Consortium shuts up shop, Young & Shand reaps the benefits

After 12 years of business, Consortium has closed its doors. 

This news follows on from the report in May that Consortium had lost AUT University, its single biggest account, after a decade-long partnership. 

Consortium founder Paul Shale was contacted in regard to the office closing, but he declined to comment, saying that the team at Consortium did not speak to media about its business or clients during its tenure and that it would be “ironic” to start now (he did make an exception in 2012 after announcing some strategic changes and welcoming Ralph Brayham to the business, however). 

The most significant account left in the Consortium ledger was that of Lightbox (which spent more than $5 million over the last year), and this account has now been shifted across to Young & Shand. 

“We’re really excited to pick up the Lightbox account,” says Young & Shand managing director Duncan Shand. “To be able to merge Consortium’s team into our business was a great opportunity. The team at Consortium are great, they’re smart. This combination will deliver a modern integrated approach with a big focus on digital and help us do great work for the Lightbox team.”

Lightbox chief executive Kym Niblock says her team is looking forward to starting its partnership with its new agency.  

“We’re thrilled to begin working with the talented team at Young & Shand, while retaining the fantastic key account staff from Consortium,” says Niblock. “Young  & Shand’s digital-first approach makes a lot of sense for Lightbox and we’ll be bringing fresh new creative ideas to life together over the coming months. We have a huge range of exciting new TV coming to Lightbox, so Young & Shand will have their hands (and screens) full.”

As part of the transition, four employees previously employed by Consortium will now be joining Young & Shand, with senior account director Vanessa George the most senior appointment among these—which in turn suggests that former co-owners Shale and Brayham are not among the new faces at the agency. It’s not clear if there are any other job losses at Consortium, an agency that arguably pioneered the ‘collective of freelancers’ model in New Zealand, but it’s thought there were around eight or nine staff at the end. 

Shand explains that the deal with Consortium was not a merger, and that it was more a case of staff following the account to Young & Shand. He says money no changed hands in the deal and that the executive team at Consortium saw this as the best long-term approach to adopt for the client.

Consortium also previously held the Bigpipe account, but Young & Shand was required to pitch for this business. 

“It was actually my second week that we pitched for them,” says Young & Shand’s recently appointed creative director Tim Wood, who was the most senior casualty when Rapp confirmed redundancies in May. “It was quite an introduction to the agency, and for Young & Shand it was great that we were able to secure that. It was great to have a competitive pitch against the agencies we did, and then for them to pick us as their full-service agency. So from strategy through to execution, we’ll look after everything for them.”

Oliver Smith, the head of Bigpipe, says that decision to pitch the account was unrelated to the dissolution of Consortium.

“We had already decided to move away from Consortium a few months ago,” Smith says. “[After the pitch] We really felt a connection with Young & Shand. They get our business and many of them are in the target market. Their approach is very complementary to our business.

This win comes at a time when Bigpipe has become established as a standalone business outside the Spark Ventures fold (Smith wouldn’t give specific customer numbers for commercial reasons, but said it’s less than 100,000). At a media lunch hosted last November, Smith spoke about how the comms strategy of the internet service provider focused on the digital channel in a bid to attract younger clients—and, given its digital pedigree, Young & Shand seems a good fit for the company. 

Wood points out that tech companies like Bigpipe and Lightbox aren’t the only ones emphasising digital these days, and that he is noticing a shift in the industry.  

“Clients are seeing the value of it,” Wood says. “It was once that you’d have your budget and you’d carve it up with a big idea, and digital would just be stuck with whatever was left. But, I think what clients are really seeing is that if you engage at a digital strategic level and put digital in the centre of what you’re doing, you can start to connect the dots and have a much more powerful piece of communication, programme or platform.”

And Shand agrees: “Clients absolutely want to have an agency that has strong digital capabilities, without a doubt. They know they need it. Probably, two years to 12 months ago, people knew they needed to do more digital and this resulted in digital campaigns and projects. But over the last 12 months people have to know that they actually need to lead with digital. They actually have to go boots in rather than just having their toe in the water.”

Consortium also previously did some project work for Spark Business, including the Business Hubs campaign, but Spark says this will not be moving across to Young & Shand. Spark communications manager Lucy Fullarton says the business isn’t up for pitch at this stage and it will continue working with agencies on a project-by-project basis. 

StopPress also understands that Young & Shand has won the digital business for Max Fashions. However, when asked about this win, Shand said that he could not comment.

While Young & Shand might not have a long list of grunty retail clients, Max Fashions will likely look to the agency to increase its online retail sales. And at a time when Kiwis are becoming increasingly comfortable clicking on the buy buttons strewn throughout cyberspace, this is now an important part of Max Fashion’s business.   

StopPress understands that Max Fashions held a pitch as recently as 12 months ago, but did not fully engage the winning agency and then decided to take its digital comms inhouse. Now, following a second pitch, the agency is thought to have awarded its digital business to Young & Shand.

In addition to picking up this trio of new accounts, adding the four former Consortium employees to its team and bringing Wood on board, Young & Shand has also up-skilled in the video department by hiring Alex McVinnie as director of photographer and Will Brown as a motion designer.

Shand says that Young & Shand now employs approximately 55 people, giving the agency the necessary skills to develop and execute multi-channel projects in-house. And he points to the Semi-Permanant campaign as an example of this.

“Semi-Permanent came to us, and they wanted a social campaign, so we came up with the creative health day. We produced some posts, an email and video content in-house. We’ve always had a photographer and some video capabilities, but new videography/photography guy, Alex, is amazing.”

Looking at its staff numbers and its growing client list, Young & Shand is clearly doing something right. And yet, anonymous industry commenters have made a habit of attacking the work produced by the agency—and rather than ignoring the trolls, Shand casually responds to them. 

Asked why he thinks commenters are so hard on his agency, Shand says that it might be because he doesn’t have a history in the industry.

“I’m not from within the advertising industry. I had never worked in an agency, and neither had Ben [Young] and then we went on and started Young & Shand. So, we’re not mates with everyone, and we’ve come into the industry and I guess we’ve ruffled a few feathers. We’ve won business off a few people. And as digital guys, we’ve taken ten, 20 or sometimes 30 percent of what they perceive to be their budgets. So, we were never going to win any friends.”

For a trained accountant, who realised quite early that he needed to escape finance, Shand certainly has enjoyed a good run thus far. And with three new accounts and a handful of fresh recruits, he still seems to be on a good track—regardless of what the comments section might say.      

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