In town for Semi Permanent Sydney 2017, we asked Glenn for some advice on what makes for a sustainable design agency in 2017. He came back with some eternally useful tips. Get your pens ready.
72andSunny was founded in 2004 with two offices: one in LA and one in Amsterdam. There were three co-founders: Robert Nakata (he's now our Design Director), John Boiler (my longtime Art Director partner), and myself – a writer by trade.
We didn't set out to start an agency, but we did have a lot of conversations about where marketing was going and the problems clients needed solving; so we kept asking ourselves 'what's the best way to do that?'. One of the barriers we kept running into in our previous jobs was an overarching sense of cynicism in our industry, probably as a result of the fact that in marketing, change is the only constant. There's a lot of energy spent resisting change in the industry, so we said 'what if you could create an organisation and a culture based on embracing change', and what might happen. From that, the company emerged.
The name 72andsunny is a statement of optimism, we look for opportunity in everything.Glenn Cole, 72andSunny
The changing media, globalisation, access, everyone knowing everything, the rise of universal knowledge...all those things contribute to brands. Everyone's a brand and an author now, and so relationships with brands are forged in 3-dimensional ways. Primarily, nowadays, if someone you care about recommends a brand to you 1-on-1, that's where it starts as opposed to crafting a message, finding a paid media channel to serve that message and letting a consumer decide en-masse if they like it or not. Advertising is still part of the game, but it's a much smaller slice of the pie, and there are many more slices.
I learned an incredible fact yesterday that per-capita, Australia is the most diverse country on earth.
What's exciting about that when you're in a creative industry is that diversity (or diverse perspectives) are what fuels creativity. Innovation requires diversity. The more different points of view, the more surprising the work, the more surprising the result, the more innovative outcomes you can get. We're really passionate about bringing more perspectives. That doesn't just mean a mix of genders and ethnicities, it means different socioeconomic, ideologic and geographic perspectives too. We just want to mine for diversity and create a lot more opportunities. That has me the most excited about what can come from that, and I think we're well suited to become an advocate and activist for that. When I look back in five years and say 'what did we do that was good or meaningful here' I think the answer would be helping diversify our industry and the work that comes from that.
I'm learning to find narratives in architecture and I appreciate architects who can weave a narrative in their structures.Glenn Cole, 72andSunny
I don't know the secret to the perfect pitch but I will tell you how we orient ourselves on pitches.
I'll start with the baseline that our industry approaches pitches, which is along the lines of 'I gotta win that. I'm getting into it, I'm putting a lot of resources against it, my mental capacity, plus people, time, money etc.' So we gotta win this thing, otherwise it's 2-3 months of really committed energy burned, you could argue, for nothing (I don't think it's ever for nothing). But because you don't know, you can't control the result.
The more different points of view, the more surprising the work, the more surprising the result, the more innovative outcomes you can get.Glenn Cole
So our orientation on pitches is to learn. Our mission when we go into any pitch is 'how much can we possibly learn from this experience?': Firstly about the client and their business, then ourselves, the market, the world, and hopefully in the process, it empowers you because you've become smarter about all those things and you show up with a more innovative solution.
I usually find the win comes from that. We do pretty well with pitches and it doesn't often come down to the client or the presentation. It's about 'did we learn, and is this going to address what needs to be addressed'. The phrase in our hallway is 'the winner is the one who learns the most', and we aspire to be a learning organisation.
That's how we do it – please feel free to steal that, feel free to use it...in fact, I encourage it!
What is the future of advertising? I don't know, I think we're in the middle of it. I'm going to answer what I think the future of advertising is, based on what it is now, and who knows what tomorrow will be. But I think there are two things that matter most right now:
1) Clarity of Purpose
What we're trying to address as an organisation is the absolute necessity of purpose, and helping brands articulate that purpose, commit to that purpose, walk the walk and talk the talk. A lot of brands have great ambition and several purposes, but really, audiences want to know what you stand for. 'I'm willing to put your stamp on my backpack, or get a tattoo if the things you really give a shit about at the end of the day are the things I care about'. It doesn't mean just selling a product, but answering the broader question of 'why are you here'.
Across the board, brands that are clear about why they're here are doing well, and the brands that are less clear about that are struggling. The future of advertising is going to be about helping brands be their best bullshit detectors, and be authentic and act accordingly. That could be how they communicate in their communications, where they put their money, where they put their people, what they do for their people, what their people say, all those things...the answer is in there somewhere.
2) The importance of the community
The other part of this is the importance of fans: advocates who already care about brands or have already identified with a purpose or a brand. I think they are the future of advertising, unlike us as advertisers.
(I'm not trying to plug this but it's relevant). We've recently launched a company called Sundae, which is an influencer network (for lack of a better term), designed to pair purpose-led brands with purpose-led creators. Brands will pay creators to endorse what the brand stands for, not what the brand sells. The spirit of it is to inspire creators to authentically want to make something they really care about that aligns completely with what a brand cares about and want's you to recognise them as a leading advocate for that purpose.
I think that's what advertising will look like – at least for a stretch – until it doesn't. Then we'll take another look at it.