Optimism, collaboration and diversity: 72andSunny founder shares tips

Lindsay Bennett
By Lindsay Bennett | 29 May 2017

72andSunny was attracted to launch an Australian office because of the creative ambition and vibrant spirit of the Australian market, co-founder and chief creative officer Glenn Cole has said.

While 72andSunny is renowned for its bold creative output for top clients, including Adidas, Axe and Samsung, and its arrival Down Under certainly has the attention of more established rivals, Cole admitted the agency doesn’t have it all worked out – but it has learnt a lot since it launched its first shop in 2004.

Speaking at the Communication Council's creative leadership lunch last week, Cole said 72andSunny’s major focus is on its people. It has put “all its eggs in the people basket” and great creative ideas follow, he explained.

“We are a talent business,” Cole said, adding the agency’s purpose isn’t about ads, it’s about people and growth.

“The reason our purpose is about people and growth is we found when we focused on that, the good stuff happens,” Cole said.

He shared five approaches that have driven the agency’s success over the past 13 years.

1. Embrace diversity

A major focus for 72andSunny is embracing diversity within the agency to better represent the modern world, said Cole, adding that the political climate has put attention on ideological diversity.

“Our mission - which has become our passion partly because of what’s going on in the world and partly because of where we need to go with our industry and quite simply for commercial interest - is to expand and diversify the creative class,” Cole said.

“It’s not just about an ethnic difference; it’s about the different orientation of the world.

“We all know diversity is what fuels creativity. The more diverse perspectives you can bring to the table, the more surprising, interesting and innovative ideas you create.”

He said in the last three months he has had more discussions with clients about creating communications to represent a diverse population and their beliefs.

“We are at the brink of having clients request to have someone on the team that represents ideological differences as well as creative differences,” he said.

72andSunny is 32% ethnically diverse, which Cole said he was proud of, but that figure still has a way to go, and 54% of its workforce are women.

He said he wasn’t proud of the agencies representation of low income communities, calling out the privileged nature of most people in advertising. He said it’s a focus moving forward - not just urban centres.

He also commented on the lack of diversity in the room having discovered Australia is the most diverse country in the world per capita. 

2. Collaborate selfishly

A big part of 72andSunny’s success comes from its approach to collaboration to get the best ideas from around the agency. But he says the term is often misunderstood – it’s not ‘group thinking’, but a way to get more input and ideas.

“When it comes to what we know and what we are learning we are happy to give it away,” Cole said.

“Collaboration probably gets misunderstood more than any other word in our company. A lot of people think it’s a mandate to a group think, or that you have to include everyone in every conversation… and that’s not necessarily true.

“The way we approach it is more like approaching something like an editor-in-chief… The working definition we have for collaboration is simply getting the best out of others to make the best work and the best people in the company to do that aren’t always the creative folks.”

A strategy 72andSunny uses to better facilitate better collaboration is taking ideas public to the rest of the agency as quickly as possible.

If you keep your work private for too long you begin to create walls around it, Cole said.

“We try to get work out of people’s hands fairly quickly. That can be a jarring experience for newcomers but it also becomes a drug when you get hooked on it," he said.

Another strategy is the idea of deciders and influencers – a process that Cole said is vital to the creative process and describes it as a “pact” between employees.

A ‘decider’ listens to ideas with an open mind and is encouraged to genuinely consider each option before making the final decision. ‘Influencers’ are there to give input and promise to get on board with the final decision even if they don’t agree with it.

comms72andSunny's mission is to create for a modern culture

3. Get comfortable with change

Humans aren’t wired for change and it can be a jolting process, Cole said, but adaptation has been critical to the success of 72andSunny.

Giving the example of its work with Samsung, Cole said the client was a catalyst to the agency becoming comfortable with change.

When Samsung first came on board with the agency, it was setting briefs that were sometimes as short as six days. Initially, 72andSunny fought the short turnaround times and would complain the client wasn’t giving them enough time to create great work.

But Cole said the agency eventually learnt to accept the challenge and it led to award-winning work being produced.
“We are trying to be born modern every day,” Cole said. “Opening yourself up for change can be very transformative.”

4. Practice optimism

Optimism and openness are core values to 72andSunny, with the agency having little patience for cynicism. The agency’s name is a reflection of its optimism, reflecting the perfect weather.

Often, Australia is criticised for its tall poppy syndrome and seeming willingness of competitors to cut each other down rather than try to build the industry up together.

This was the recent topic of an impassioned plea from Ogilvy CEO David Fox who said the agency world needs to come together to fight off common threats rather than turn on each other.

“We have a clubhouse [at 72andSunny] where we blow wind in each other’s sails and one thing you can count on is we aren’t the type to bitch, we want to raise anybody up and anyone that needs help,” he said.

“Optimism can be learned. Pessimism is not a natural state, even if you think it is for you. These are learned orientations. You can practise this and change your orientation.”

While Cole said people in the industry have said to him the Australian market can be tough, he said creatives here aren’t giving themselves enough credit.

“Australia is ground zero for ambitious creative talent,” he said, crediting the “awe inspiring” work he saw during the AWARD judging.

5. Always be learning

“Expertism is overrated,” Cole said. He believes agencies need to become comfortable with living in a learning mode and avoid having a fixed mindset in the creative process.

The agency is new here but Cole reiterated what Sydney MD Chris Kay has said previously about not being a “ta-dah” agency and being flexible with its offering in this market.

Cole said it would premature for the agency to come into the market with a point of view on how it should grow, adding that 72andSunny celebrates not having any preconceived ideas.

“We celebrate having no fucking clue what we’re doing,” Cole said.

It’s about innovating rather than talking about innovation, he explained.

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