Liberty Mutual SuretyTM, part of the wider Liberty Mutual Group is much more than just a brand – it’s an American institution – a multi-billion-dollar company employing more than 50,000 people in over 900 locations.
So when invited to work alongside the US marketing team to create a series of internal vision, mission and culture statements that would be rolled out across the company, we were honoured.
The vision, mission and culture statements were authored by Liberty Mutual Surety based on a culture of continual research – our challenge was to give these words a canvas on which to perform that would bring them to life, solidifying the brand’s position as a modern and dynamic company with deep roots, a rich heritage and a clear vision for the future.
Interpreting that vision we explored a number of options – each with significant underlying meaning. From aerial flybys of Lower Manhattan and the One World Trade Center, to global animations indicating the more than 900 locations – a host of statement platforms were created for regional relevancy throughout the company.
The campaign will run in print, digital and mobile, online video, screen savers and social media.
The 2016 Communicator Awards concluded last week in New York and we’re proud to announce that working in partnership with Taconic Biosciences, we won two Golden Awards of Excellence:
- Gold Award of Excellence Integrated Campaign – Business to Business
- Gold Award of Excellence Marketing Effectiveness – Integrated Campaign
Both awards reflect the combined efforts of everyone involved in creating and delivering an intelligent and engaging approach to communicating in one of the most tightly regulated spheres of marketing in the world.
“We’re delighted with the wins, as are the team at Taconic,” says James Killoran from The Mission Control Communications and Mission Discovery – the agency’s new dedicated science and healthcare division. “A lot of work went into creating these campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic and to see that effort recognised by the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts is a proud moment for us all. I’d personally like to congratulate all those involved.”
In our latest interview with Patricia Killoran from The Mission Control Communications, we hear her thoughts on a subject that is rarely out off the media at the moment – mergers and acquisitions.
“Regionally, we’re more used to associating news of mergers and acquisitions with job losses and the hyperbole of hysteria press and politicians subsequently generate around it.
However – step outside of Northern Ireland and there’s a different story to be had. Globally M&A’s are one of the most effective ways for businesses to grow. Overnight a company can find itself with an established foothold and heritage in an overseas market – something that otherwise can take years to achieve.
M&A’s are also a catalyst for innovation with R&D being shared between companies that may formally have been bitter rivals but whose collective knowledge and insights can and often does result in amazing breakthroughs and leaps of logic that are simply inspired.
The M&A culture is also a catalyst for many companies, especially those small companies specializing in a particular niche. Venture capitalists will often invest heavily in these businesses, as whilst they recognize that the product or service alone stands little chance of success, they are betting that another company will spot a use for it within their own model and therefore acquire it.
Understanding the mechanics of M&A’s has allowed us to earn a reputation within what is often called the billion dollar ideas club as a trusted and discreet partner capable of assisting companies navigate the communications, marketing and strategic considerations necessary during this volatile and sensitive process.
In the context of M&A’s, our role differs significantly to that of a typical rebrand project, which relies on building on the existing creditability and goodwill associated with the brand.
No two M&A projects are ever the same. But one of the most common mistakes made during the process is to overlook the importance of engaging the workforce. These people are essentially the backbone of the business that has been absorbed and as mentioned at the top of this article, they will normally default to a position of fear and uncertainty when an merger or acquisition is announced. Without proper engagement, you can quickly find that the intelligence and reputation you thought you were buying in the employees of the business is snapped up by a competitor who will play on the uncertainty they feel. So engage with employees early and put their minds at ease. Remember – whist for you this is just business, for employees it’s the difference between being able to pay their mortgage and not.
Another reason to engage with employees is actually rooted in our subconscious need to belong to something. Just as our ancestors banded together first in tribes and then as nations, the same is true with people and brands. So when you step into remove the brand and values that employees have belonged to for years, you need to be in a position to replace it with something better that they will be proud to be part of. Again – the key is early employee engagement and clear messaging that will galvanize people behind a common purpose.
Historically, brands have saw this as a secondary necessity after informing customers, but as experience has taught us, if your employees are not initiated into the new brand and its mission, vision and values, the experience customers have will not be consistent with the image you’re paying to create.
As mentioned, when you are creating a new brand, it has to offer employees something more than the brand you are telling them to leave behind. However – it’s also worth noting in the midst of a merger or acquisition, many companies lose sight of the importance of marketing, which is why it’s important to have a strategic partner in place that can support you during the process and cover the bases in the event that you get distracted with the wealth of other subjects that need dealt with.
