Exclusive: Former Special NZ GM John Marshall launches new trans-Tasman agency

Award-winning former Special New Zealand General Manager John Marshall has teamed up with ex-Ogilvy Australia CSO Ryan O’Connell to launch jnr., an independent trans-Tasman creative agency. 

The friends and former colleagues have amassed more than 50 Effies for their clients in the past five years, including a Global Grand Effie for KFC Australia, and a Grand Prix Effie for Kiwibank. 

Marshall (Ngāti Maru, Ngāti Maniapoto) also helped Special expand, leading the opening of their Wellington office, along with their te ao Māori capability unit, Special Aotea. In 2021, he was recognised as the Young Business Leader of the Year for AUNZ by Campaign Asia. 

The agency officially launches today, with Marshall as Managing Director and O’Connell (nicknamed Ryano) as Chief Strategy Officer. They say the name jnr. is inspired by the energy, fresh thinking and curiosity of juniors. 

In a StopPress exclusive Q&A, they spoke about the origins of the new agency and what they are aiming to achieve in a competitive marketplace.

Why is now the time for jnr.? 

JM: Ryano and I have known each other for 11 years; we met at Ogilvy Sydney when we both worked there. I actually met Ryano on his first day and took him under my wing, as he didn’t have any mates at the lunch table, the poor bloke. 

But, in all seriousness it’s always been a pipedream to open our own agency. However, those late-night chats that kind of went nowhere started to get serious about six months ago. That’s when we thought we had something different to offer. We were really conscious that we didn’t want to be just another creative agency. 

Far from juniors yourselves, what inspires your curiosity? 

Ryano: Both of us love and enjoy working with juniors and mentoring them. Their energy, fresh thinking and curiosity has always inspired us. Juniors always ask ‘why?’. And they always ask ‘why not?’. Irrespective of your seniority, those are the exact type of questions we should all always be asking! 

So as a constant reminder to always think like juniors and always ask the questions juniors ask, we named our agency after them. 

Where is your gap in the market? You say, “jnr. offers something a little different to all of the other incredible agencies across Australia and New Zealand”. What is this difference? 

JM: We believe that not enough agencies focus on the two things that will be the core tenants of jnr.: a ruthless focus on effectiveness (via creativity), which will guide every decision we make, and a focus on being ‘smart, but simple’. 

Those two focuses gave birth to our creativeffectiveness guide™ – our proprietary way of working that doesn’t take the magic out of creativity, nor the brains out of complex academic theory, marketing science, and new technology. Yet does provide a smart but simple guide to developing effective work. 

And yes, we have combined creative and effective into one word! Mainly because we’re ad wankers who think we’re really clever, but also because we believe creativity and effectiveness should never be separated. Even by words. 

We also plan on doing things a little differently from a financial point of view. Included in the creativeffectiveness guide™ is a model that sees a percentage of our agency fee attributed to it. Quite simply, if the work doesn’t work, we don’t get paid. 

It’s our commitment to our client partners that we treat their money like our own. We are invested in them and the partnership, and more importantly, we are invested in the commercial outcomes of the work. 

Who are some of the clients? 

Ryano: Watch this space! That’s a press release for another day! 

Who are some of the brands you’d love to work with? 

JM: We are keen to work with brands and organisations with big problems. We love big business problems to solve. And we’ll also never be embarrassed or shy to say we want to work with client partners who want to have fun. 

Where will your offices be based in NZ and AUS? 

Ryano: We will be truly trans-Tasman. We consider ourselves one agency, with a footprint in both countries. Against my better judgment, JM and I are actually best mates and family. As such, we both live in each other’s houses in both countries anyway. jnr. will be a natural extension of that. However, if you’d like me to not sound like a politician and just answer the bloody question, the answer is Auckland and Sydney.

How big is your team, any notable juniors we should look out for? 

JM: Currently our Junior Chief Vibe Office is Hēmi the Rascal. He’s paid in snacks, pats and butt scratches. Ryano wanted the same remuneration package, but I said that was highly inappropriate. 

More importantly, we also have a great creative bench across Australia and New Zealand, including a Lead Creative Partner. He’ll be working with us and our Client Partners at all times. More on that to come soon. 

Junior Chief Vibe Office, Hēmi welcoming you to the agency.

What’s the biggest challenge facing agencies in NZ currently? 

JM: There are probably too many agencies, if we’re brutally honest. So, hypocritically we thought, why not open another one! However, the challenge with too many agencies is that it becomes an intense fight for talent; one that almost every agency battles. 

However, our model enables us to access the best talent from across the Tasman and have them work on any client, any brief, any project, that is right. Along with that, having the (Junior) MD and (Junior) CSO work on your business, full-time, is pretty unique. 

What’s the biggest challenge facing brands in NZ? 

JM: The industry has become so complex. All the academic theories, marketing science, new technologies. Our worry is that agency and marketing experts have become paralysed and overwhelmed by it all. Or arrogantly ignore all the brains and learnings we have at our disposal.

We are here to make the complex simple, yet smart, and never lose sight of the effectiveness power of creativity to drive commercial success.

Hopes/aspirations for 2024?

Ryano: The goal is to have a suite of like-minded Client Partners and people we work with – people that understand that creativity is the most effective solution to big business problems. 

We’re also both pretty excited to get back to being ‘hands on’. We loved our time at Special and Ogilvy, and you won’t hear us say a bad word about them, but the more senior you get in a big agency, often the further you often get from the work. Focussing on creating great, effective work for our client partners is our biggest aspiration for 2024. 

And above all, we’re in this to enjoy ourselves, so that will always be our hope. In fact, it’s one of our promises to each other: “If it ain’t fun, we’re done”. 

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