Sean Cummins has been a player in Australia since 1997, when he launched his first agency, Cummins&Partners. A move to North America has been rocky, but Cummins hopes a partnership with ad legend Jon Bond will change that.
Today, Cummins&Partners and Bond's Tomorro LLC announced a joint venture that will make the full-service creative shop the go-to agency for Tomorro's consulting clients.
Tomorro is a marketing consultancy launched by Bond in 2012 that acts as a "virtual holding company." Bond is the former CEO of Big Fuel and co-founder of Kirshenbaum Bond. His pitch is that he can bring together the best partners and technology solutions for a given client.
Says Cummins, "There's a lot of value in the virtual company that Jon has created. That won't change. But if a client comes along and says, 'I want all these services under one roof, from one brand and with one invoice … the center of gravity will shift."
Cummins has been through several iterations of agencies in Australia. CumminsNitro produced 2009's much-admired "Greatest Job in the World" campaign for Queensland Tourism, garnering tons of earned media and winning three Cannes Grand Prix awards. That same year, Cummins sold the agency to Sapient and founded CumminsRoss, taking the job of CEO and later changing the name to Cummins&Partners. He opened a New York City office in 2014 and in 2015 acquired dc3, making that agency’s founder, Todd Irwin, chief creative officer. In 2015, he opened an office in Toronto, but closed it this month after its key client, startup Zenbanx, lost its funding.
Work in the United States to date has been project-based, high on creativity but mostly low on budget. The agency launched Robert De Niro's VDKA 6100 brand, and made big waves with its (unpaid) Doritos Crash the Super Bowl contest entry, "Ultrasound."
To launch Heidi Klum Intimates in 2015, Cummins made a deal to feature Klum in a music video for Sia's "Fire Meet Gasoline." The dark and moody piece had no paid media or advertising support, but gained nearly 62 million views. It also won a Clio Music award last year.
Cummins says he brokered a simple deal. "I said, 'Give us a song and we'll give you Heidi.' With no money exchanged, it was a value exchange that was pretty amazing." The budget, he adds, was "very challenging — basically the budget for production."
As a newer agency in town, Cummins says he’s found it tough to get a major, foundational client or an agency-of-record relationship. He says, "After the last six or seven months of doing some nice little projects, we do feel we are capable of pulling a big brand that wants something fresh."
Enter Jon Bond and Tomorro.
Bond believes that Cummins is a creative talent on the level of David Ogilvy or Alex Bogusky. He says, "The most value commodity in this industry is the lead creative person who can carry the day. When that person walks into your office, don't let them fucking out."
But creative geniuses are not necessarily good at networking or bringing in new business. He adds, "If [Cummins] could do it by himself in the States, he wouldn’t need me. No one knows who he is except nerds like me."
The joint venture included a minority interest swap between the two companies. The deal does not include a first-look deal for cummins on creative work that might come Tomorro's way.
Bond says the relationship helps cummins fill some gaps in its offerings, such as social media, and he's already pitching the agency in conjunction with Mediopolis, a media buying firm formed in March by Tomorro and marketing agency The Shipyard.
But basically, according to Bond, he’s like the manager of The Rolling Stones and Cummins is Mick Jagger — before he was famous. Bond says, "We're fortunate that he's here and no one knows about him yet."