Geeks + Hedonists: Amplify in The Drum

Jonathan Emmins and Marcus Childs, founder and partner respectively of London marketing agency Amplify, discuss being equal parts ‘geeks’ and ‘hedonists’, and the lessons learned from omelet making, as part of The Drum’s Twist or Stick series with Twist Recruitment. This feature was first published in The Drum's 29 October issue.

Watching the Saturday Kitchen omelette challenge with a hangover gave Amplify’s founder Jonathan Emmins a piece of advice that he has carried with him throughout life.

The challenge sees two chefs battle it out to make the best omelette in the shortest time, but this particular episode made Emmins think that you don’t need to stick to the rules to be successful: in marketing and in life.

“They had Jean-Christophe Novelli on there, and this other chef was just spinning his omelette round, and Novelli is just taking his time. The other guy who is doing it slops out some crap on the plate and Novelli is taking ages, he’s not feeling the pressure. At the end, one has slop and one had a beautiful looking thing.

“Clearly there are rules to follow sometimes, but sometimes there is a better way of doing things. That’s my advice.”

Emmins describes the founding of the 55-strong social, digital, PR and content agency Amplify as “bringing the band back together”, having worked with Amplify partner Marcus Childs previously at Making Waves.

Childs says “there was a tight group of us who did really, really well there and really enjoyed it, and we have regrouped at Amplify.”

The agency was created with the ethos to make creative communications that provide meaningful connections with consumers, and to try to be a home for creative people and clients.

The other part of the agency’s ethos is to be equal parts ‘geeks’ and ‘hedonists’. “We’re always trying to pioneer the untraditional, but with the rigor of the traditional. So, we try to look for ways that we can reach out and engage, whether it is experiential, digital, social: those things quickly become the traditional, so what’s next? What are the exciting areas out there?” Emmins asks.

He enjoys experiential and social because of the real time feedback it provides if consumers love or hate a campaign.

Amplify was mostly unknown to outsiders until it received a call from “dream brand” Honda, asking the agency to discuss reaching a new audience for the launch of its new CR-Z hybrid coupé.

After an audit and reworking of the brand and product messaging, Amplify created the Dream Factory brand platform, with the 20 cultural engineers as part of the ‘factory’.

“There are new opportunities to engage with consumers constantly,” Childs enthuses. “But with those come new challenges, which makes it a really exciting time for me.”

Childs adds that, for him, the most inspiring thing is the creativity in young people just starting out in the industry. “A lot of the work we’re doing with our client Converse is helping young creative come through, and the quality and excitement that they bring.”

He suggests that they come up with new ways of thinking that challenge the status quo of the current strategies: “They are not burdened by some of the life experiences we are, and the industry practices – they just come at things in different ways.”

Having worked in a variety of industries in his youth, from IT sales to a nightclub in South Africa, Childs eventually chose marketing. What advice would he give his younger self? “You’ve got plenty of time to find out and enjoy yourself doing that, and actually, you will excel at the things that you enjoy doing.

“It’s really, really simple, and maybe a bit of a cliché, but do what you think feels right. I can’t remember who said that to me now, but it was really, really early on and I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do. But that’s what I did, and that is what led me to where Amplify is today.”

The duo agrees that the challenge they would most like to work on is to take a brand that is not doing well and to turn it around, or to work on a challenger brand.

While the agency does work with brands at the top, Emmins added that he would love to work with a brand that no one knows, or one that wants to dramatically change its marketing.

“I always think that Dove’s campaign for real beauty is an example of a brand using a lot of things that you wouldn’t expect, that maybe youth brands would cut their teeth on. It’s all about how brave the individual or brand is,” he states.

When handling the Converse brief in 2011, it was when the company was just starting out again in the UK after being taken back by Nike, allowing Amplify to turn around the shoe brand by targeting the UK’s urban youth for the first time.

It’s more fun to work with challenger brands than the big names, according to Childs. “You have that challenge and opportunity to rise up, compared to the ones that are right at the top, where you don’t have anywhere to go.”

It’s clear that creativity and fun is something that the pair focus on – and having a sense of humour has stood them in good stead, even in trying circumstances, as Childs reveals. During a pitch for an electronics company’s business, the pair realised the plans had been mixed up with those of an alcohol brand using shock tactics. The debacle led to the group being halfway through a pitch for the electronics client, turning the page, and seeing a picture of a child holding up a dog’s tail and with a finger in its mouth, with the line ‘only the dog knows for sure’.

“It raised a smile,” he laughs, “And we won the pitch.”

Despite the win, the electronics company did not go for the ‘only the dog’ campaign.