One year of 72andSunny: 'We're not the finished product'

Lindsay Bennett
By Lindsay Bennett | 13 June 2018
The 72andSunny team

This first appeared in the April issue of AdNews Magazine.

With new agencies opening in Australia few and far between, all eyes were on 72andSunny when it announced in 2017 it was opening a Sydney office. A year on, AdNews sits down with the five people steering the startup.

In the last 12 months, 72andSunny has grown to a staff of 24 across Sydney and Singapore, landed a place on the Optus roster and tapped Shane Warne to create its first completely local piece of work for eBay.

Optus was the first big, local win for the agency, with the other brands on its roster — Google, eBay and Dropbox — coming from its global network. It won the gig with Optus without a pitch and launched its first work in April.

Scoring the telco business was a big milestone for the agency, but managing director Chris Kay said 72andSunny didn’t celebrate the win, choosing instead to kick their heels up when they believe they've produced great work.

“There is a lot of work to do to prove why Optus chose us,” Kay admitted.

It’s a surprisingly humble admission from an agency leader, but not from Kay, who has downplayed 72andSunny’s clout from day one.

Instead of trading on the equity of the global 72andSunny brand, which had been formed by its offices in New York, Los Angeles and Amsterdam, Kay said the APAC office is still finding out how its business is unique compared to its US and European siblings.

“We’re 11 months in. We’re not the finished product,” he said. “It would be incredibly arrogant and naive to say that we’ve arrived, achieved, and proved who we are.

“We are still growing our offering through conversations with clients to understand what the right model is for this market. We aren’t the finished product and we can’t say how we’ll differ from the other 72andSunny offices yet.”

When asked if the agency would explore a PR business like TBWA’s Eleven or launch a content marketing business as The Works did earlier this year, Kay said in the 14-year history of the global business it’s never felt the need to launch a 72andSunny add-on.

“I don’t think you have to build a traditional company with different divisions," he explained. "You have to build a modern company — and a modern company doesn’t need different arms."

chris.pngChris Kay

THE WORK

Globally, 72andSunny is known for bright, modern work for clients like Adidas, Instagram, Smirnoff, Ikea and Samsung. The APAC team may have not fully found its voice, but the recent work for eBay featuring Warne could be the first glimpse of its irreverent tone.

The ad shows the former cricketer regretfully reminiscing on purchases he overpaid for, rather than looking for a deal on eBay. The best part of the ad is it doesn’t feel like a global iteration from the 72andSunny network, rather a fresh idea made for an Australian audience.

“We now have the opportunity to start to show people who we are, now that we’re connecting to culture here,” Kay said.

“I think you’re going to see a stretch of work in the next few months. I don’t think we should ever be pigeon–holed as creating one type of work. And you’ll see that from other work on Google and Optus too.

"Hopefully we start to show what we can bring to the table for our clients.”

Having led BMF in Australia from 2011 to 2013, British–born Kay said there hasn’t been any surprises in returning to the market, but that 72andSunny is working on landing local business and getting on pitch lists.

“We haven’t done a lot of pitching yet. People view us as the wild card on the pitch list and the wild card doesn’t always get the opportunity,” he said.

Kay revealed winning local business is “incredibly important” to prove to the market the agency can compete with the likes of The Monkeys and M&C Saatchi — two shops Kay credited as being the best in Australia.

So, what will the next 12 months look like for 72andSunny? Not a Melbourne office, according to Kay, who is used to flying four hours from Los Angeles to Chicago to service clients.

“A one–hour trip is nothing,” he joked, after revealing he was in conversation with several potential clients in Melbourne.

More likely on the cards for 72andSunny is a further push into Asia, with Kay describing Singapore as a “footstep” into the market.

But he isn’t overzealous about the future.

“If I said we are going to avoid the same fate of Droga5 that would be naive. Who knows what’s going to happen?" Kay mused.

“I feel good about where we are today, and where we can be tomorrow. We want to be here for the long haul and we have no ambitions not to be here, but we have to do it at the pace of what’s right to build a good company.”

Meet the Team

JOHNNY TAN • APAC ECD jt.png

What has been your biggest achievement at 72andSunny so far?

It’s the culture we’ve built so far. It’s hard to describe, but it’s pretty special. Real good people who love working with one another and are hungry to create weird sh*t.

What is it like splitting your time between Sydney and Singapore?

In a word — tough. Starting two offices in a year is no walk in the park. But, on the other hand, there’s never a boring day. Truth is,  both offices are super–connected so regardless of where I’m at, I feel like we hardly miss a beat. That said, there’s never enough time to be in the trenches and connect with each member of the team. But, it does get pretty scary when you start to know the flight
crews on Singapore Airlines by their first names.

How do the Sydney and Singapore markets compare?

It’s pretty awesome to get front row seats to two really exciting markets with incredible creative energy. There are many similarities and a ton of differences too. Compared to the couple of markets I’ve worked in previously, they are at a different scale, which present their own unique challenges. In both, there’s an inspiring entrepreneurial spirit that’s infectious. I don’t think one can ever claim one market is better than the other. There’s a ton to learn from each of them, and that’s priceless.

How does 72andSunny differ to other agencies you've worked in?

