A comedian, an architect and chef walk into an agency. They sit down and get cracking on with a client brief for Asos, maybe even Adidas or Spotify. There’s no punchline, this is Byte – the London indie shop rewriting the rules of agency recruitment.
“We’ve found that some of the best people have come from outside of the industry altogether and we also look for complimentary skills for specific roles,” explained the firm’s founding partner Jamie Kenny.
The agency has three ex-architects on its books working in a variety of roles from design through to production. A former stand-up, a chef and an ex-music journalist and other non-advertising experts also call its white-washed Pinterest-esque office work.
Creativity and problem solving
This new generation of marketers are working across all elements of Byte’s portfolio – which includes clients like Spotify, Asos and JustEat – with Kenny noting that it’s purposefully built into the company’s hiring process to look outwith ad land.
“We’ve been conscious since founding the business that we don’t just go and hire from other agencies because we’ll end up being very like every other agency, and also we’ve deliberately built the business as a place where media, creative, data and tech skills are all seen as the same,” Kenny told The Drum.
“A lot of people from other agencies have a real bias where it’s all about creative and awards, but we don’t want that in this company,” he added.
Having served as chief strategy officer at Jam, Kenny founded the company four years ago alongside his former chief executive Alex Miller.
Byte styles itself as a creative technology agency, and it’s recently added around 30 staff to its Southbank office, including a stand up comedian from New Zealand who has written for TV shows and run the stand-up circuit in her home country.
“She was looking for a new challenge. We met her and thought she was hilarious and a brilliant writer, and she’s working really well. One of the things she’s great at is when we’re writing copy and conversation for chatbots of clients, she’s able to embed a lot of humour [into the scripts]. Having someone who understands how that works has been really useful to us.”
At the “opposite end of the scale”, Kenny also recently hired an ex-Moody's analyst to work in Byte’s tech team. An ex-music journalist and an ex-record company exec, meanwhile, work on the coveted Spotify account.
A former chef works on a lot of the "food styling" and "video ideas" for JustEat, said Kenny.
As for the reason it has so many ex-architects operating in its walls (including one who just "built his own house") Kenny said there's something about the mixture left-brain and right-brain thinking that is particularly effective.
"It's a mixture of creativity but also solving problems and some of them are very analytical. When it comes to things like production and making stuff happen – be that building something technical or working on a video production shoot, they seem to work particularly well."
Diversity of thought
Typically, there are a few well-trodden traditional career paths in advertising. Even though some agencies are doing away with traditional applications, it usually starts out with a graduate scheme or through a friend of friend (or a parent). Then it's: account executive, to manager, to supervisor, to director, then client services lead. Junior art director, to associate, to senior art director to executive, and so on.
However, in an industry where diversity of all kinds – be it race, background, gender or neurology – is helping agencies unlock better creative and foster more inclusive working environments, Byte is among those taking a different approach; hiring talent this way, it says, ensures greater diversity of thought for clients.
"If you put together complementary people with different backgrounds, who are able and willing to help others within the business, than that's the best way for us to solve clients' problems."
The business even has a unique way of getting new hires through the door: its very own Byte chatbot, which vets applications in lieu of traditional CVs.
Living on Facebook Messenger, the chatbot takes on the personality of Byte's logo, a distinguished space gentleman. It allows prospective applicants to find out more about available roles and chat in a more conversational manner about their skills.
"By engaging with the chatbot, what we find is that we get less applicants but they are of a better quality because they want to join and they can understand a bit more about us, and that helps us narrow it down at an earlier stage," said Kenny.
As for whether Brexit will derail the steady flow of talent stemming into Byte's chiefly 20-something office, Kenny said the "uncertaintity of it all" is the main challenge.
"When the result came through there were definitely some worried faces. We got the whole agency together to talk about it and say what our attitude was.
"We have around 20 to 30 people from the EU and beyond – at least half the business. Uncertainty is never great for businesses, and we think having talent from outside of the UK is really important as we operate in markets like France and Italy and so it's natural we'd want to have people who are from those markets."