You might wonder why I keep using the term strategic partner as opposed to ‘agency’. Simple. An agency infers something that is simply commissioned to do a defined job. However, positioning the agency as a partner in your mind leads to multiple benefits. Firstly, it leads to more open and honest discussions and will actually alleviate you from a lot of work.
As a strategic partner, it’s our responsibility to create a brand that is more than just a name and logo, but something that encapsulates where your company is going. This can and does lead to some very open and honest discussions, but there is no use in creating a brand that does not give you room to grow or, simply follows current trends. Do that and you end up with a brand that fits in somewhere between your competitors, whereas experience proves that the most successful brands are those that redefine a sector and leave competitors in the dust.
If you are comfortable with the new brand, the chances are it’s because it’s familiar and your brain is unconsciously associating it with existing brands. Therefore – you’ve failed to create your own identity. Our job is to create what can often make you feel initially uncomfortable, but time will validate its effectiveness.
It is also important during any merger or acquisition that your strategic partner works with you to realize an authentic brand story that effectively integrates the two or more company cultures. Remember – it’s not just a case of rehashing your old brand story. The purpose of a merger or acquisition is to make you better and by default your brand story needs to reflect that and unite everyone behind a common purpose.”
With 2016 shaping up to be a year in which we see unprecedented mergers and acquisition coming to the table and many established brands acting like venture capitalists, it’s going to be an interesting ride.
We love our old lab table. It’s become part of who we are and what we stand for since moving into our new office – one year ago today.
After rescuing it from the back of a warehouse, we’ve had politicians and company presidents, CEOs and managing directors, brand directors, marketing associates, friends and family, around it, on it and even under it.
At the table, we’re all equals. What’s said at the table stays at the table. It’s an open forum that invites debate and questions thinking. It’s been the Launchpad for global brands and international campaigns. We’ve laughed and cried around it. We’ve planned, created and celebrated around it. We’ve redefined markets and initiated global trends around it. We’ve bucked convention and set a path that many now follow. We’ve shaped government and bridged seemingly impossible challenges. Now however, it’s the centrepiece for a little self-indulgence and some fun.
Our aim is not to offend anyone with our nod to Da Vinci’s Last Supper, but instead translate one of the most significant and debated pieces of art into a reflection and interpretation of our own story – and have some fun in the process.
We often say that we don’t create pretty picture campaigns. Well – this is no exception. Each and every element within the shot is part of our own brand story and has a direct significance to the team and all those of our ilk!
- Skull – Our very own Yorick symbolises the power of the spoken word and also the relevance of our work for the betterment of human life. It also happens to be just one of the many skulls we have dotted about the office, a tribute perhaps to the fact that we’re frequently headhunted for our services by companies from all over the world.
- Globe – Well we do get about.
- Helmets – So much of the language used in our industry is drawn from the military lexicon, campaigns, strategizing, missions and freelancers. So we thought to show our own generals taking to the field to plan their next campaign. That and we have a massive collection of prop helmets that we’re not allowed to take home.
- Mac – The Holy Grail of tools for designers, but if you note, it rests on a book about strategy. You see, everything we do is rooted in strategy and without the strategic input of the human behind the screen – the Mac is nothing but a blunt tool.
- Awards – Proof that despite our quirky ways we consistently get results internationally for our clients. The awards are all for effectiveness – not just pretty pictures but they don’t dominate who we are and are just one of the many positive outcomes from creating effective work in partnership with motivated clients.
- BB8 – Star Wars is a topic that is often debated among the team and though we come from all walks of life, it shows how a great story can unite people and we believe in creating and telling great stories for our brand partners.
- Robby Robot – ‘Danger Will Robinson Danger.’ Working on the sort of projects that we do, we often get to see what was once considered science fiction become science fact.
- Phone & iPad – Working internationally, the phone is a vital tool within the office and for some of the team, a permanent fixture to their ear. We like to talk with people – not just email. Although face-to-face is even better.
- Cameras – Vintage tools of our trade, a reminder that whilst technology will continue to adapt and evolve, the skill needed to create a beautiful image resides in the experience and eye of the photographer.
- Empty Chair – The Judas chair. A poignant reminder that you should always be ready to walk away from the people and things that hold you back.
