws on a variety of specialist digital, social and traditional CDs for each project, so you’ll see us continue to work with a variety of people from a community of long-term, trusted partners."
Both Nash and O'Leary have strongly rejected that their departures had anything to do with a changing model at the agency, saying that they have departed of their own volition and that O'Leary only helped finish a few jobs "out of respect for the clients". They have also added that they never intend on working with Johnston again.
"We instigated the move to contracting in January and both officially resigned a month ago. Jeremy asked me to stay on as a creative director/writer resource across projects which I considered but eventually decided against. And that’s it," O'Leary says.
"I will miss the excellent people remaining at Sugar & Partners – and I think we achieved some really great outcomes for clients like NZR, Red Seal, Hubbards and of course the mighty Lion-taming Blues. Anyway, these are the facts. Not the alternative ones."
Commenting on his departure from the agency, Nash speaks proudly of the work he and O'Leary developed for clients during their shared time at the agency.
"Personally I’m incredibly proud of what’s been achieved over the past five years, the recent ‘Agency Perceptions Issue’ of NZ Marketing Mag was great validation of this," Nash says.
"Damon and I have always tried to hire staff and work with clients who believe what we believe. We’ve been pretty lucky to partner with some great clients along the way in the likes of Red Seal, NZ Rugby, Hubbards and The Blues. Creating the Red Seal brand from scratch that was subsequently sold for $80 Million, and back-to-back Super Rugby launches were big highlights. Helping shift things commercially with creativity and entertainment is what we do best."
Nash also rejected Johnston's version of events regarding his and O'Leary's departures from the agency.
“Our resignation has nothing to do with a change agency models," he says.
"It’s time to move on, take advantage of new opportunities and we're excited to work on them together.”
This story has been updated after publication to include additional comments from Nash and O'Leary.