Meet The Team - Alchemy One's push to progress the industry

Jason Pollock
By Jason Pollock | 26 February 2024
Joel Trethowan.

Independent full service media agency Alchemy One celebrates its 10th year in 2024 - an existence that Joel Trethowan says was very much born out of he and co-founder Paul Scarf starting the business as the anti-agency.

“Paul worked with the creative agencies while I worked at media agencies before moving client side, but we were just getting really poor responses back from media agencies - with a lack of thinking, lack of passion, lack of care”, he says.

“Our industry sometimes views media as a commodity, and that it’s 'not that hard to do', but the media industry has incredible depth, there's so much innovation and creativity in media itself, and so we very much started on that narrative.”

The positioning of the agency focuses on ‘monumental impact’ – “always challenging ourselves and challenging the industry to do better”, in Trethowan’s words – and one way this materialises is in a blanket ban on working with the fossil fuel, gambling, tobacco and alcohol industries.

“We’ve been B Corp certified since 2021 and have worked with Comms Declare, one of our pro bono partners, to actively ban fossil fuel advertising in Australia and we also actively work to ban gambling advertising in Australia, mainly because we feel that those industries are just regressive,” he says.

“A large number of the holdocs are working with the fossil fuel companies because they have very strict margins they need to hit and they're great-paying clients, so they are inadvertedly needing to take on that business to secure the revenue. I think indies are in a better position to pick and choose.”

Due to the lack of external investors in the agency, Alchemy One can be even more selective in who it works with – even when they know from their competitors in the independent space that a client in the gambling world may pay “really, really well”.

“Inherently, people know that some of those industries aren’t great industries to be working on but I think especially in a market downturn like this, people don't have a choice when it comes to revenue, which we’re completely respectful of,” he tells AdNews.

“We're not about forcing our views on other people in terms of ‘this is exactly how it should be done’ or cutting down other agencies.”

On whether such a steadfast rule of refusing to work with certain industries has had any adverse impact on the business externally or internally, Trethowan says that the vision of the future and the legacy that he and Scarf wanted to leave as an agency was more important than comprising their values.

“We could be double the size we are now if we open the doors to all clients but we just don't want to risk the integrity of doing that, because it's something we felt very personally strong about,” he says.

“Last year, we won a client and shortly after, news broke that there was significant ethical misconduct within that business that had been going on for a large number of years. We were completely unaware of that at the time of winning the client but what they tried to do after the fact was actively push out an overt greenwashing message.

“We fired the client, we had no choice - although we were obviously excited for the revenue, we just couldn’t go through with it because if we don't say no now, then it's going to get so much worse and that's going to tarnish our reputation and our brand.

“That was something that was a really good test of our values because that was a difficult decision to make, but at the same time, it's something that was celebrated internally, because the team were behind it; even though we had a team assembled for that, they got it and then we shifted the team resource accordingly to other patches.”

Over the 10 years the agency has been in operation, Trethowan said that the rise of indepedent agencies – along with “more power and more respect for what indies can offer and bring to the table” - has been a big trend, as has the role of a media agency becoming more than just a ‘media vendor’.

“As you've seen the rise of CMOs and that tide of how powerful CMOs are within a collective organisation - more significant in our view than a chief sales officer - the media agency has played a really big role to be strategic advisors about how you can cut through and do something different, whether that’s through the changes in social media to the changes in programmatic buying to the changes in a lot of different formats,” he tells AdNews.

“It just leads to that point of a media agency needing to be more than just someone that combines media - it needs to be someone that can be a strategic partner to your business.”

Trethowan said that in this time of economic uncertainty, clients start to see media as a commodity again, in turn chasing the lowest agency fees.

"There’s always someone that can do it cheaper, but does a business want the cheapest lawyer or accountant as well? If we’re playing this big role of growth and you have big ambitions, don't you want the best people to do that for you?” he says.

“With the nature of just how many indies there are in market, it's very much bringing to the forefront what we offer and it is that strategic guidance as not just a media partner, but the business partner as well to help them achieve their broad ambitions.”


Aline Eloy

Aline Eloy, Group Digital Experience Director

What’s the biggest challenge in your role?

The paramount challenge in my role is envisioning and establishing the agency of the future. Staying ahead in the dynamic realm of the digital landscape and AI to ensure that our agency not only keeps pace with technological advancements but leads the way. Engaging in this journey involves aligning our team to see AI as an ally, developing solutions for our clients with discovery at the core of thisethos and ensuring we stand at the forefront of industry evolution. 

What do you love most about your role?

I thrive on challenges, and what I adore most about my role is the dynamic nature of the media industry. The ever-changing landscape keeps me passionate and engaged, as no two days are alike. The continuous learning and the need for quick adaptation are invigorating aspects of my work. 

One of the most fulfilling aspects is being a true partner of our clients and supporting them on their digital evolution. The opportunity to shape and redefine our agency's approach to digital is nothing short of a lifetime experience. It's a journey of constant growth and innovation that adds an extra layer of excitement to my role. 

