Amplify has retained its title of Brand Experience Agency of the Year, having also been named Campaign’s Brand Experience Agency of the Decade in December 2019. But what really makes this Shoreditch-based shop so special?
The agency bagged 17 new clients in 2019, including Adidas, Burberry, Dr Martens and Nando’s. It was a year that marked a global shift for the agency, following the launch of its Australian office at the end of 2018. In its first 12 months of operation, Amplify Australia won 10 clients, including Google, Nike, Spotify, The Iconic and YouTube – giving the agency the confidence that its understanding of culture and approach to brand experiences could be exported.
Wiith 55% of Amplify’s work coming from outside the UK, its global footprint looks set to expand further, with a French foothold in the offing and a Stateside office now operating out of Los Angeles. Marcus Childs, the agency’s UK managing partner, will run the US venture as president, supported by executive vice-presidents Mark McDermott and Alex Smith, formerly Amplify’s UK business director and UK head of live, respectively.
Standout work undertaken last year includes Airbnb’s "Night at the Louvre" (pictured, top), which took place in April 2019. For the global campaign, Airbnb teamed up with Paris’ Musée du Louvre – Europe’s most-visited museum – to give one competition winner and a guest an overnight stay in a "mini pyramid" under the building’s famous glass pyramid structure. Along with the unique stay came unrivalled access to the museum, including a bespoke tour, French music played on vinyl, a feast in the presence of the Venus de Milo and an acoustic concert in the Napoleon III Apartments. Amplify exceeded Airbnb’s previous competition benchmarks, with entries growing from their typical 80,000 to 182,000 applications in this competition. YouTube content about the experience racked up 5.9 million video completions.
In a UK campaign for Nando’s it created a special menu and range of events hosted over three weeks in London’s Shoreditch. The agency was challenged to create an experience that emotionally connected with Nando’s younger audience, showing they had their finger on the pulse and offering a "safe space". The safe space in question offered 34 programmed events across its run, including dance classes and breathing workshops. It also hosted film screenings, live music and comedy performances. "Nando’s Yard" was also one of the few places in the UK you could find a Nando’s breakfast of peri-peri chicken sausages, spiced maple pancakes and spicy beans. With 3,520 visitors – an average of 233 per day – "Nando’s Yard" was an inspiring place for young people to explore their creativity and socialise.
The agency also worked with Sipsmith to break through the crowded festival landscape with an experience that fully reflected the brand by transporting festival-goers back to the gin palaces of old, created by combining Victorian iconography and contemporary design. "The Sipsmith Gin Palace", housed in a yurt, appeared at 14 UK festivals and events, including Henley Royal Regatta, Wilderness festival and The Big Festival. Once inside the Gin Palace, festival-goers were treated to a raucous jazz party, bespoke cocktails and cocktail masterclasses.
The agency continues to expand with three creative directors and a head of content joining the team. Judges did, however, note a "disappointing lack of diversity in the senior hiring decisions made in the last year". Yet the internal work culture clearly keeps the talented teams at Amplify loyal – a quarter of the staff have clocked up five or more years in service.
This creative shop dominates the brand experience landscape, with the judges’ panel agreeing that its work "feels big, noisy and effective".
In a busy year, Bearded Kitten smashed its new-business targets by winning 14 accounts. It produced 112 events for 35 clients, across 12 countries, with clients including Cadbury, Heineken, Time Out, O2 and Red Bull. Bearded Kitten is geared up to deliver every element of the campaign process in-house, from strategic planning through to the design-and-build phase and execution. The operation is driven by a small team of 28 full-time staff with more than 300 freelance experts at hand. A focus on wellbeing and its family-style approach resulted in a staff-retention rate of more than 90%. Judges praised Bearded Kitten for being one of the few agencies to include some sustainability credentials, showing the agency is paying more than just lip service to the issue.
Mission achieved an 80% pitch-conversion rate and won 18 new clients in 2019, including Coca-Cola, for which it now works across its suite of brands. This meant a year-on-year new-wins uplift of 71%, which equates to £2m-worth of new business in 2019. It’s key to success involves removing hierarchical restrictions to ensure everyone has a platform to come up with ideas. An immersive Stranger Things experience for Coca-Cola and launching fitness brand Peloton in the UK were among its highlights of the year. Also critical to its success has been the deepening of ongoing client relationships, as it delivered work for established clients such as Krug, Just Eat and Moët & Chandon.
The formula for MKTG’s success is that a happy and motivated team will deliver great work for clients and business growth. It believes that having a diverse team ensures it has access to the best thinking and skills. There is strong gender diversity in senior roles at MKTG, with a 50/50 board split, while 23% of its staff are from a BAME background, compared with an industry average of 14%. MKTG seeks to nurture a happy workplace by investing in the continuous development of staff, which has contributed to a staff-retention rate of 79%. Judges were impressed by its sustained investment in its people, culture and commitment to diversity. In addition, a high level of client satisfaction has driven increased billings from existing clients, including Mondelez and Coca-Cola. New-business wins in 2019, such as The Daily Telegraph and Pandora, contributed to a 20% growth in billings with profits also on the rise.
Established in 1996, Unit9 began in the early days of digital banners and microsites and has grown to position itself as a pioneer for digital innovation, moving into XR, robotics, AI, product design and gaming. As an explorer of innovation and nascent technologies, Unit9 strives to be ahead of the curve, fusing traditional storytelling and film craft with innovation, an aspect commended by the judges. Over the year, turnover increased by more than 34% and the agency doubled the headcount of its business development team. It has worked with Nike, Coty and Bentley, among others. Notable projects included working with Samsung and Bartle Bogle Hegarty London to create a "SpaceSelfie" campaign enabling fans to send their selfies into the stratosphere. Proof that its delivery of projects is truly out of this world.
What this agency lacks in years, it more than makes up for in creativity and dynamism. Last year was XYZ’s busiest on record, with an impressive 115 activations produced across 10 months, for clients including Converse, Major League Baseball and Tanqueray. The agency’s creative work is setting the benchmark for other players. Judges praised XYZ for showing clear audience understanding plus "great movements on inclusion". With BAME employees accounting for 35% of its workforce and women 80%, this is an agency that seems set to continue to attract outstanding new talent. Its churn rate was an impressive 0% for the sixth consecutive year.