How new agency Berlin plans to disrupt the WA market

By Ruby Derrick | 28 September 2023
John Linton and Rich Berney.

Rich Berney and John Linton want the Western Australian market to be able to pitch against East coast agencies on East Coast clients. 

The ex-303 MullenLowe agency leaders’ new creative destination Berlin is set to shake up the WA market.  

The pair had always wanted to start an independent agency, said Berney, who believes the indie agency model is necessary in facilitating high-end creative work.  

Ultimately, it’ about the product. We want to be liberated from process so we can do incredible work on our own terms. It does matter the way a business is structured to achieve that,” said Berney.  

At the heart of Berlin’s mission is to do good for the prosocial and pro-environmental aspects of the world.  

From the agency’s point of view – economic, social and environmental growth can happen in symphony with one another, said Linton.  

It's our intention to do high end, strategic, creative work for a range of commercial and behavioural clients," he said. 

“We’d like to do more pro bono work as a result of that to help the organisations, the not-for-profits and the NGO’s that need the support and can't always afford it.” 

Advertising has gone a long way to get the world into this environmental pickle that it’s in, says Berney, who notes it can equally be used to get everyone out of it.  

There are two streams Berlin will and won’t do as a result.  

We’ll be campaigning for positive change and a better future for ourselves, our kids and our grandkids,” said Berney.  

We won't be working with fossil fuel, which we haven't for years. We won't be working with alcohol, gambling, tobacco and junk food. 

Berney notes it’s having some self respect for the power of what the agency can do and channelling positivity, but it's also staying away from junk. 

“The world honestly doesn’t need another ad agency, it needs enlightenment and a hopeful, clear future. We’re going to do our best to help with that,” he said.  

Berlin will become a social enterprise hybrid, with the agency currently going through the B Corp accreditation process, said Linton.  

“From the outset, we wanted to put our money where our mouth is, so we’ve committed to 20% of our time and our profits going back into those prosocial and pro-environmental causes, initiatives and projects,” said Linton.  

“Sometimes an organisation can benefit most strongly from our time and contributing strategy and creative and helping them to communicate. Other times it might be financial donations, where we can be most powerful.” 

Berney said there are no agencies on the West coast that have this model.  

“20% of what we do is going to the good stuff. Although it might sound a bit hippie, and some middle-aged white guys talking bullshit, there’s a selfish part of it that makes us feel good,” he said.  

“What we contribute to our clients is all mojo. I’ve worked on projects with people who aren’t all that charged about what they do and they suck.” 

Berney said the pair won’t ever do well if they aren’t into the work they’re doing. After spending years in agencies, he knows what it feels like to be into the work he’s doing.  

There’s no other way. We need stuff that actually works and is compelling for us. It will be a great ride and we won’t have to retire. We’ll do this until we die,” said Berney.  

Berney thinks the game is broken. 

“I think it's gross. Everyone's got knives out, competing like hell with these brilliant people that work in ad agencies. I'm not saying we're doing anything different because virtually every decent agency is doing a lot of good stuff,” he said.  

“We’re starting afresh – that's the only thing different about us.” 

The reason for this, says Berney, is so the creative duo can eliminate what they don’t like, what isn’t working and what’s been bugging them.  

Linton said Berlin will also stand out in the market because it is strategically led, born out of a challenge the pair noticed for commercial creativity in WA right now. 

“When we look around the marketplace, there's a lot of talent here, but more and more the big clients in town are taking their bigger problems over East,” said Linton.  

Berlin feels it needs to be competing against these agencies and not giving its clients a reason to go East, notes Linton.  

“The way we’re going to do that is by having strong, strategically grounded, audacious creativity,” he said. 

There's lots of creative talent in the WA market, said Linton, but he feels it’s shackled and held too tightly at times.  

There's also a lot of fear in the current economic climate, he said, with concerns around losing clients, briefs and work.  

“I hope that we’re able to show that by not having that constriction on us, we can produce work that's possible where we’re more liberated – a tight kind of loose,” said Linton.  

Berlin is not merely a protectionist agency who is setting out to make WA strong and isolate itself, said Linton.  

The agency wants to show that WA is a hotbed of a different breed of creativity.  

“We want this market to be able to pitch against East coast agencies on East Coast clients,” said Linton. 

Berney said the creative duo plan on bringing every single one of the West coast clients that have gone East back to WA. 

“For everybody to work on – not just us. That’s the rising tide...let’s bring them home,” he said. 

On what’s in store for the agency, Berney simply hopes the pair can make a difference.  

“I want to make my family proud,” he said.  

We’re looking for culturally important work – that's our thing.” 

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