An agency for clients’ brands and customers: Scott Coldham explains Colenso’s new model

Last month, Colenso BBDO unveiled a new agency model that puts a focus on creative collaboration, clients’ customers and new ways of working.

The resulting initiatives include Colesno&Co, that fosters collaboration when client problems or opportunities arrive in the agency, and ColensoCX, which refers to its business transformation and growth expertise.

These sit alongside Colenso Ventures, an initiative designed to help clients develop new products, new services and new business ventures to help them move into the white space that’s so often monopolised by start-ups.

And finally there’s Colenso Studios, a collection of the agency’s traditional studio function, creative technology, social, production experiential and its in-house content business to enable the agency’s clients to access the ‘doing’ capability of Colenso with ease when speed, accuracy and quality are paramount.

And while the four initiatives are a new way of thinking for the agency, sitting down to talk with managing director Scott Coldham about the move, it’s clear the key forces affecting the agency are not exclusive to Colenso  – they’re trends that spread across adland.

The first, he says, is clients have an appreciation that marketing is more than a department. He says every touchpoint a consumer has with a brand has the ability to drive a positive or negative outcome and “gone are the days that it’s solely the domain of the people responsible for the advertising”.

Telcos, utilities, insurance companies, banks and retailers, as well as smaller brands are grappling with the same types of challenges and that facilitates a bigger conversation, a deeper understanding of the business and ultimately the ability for their agencies to help navigate to win.

Because of this, Coldham says the agency is dealing with people beyond the marketing department and operating in water further upstream than communications.

“Advertising is simply the end of the conversation and the opportunity for agencies to help more clearly define the problem and contribute to the solution is when the best work happens.”

New models all round

The idea rolls into Coldham’s second key force, that while advertising isn’t dead, the runway for the tenure of traditional advertising agencies is getting shorter.

The rise of consultancies, start-ups and innovation practices are constantly repositioning advertising agencies and he says agencies are sitting waiting to see what the likes of Accenture and Deloitte do with creative businesses.

Coldham says time will tell whether consultancies buying up creative agencies will work. The way agencies show up with a breadth of capabilities and operating systems to wrap around a particular client, in a particular marketplace, and provide a rhythm or a model to do what they need to do in the right amount of time is challenging for agencies.

Talking about Colenso specifically, he says it’s bringing back the consultancy expertise and experience to transform organisations, and help clients deal with the digital age that is now.

This can be seen in the hire of a new senior management team member from Accenture Singapore.

Coldham anticipates the new recruit will grow its capability in the customer experience and considers him a cherry on the top when considering how brands are grappling with how they navigate the digital world.

He adds the new hire will be joined by others, which will see the agency’s staff numbers go up after remaining stable over the course of implementing the new operating model.

Putting the customer first                                           

The final key factor Coldham has identified, which he points out is again pretty common-place, is the ability to understand and ultimately influence consumers is greater than it’s ever been.

He explains that consumers expect brands to understand them, their relationship with the brand, their history with it and then provide experiences, engagements, products and service accordingly.

“Most organisations are going through some form of transformation to put the customer at the centre, and to enable them to turn up more consistently as a brand. I think there’s something lovely in acknowledging we have always been able to represent our clients’ brands to the marketplace, but in today’s day and age, we also need to be able to represent our clients’ customers too.”

That realisation has had a profound impact on the agency in terms of its services and skillsets. Coldham says the company is now an expert in both its clients’ businesses as well as in those clients’ customers and what they want and how they are living their lives.

“Evolving towards becoming an agency for not just our clients’ brands but their customers too is something we’re passionate about.”

A creative core

Having talked about the move away from the traditional agency way of working with a new operation model, how does Colenso see itself today?

It’s been declared Axis Creative Agency of the Year for the last three years and Coldham shows no sign of it losing that creative force.

He says it unreservedly believes in the power of creative thinking to drive commercial outcomes first and foremost so creativity will be what it champions day-in and day-out.

“We will never walk away from our belief in the power of creativity, we’re simply evolving to ensure it can flourish in more and more places.”

In fact, the agency’s creativity has the potential to increase, if Coldham’s thoughts about creativity coming from collaboration are anything to go by.

He sees collaboration as a key to work that’s both commercially successful and famously creative, referring to the likes of ‘Brewtroleum’ for DB Export, which won big across award shows locally and internationally including an Outdoor Grand Prix at Cannes, and ‘Backyard Burger King’, which recently won 19th place on the WARC 100 List that measures and awards the 100 most effective advertisements in the world each year.

‘Backyard Burger King’ was created with insights uncovered by research/customer intelligence company Perceptive Group, which was acquired by the Clemenger Group last year. It’s now been named as one of the partners Colenso will be collaborating with under its Colenso&Co initiative.

Other partners include Facebook, Google, Scion and Soul Machines, and they have a physical and a virtual seat in the agency to foster collaboration when client problems or opportunities arrive in the agency.

Coldham explains the idea behind it is that a diverse group of specialists coming together around a table opens the opportunity to either solve a problem or exploit an opportunity together.

“Often the most interesting and powerful creative ideas require us to work with people who have skillsets we don’t have in our building. Having an open mindset to partner smarter, and ensure the idea turns up as best it can is obviously the right thing to do. Those partners are now far more wide-reaching than traditional advertising partners because ideas are increasingly diverse. We want to foster an environment that brings those diverse partners into the agency more often.”

Widening the scope

Summing up the rationally of Colenso’s new operative model, Coldham says it’s about remaining relevant and of value to organisations, beyond marketing.

“We have to disrupt old processes. The capability our clients value today, demands it. The processes we follow to deliver advertising outcomes vary from the processes we follow when doing sprints or problem design sessions. We have to have the flexibility to do it all.

“How we work is just as important as the work we make these days.”

Colenso isn’t alone in this thinking. FCB also has new client solutions within its walls in the form of The Hive and FCB Open. The former is a content service team that allows clients to develop, produce and deliver audiovisual and static content fast and cost-effectively, and the latter operates to keep the agency and its clients relevant and up to date with what makes Kiwis, new and old, tick.

Meanwhile, Special Group has recently unveiled Nimble, a new production company that’s the result of a collaboration with executive producer Patrick McAteer. The plan is for Nimble to access the best talent, no matter where it is, rather than being limited to the talent under one single production company roof.

But what about changes on client side? Coldham says the factors affecting its business are also, in part, affecting clients and with this in mind, he sees room for clients to embrace new technologies and consumer expectations. However, some are doing it better than others as it’s not considered to be a threat—but complacency will only see its threat grow he warns.

To explain, he recalls a talk by Wired founding executive Kevin Kelly about AI and VR—the latter being a technology of huge hype that’s grossly overrated because it’s not yet affordable and saleable.

However, Kelly said look five years down the road when VR could be taking over mobile and changing the internet, and suddenly the way it could be fundamentally dictating how consumers experience brands is grossly underrated.

“Just embrace them and have some fun with what they can offer. Start small. Test and fail. They’re going to change your category in one way shape or form sooner or later, and leading your customers into that future is the only option.”

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