- Da Vinci’s Last Super – Or as we’re calling this shoot, The Last Cliché as the work we do in the real world can never be clichéd. Therefore we’re keeping this cliché where it belongs, as a bit of fun around the table in the studio that brings us all together and let’s some of the newer members of the team experiment with the many tools of our trade.
For those of you with a keen eye, you might spot a little character under the table busy with her very own creative endeavour. Well that’s our junior, junior creative – who frequently comes into the office to work, play and make snow and who constantly reminds us what a wonderful thing an imagination is.
Finally – a massive thank you to everyone that stepped up on the day and took part. Left to right: Adam, Zach with a ‘H’ and not a ‘K’, Trish, Laurence, me, Anthony, Matthew and Fehin. Oh and let’s not forget our other little helper under the table, LillyMay and Phil Smyth who was behind the scenes telling us all what to do and taking the shots.
Now let’s see what happens at the table in year two!
I guess when you have been working in the marketing and branding industry for long as I have; you forget just how much knowledge and experience you’ve picked up along the way. Much of that knowledge comes from having worked alongside people who are much more intelligent than I will ever be.
So when I met with a young entrepreneur yesterday morning, I couldn’t help but share his enthusiasm as he explained to me what his world changing idea was; how he’d came up with it and how it would improve the lives of millions of people. I was hooked. Then – and this is where I found myself defaulting to my experience – he made in my estimation what was the cardinal sin of any pitch – he started explaining to me all about his exit strategy.
You see for me, I’ve spent my adult life working with people who are building brands and by building, I mean on-going work that will continue to adapt and evolve to an ever-changing world and continue to exist long after we’re all gone.
In my experience and drawing on what I’ve picked up over the years from those people whose drive has created multi-billion-dollar companies, is that they didn’t have an exit strategy. Creating a brand and a business is like having a child:
- Conception – the fun part; coming up with the idea.
- Pregnancy – carrying the idea around for months working out how to turn it into a reality.
- Labour – the hard part, bringing your idea into the real world.
- Naming – creating a name that people will like, respect and want to get to know.
- Teething – the sleepless nights when you are up to all hours nurturing the company or brand you’ve created through it’s problems.
- Teaching – instilling the knowledge, principals and life knowledge needed to succeed.
- Pride – watching your creation growing into something that you can be proud of.
OK – so it’s a simplistic analogy, but you see what I’m getting at. You put a lot of work into bringing your idea into the world not to mention a lot of time and money, so why be so ready to leave it all behind? Are you not proud of it? Better yet, if you as the parent of that company or brand are not fully and personally invested in its long-term success, why the hell should your customers?
The greatest companies are built not on exit strategies, but the drive, character and long-term vision of their founders to grow, expand and be the best at what they do. Look at some of the most successful brands and companies in the world and what you see are strategies built on growth and vision – not getting out as quickly as they can like a carpet bagger.
In it’s simplest terms – what future is there for a brand when your guiding vision, mission and values statement are based on getting to hell out of dodge as soon as you can?
As for my exit strategy, well that’s simple. They will carry me out off here some day in a box but The Mission Control Communications brand will continue.
…’and I won’t let that hold me back!’ says multidiscipline creative, Anthony. ‘We have some really exciting projects in the pipeline this year and I plan to play a big part in creating even more.’
Continuing our series of articles from the team at The Mission Control Communications, we chat to Anthony McCann, one of the creatives who joined the team last year and hasn’t looked back since. In this article, Anthony chats about what it’s like to work with international clients day in and day out and the challenges and opportunities that presents.
What would you say is the biggest difference between The Mission Control Communications and any other agencies you might have worked with? ‘Creative freedom. We live in the real world so of course we are constrained to an extent by deadlines or a client budget, but in terms of being creative we can really enjoy ourselves generating ideas. No idea is ever just dismissed. It may not work for a particular client or campaign we are working on but there has never been a moment where we’ve been told we can’t be creative. James has an ethos that he tries to instil in us – push an idea as far as you can. It’s a much easier task to scale back from a really crazy concept than to try and expand on something that doesn’t really have legs. I try to always keep that in the back of my mind when I start any project – push the boundaries, you never know what you’ll come up with.’
