The mutating Contagion: selling out or savvy strategy?

When Contagion launched a few years back, it was loudly beating the digital and social drum. It still is, but it's also doing more of what some would call traditional agency work. So is it selling out? Or is getting in on the groundfloor by offering specialist skills that clients seem to be looking for and then gradually taking a bigger chunk of the business a smart strategy?

Contagion recently knocked a wall down in its Freeman's Bay offices in order to add in a new creative department and chief executive Dean Taylor says it's "growing every which way", with more work for clients it already has like Telecom, Grabaseat and Tourism New Zealand, a few new clients like Number One Shoes, Les Mills International and Scrumpy Cider, and seven new staff hired recently to fill up the new office space. 

Taylor says the now 25-strong agency is all about "creating human experiences", and social media is a great example of that, because "as soon as it goes out there you know if it works or not".

He says it originally focused on digital and social because "it's the hardest area to solve client problems". But then clients said, "well, if you can do that, then how about trying this as well?" (its tagline has changed from 'the social media company' to 'ideas at work'). Creative director Bridget Taylor, who is currently on maternity leave, points to Tasti as an example of a client that started off with a mostly digital campaign but is now planning some big brand work with the agency. 

"It's talking with people, not at them," Dean says. "You can't just do broadcast, so we're taking that approach into brand. And we know there's a gap in the market. Contagion was born out of research with chief executives and marketing directors. And they're finding us fast and nimble." 

As well as comms, he says it is also talking a lot about "consumer-centric business strategy", simply because a lot of traditional business models are under threat from digital and, to a lesser extent, social. And he says this specialist knowledge is part of the reason it won the pitch for Number One Shoes.

"It's interesting how businesses are changing. They're not just coming to an agency that does TV ads," he says. 

As for the new hires, the agency has added Dan Walton, "the man with the whitest teeth and even brighter brain" as senior art director, partnering with acting creative director Verity Dookia. He worked at BMF Sydney as well as stints in both Publicis and Ogilvy in London. 

Joining Walton straight from Award school is writer Jamie Wall. Kristen Rogers, ex .99 has also joined as head of creative services.

“I was lucky enough to work closely with Kristen previously at DDB," says Bridget Taylor. "We know that to be creative, you need structure. Kristen is one of the best in the business and we’re extremely lucky to have her.”

Sarah McGregor is once again partnering with Dean Taylor to head up the team of client partners. She was previously group account director heading up Air New Zealand at DraftFCB.

“Sarah has more class in her little finger than I’ll ever muster," he says. "Her experience is second-to-none, she’s extremely strategic and truly understands the business of our business."

She’s joined by client partner Aoife Murphy, who has come direct from Radical, Ireland, where she played a key role in their social team. Matt Kardos also joins as head of technology.

“Matt is world class. If he doesn’t know it, it’s not worth knowing. Most importantly he makes this new space feel easy, a skill our staff and clients relish." 

Rounding out the hires, Barbara Murphy joins from London’s eatbigfish as commercial director. And Taylor says it is currently looking to hire another four staff. 

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