72andSunny is the newest agency on the block in Sydney and its long awaited arrival certainly had the attention of its more established rivals.
While many think of 72andSunny as embodying young independent spirit, the ‘micro-network’ is actually 13 years old and 100% owned by MDC Partners, which also owns Anomaly and Crispin Porter + Bogusky.
It’s been a two-year journey to get the doors opened in Sydney, and Singapore will follow in a few months. Managing director Chris Kay, a Brit who previously ran BMF Sydney before moving to Los Angeles to join 72andSunny, has been slated to launch the shop since the idea formed two years ago, but the founders have been waiting for the right time.
Other hot shop agencies have tried and failed to grab the Sydney market and live up to their global reputations. Droga5, David Droga’s infamous venture here collapsed under the weight of its reputation, while others such as R/GA, Iris and DigitasLBI, despite solid output, locally don't quite reach the heady heights of their global reputations.
So why does Kay think 72andSunny will escape that same fate? He doesn’t know if it will, he claims, but all eyes will be watching.
The humble approach comes from learning from those that have struggled to crack it.
“We're not a ‘ta-dah’ agency,” he says, despite the hype surrounding its launch, preferring to see it as an evolutionary journey.
The agency launched with clients including Google, eBay, Sea Shepherd and Dropbox, which are largely tapped from its clientbase overseas. Now comes the job of getting on pitch lists and winning new business locally.
Kay says the model 72andSunny takes here can adapt and flex with what the market needs and it isn't arriving guns blazing with the idea it can arrive a ready-made success.
“It’s about what does Australia need, not what can 72andSunny can bring,” he explains.
“I’d like us to learn and teach in this market. We’re not coming to eat anybody’s lunch - I’d like to bring my own lunch, and bring something additive and energising to the market.”
With his experience of the Sydney and Australia market, Kay knows that the local market punches above its weight, and wants to tap into what he sees an as a sense of optimism. He's not the first agency boss to question how a market with so much talent and potential often finds itself going down the rabbit hole of negative comment boards and tall poppy syndrome, but hopes to stay out of it.
Like many agency founders 72andSunny bosses John Boiler, Glenn Cole and Robert Nakata started the agency because they were sick of what the advertising industry had become around them.
As such, one of the agency’s mottos is that it was “born modern”, which they believe makes it more open to adapting, moving quickly and changing with whatever it encounters. It has been named one of the most innovative companies in the world more than once by Fast Company, because it has managed to effect change beyond its clients.
“We’re comfortable with change and we roll with the punches,” Kay says, adding that it will likely “fuck a few things up as we go along”.
Kay says people often think 72 is an indie because it “acts like an independent”. MDC’s strapline is ‘Where great talent lives’, which he says sums up the way it operates.
While it does have an owner and is part of a network, Kay believes it's different to the way the larger holding companies operate.
Its global team spend a lot of time together and 72andSunny describes itself as one agency with five doors. He says each of the five shops within the network can tap into the talents and skills at the other locations, while each retains its own P&L.
When he joined 72, Kay says it felt like "finding a new gang" to hang out with, and the relationships fit.
Kay seems to have a habit of being at hot shops at the peak of their success, so the pattern looks good for 72andSunny. He began at TBWA, followed by a seven year stint at Fallon, the London agency that brought us the Cadbury Gorilla ad, Skoda’s Cake and the Sony Balls ad. He then spent two years a BMF as managing partner before moving to the US with 72.
He also had a stint as head of marketing at EPL soccer team Manchester City along the way.
Pivotal to the agency’s launch strategy is chief creative officer Johnny Tan who, will service the Singapore and Sydney offices, and eventually be based in Singapore. Tan joins from BBH Shanghai where he was CCO for 12 years.
Other key staff on board as the agency launched include Ngaio McCreadie, director of operations and talent, Chelsea Lamond, brand manager, who joins from its Amsterdam office, strategist Neil Sura and strategy director Mollie Hill who joins from The Monkeys.
Starting with a blank piece of paper, diversity was key for Kay when it came to building the team. Noting the obvious irony of a white male managing director talking about diversity, Kay says that half the founding team being female with a Singaporean and a Kiwi among them as well as experience in the US, Europe, Latin America and Asia between them, shows a commitment to making sure the rest of the agency isn't a mirror image of him.
In terms of attracting talent, Kay wants 72andSunny to be a destination of choice for talent, with one possibility being that it can attract talented Aussies home from overseas.
The venture is also a way for 72andSunny to enter the Asian market, but not in the obvious way. Singapore is obviously a gateway to growth markets but it hopes it can find success working with Asian brands looking to stretch into Australia and the west.
It's got big aspirations, but the forecast looks sunny.
Check out the June issue of AdNews in print for a feature that explores the realities of starting up an agency. Download a digital version of AdNews or subscribe to the premium print edition here. It's out June 2.
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