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Building brands that change the world: Manifest, independent agency of the year (1-49)

Manifest was named ‘Independent Agency of the Year’ (1-49 employees) at the at The Drum Awards for Agency Business in 2021. Here, the agency gives a look into this fast-growing company that has not just been a successful brand comms agency since its inception, but also a significant one.

Starting from scratch eleven years ago with no clients, no investment and no reputation, the business has grown on the back of exceptional creative work and client service innovation.

Characterful, driven and often outspoken, Manifest now comprises 5 offices across 4 time-zones and 3 continents. Two of those offices, and its CPD platform INCITE, launched amid the COVID pandemic, as Manifest innovated its way through lockdown. It also became the first agency in the country to achieve the full Blueprint kitemark for diversity and inclusion.

Despite a world in flux, they remained laser focused on their mission to build brands that change the world, resulting in its most successful year yet.

In September 2009, nobody would have said this was a good idea. A relatively unknown account director working from a kitchen table in the midst of an economic crisis, with nothing but an idea for a new kind of agency designed to build brands that change the world.

No clients. No office. No investment. ‘No chance’ would have been a fair assumption.

Fast forward 11 years, and Manifest now has five offices across three continents and a global reputation for remarkable creative work. Rather than being defined by an industry, a channel, a client or a market like everyone else, we have turned our purpose into our proposition.

From sparking a craft beer revolution with BrewDog over the course of a decade, to tackling stigma around breastfeeding with Tommee Tippee, our work has transformed entire industries.

And it’s this obsession with change that shapes our unique channel-agnostic strategic framework. And it’s what has led us to be so resilient in a year like no other.

It’s why we’ve invested so much time and creativity into how we run the business as well as the work we do. It’s why changing our industry - especially in terms of diversity and inclusion - is so important to us. And it’s what has attracted the army of talented misfits that now call Manifest home.

It’s a home we all believe in. And a home we didn’t just protect this year, but strengthened and expanded in a period of unparalleled global crisis.

The agency objectives bit —

We grew to 40 people in the UK from 30, added an international office, and built an entire CPD programme from scratch. We won countless awards, nine out of ten pitches and 23 new clients. All the while holding and impressive client retention rate.

Moreover, we think it’s the year we went from building brands that change the world, to becoming one. And this is the story of how we did it…

We far exceeded our FY20 objectives, kicking the new financial year off on a high. These were to:

  • Grow fee income by 15%

  • Grow net margin by 15%

  • Achieve climate positive workforce

  • Launch a new CPD platform

  • Launch a Manchester office

  • Drink a sh*tload of tea

  • Keep our team and our credibility in the face of a pandemic (+33% team growth)

Our year

- YoY UK fee growth

- YoY UK profit growth

- Won nearly all our UK pitches

- New clients: 20+

- Very positive Net Promoter Score from both clients and staff

- New offices launched: 2

- UK team growth in 2020: 33%

- Great UK staff retention

- Increased investment per head in CPD

- Small gender and ethnicity pay gaps

- BME representation across the team: 23%

- Trees planted through our joint-venture, Ecologi.com: 10m

- Trees planted in our own Maniforest: 6,497

- Tons of CO2 offset to achieve a climate positive workforce: 599tn

A sample of our campaigns

#TheBoobLife’ for Tommee Tippee

#TheBoobLife was conceived and developed by Manifest to give Tommee Tippee’s brand a better connection to mums around the world. Tackling the stigma around infant feeding, we created a brand film and a six-part digital content series that aims to have a more honest conversation about feeding and spotlights all kinds of mums from a diverse and representative background. The longer-form "Spill the milk" content series honed in on elements of feeding that are still shrouded in mystery, from "the latch" to "milk supply" and "dealing with judgment".

It’s started a global dialogue for women around feeding and media censorship of mothers. This important campaign has measurably transformed Tommee Tippee’s reputation, winning pick of the week awards from Campaign, Adweek, Ad Age, PR Week and more, while sales targets have been smashed.

Show Stigma the Finger’ for Hot Octopuss

To support the launch of a new ‘finger vibe’ sex toy, we showed the world how powerful one finger can be. Starring six brave activists wearing nothing but the middle finger, this was the integrated campaign that would go on to be banned by the advertising authorities, achieve global press coverage, generate global social media support, raise thousands for support groups and break down the prejudices and phobias standing in the way of women achieving healthy and happy sex lives. They also sold out of finger vibes.

Cookstarter’ for Gousto

Gousto tasked Manifest to create a campaign that would drive brand love and showcase ‘variety and choice’. Crucially however, our goal was to launch a campaign sensitively amidst a culturally turbulent climate that heavily documented huge losses across the hospitality industry, including a reported 90% of independent restaurants at risk of closure.

With an integrated approach, we created ‘Cookstarter’ - a campaign built on data insight to showcase the diversity and variety of Britain’s food scene and importantly rally support for the nation’s favourite independent restaurants on the brink of closure.

With hospitality industry champions, stalwart chefs and good food fanatics Gizzi Erskine, Kathryn Ryan and Joe Wicks on board, we invited the nation to vote for their favourite local high street food haven, making a bid to support them through lockdown and propel their business forward with a much needed grant in the process. Fast forward over 1,500 nominations later (2,000% + the targeted KPI), with a multichannel campaign and passionate pleas from food fanatics across the land, Cookstarter didn't just support an industry in dire need when policy-makers turned their backs, it gave it a whole new lease of life.

Our recent achievements

Conquering the effects of Covid

Covid-19 wiped out over 50% of our UK fee income - it wasn’t pretty. But we quickly built a set of strategic priorities that guided us through:

  1. Protect everyone’s jobs. It’s nobody’s fault.

  2. Protect the work. Let’s not get slaggy.

  3. Maximise post-crisis growth. Think long term. 

By September 2020, the hard work, resolve and determination of the entire team meant billings were above pre-lockdown levels as a result of the diversification, growth strategies and conversion rates prioritized in the plan. We’ve made no redundancies, and our team has actually increased 33% in the past 12 months.

Diversity & Inclusion

As part of our ongoing strategy to continue our development in D&I, our group Head of D&I, Julian Obubo has become a leading light in the industry, not only introducing policies and programmes at Manifest but inspiring them across the industry. As a result, Manifest was the first agency in the world to achieve full Blueprint status, the independent kite mark scheme setting standards for D&I across 23 commitments.

In addition we provided pro bono support to the global Black Women in Leadership Network and sponsored BME PR Pros Conference for the second year running.

24hr (Creative) Party People

We always dreamed of becoming a 24hr operation, and with the launch of Manifest Melbourne we achieved it. Our 24hr creative workflow is called No Sleep ‘til Brooklyn and it’s already central to major client wins.

Man(ifest) Down Under

It turns out building a new business on the other side of the world during a global pandemic is a bit tricky – but with some creative thinking and a lot of early mornings, eminently possible. Manifest Melbourne clients include Tommee Tippee, Hot Octopuss and Pirate Life Brewing. It’s been profitable since day one.

Manchester Calling

Manifest Manchester firmly helped pop the London bubble surrounding the UK marketing scene and recruiting exciting talent and clients from the north of England. Our MCR team achieved a 25% net margin in Yr1.

MAKE positive impact

MAKE is leading the way in agency ventures schemes. We co-found social enterprises designed to change the world for the better, ‘investing’ through delivery of our services to support success. This year’s highlight has been Ecologi (a Manifest joint venture), planting 15m trees through its innovative reforestation subscription.

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