You work closely with brand managers on projects that are for products and services worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, do you find that intimidating? ‘Not at all, in fact I find it greatly rewarding that designing to a budget is not the sole aim of the projects for these people, it’s the outcome and it’s effectiveness – the cost is secondary. As a designer that gives me a lot of creative freedom to explore ideas and concepts that might not even be considered if a budget was very tight. It also brought me into a lot of unknown territory as I was working on some huge scale projects for the first time and thrown into the proverbial ‘deep end’ with things I had never encountered before. In doing that I found that there wasn’t really anything to be afraid of and, without sounding corny, seeing these projects come to life and the clients feedback from them is the reason I do what I do. Fear is the biggest killer of creativity so I won’t let that hold me back. There is also a great learning experience to take from these projects that will stand me in good stead for the next ones lined up.’
Strategy is something the agency talks a lot about. But how do you see the formality of strategy sitting beside the chaos of creativity? ‘It’s not just all about pretty pictures, there needs to be thought behind what we do! There is a reason why we create certain artwork, or why a campaign is aimed in a certain direction. Our outcomes are designed to not only to be visually engaging but effective in achieving the client’s goals. I’d liken it to creativity being this crazy energy that’s buzzing to get let loose and go, strategy is pointing it in the right direction to go and blow your mind!’
Last year, the agency picked up a number of international effectiveness awards, what would you say is the secret to that success? ‘We work very closely with our clients across the globe to the point where we aren’t simply seen as an external agency but more an extension of themselves. Having a much better understanding of our clients and their needs allows us to create better campaigns for them, and in turn means more effective outcomes.’
Will you be as active on the awards circuit this year? ‘In 2015 the team picked up some well-deserved awards for a few projects they worked on before I came on board. Seeing that filled me with a sense of pride and admiration that their great work is recognised on an international level – but at the same time the creative monster inside me riled up and screamed “I want some of that!” For 2016 we have some exciting projects in the pipeline that will hopefully bring the team in some more awards and I plan on being a part of that.’
The agency works across a number of B2B sectors, is there one that you prefer and why? ‘I actually don’t have a preference as I love knowing that everyday will bring something new and challenging. I may find myself again in unfamiliar territory but I love the thrill of the unknown. I also love that what we do has an impact in the real world – take some of our healthcare clients for example, projects that we work on with them contribute to their success. Their success in turn contributes to improving the lives of sick people. I get real enjoyment and a sense of pride in seeing our creations helping our clients to grow in every way. That they keep coming back to us is testament to how effective our work is.’
Agency culture – is there one and can you describe it? ‘We are a team. No one here pretends that they know everything, and everyone always wants to improve their skills and knowledge. We respect each other. We collaborate and bounce off each other.
One person’s weakness may be another person’s strength. If we need new software, we’ll get it. If we feel we would benefit from a talk or training course, we’ll get it. If we need Red Bull, we will definitely get that! All of this adds to a real fun, creative and learning culture. I think if you settle into a culture where you think you are the finished article and reject input from others then you really are lost. Everyone can, and should want to improve.’
With almost a year under her belt as MD, not to mention over 600 international effectiveness case studies, a clutch of awards and no sign of slowing down, Patricia Killoran, Managing Director at The Mission Control Communications is starting the New Year on a firm footing and with a clear objective.
Ahead of a busy month travelling to meet partner brands on both sides of the Atlantic and throughout Europe, Patricia explains the importance of that face-to-face contact and why the agency will frequently travel thousands of miles for just one meeting.
‘The distance is irrelevant,’ says Patricia. ‘What is important is showing partner brands that we are just as committed to their success as they are themselves. Naturally a lot of what we do can be trafficked and managed with email and calls, but nothing beats that face-to-face interaction and in my experience, people achieve more when they actually know the people they are working with.’
Have you a particular trip that you’re looking forward to? ‘I have to admit; I am looking forward to going to the States again. We work with some really lovely people out there and I do look forward to seeing them and just catching up.’
So it’s not all business then? ‘I don’t think you can work in this industry if you’re just all about “the business”. What we do is very personal. You can’t be involved in creating something and not have a personal involvement in it. You only have to look at the team in the studio to see that. For all of the strategy and creativity that goes into a project, there’s an equal measure of personal pride. It’s the same with the brand teams we work with. There’s not a job that goes out the door that isn’t personal.’
Is it just the boss that gets to travel? ‘No not at all! Since we officially started back to work after the Christmas break, everyone has been out and about at meetings. There’s been no shortage of red eye flights out off International the past week or so and that looks like a trend set to continue for the rest of the month. But it’s great that the team gets to meet with the people they are working with. One of the teams happened to be in England last week and they met up with some of their US partners and they achieved so much in such a short space of time. It’s that sharing of ideas and knowledge and getting to know people as people. That’s what it’s all about – people working with people to achieve a common objective.’