What are you focused on for 2024?

Given the potential economic shifts impacting client budgets, adaptability is crucial, both for our agency and our talent. 

This year presents a unique opportunity for those eager to be part of a transformative shift in the industry. Embracing change is key, and we anticipate navigating through challenges by reshaping certain aspects of our approach. Despite the uncertainties, I am optimistic that this journey will lead us to discover more effective ways of working and propel us towards a successful and innovative future. 


Cara Sayer-Bourne 

Cara Sayer-Bourne, Business Director

What attracted you to Alchemy One?

So many media agencies position themselves as positive agents of change for people and the planet, while still accepting millions from the fossil fuel, gambling and alcohol industries. Alchemy One's blanket ban on working with these industries immediately drew me to the company.  

What's kept me here is the people. They're like-minded, passionate and - as one of our core values suggest - low on ego. I look forward to going to work everyday to bounce ideas off one another, pressure test media strategies, and share music recommendations.  

What do you love most about your role?

I love problem solving. It's an endorphin hit to be able to not only deliver a clever idea for a complex business problem, but then prove out its effectiveness with rigourous measurement. I can become very enthusiastic about an excel and a well defined process or framework.  

What's most exciting about 2024?

I wouldn't necessarily call it exciting, but there are ongoing and incoming shifts that could have significant ramifications for media and the industries we work with. This includes Australian data privacy reforms, the maybe/actual end to cookies, ongoing inflation, and a US election - to name a few! Media is constantly shifting and evolving. Any of these could impact the agency and our clients, and how we proactively tackle them will be critical.  

Something that both excites and slightly terrifies me is AI's further development in 2024. Combined with automation, it has the potential to reduce manual outputs and unlock more time to think critically and creatively. This is to the benefit of an often time-poor industry juggling complex business requirements. It also poses major ethical and practical concerns, from intellectual property, job security, misleading content, and just the fact that AI regularly gets basic information wrong. 


Huong Nguyen

Huong Nguyen, Group Business Director

What attracted you to Alchemy One?

Coming from a large multinational, I craved the opportunity to work within an organisation where I could help shape the agency's future to meet our clients' ever-changing needs. The opportunity to not be shackled by larger corporate mandates presents really exciting opportunities for me to think outside the box in terms of how and who we partner with to deliver on our client’s challenges and objectives. Besides that, I was attracted to working with a brilliant group of people who’s values were more aligned with my own in terms of the impact I wanted to make through my work.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I love that I dont have a typical day. It can be as immersive as a full strategy & planning day in Melbourne with Square, challenging ourselves to iterate and evolve our approach, or joining an industry event to discuss broader and shared challenges. Being an indie means that we're agile with plenty of scope to shape our own growth and path, so I am lucky to have exposure and input into the spectrum of what we deliver for clients, allow.  

One of core values is 'high on passion and low on ego', so you'll find me putting the finishing touches on a media plan as well as lead an innovation session with global CMOs.  

What are you focused on for 2024?

My focus for 2024 is to continue to evolve the strong relationships we have with our clients, some of whom we've been working with for 5+ years.  

Beyond that, I am fully cognisant of the challenges facing our industry both economically and structurally, which provides us with the opportunity to continue to evolve our product offering and future proof AO in 2024 and beyond. 


Paul Scarf

Paul Scarf, Group Strategy Director

What’s the biggest challenge in your role?

The challenge, magnified in these times, is the art of achieving more with less. It's an economic imperative that we as an industry and as an extension of our clients marketing function are all under at the moment, but at Alchemy One, it's been our ethos since inception. It's not just about stretching resources: it's about being resourceful. It will be a dance between efficiency and creativity to capture attention, where one will power the other. 

What do you love most about your role?

What energises me daily is the privilege of working with people who embody talent and kindness, without the ego. Our team, our clients – each smart, hungry in their appetite for growth, and burning with passion. It's where enthusiasm meets expertise, propelling the extraordinary momentum we're riding. 

This is underpinned by shared values to take responsibility for the work we put out and the impact this has on the planet.  

What are you focused on for 2024?

First and foremost our focus is on staying connected to the magnitude of our clients' objectives and, in collaboration with them, prioritising initiatives that will yield the greatest results.  

Secondly, our focus is on redefining the media solutions essential for the agency of the future. We stand at the cusp of a technological revolution, and the advent of generative AI truly is akin to the next internet. Its significance lies not just in its adoption but in its integration into the agency and re-tooling to deliver TRUE VALUE to our clients. It's about envisioning a future where technology is not just a tool, but a transformative force, involving every team member, reshaping how we think, create, and connect. 

Thirdly, it's about continuing to improve our B Corp status. We've made significant strides in the past three years, but there's still more progress to be achieved. We are committed to advocating for the ban of gambling and fossil fuel advertising through our work with Comms Declare. These industries are regressing our society and causing long-term health deterioration of both people and the planet. 

It's indeed an exciting time. It won’t be without its challenges, but the potential for positive impact and innovation is immense. 

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