Indie agency Young & Shand has made a number of senior hires over the last few months as it refocuses its strategy on digital.
On the creative side, the agency has added three new names to its staff roster. Scott Maddox, formerly at US & Co, joins as a creative director; Geoffrey Joe was appointed as design director earlier this year after a stint in the UK; and senior creative Rachael Macklin, who was most recently at True, rounds out the team.
There has also been a trio of changes in the accounts department, with the appointment of Chris Street and Rebecca Storry as group account directors and Ben Cullen as senior account manager.
Adding further digital credentials to the team is digital media technologist Luke Gray, who was rewarded with a permanent position at the agency after a four-month contract.
Kat Cox also joins the team as a senior digital producer, after a four-year stint at MEA Mobile.
Young & Shand managing director Duncan Shand says each of these appointments has been made with a view toward steering the agency back to its digital core.
Over the last few years, as digital advertising became a more prominent part of the overall media strategy, Shand says the agency tried to shift beyond digital and pick up work in other areas.
“By 2015, we got a bit cocky and we thought, ‘why shouldn’t we be the lead agency for the client?’” reflects the agency boss.
This decision, he concedes, was a mistake.
“We stretched ourselves too far. And after doing it for a while, we realised that no one was really enjoying it. The margins are also lower because you’re often outsourcing things to someone else.”
In the agency’s attempt to become a full-service shop, Shand says it drifted from the area that had always been its forte.
“Around 18 months ago, we decided to hit the reset button,” he says.
The leadership team took a step back and decided to shift all the agency’s chips to digital specialisation and focus again on being the best it could in this space.
At the time this move was somewhat incongruent with the narrative emerging from other larger agencies. The general sentiment was that digital is no longer a thing, that it was just part of the broader media mix and that specialists would eventually become irrelevant.
All of this is true to some degree. Larger agencies have certainly increased their digital nous and they’ve become much more proficient at blasting eye-catching campaigns onto social feeds.
However, Shand doesn’t think this is enough.
“There’s real value in being specific about it,” he argues. “It’s such a complex space that you need to be focused on it 100 percent of the time. You can’t do digital and then do everything else.”
The agency’s strategy director Dan Phillips adds to this, saying that digital resources shouldn’t be limited to save costs.
“Back in the day, you had one person who was the digital expert and everyone would go to them and find out what was going on, but now you might have 12 people across their different fields, all bringing something to the table,” Phillips says. “It’s only when you bring all that thinking together that you have an agency that can operate effectively across digital.”
The point he makes is that the there are so many moving parts in digital, influencing so many customer touchpoints, that even within the broader landscape, you need specialists focusing on their areas of expertise at all times.
While a magazine or newspaper from five decades ago wouldn’t look out of place next to its modern equivalent, modern websites and online experiences appear like alien technology when compared to sites launched even five years ago. In this context, Shand says it’s imperative that the agency doesn’t lose focus of what’s happening in digital for even a moment.
“We want to own the edge,” Shand says.
“When new shit comes out, it’s about playing with it, trying it, seeing how works and figuring out if there are commercial applications for our clients to help them tell their stories better.”
Further to this objective, the agency has placed added emphasis on its Young & Shand Labs initiative, led by creative director Tim Wood, which gives creatives time to explore the ways in which technological developments could be used for the commercial benefit of clients.
This singular focus on cutting-edge technology does not mean Young & Shand will no longer be developing TVCs. The difference, however, is that the route to TV will be slightly different.
“Our ideation and execution will always start in digital, but sometimes it bleeds,” Wood explains. “The way we might approach a TVC is by pushing it out on digital first, seeing how people respond to it and then, with some sense of confidence, pushing it above the line. So, instead of starting in TV and working back through digital, we start in digital and perhaps move into TV.”
In fact, the agency takes this commitment so seriously that Shand even rejected the opportunity to pitch for the full 2degrees account due to the emphasis on a TV ad in the brief.
Instead, Shand focused the digital side of the business, eventually winning the faith of chief marketing officer Roy Ong and adding the digital account to the ledger.
In addition to adding the telco, Young & Shand has also this year picked up NZI, Methven and project work for Frucor and Nestle (the agency recently did the website for the new V Energy campaign).
But Phillips and Shand aren’t quite satisfied yet, with both agreeing there’s still some room for growth.
“We don’t have a bank, an airline or a car, so there’s scope for us to grow,” Phillips grins.
The only question is are there any clients in those categories willing to take the full digital plunge?