So 2016 is starting busy? ‘Starting busy. It’s always busy and that’s the way we like. I think Christmas Day was the only day that we weren’t actually working. We’ve a great team here and it’s the relationships they form with our partners that gives them that level of commitment to not only go above and beyond, but to do whatever it takes to get the job completed.
It was actually pretty funny on New Year’s Eve night. We were working with a partner across 3 time zones so we had 3 celebrations.’
The Mission Control Communications is seen as an agency that puts in a lot of hours, is that true, and if so, why? ‘We live in a world that is infinitely more connected than at any other point in history. Brands are doing business simultaneously across multiple time zones so you need to be on hand to work with them when they need you.
Yes we put in a lot of strange hours, but you have to remember, they are only strange hours here in Northern Ireland. In reality, they are just the normal office hours of our overseas partners. So whilst we might work late in the evenings when needed, there will be other times when we can start late in the morning. It’s swings and roundabouts – we’re not slave drivers.
I was chatting to one of the designers about it recently after he’d came back from a meeting and he made a very good point, ‘we’re at the big table, so we’ve got to put the work in’. I think that says a lot about the attitude of the team. They know we are getting to work on some amazing brands and that people listen to our suggestions. Our team sees that and appreciates it.’
What do you mean by being at the ‘big table’? ‘We work with brands that are valued in the billions of dollars and that truly understand the power of effective marketing. These are brands that set trends as opposed to following them. They are brands that want a partner that engages with them and is capable of taking them to the next level as opposed to simply giving them the same old year in and year out.
You only have to look at some work that is out there at the minute and you know the agencies responsible are following a formula that hasn’t changed in decades. That’s not servicing a client. It’s opting for the safe route and ensuring you’re leaving the office at 5pm everyday. That’s not us. We’re constantly looking at how we can work with our brand partners to engage with their audience in new and relevant ways. Granted – you spend a lot of your time in unfamiliar territory – but that keeps it interesting.
It also means that when we are working with international agencies, we are doing so with confidence and authority.’
There has been some criticism of the agency from your competitors for seemingly placing strategy over creativity. How do you respond to that? ‘Oh we’ll always have our critics. But what’s interesting is that those critics seem to end up weaving a lot of our thinking into their own messaging and positioning. Look, I’m not saying creativity isn’t important. It is. But it needs to be channelled. It needs to have a defined outcome. It needs to achieve an objective. We work with multi-billion-dollar brands. They want effectiveness. They don’t want pretty pictures.’
So is strategy more important than creativity? ‘I don’t think it’s an either/or option. You need strategy to direct creativity so that you can enable an effective outcome. So if we had to be labelled as anything, I’d prefer to have us labelled as an effectiveness agency. That’s what we do and that’s what the brands we work with expect. Strategy and creativity are just two of the tools we use to be effective.’
What do you make of agencies that position themselves as creative then? ‘Other people can do as they want. If they feel the need to constantly remind people that they are creative, then that’s their right. But for us, creativity is just one of the strings to our bow.’
You mention critics weaving your thinking into their messaging and positioning, does that happen a lot? ‘It happens. But we take it as a compliment. Truthfully, I’m happier that we’re in a position to inspire, inform and educate other agencies. If the roles were reversed, then I think I’d be having concerns. It can actually be funny at times when one of the team comes across something. I remember we did a campaign for one of our scientific partners and a few months later, another agency replicated the concept for a large inward investment organisation here in Northern Ireland.’
Are you ever tempted to weave other agencies thinking into yours? ‘That’s not who we are. When we launched The Mission Control Communications, we did it with the objective of challenging ourselves to constantly strive for better. If we were to simply take our lead from another agency, that defeats the purpose and we might as well just go work for another agency. That and truthfully, our partners wouldn’t stand for it. They work with us because we are that bit off centre. We don’t go to presentations and start with, “here’s an idea that we did for company X that really worked and we think it would work for you as well”. We’re constantly pushing boundaries and challenging not only ourselves, but also our partners.’
So what will be the next lesson you hope to teach those following your example? ‘Be yourself and stand up for what you believe in. Companies don’t want ‘yes’ agencies. They are paying for your expertise so bring something to the table that is worth paying for. That’s why we keep the lab bench in the middle of the studio to constantly remind our teams of that. Everything we do needs to add value to our partner brands, so before we bring it to the presentation, it has to pass our own internal bench test.’