72 has a uniquely collaborative culture that's hard to explain. Everyone takes ownership and contributes to the crafting of the creative product. It’s a rigorous, unadulterated, yet respectful process. Invigorating actually. Feels like a special forces unit where a few really good humans come together for a common mission, sans ego. Not too many places are like that. It’s a really entrepreneurial place. And people are genuinely encouraged to be experimental and make things weird.

How do you view the Australian creative market?

To me, it feels like a market in discovery, one that’s eager to change and reinvent itself. It wants to find its voice, harness its creative energy and create something quintessentially modern Aussie. There’s no shortage of really talented people here who are driven to try, innovate, and make great things.

MOLLIE HILL • DIRECTOR OF STRATEGY mh.png

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt at 72andSunny in the last year?

The biggest thing would be the art of collaboration. It’s something everyone talks about, but relatively few think deeply about — and there’s not a lot of industry training on what collaboration means, why it works, and how to practice it. It’s a core value at 72, we take it seriously and have an entire training module dedicated to how to practice collaboration. When I spent time in the LA office I was blown away by the difference in how we work and the impact that has on the work — I’d never seen that before. While some of our agency partners and client partners were shocked at the beginning, it becomes pretty addictive as a way of working.

You’ve previously worked at some big agencies; how does it compare now working at a startup?

With a small team everything is stripped back to the core — everyone has their hands on the company’s and the client’s business, and you’re all doing everything you can to help it succeed. It’s like a potent dose of what we all love about what we do: high energy, high tempo, highly collaborative; everyone’s hungry and chasing the dream. It’s pretty thrilling. I consider myself pretty lucky to get this opportunity to work for a startup that’s backed by a company whose values and work I admire so much.

How do you explain to your mum or dad what you do for a living?

I don’t even try.

What’s the biggest threat facing the creative industry right now?

The silos that divide strategy, creative and media within a company. Our work needs to work harder than ever in today’s landscape — and our ideas are more effective when they join forces. How can we expect to be genuine collaborative partners with our clients if we can’t achieve the same internally?

What’s the best thing about your job?

It’s not sitting opposite Ngaio, that’s for sure.

NGAIO McCREADIE • DIRECTOR OF TALENT & OPERATIONS nm.png

What does your day-to-day role at 72andSunny look like?

Having worked across a variety of disciplines and roles over the years, I can say that talent and operations is absolutely the most diverse so far. In a great way. The theme of my day–to–day can be quite reactive in nature, but always with a ton of conversations and time spent listening to people. It can include everything from liaising with architects on building renovation works, chatting with top talent from all around the world, developing learning platforms with brilliant partners like AFTRS, upgrading our technical infrastructure, a bunch of creative problem–solving, and looking at talent growth plans and retention strategies — and that was just today. It’s fantastic.

How has it been building a team from scratch? 

Fascinating. We have taken a deliberately slow and sustained approach to our growth, with a strong emphasis on listening and learning. We’ve been incredibly humbled by the quality of talent who have been open to chatting to us — and I feel very proud when I look around at our little band of misfits. It is quite a scary proposition, because you can’t necessarily guarantee that wonderful individuals will create a wonderful chemistry when they come together. So, we’ve employed quite an extensive interview process where everyone pretty much meets everyone before any offers are made.

You’ve worked all over the world; how does the talent pool in Australia compare?

I consider our prospective talent pool to be global and there is no better time than now to live in the antipodes — am I right?! While our industry is still quite traditional in its make–up, the broader creative class in Australia is more exciting and more diverse than ever. I’ve also found that there’s a large group of top–notch Aussie talent living abroad who are just waiting for the right opportunity to return home.

Why do people want to (or should want to) work for 72andSunny?

If I can toot our own horn for a moment, I think we have a range of pretty amazing industry–leading talent initiatives, including a highly supportive parental policy for our mums and dads, unlimited paid annual leave for all employees, flexible working and more. Oh, and a dog–friendly office is probably the biggest crowd pleaser.

ELLIE JONES AND AVANI MAAN • CREATIVESej.png

What did winning work for Optus mean to you?

YES.

What made you want to become a creative and get into advertising?

We don’t have an international fan–base yet, so we could sell–out without losing any cred. Avani visited an ad agency during high school and was hooked as soon as he found out there’s a job where you can wear jandals to work. (Yes. We’re from New Zealand. They’re called jandals.) Ellie didn’t find out about advertising until she realised she couldn’t get a ‘real’ job with a fine arts degree.

What attracted you to 72andSunny?

Its reputation for big, fun, insightful work that attracts clients who want to make big, fun, insightful work.

How would you describe the culture at 72andSunny?

At our Christmas party last year we kicked off in the morning sitting in a circle. We each went around and talked about our highlights from the first six months and goals for the next year. Half the room was tearing–up when their turn came to speak. So much genuine gratitude and appreciation for each other. Disgusting.

What’s the biggest challenge being part of a startup?

The biggest challenge is also the biggest appeal: there’s barely any people, and a fuckload to do. So, if you don’t get the work done, and done well, there’s nothing to hide behind and no–one to pick up the slack. That means more responsibility, more creative independence, and more personal investment in everything.

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