‘Beware the inertia of success’: how experience agency Amplify is evolving

The Drum finds out how business is going at Amplify after it was named Experience Agency of the Year in 2021...

Published by: The Drum
Written by: Dani, Gibson
Date: 11/10/2022

Amplify took home the Experience Agency of the Year (40+ staff) accolade at The Drum Awards for Experience in 2021 after managing the successful launch of Playstation’s PS5 and adding 43 clients to its roster including Aperol, Converse, Diageo, Footlocker, Gran Turismo, Hello Fresh, Pinterest and Sky. It also expanded across the globe, opening offices in Australia, the US and France.

The Drum caught up with the agency’s founder and chief executive officer Jonathan Emmins and head of strategy Sophy Vanner Critoph to find out how business is going in 2022.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

And if your agency has had a similarly triumphant year, you can still enter The Drum Awards for Experience, part of our awards festival, here. The deadline for entries is October 13.

What challenges are clients coming to you with right now?

Emmins: As we’ve evolved, a lot of our work with our clients is collaborative. Writing the briefs, understanding, listening and becoming ingrained with those clients – to understand them, their audiences and what their challenges are a lot better.

We’re getting quite left-to-center lateral open briefs that we’re defining, and they’re the best ones for us. We don’t tend to pitch a huge amount, but when we are pitching it’s to an array of agencies in the mix. Brands are more open to solutions than anything else. Where our work stands up is that we don’t just solve a problem but in our understanding of audiences, particularly on a global and local level, we use different parts of the marketing mix in slightly different ways.

Vanner Critoph: Earlier this year we created Pinterest Presents, which essentially, if you were to look at the brief, was a webinar for advertisers. Webinars can be a bit boring, and people may switch off. There’s also been a lot of webinars over the past few years, so we wanted to shake the formula up. It was the perfect brief to work with a brand like Pinterest on this.

We were working out how you can create something that looks like a show and brings life to all of its products, brands and business in a more exciting way. And it was a massive success. It didn’t put anyone off webinars – they want to continue to do things online. This was about challenging a format and really putting the audience at the heart of it while being true to the brand and products.

What are your predictions for the experiential space?

Emmins: There are reasons why I think agencies that have a brand experience background are well placed to navigate where the world is currently creatively.

The big thing is the seamless experience. Thinking more about relationships, and making sure it’s episodic and that all those parts come together. We were founded to create ideas, platforms, experiences and campaigns that can be amplified at every touch point and across the entire mix.

In the old days, we inherited the old 30-second spot, and we had to back-engineer it into all our channels. Obviously now all the other channels are so much more interesting. That’s where it presents the opportunity. So, while I’m still a lover of TV and good advertising, there are so many other bits within the mix to choose from.

Vanner Critoph: World-building is where we are focusing what the next chapter of experiential and experiences is because we know that we need to build environments for people, stories and culture, as all those things live authentically and purposefully together. If that’s all right at the heart of it, and the brief is right for the brand, then the world of experience becomes so broad, exciting and layered. That’s why we’ve seen web3 grow this year. And there are obviously so many more spaces that will go out the back of it very soon.

What are the biggest opportunities for agencies in the next year?

Emmins: Over the past few years, all areas we’ve invested in – broadcast, content and all the things that we’re less famous for – suddenly became really important, and that area turbo boosted by about five or 10 years, making us more the agency that we always saw ourselves being.

It looks like there are going to be some difficult times ahead for society and brands, but within that we need to look at different opportunities and approach things from other points of view. In the marketing world, often you can get stuck in the inertia of the success of repeating work. Break those formats, do new things, get better insights and do things more swiftly. And that agility can be an opportunity, not just a challenge.

Vanner Critoph: Out of the back of the pandemic, brands are thinking differently. They’ve had to prove value in a different way. There’s been a real focus on measurement and what is possible to achieve with objectives and in the strategy team. We’ve had so many interesting pieces of work where brands have wanted to change it up after doing things the same way for years. They asked us what they should be doing, and I hope that we will continue to get more work like that.

What are the opportunities for finding and retaining new talent?

Emmins: We were founded to be a home for creative people and clients, and our growth has always focused on geography, talent, expansion and collaboration.

It’s interesting to see that all the people that have set up in our international offices have been long-standing Amplifiers. They’ve been with us for several years. We built local talent around them. We don’t want all the offices to be the same, but they do want to share the same principles and feel like they come from the same family but are very locally nuanced. The geographical expansion has been about the right people and the right opportunities – we had clients asking us to be there. And then a bit of a look at the market.

Programs such as Youngblood, New Wave and Worldbuilding are helping young creatives form a point of view and make our work better. That means we’re always moving forward. And then we’re building talent around that. Ultimately out of that new capabilities come into place. If you have a point of view and the right people to take that forward, that’s how we expand our capabilities.

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