A smart, crazy agency - Steve Coll on his new move

Sarah Homewood
By Sarah Homewood | 10 September 2015
WiTH Collective's Justin Hind and Steve Coll

“One day I jokingly said, what about us? And he said, how would that work?” That is how Justin Hind, cofounder and CEO of With Collective tells the story of how a medium-sized independent agency, that has largely kept itself under the radar, lured the creative powerhouse that is Steve Coll to join its ranks.

The story may be slightly more complicated than that, however there was a lot less cajoling than one may think it would take to woo a creative with 20 Cannes Lions under his belt and a slew of high-profile agencies on his CV.

Coll and With Collective founders Justin and Dominique Hind, had crossed paths when the trio were all at high profile shops and picked the friendship back up when Coll came back to Sydney after his stint in London with AMV in BBDO.

The kicker for Coll in joining With Collective as a partner and chief creative officer, was it appeared to be a truly collaborative agency.

“I don’t think it’s been a secret I’ve been interested in collaboration for quite some time and there’s a difference between talking about things like collaboration and actually changing your agency to make that work,” he explains.

Coll says it isn’t about being nice and fluffy and getting along with people; he believes that collaboration makes the work better.

Citing the Cannes Grand Prix-winning award for Walkers, which he worked on at BBDO, as a truly collaborative process, not only did it win the Lion for Efffectiveness and a D&AD Yellow Pencil, but it generated an additional £21 million in revenue. Coll saw an opportunity to do something similar at With Collective.

“The wonderful thing about the agency, I quickly realised, is they have proper collaboration with clients and in between agency departments built into how they work; that’s what first made me want to come to the agency,” he says.

Justin Hind says collaboration was at the heart of what he and Dominique set out to create. “We asked ourselves the question, what if we worked with true collaboration with the client for a common goal and for a common outcome? And that’s where the whole name of With Collective came from,” he reveals.

“A lot of people get confused about the name. ‘With’ comes from things that work well with each other and ‘Collective’ is the common goal with our client. The agency from the outset was designed all around the common goal of collaboration.”

Coll was at Droga5 for little over a year and his exit prompted the agency to re-evaluate its strategy. David Nobay, founding Australian and global partner who had been MIA, declared he was coming back to the agency with a renewed focus, with Coll saying at the time that the decision to resign wasn’t something he took lightly.

However, it felt like the right time for him to “fulfil some long-standing ambitions”. “I think we’re just going to give it a go. I don’t think Justin or I would sit here and make lofty promises about the future,” he says. “We’re just going to give it our absolutely best go.” Hind echoes Coll’s sentiments, saying that while having him on board changes things, it doesn’t mean the agency is changing direction.

“The only thing that we needed to step up to a greater level was great creative thinking that respects everything that we’ve done, that’s when Steve and I spoke more seriously about what this could be,” Hind explains.

“If I presented to you our model, it would be the combination of technology, data and creativity, and I’d give technology and data a double tick, and I’d give creative a tick, but it probably hadn’t reached the heights that I’d always aspired to.

“For me, Steve joining us with his desire to do things in the way we’d always wanted to do them that was the last piece of the puzzle for us.”

Another of Coll’s passions, aside from collaboration, is data, and being the only creative on the board of the Australian Data-driven Marketing Association (ADMA), he believes there’s a place for With to move a bit closer to the edge.

“I think there’s a place for a smart, crazy agency,” he says. “In the world of brand alone, there’s reason to take a punt. In order to get someone to take an educated leap of faith on a creative idea, I think they need as much data and as much rigour around it as possible, and less opinion.”

All eyes are on the small agency and what big things Coll will bring.

A version of this story originally appeared in the latest issue of AdNews magazine (4 September). You can get the whole issue right here, on either iPad or in Print.

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