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In-housing Agencies Agency Models

Why indie agency Mother is investing in creative startup Small World


By Sam Bradley, Journalist

February 12, 2024 | 6 min read

The renowned indie shop has taken a minority stake in the specialist creative agency.

Harvey Austin, Michael Wall and Dan Salkey

Michael Wall of Mother, pictured with Austin Harvey and Dan Salkey of Small World / Small World/Arada

London-based indie agency Mother has acquired a minority stake in Small World, a creative agency that provides bespoke in-housing services to brands.

According to the Association of National Advertisers, 82% of US brands have an in-house agency, while several major UK advertisers, including Lloyds Banking Group, Specsavers and Boots, have invested in their own in-house creative departments. That doesn’t mean agencies aren’t involved.

Several brands set up those operations with the assistance of agencies such as Oliver, a Brandtech-owned agency that supplies creative talent and HR infrastructure to advertising clients. ‘Hybrid’ arrangements, usually involving freelance talent and temporary teams, have emerged as a means of bringing creative in-house without the cost of establishing a permanent business unit. Here, Small World, which was set up by Dan Salkey and Harvey Austin, has found a niche.

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Michael Wall, global chief executive officer of Mother, says: “Mother always has an eye out for creative entrepreneurs. In a more fragmented marketing environment, Dan and Harvey have developed an agency model that curates talent and creative opportunity in a relevant and innovative way.”

The model used by Small World sees the agency source freelance creative talent into bespoke ‘super teams’ on a project basis, effectively “building clients their very own creative agency for each and every brief.”

Co-founder Salkey says: “There will always be a place for the very best full-service strategic and creative support from top-tier agencies such as Mother. Increasingly, though, clients have hundreds of unique briefs that sit outside of these relationships – briefs that require curated, specialist teams. Matching brand challenges with perfect-fit teams built from a rich pool of independent talent has never been more needed, nor more possible. In the words of Willy Wonka, we’re here to create a store like no other; otherwise, we wouldn’t bother.”

Small World’s clients include Converse, Linkedin and OnlyFans, while Mother’s include KFC and Trainline. According to a spokesperson for the company, the businesses “have complimentary offerings” but don’t plan to actively pitch together. “We haven’t entered into this partnership with client crossovers in mind, but there may well be briefs that Small World and one or more of our agencies work on together,” they said.

Salkey says it will instead help ‘relaunch’ the agency just over two years after it was founded. “The deal really allows us to treat this as Small World version 2.0, and it is a new start for the business. Partnering with Mother will help us grow faster. It gives us access to business support and the power of the Mother brand to attract clients and talent alike.”

Salkey says he and co-founder Harvey Austin plan to invest in the agency’s tech systems to allow it to scale faster for future client briefs. “We can’t give too much detail yet, but expect to see some updates soon. At its core, Small World will always be about curating super-teams for individual client briefs without sacrificing the quality of agency services.”

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Small World was established in 2021, following an earlier experiment matching freelance talent to small advertisers pro bono. Co-founder Austin says: “Our business started after most of the pandemic restrictions were lifted in September 2021. However, the insight for the business came from the global shift in working conditions post-pandemic, which was the biggest positive unintended consequence of that time.

“Clients became more accepting of hybrid working models, and it created a huge surge in high-quality, independent talent looking for a different way to work. Since then, we’ve worked hard to make the business a success. This next step with Mother is massively humbling to take. The real work starts now.”

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