Spark shares the love with Shine and Colenso BBDO

It’s no secret Spark is on a mission to transform its business and as part of that it’s transforming its agency model, with Shine confirmed as a key strategic partner and, as widely expected, Clemenger Group rounding out its previous wins after Colenso BBDO was appointed as its above-the-line brand agency.

Clive Ormerod, the newly appointed general manager of marketing, says the brand brief process Spark has been running—and that he has been in charge of—is about figuring out “how we partner with agencies to move our brand forward”.

And while Shine’s Simon Curran wouldn’t give too much away about the new partnership, he says this is a significant event for the agency.  

“Throughout this process it became very clear that there has never been a more exciting time to be a partner with Spark as they continue their business transformation. We are excited to play a key role in this journey with ownership of some exciting initiatives outside of traditional communications.”

While some we spoke to last week said Shine was chosen as strategic lead because Spark had doubts about its ability to execute, Ormerod said that wasn’t the case and Shine’s “creative excellence has never been in question”. He confirmed Shine didn’t pitch for the advertising, despite that being part of the original brief, and instead it said it wanted to partner with other agencies so that they could all play to their different strengths. Even so, Ormerod says Shine will be working on projects that require it to see things through to “from start to finish, including creative”. 

“Shine’s been a partner of ours for quite some time,” says Ormerod, primarily with Spark Lab in Auckland’s Seafarers building. He made a point of saying a couple of times that Spark still owns its strategy, but it will now be working more closely with the agency to help shape it and execute it. 

Because Shine has a range of business interests, particularly in hospitality, there does seem to be a perception, often perpetuated by the larger agencies, that Curran and his business partner Lucien Law might be able to do a good presentation but don’t have time to put the hard yards in on clients’ businesses. Those big advertising agencies are renowned for trying to protect their patch. But business—and particularly the lean start-up mentality—is all about collaboration and because  they have successfully worked with experts—whether architects or chefs—to bring their ideas to life, companies like Spark probably see proof that it knows how to play the game and is more willing to play nice with partners.

Managing director Simon Moutter has said openly that a big percentage of Spark’s revenue needs to come from products that don’t exist yet, or from products that aren’t based on wires, such as cloud computing, IT services or mobile products. And he and the team seem to be finding them. Many of those products are being incubated within Spark Ventures, which is run by Rod Snodgrass, and with some of Shine’s previous work in the creative technology space for Beck’s, it seems like this could be fertile territory, although Ormerod says brands like Skinny, Big Pipe, Lightbox and Morepork are managed by Spark Ventures and aren’t included here. 

Moutter and chief executive of home, mobile and business Jason Paris have also said Spark is all about focusing on the customer. It’s easy to say, but it’s tough to do, especially for big companies with money-making legacy products. The company does seem to be taking steps in right direction, however. And if it had just swapped one big agency for another without thinking about how it needed to change its approach, it was probably destined to fail, so this seems to be another example of Spark trying to think a bit differently.

Colenso BBDO’s new managing director Scott Coldham says he’s chuffed to be given the opportunity to build the brand of a marquee client like Spark along with the other agencies and it was “pleasing and inspiring to see the ambition the brand had through the process”. 

“And that’s infectious,” he says. 

In the soon-to-be-released edition of NZ Marketing, FCB’s Brian van den Hurk says: “If the fragmentation of the media landscape is mirrored with an equally fragmented array of agencies, things become very complex and unwieldy very quickly, and many clients are discovering this.” He would say that, of course, given he runs an agency that talks up its integrated chops. But there are already a few agencies in the mix with Spark, so why choose Colenso BBDO as well? Will there be too many cooks in the kitchen? And will the Clemenger-owned agencies that now control the bulk of the Spark business be happy to work with a competing agency like Shine? 

“Absolutely,” says Coldham. 

“It’s all good. They’re good guys and they’re smart bastards, so it’s a case of whatever’s best for the Spark brand.” 

Coming from Nike, Ormerod says there were a range of agencies on its roster with a variety of skills. And having a “multi-faceted approach” is par for the course with bigger companies these days, he says, because it’s not always just about making ads, particularly when you’re trying to shift the focus to the customer (it’s thought the agencies will sit on a ‘brand board’ and will work together to create customer-centric solutions).

“Ultimately Colenso will be an above the line storytelling agency and that’s where we see their strength … The thing that Colenso offer and that we’re really excited about is their ability to inspire our customers, to be emotive and bring a story to life.”

With so much at stake, there were plenty of gulls fighting over this particular chip, with the longtime agency partner Saatchi & Saatchi trying hard to retain the business and DDB unsuccessfully working the Spark angle for years. Given Ormerod says he’s “fresh off the boat”—and, so, didn’t have any specific allegiances or pre-conceived notions about the agencies—did that allow him to choose more objectively?

“I did it at Nike. If we had a need as a business, it was about how do we best meet that need,” he says. 

Paris said openly that its traditional marketing approach of launching big TV campaigns that flare up and fade away quickly would have to change. It launched The Boroughs project online and on social (although just one court has been opened and it’s lacking a few promised features), it has moved into new sponsorship areas and it has moved towards offering customers utility through Spotify Premium or Lightbox subscriptions and the Tech in a Sec series. But with things evolving so quickly, Ormerod says what worked 18 months ago probably isn’t going to work now. 

There are always inefficiencies in big corporates and Spark announced recently that it said goodbye to over 500 staff in the year to June. But some we’ve spoken to inside Spark say it may have cut a bit too close to the bone and it’s now dealing with that. Recently, Paris announced the hiring of 100 more call centre staff to deal with customers experiencing difficulties installing UFB, much of which it says is out of its control due to what Paris called “the to-ing and fro-ing between the broadband provider, the local fibre lines company, the contractor laying the fibre cable and that company’s subcontractors”. It’s been pushing fibre hard on YouTube (and it’s recently thought to have shot an ad to show customers what it’s doing to help improve the process) and it is also trying to be more transparent on its website about how long it takes to get through to the call centre and how many staff were there to deal with the calls. 

Ormerod says Spark is an extremely exciting place to be at the moment. 

”We’ve got big ambitions and we think there’s a lot of potential for Spark.”

And with the bit between its teeth and a desire to try some new things, it’s probably a pretty good place to be if you’re one of its agency partners, too. 

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