M&C Saatchi built a bespoke creative shop for Woolies

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 14 July 2016

M&C Saatchi has created a spin out agency for Woolworths after taking on the business at the start of this year. The first work the agency has produced for the client was released this week and it's a departure for the brand. It marks the start of what the supermarket will be hoping is a turnaround after a shaky few months in terms of senior staff exits and financial performance.

M&C took on the Woolworths business without a pitch in February, replacing Leo Burnett Sydney as its lead agency. It then set about designing and building a shared work space from which to manage the account and overhaul the brand's marketing. 

Informally called the greenhouse internally, the bespoke shop has been up and running for around six weeks. It's part of the M&C Saatchi Group, but operates separately, with the cost of setting it up shared by both parties.

It's a warehouse-style space located on Crown Street in Sydney's Surry Hills and has around 80 people full time, equally split between client and agency.

The idea was floated by the client, but it's one the agency “received with enthusiasm,” according to Andrew Hicks, Woolworths CMO, who was appointed CMO in the wake of an exodus of Woolworths' senior marketing team last year. Jess Gill and former CMO Tony Phillips left in quick succession.

“It may have been an idea that originated here [at Woolworths] but was embraced very quickly by M&C Saatchi and evolved jointly. It didn't start out with any rules of engagement. It started with asking 'how do we build the best brand for our customers, what's the model that is best suited to delivering that'?” he says.

Jaimes Leggett, CEO of M&C Saatchi tells AdNews: "Every business, in every market, is being disrupted. Ours is no different. Increasingly, clients are asking for better ways of working. We know we have to work differently. M&C Saatchi has made massive leaps forward in this area.  

“To put the customer at the centre of the Woolies business we needed a new model that would allow the brand function to run freely at new insights and new ways of working. This has meant senior resources and new skill sets dedicated to the partnership.”

Agile, side-by-side collaboration

Sophie Ayles, senior strategist at M&C Saatchi, is leading the business thinking on Woolies while regional creative director Tom Macfarlane has been personally overseeing the creative along with creative director Michael Andrews. M&C is due to name a client lead for the Woolworths business over the coming weeks.

Macfarlane and Andrews worked on Woolies when M&C Saatchi previously held the account between 2000 and 2012 so it marks something of a return to the brand’s heritage.

The spinout is designed around allowing the client and agency to be more agile in the way they work. The space is set up for communal working and hot desking and on any given day there could be execs from a wide range of Woolworths teams in the office, whether that's the data, innovation, digital strategy or merchandising teams. It's also open to Woolworths' media agency Carat and PR agency One Green Bean.

It's a shared space which sees the client and agency teams working side by side, and there's a blurring of who sits on which side of the fence. It could almost be as though the word 'client' is barred. Because the client is working alongside the agency team, there is less likely to be any of the dreaded 5pm Friday briefs that require the agency to abandon all plans for a social life to tackle the clients demands.

Leggett adds that the structure has allowed the “breakdown of agency and client barriers”.

“It allows creative minds to get deeper into the client’s business and offers the client greater transparency around the agency model,” he says.

“M&C Saatchi and Woolworths are united in a belief that it's not just what a brand says, but what it does that's important. Saying [something] is really important but only if it’s an articulation of what you do. 'Why I pick Woolies' is a broad creative canvas that allows a clear amplification of all the wonderful things Woolies does to ensure it is chosen by Australians everyday.”

The new model is designed to put the agency further upstream and the client further downstream to make decision-making faster, easier and more streamlined. It's throwing conventional processes out the window and has the client involved early on, rather than dipping in throughout the journey of creating a campaign or an idea as well as giving the agency teams access to people they wouldn't normally have on an ongoing basis.

It means that instead of having to schedule meetings with either party, the client and agency teams are watching work be developed as it happens, and can input or pivot along the way.

“Great ideas aren’t developed in isolation,” says Hicks. “The traditional process of one part of a team writing a brief that's then submitted to an agency, but might not have all the necessary context. Then the agency picking up the brief and hoping it's thorough enough to act on, then all the strategic and creative development that occurs – it's a very laborious process.

“The ability to be together and look at the problems and opportunities and work alongside each other to solve them is so much more expedient, and it gives more accountability. It genuinely is a joint outcome. It's a new way of working and at Woolworths, we are open to trying new things. I’m excited about the partnership with M&C but also that as a marketing team we are able to push the boundaries as to how we get to the outcome – not just the outcome. I’m hoping both are brilliant!”

Agencies are continuing to evolve the working relationships they have with clients as demands change, and bespoke shops are something many are exploring in this market. It is happening more overseas, but largely at a holding company level. For instance Ford has its WPP-based Team Detroit unit, which incorporates Blue Hive and brings together JWT, Wunderman and Mindshare.

Westfield set up Sibling inside WPP AUNZ to “consolidate integrated strategy, digital, in-centre communications, public relations and media” under the one roof with an “agnostic path to idea generation … [to] remove the divide between the client and the agency”.

Clemenger BBDO Sydney created a bespoke unit called The Kitchen Table when it picked up Campbell Arnotts from DDB in April last year, and Whybin\TBWA has a separate set up for Apple that stnads alone from the rest of the agency. 

In media too, GroupM has put in place a similar set up for Westpac, as it looks to keep the client within the group. Westpac had been a MediaCom client and speculation was the account was going to go up for pitch, but the bespoke set up appears to have quietened that.

The Work
M&C had held the Woolworths business for 12 years, but lost it to now-defunct Droga5 Sydney in 2012. It was a relationship which many regarded as doomed from the start suggesting that taking on the behemoth supermarket account drowned the small, boutique agency from the get go. Then followed a two year stint at Leo Burnett where the creative returned to price led messaging with the introduction of the 'Cheap Cheap' positioning that echoed Coles' Down Down slogan.

The first major work to come out of the bespoke shop is the start of a complete repositioning for Woolies, and the plan is that the brand platform will run over several years and transcend different business divisions.

Hicks says 'That's Why I Pick Woolies' is intended to be both rational and emotional to establish a connection with customers after several years of very tactical messaging on price.

“Part of the brand tone we’re looking to establish is one of conversation. Were trying to reflect the brand at its best and that comes from the conversations happening between our store teams and our customers each and every day. That style of communication is very personable, down to earth, authentic, charming and sincere. What it isn’t is one directional and shouting,” he says.

“I suppose the shift has been towards a more emotive and conversational tone that we believe is more engaging. The rational side has been very prominent [in recent marketing] and we want to bring some balance to that – the way the platform works is that it allows us to have an emphasis on the rational but present it in a way that's emotionally engaging."

Hicks says landing on the big idea was born out of the more collaborative and open process in place thanks to the bespoke model, and he has nothing but praise for the way the relationship is panning out.

“The sense of collaboration with M&C right from the start, that style of partnership and the ability to work collaboratively and quickly has been the hallmark of the process. We say we're going to be customer focused so we're acting on it,” he explains.

“We were able to prepare the work and test it at a very embryonic stage to see if it married to customers' expectations of what Woolworths could be at its best. It hasn't been effortless, it's been hard work but it's been done in a very positive manner. The positive energy and enthusiasm have made it a wonderful process to be part of.”

Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop me a line at rosiebaker@yaffa.com.au

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