In his first interview since joining The Mission Control Communications earlier this year, James Killoran talks openly about the move and his reputation as a workaholic and what it’s like going head to head with some of the largest agencies in the world.
You’re regularly described as a workaholic, how do you respond to that accusation? ‘If that’s the worst people can say about me, I think I can live with it,’ says James. ‘But I don’t see it as a problem. Most of the people I know and respect would be described as workaholics. I think there’s a tendency in the UK though with all of the legislation around working hours to see anyone that works more than the standard 48-hour week as some sort of class traitor.’
So what makes you a workaholic? ‘Nothing makes me a workaholic. I just enjoy what I do. I spend a lot of time working with people in the United States and they have a very different work ethic to most countries in Europe. Personally, I find their drive really motivating and if I’m honest, I thrive on the challenge and the energy I pick up from them. You can’t help but get enthused when you’re around people that are constantly driven and positive.
But I think the term ‘Workaholic’ is often misunderstood and taken out off context. A lot of people look at it like some sort of disease or illness. It’s not. There’s nothing wrong with working hard; it probably says more about the ills of our society that you’re treated like some sort of pariah for working hard. For me, being a workaholic is a means to an end that I just happen to enjoy.
And what is that end? ‘Everyone expects me to say money, but it’s not. For me the objective is creating work that exceeds expectations and allows us to grow internationally. I’ve never wanted to just be the wee local agency or the big fish in a small pond. I want to create something that stands the test of time.’
Can you explain what you mean by the term ‘Workaholic’ being misunderstood? ‘Most people think of a workaholic as being someone on the fast track to having a heart attack and who never gets to spend time with their family. That’s not the case. There is a balance to be had if you just take time to plan your workflow. I choose to work the hours I do. No one forces me to. Personally I’m happier when I’m working instead of sitting vegetating in front of the television and I’m not really gold club material.’
So how many hours would you work every week? ‘It depends on how busy we are. But a normal week would see me do 90+ hours. I’m normally up and responding to emails from about 5:30am. I’ll be in the office for 7ish most mornings and then that’s me until the end of the day. I try and get away for 5:30pm so I can have some time with the family and then I’m back online and calls with the States from 7:30pm through to about 11pm. Weekends – I’d have more personal time, but I’d still spend a few hours on Saturdays and Sundays catching up with people and prepping for the week ahead. But the hours I do are on a power with what the brand managers and directors I work with in the States do. So I don’t get hung up on them. For me its about outcomes and not time put in.’
What about your team, do you expect them to do the same? ‘I think most of them would tell me where to go to if I said I expected them to do that. I know it might sound corny, but we all look out for one and other and if someone needs time off outside their normal time, we cover for one and other. We’re not into working people into the ground. Mental fatigue can be really difficult to shake so our approach is to give people the time they need and plan jobs out so no one is expected to have to work suicide hours. But from time to time, it does happen and when it does, we make sure people get time off to make up for it.
As for expectations, the only expectation I have is that when people are here, they give whatever they are working on their full attention. Naturally, you’ll get people putting in more time on jobs, but that’s just personal pride when people do go above and beyond in terms of time, we always make sure they get a break at the end of it all. But no, just to clarify, I don’t expect the team to do 90+ hours.’
What are the benefits to being a workaholic? ‘For me the big benefit is that sense of achievement you get when a project is completed and you see it really works. This year we’ve had some amazing feedback on jobs and do you know something, that means more to me than all of the awards we’ve won this year, put together. There’s nothing more rewarding than knowing clients are excited about the projects we’re working on together. The other thing is because you’re head is always buzzing with ideas, you can be much more proactive and take ideas to the client as opposed to just responding to a brief. That is a big part of the partnership relationship we have with brands.’
And the drawbacks? ‘I suppose when you crash, you really crash. I’ve seen times after it’s been really hectic that I’ve gone to bed and just slept for a full day. But that’s the exception as opposed to the rule.’
Do you see being a workaholic as a factor in the success of the agency? ‘It might contribute, but it’s far from being an overriding factor. Like I mentioned earlier, we have a lot of great people here and just as importantly, we have very switched on clients. Those are all big factors in our success. As for me being a workaholic, it just means I’m always about or chipping in with something or have my head buried in some research.’
Can you ever see a time when you’re not a workaholic? ‘I hope not. I think if that day was ever to come, it would be time for me to step aside and let someone else who is a workaholic take over. In this industry you need a hungry mind. You’re always learning and anticipating and if you’ve one eye on the job and the other on your golf clubs, something is going to slip between the gap if you know what I mean.’
