Fresh from being appointed as Holden's lead agency after an extended pitch process, Special Group has also clinked glasses with one of the country's fastest growing and most innovative wine companies Yealands. And the new pairing have their sights set squarely on pushing the brand in international markets.
Michael Wentworth, Yealand's general manager of marketing, has been with the company since it started on all the eights, 8th August 2008 ("it's like a cult. Once you get here, you never leave") and he said it talked to over 50 agencies before narrowing it down to six that it met face to face. As a family company, he said it needed to find an agency that shared similar values and Special Group had the proven capability, international experience and cultural fit.
"And they didn't have the arrogance that you can get with some of the larger agencies."
Wentworth says it has largely been focused on increasing distribution since it was established. And, from zero clients in 2008, it is now sold in 84 countries and exports over one million case per year.
"We're the sixth largest wine exporter from New Zealand. It's been a story of success and growth and pioneering of new markets."
But as is often the case when you're running a fast-growing company, the brand story has been pushed to the side somewhat. He says the brand has three pillars: quality, sustainability and innovation. And that's currently wrapped up in the slogan of 'think boldly, tread lightly'.
"Sustainability is a hygiene factor for the business [it has been carbon neutral since inception]. And quality and value is first and foremost for consumers, but when you've got two products on the shelf and one of them is sustainably made and one of them isn't, that's when it comes into play."
He says it has to make sustainability more relevant to consumers and that is very much about storytelling. And it's got a lot of quite newsworthy stories to tell in that regard, like the 1,500 baby doll sheep that do the weeding but aren't tall enough to eat the grapes, the burning of vine prunings to create power, the solar array on the building or the use of plastic bottles for sauvignon blanc.
Having worked with clients such as Ecostore, All Good, Freedom Farms and the Green Party, he says Special "gets sustainability" and its success in the Australian market after the opening of its Sydney office was also a major drawcard. Special Group's managing partner Michael Redwood also believes that its work with NZTE has given it a good understanding of export markets.
Wentworth says it has been focusing largely on digital marketing and social media in the past three years (its latest campaign was a fund-raising initiative called Raise a Glass) and ensuring it has the right resources internally and externally. At this stage it's still working through the marketing strategy with Special, but, in keeping with its three pillars, he says it has a desire to do innovative work.
The founder Peter Yealands also has an interesting story. He was the first man in New Zealand to get an aquaculture license in 1971 and established one of the country's most successful deer farms, but he had an epiphany after figuring out that he had been taking from the land all his life, so he decided to try and give back. As a result, he built Yealands on what was initially seen as dubious wine land in the Awatere Valley in Marlborough and while there are other wineries with more total vineyard land, it is the country's single biggest vineyard.
There was some concern that the volume of wine Yealands was producing and the price it was being sold for was affecting the premium positioning of New Zealand wine in export markets, but Wentworth says that was "a bit of a nonsense" as he says it has invested more in marketing and good people than other wineries and it doesn't play at the discount, lower-end of the market.
Wentworth says the role of the Yealands has changed from driving tractors to becoming head cheerleader for the brand overseas. And this public role is one he's found hard to get used to as he's quite quite a shy man. He's also brought in a range of talented people to help bring his vision to life and Wentworth says having an aspirational, enlightened and recognisable leader (or as Redwood calls him, the "modern day Grizzly Adams") has been great for the company culture—and for the bottom line.
Yealands already has a high profile in New Zealand and within the wine industry as a result of his success, his approach to business and the various awards he and the company have won, such as South Island farmer of the year in 2013, overall winner at the 2014 NZI National Sustainable Business Network Awards and 2014 NZ wine producer of the year, but part of Special's role will be to increase the brand's profile further overseas.
"I don't think the whole story has been told in a way that resonated with the public," says Redwood "... The key thing is how to articulate their brand story and package it up in a way that will have an impact in North America and Europe. I think the fact that we're geared as an agency to look outwards has helped."
Redwood says Yealands will be a mid-tier client. But it's going to be a lot of fun, because, when it comes to wine, you're often drinking what you're thinking.
"Once you get past the quality threshold, the lasting things are where it comes from and who made it. And there are lots of little nuggets there."