In Conversation - Simon Hadfield talks to Adam Ferrier

By Simon Hadfield | 8 May 2023
Simon Hadfield

An occasional column. Simon Hadfield In Conversation.

This time it is Adam Ferrier ex Founding Partner of Naked, Board Member, Speaker & Founder of Thinkerbell.

You’ve been killing it with Thinkerbell since its inception 6 years ago. Are you able to pinpoint the success on anything in particular?

Yep, we have a new way of doing things, it works much better than how traditional agencies are structured. Here’s a bit about how we do it.

The advertising industry has loads of pretty average agencies, sorry.  The traditional ad agency model is particularly shit, it goes something like this; Loads of account managers who are not given permission to think or create, give the clients problem to a mid-weight strategic planner who spends days rewording the client problem, gets signed off by their senior planner, rejected by the ECD, reworked, then signed off. The account team then get to organise a meeting with the creatives as the planner briefs them. The creatives they spend loads of time coming up with ideas that are wrong as they are not close to the client, and don’t have enough to do so want to prove their brodashious creativity on every brief. However, due to traditional power imbalances no-one is allowed to tell the creatives the ideas are crap, so they get presented. 3 rounds of this later an idea gets signed off. Fly director in from Istanbul, make the epic TVC, but someone forgot to tell the media agency what the idea is and now it can’t go to air in its full 90 seconds of glory.  The day before launch (18 months after the initial briefing) the PR agency gets asked to PR the self-indulgent, non-sensical ad (that was only ever shown in trade press). And that’s only one paragraph.

Most of these fuck-ups in how agencies are run are ruts and legacy issues from an age when media, PR and creative were all done in separate agencies, and when there was time and money to be truly self-indulgent.  The agency model was head hours, and there was enough money in the industry to not really care. These models are dying.  However, I’m sure anyone reading the above who works in an agency named after the founders (or has an acronym of such) will be nodding along to much of it.

We have a very different approach based on Thinkers and Tinkers. We’ve blown up account service and reconnected the discipline with actual business and brand Thinking.  We’ve also put the creative in the room with the client for every single meeting.  We’ve also joined up media and earned and a few other things so it’s all clumped together, as it should be. Our client NPS is 57, its grown as the agency has grown, and most site the Thinker Tinker thing as the primary reason things run differently here. 

Finally, we practice what we preach, and we’ve created an actual strong brand, the idea of ‘measured magic’ runs right through the agency, and guides the work. 

You have your fingers in a few other pies (Black T-Shirts Podcast, Decade of Action, SPACE, ODE etc). You must be flat out?!

Yes and no.   I’m sure if I went to a psychologist, they’d diagnose me (along with everyone else it seems) as having ADHD. I feel more relaxed and happier when I have a lot of things on the go.  I like to think I have loose brain, and it can make new connections relatively quickly. However, my follow through and attention to detail is fucked, and my management skills are non-existent. So, I have incredible and understanding business partners, and a bloody talented and smart bunch of people I work with on each of these projects.  I would be incapable of doing any of it alone. All that said, I sleep really well.

Do you have any observations on the advertising / marketing industry?

The ruts of tradition run deep and it’s hard for the big agencies to change. The industry is also very risk adverse. However, I also love it. I love the creativity that it breeds and the types of ideas that come out of the top agencies.  I reckon our industry more than any other can shape the world any way we like. Marketing sciences has also helped ensure we remain creatively bold as we now understand how advertising actually works – giving everyone more confidence with creativity.

Any work you’ve seen recently that you admire?

There are agencies I keep an eye on and love the work they create. I love Uncommon in the UK, Mischief in USA, and Rethink in Canada.  The former does earnest, beautiful things that make you cry, the latter two do crazy stunts and weirdness that get attention.  They are three incredibly successful agencies who have all been born recently and changed the agency culture and in some ways the agency way of doing things.  One of the advantages of hosting Black T-Shirts is I get to speak to other agency owners / creatives about how they go about it.

Globally, I love the Oatley work a masterclass in brand and company value building creativity. Closer to home I love the Kathmandu re-brand by Special, and the entire Aesop brand experience.  Everything from sampling, to VM, to pack design is brand led, and displays what we could call superior brand intelligence.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Fit in.  Life is so much harder when you are an outsider. The most influential outsiders learn how to fit in first, and then influence from within.  I wish someone gave me the ‘how to fit in and work with other humans constructively’ much earlier in life. I would have then read it, applied it and threw most of it away. But without the guidebook everything is much tougher.  If you know someone who is really good at fitting in, learn from them.

(PS I still haven’t learned have I! As I’ve just slagged off three quarters of the industry in my first answer).

Outside of business and apart from the above, what keeps you out of trouble?

My family. My wife Anna helps me see the humour in everything. Asterix (11) encourages me to keep pushing boundaries, and Arty (5) ensures I maintain complete focus on him.

What have you learnt in the last 5 years?

Workwise not a lot. I reckon you learn more when you’re younger and you get to apply more as you get older. I know, I know the right answer is to say I’m always learning bla bla bla’, but I reckon I learned a bucket load more in my 20’s and 30’s that I’ve learned recently.   I’m really enjoying putting what’ve learned into practice.

What are you driving, what are you listening to and what are you watching?

  • I mainly get around on Lime hire electric scooters (they are triple the fun when you have two kids on them with you!)
  • I only really listen to Paul Kelly, it’s weird, he’s literally the only musician I like.
  • Re-watching Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker is incredible, and The Rainbow Friends – if you want to bend your mind completely out of shape hang out with that crew for a while. 

Where is your next holiday?

Goa in India, then Dark Mofo in Tasmania, and a week in Vegas all coming up shortly. Not so humble brag.

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