How would you describe the year you’ve had? It’s been a rollercoaster. I started the year having to make some tough decisions, but they had to be taken or I wouldn’t be here today doing what I enjoy. Moving on and closing a chapter on your life is never easy, but sometimes you just have to do what is right for you. When I left my old agency, it wasn’t without a degree of fear and regret. I’d no idea how things were going to work out with the new place, so there were a lot of sleepless nights. But we put the work in and thankfully it’s all coming together. Though I’ve a lot more grey hair now.’
So why did you move agency? To quote Winston Churchill and Call of Duty: ‘If you’re going through hell, keep going.’ I wasn’t happy where I was. I’d known for a while that things were not going to change, but had kept giving it the benefit of the doubt. In the end though, I found myself contemplating leaving the industry and doing something else. Well – I was never any good at cooking so running off to open a B&B somewhere was never going to be a workable option, so I started looking at how I could carve out a new path for myself within an industry I actually love.’
Was the move easy? ‘Hell no! I was closing the door on almost 10 years of my life. When you decide on doing something like that, your head gets filled with all sorts of doubts and uncertainties.’
But it was worth it? ‘Yes. For the first time in a very long time I found myself in a position where things were happening and I wasn’t having to battle to get stuff done. There had been things I’d wanted to do for years with the old agency and could never get them off the ground. Here – I’ve been given the freedom to push ahead and within months we’ve proven that the thinking that had always been blocked in the old place was actually right. We’re picking up business, we’re winning effectiveness awards and we’re actually having fun doing it.’
What’s your plan for 2016? ‘I think there are some people who would pay you a lot of money to know that. We’ve deliberately tried to stay beneath the radar, but that has actually got some of the big names in the industry looking at us trying to figure out our strategy and how we’re managing to take projects they’d thought were theirs for the taking.’
You’re not intimidated by the big agencies then? ‘No, why would I be? We’ve proven time and time again that we can go head to head with the internationals and we’ve outperformed them on multiple occasions.’
How does that feel? The first few times it was terrifying. But you quickly discover it’s a bit like that scene from the Wizard of Oz when they discover the guy behind the curtain. Sure the internationals can talk-the-talk and they put on a great show – but there’s nothing they do that we can’t.’
How often do you find yourselves up against one of the internationals? ‘More often than you might expect and it’s not just the big London agencies. We’ve sat at the table with New York, LA and Paris agencies over the past 10 months. But we make a point of getting everyone in the team in front of an international agency as soon a possible to show them there’s nothing to be afraid of.
We had to go to London a few months ago and it was a meeting with one of the biggest agencies in the world. You know the sort of place, stunning office, epic views out across the city, every surface dripping with awards. Basically everything you can think of that would intimidate a small team likes ours. Anyway, we were introduced to the other agency’s team and there were directors of directors. I suddenly thought my plan to show our guys that there was nothing to worry about was going to back fire on me. Anyway, to cut a very long story short, we let the big international do their thing and I could see the penny drop with our guys as they realised that there was no magic. They were hearing nothing that they didn’t already know and in-truth, some of what they were hearing was wrong.
When we left, our guys were buzzing. The myth of the international was shot. As we headed back to the Tube, my golden moment was one of the guys saying, “I can’t believe they didn’t have muffins”.’
So what can we expect from The Mission Control Communications in 2016? I’m not giving away any secrets when I say we have a pretty big announcement coming in January. We’ve also have some really amazing work in progress with one of the clients stateside. It’s one of those projects that redefines a sector and the brand director is a great guy to work with, which is always a bonus.
And will you be taking time off over Christmas? That’s the million dollar question. We’ve a couple of jobs going out this month that legally have to go live on December 31st. So at the minute we’re working with contributors in the States, Italy, Germany, France, England, Holland and Belgium to make sure that it happens. The nature of the job means that we’ll be on standby right up to the 31st for any updates. It’s that sort of commitment though that clients appreciate as they know they can trust us to always get the job across the line, regardless of the circumstance.
There can be no doubt that 2015 has been a landmark year for James, but it would seem that the workaholic reputation and unorthodox way of doing things gets results. The Mission Control Communications has repeatedly proven its credentials internationally this year, not only in terms of business acquired and awards won, but in the results it’s consistently delivered for clients and it appears that the motivation and drive that has propelled the agency in 2015 is set to continue well into 2016.
