18 Feet & Rising switches focus from corporates to scaleups as it exits Creston Unlimited
The team at And Rising
The exit will see the agency move from the holding group’s offices on Great Pulteney Street to a co-working space on Bloomsbury Way. The management team will remain unchanged, with chief executive Jonathan Trimble continuing to run the agency alongside creative partner Anna Carpen, strategy partner Rob Ward, managing director Andrew Barnard, executive creative director Will Thacker and head of production James Faupel.
It is hoping to carve out a niche servicing scaleups – businesses that have hurdled the startup phase and are looking to grow market access, revenues and brand presence. And Rising plans to be the place scaleups turn to as they move from in-house branding and content to the large-scale, strategic, above-the-line campaigns.
The ‘18 Feet’ of the original name represented the height of its three original founders, and its deletion signifies the ownership of the new management team. But ‘And Rising’ also symbolises the way in which it will work with clients going forward, acting as a hands-on extension of young, developing brands.
“An important part of working with these scaleups is that they don't necessarily want to hire agencies and they don't want the agency to feel like it's the one that owns all the ideas,” Trimble told The Drum. “They really want an extension of their own team. The name change is a nod to that.”
Clients already signed up to the new proposition include fintech company ClearScore, snack brand Popchips and the high-protein ice cream Wheyhey.
Is the scaleup market viable?
As one of the causalities of House of Fraser’s demise (the department store owed the shop £90,180 as of August), And Rising’s shift from corporate accounts to challenger brands does seem like the move of a wounded business on first glance. But although Trimble admits that the timing does “look strange”, he contended the idea to shift focus began to form 18 months ago.
“Suddenly both the economy and government recognised that startups aren't necessarily going to save us,” he explained. “It's the group of companies putting their foot on the accelerator – those that have gained investment and some market traction – that are going to make an impact.”
The agency cites figures from the Scaleup Institute to confirm the viability of the market: these developing businesses are generating around £900bn in turnover, while it is estimated that a 1% increase in scaleups would contribute £225bn to the UK economy.
Crucially, Trimble believes these businesses have an appetite for the beautifully shot advertising campaigns that 18 Feet was known for – not just banner ads or targeted online content. If anything, he contends they are likely to buy into ATL more than the huge corporations – such as M&S – that are cutting traditional spend in order to catch up digitally.
“One or two [scaleups] like Uber and Airbnb catch a wave by themselves but they're in a relative minority,” he said. “By and large [scaleups] need to get heard by a wider audience. At a certain point they put their foot on the gas of broadcast media and at that point all sorts of questions begin to get asked – have I got the right brand? Have I got the right branding? Sometimes there's a change of logo at that point and even a change of name.
“[Big] advertising agencies still very much live as an extension of corporations that have already scaled. This is the other end of the cycle, where they've got something that's working, and they want to tell everyone about it.”
Will there be enough cash?
And Rising will not reject established brands altogether. Trimble anticipates 50% of its business will come from scaleups and the rest filled by corporate accounts and – potentially – younger startups that the agency is willing to take a punt on. He hopes that while most scaleup accounts will cycle through the agency within two or three years, at least a couple will stay with the agency team after they have sold, IPO-d or succeeded as businesses in their own right.
The CEO is also confident that scaleups’ cash flow shouldn’t be a problem. Despite their adolescent nature, Trimble says that scaleups are usually bound to an investment plan that allows them to get on with brand building – without having to worry about where payment is coming from.
It’s for this reason that And Rising will not be looking for equity stake in lieu of cash. It will, however, operate an outcome-based billings system rather than the traditional per-hour model.
“[Equity] deals are a bit flakier,” said Trimble. “If a company's got a decent model that's worth scaling then it won't be making those kinds of deals, by-and-large. What definitely can be tabled is a performance element based on subsequent rounds of investment or, ultimately, exit.”
As for finding this new business? That’s the “secret sauce” that Trimble is hesitant to share. “But suffice to stay it's a bit like being a songwriter,” he said, “you've got to get hits under your belt.”
Will the agency structure change?
Not much will change at And Rising internally other than the office move. Staffers will be encouraged to have as much client contact as possible but will not be asked to install themselves in-house.
On the talent front, the agency has increased its design offering over the last six months in response to the branding needs of scaleups. “A lot of these clients have a very strong sense of what their brand is – they've got missions and purposes, and part of getting that voice out there is having really good designers tuned in – not just writers and ideas people,” said Trimble.
He’s not worried that the change in direction will hinder And Rising’s position as a honeypot for creative talent. The agency will still offer opportunities to create name-making stuff – TV, out-of-home and print – just for smaller clients, he explained. Arguably, these clients will be braver than the big advertisers in the market.
What do the analysts make of it?
Analysts’ take on the new strategy is largely positive. Joe Hine, a partner at M&A consultancy SI Partners, said the turn in direction was “a good idea”, given that “fangs [the likes of Facebook, Amazon and Google] are now stymying rather than promoting the start-up culture” and “high quality branding and marketing are essential for emerging companies to break through.”.
“Agencies need to keep evolving to keep both their people and product contemporary,” continued Hine. “The landscape is definitely changing: the biggest risk are brands rationalising budgets. As with all businesses you need to find your niche and mine it. There is a marketplace for this type of advice with private equity houses specifying with some businesses [that it’s required] as part of their investment – [while] not without challenges, building great relationships with the investors will help.
“[This is] a really interesting play, [and I’m] keen to see where it goes.”
Tom Denford, chief strategy officer at ID Comms, is impressed to see companies such as And Rising “finding traditional opportunities for growth in places the giant agency networks may have overlooked”.
He added, however: “Success is going to rely heavily on deploying expensive agency resources against the right companies and opportunities, so will demand some sophisticated market analysis alongside the usual agency business development skills. “
Resetting a business’ focus is always risky business, but in a stagnating market it’s refreshing to see an agency making such a radical move. If it pays off, And Rising will be a trailblazer for the likes of WPP, which has recently earmarked the budgets of small and medium business.
And if it doesn’t? Well, Mike Ashley’s House of Fraser still needs an agency.
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