If you’re after advice on launching a successful agency, Nick Cummins is a good person to ask. Cummins believes our industry needs more agencies, and next week at AdFest 2019, he’s giving a talk explaining his passion for start-ups, and why it is easier to start an agency from scratch rather than change an old agency.
Cummins (pictured) has started two independent advertising agencies in Australia – Sputnik Agency and The Royals, where he is Creative Partner – and both have grown to become multi-award-winning, culture-led businesses. He sold his first agency to a white-collar criminal who ended up in a Columbian prison charged with fraud – one of many anecdotes he’ll share at AdFest next week.
Cummins’ career spans 30 years in both traditional and digital agencies. Since launching The Royals seven years ago, it’s grown into an agency of over 80 people across Sydney and Melbourne.
The Royals has a very distinctive mission: to be the most interested agency in the world. How did you arrive at that mission and what impact does it have on the work you create for clients?
Striving to be the most interested agency in the world is a huge part of our culture. It is something I think our industry has lost along the way. I love the legends of great advertising people from the ’60s going out to factories interviewing the makers of a product to get a better understanding of how to market it.
So being interested in our clients’ businesses, products and consumers is nothing new but incredibly important. But ‘most interested’ goes beyond that – it is a healthy interest in pop culture, community sentiment, platforms and channels that we can use to make connections with our audience. Finding people who are personally ‘most interested’ helps our business and our clients’ businesses immensely.
Do you really think the world needs more advertising agencies? Why is this the topic of your AdFest session?
No, of course the world doesn’t need more advertising agencies, but I believe our industry desperately does. I also believe if new vibrant creative, intelligent, businesses pop up and flourish with people who come to work to solve problems in new ways, we may find some of them might just help solve some of the problems our world faces today.
Can you tell us a little about The Royals – what was your vision seven years ago at launch, and have you stayed true to it?
Starting a business is easy, sticking to it is difficult. For us, starting The Royals began with a conversation at the pub about what kind of agency we felt Australia needed at the time. I went home that night and told my wife I was going to start another business and we would probably have to sell the house. She is very supportive, my wife.
Our vision was to create an agency that sat between large multinationals that are good at strategy and storytelling and digital shops that are great at understanding new platforms and technologies. So we started collecting the kinds of people who get modern communications and we are still collecting them today.
Yes, I believe we have stayed true to our vision. We try to look at the agency as an operating system. We are constantly making updates and improvements and I think being independent makes that easy. We don’t have to ask New York for approval to change a process or try something different. It helps us avoid falling into the trap of just doing things the same way the industry has for the last 50 years.
The Royals hired 40 people in 2018. What are the challenges of growing so rapidly?
Culture. And remembering everyone’s names. I’m shit with names. Creating a culture together is one of the most exciting things to be a part of in any business. If you get it right, it is rocket fuel for an organisation. So managing culture while having rapid growth is incredibly important. Like rocket fuel, if you don’t have a tight grip on the wheel things can get wobbly.
The Royals now has its own research and development lab, as well as a CX division. How has this impacted your own creative process or improved the agency’s work?
These two skill sets are a great example of how we have stuck to our vision of creating a truly integrated and modern agency filled with a very diverse group of people. Even though we call them a department, they work in true collaborative fashion with the broader agency.
Our CX division was born from being ‘most interested’. Listening to our clients, it became clear this was something they wanted to channel energy towards. Our CX team is knocking it out of the park at the moment. Advance Party, our product research and development lab, has been part of our agency for the past few years. It has its own dedicated space within the building. Having this mind set and skill set enables us to solve problems for our clients that normally wouldn’t come to us in the form of a marketing brief.
What do you look for when you’re hiring creatives?
For me, it is about finding interested entrepreneurial people. I have seen individuals shape independent agencies. Tapping in to that passion that someone has can create incredible momentum for the agency. We have revelry as one of our three values. If our staff are revelling in what they love to do, if they are hustling and shaping the agency, it makes things exciting and creates growth for the agency and all who live within it.
What’s your proudest achievement – professional or otherwise?
I think being part of starting two successful agencies that people talk highly of would have to be something that makes me proud. Creating an environment and atmosphere that people remember as being a great chapter in their lives after they move on is a worthy achievement to me. It’s why we named the company The Royals. We think of ourselves as a gang. I’m a Royal, you’re a Royal.
Oh and my kids. My kids are pretty cool and I had a hand in raising them.
With offices in Sydney and Melbourne, do you have plans for expanding into other markets? What are your goals for 2019?
At the moment we are focused on Melbourne and Sydney. 2019 is going to be a year all about our creative product.
· ‘Why the World Needs More Agencies and how to start one’, presented by Nick Cummins, takes place on Friday 22nd March in Pattaya, Thailand as part of AdFest 2019.
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