The story behind The Mission Control Communications.
By any definition of the word, 2015 has been a ‘spectacular’ year for The Mission Control Communications. But what motivates the agency that has blazed a trail for itself in recent months, picking up multiple international awards and clients on an almost monthly basis?
“I don’t think it was ever just one thing,” says Director, Patricia Killoran. “When we launched the agency, we knew we were going to have our share of critics, but in many ways that negativity drove us all the harder and it’s a testament to the character and resilience of the people that I work with that we were able to rise above all that and focus on creating the type of agency we always wanted to be part of.”
That agency you wanted to be part of, describe it? “Effective, Strategic, Collaborative, International and Brave,” says Patricia. Ten months on, have you succeeded in creating that agency? “I’d say we’re work in progress. I don’t think we’ll ever fully see ourselves has being done. There’s always something new to try and the agency that stands still gets left behind.”
You don’t refer to the brands you work with as clients’; you describe them as partners, why? “Client is a such a horrible word. It just suggests a cold financial transaction and that’s never going to be the catalyst for producing great work. When we partner with a brand and its in-house marketing team, we work together. We get to know them as people and that leads to a more open and honest relationship and honesty is key to creating effective work. The partner brand needs to be honest about not only what it’s looking to achieve, but why and we need to be honest about the work and if an idea isn’t working – kill it and move on.”
The Mission Control Communications has established a reputation for itself as being down to earth; do you see that as a problem when it comes to working with the more conservative types of companies? “Some people can find it strange at first. They have a perception of an agency and we don’t really fit into that cliché. But that’s not a bad thing. It causes people to open their minds more and that’s part of the process – challenge the norm and look at new ways of doing things.
The majority of your work originates outside the UK. Geographically how do you cope? “We’ve created a structure that allows us to work seamlessly with partners all over the world. Geographically, I don’t think it really matters where you’re based, what is important is being able to do work that get results and is relevant to the market you’re operating in,” says Patricia.
The Mission Control Communications has had a very successful time on the awards circuit. How important are awards to you as an agency? “Awards are always nice, but they need to be seen for what they are; a by-product of what we do – not the driving motivator. I read an article in one of the trade press titles recently that said: ‘We’ve all been witness to weeks and months of ‘strategising’ without a corresponding award winner in sight.’ I can’t believe that we still live and work in an age where for some agencies, awards are more important than campaign effectiveness. You can’t serve two masters. If your eye is on a night at the awards and not the outcome the brand you’re working with needs, you’re not doing your job. That’s why when it came to selecting the awards we would be entering; we chose those that were based on campaign effectiveness and not just pretty pictures solutions.”
What do you mean about pretty pictures solutions? “It’s a term we use to describe work that looks pretty but has no substance. It’s pointless. If we want to make pretty pictures, we’ll go to an art class. Our work is about making a difference.”
So how do you plan to top your achievements this year, next year? “Like I said earlier, we’re work in progress. Next year will bring a host of new challenges and we’re looking forward to coming to grips with those. We come back in the New Year to a lot of planning meetings and some rollouts, so that is going to keep us busy. But we’re fortunate in that we have work to be coming back to, so we’ll be focussing on looking after our existing partners, but if a new opportunity presents itself and it’s right for us, naturally we’ll look at it.”
That sounds like you don’t plan to be pitching in 2016? “It’s not a priority for us. We have some pretty great partners on the books already and they keep us busy. It’s easy to get caught up in pitch fever, but that’s when your existing work starts to suffer. So for us, we’d rather keep our existing partners happy than go off on a fools chase after something that might or might not happen.”
Despite the genuine down to earth and jargon free manner of the agency, The Mission Control Communications houses a wealth of industry intelligence that allows it to deliver effective and informed campaign strategies to brands working in some of the most complex markets world wide. You can’t help but feel an underlying confidence within the team in that they know their stuff. Looking forward to seeing what comes next from the team.
When we launched earlier this year, we wanted to prove to people that our quirky way of doing things actually gets results. We’re strategic in what we do, but in a down-to-earth way. We don’t aim to baffle people with buzzwords and technical jargon; we simply aim to help them create work that is strategically destined to succeed.
Well – in less than a year, the team has scooped 4 international effectiveness awards including 3 Generator Effectiveness Awards and 1 Davey Effectiveness Award – so we must be doing something right.
At this rate – we might need to get a shelf or something.