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News Plus 14 Apr 2022 - 4 min read

Scrums, swarms and coals to Newcastle: ANZ hot shop Special Group takes on the Brits with London agency launch; brands, post-Covid, find new appetite for indies

By Paul McIntryre - Executive Editor
Special London: CEO Tony Bradbourne, London CEO Jennifer Black, and Australia's Lindsey Evans

"It's just about talent, it's not about offices, it's not about scale, it's not about departments and hierarchies." L-R: Tony Bradbourne, Jennifer Black and Lindsey Evans

Australia and New Zealand’s hottest creative agency launched its London operation overnight having landed Global Creative Agency of The Year and Global Independent Agency of the Year for 2021 from British trade publishing stalwart, Campaign.


That's certainly something we're seeing globally is that talent really want to work with independent agencies; there’s something about the independents that you just can't replicate elsewhere.

Tony Bradbourne, CEO and Co-founder, Special Group

The New Zealand-founded Special Group has already staked the Pacific Rim with offices in Los Angeles, Auckland, Sydney and Melbourne but the hot shop now has it sights on the old empire and the international flagship of snappy, savvy, creative advertising and talent. 

Special Group co-founder and CEO, Tony Bradbourne, told Mi3 the agency team had completed its first pitch in the UK market yesterday which “went really well”.

Special Group Australia partner and co-CEO, Lindsey Evans, is on the ground in London for the UK raid, which will be led by the widely-regarded Jennifer Black, Managing Director of Havas London and a veteran of other London hot shops including Mother and Fallon. 

The master plan is to have Special Group etch its legacy and model in the UK and for it to serve as a talent magnet for the borderless and collaborative model Special operates on. The big international networks are chasing the same dream but remain hampered by divisional P&Ls and crimping structures.

Bradbourne talks of swarms, Evans uses scrums, but it points to the way the antipodean micro-network is structured and is finding global succcess with.  

Special was founded in Auckland in 2008, blending design and advertising. It expanded to Sydney in 2014 and opened its LA office in 2020 with Uber Eats as a founding client - it is now operating with the food delivery disrupter across eight international markets.

There is no foundation client to underwrite the UK operation; instead the leadership team is backing the agency’s smarts, talent and walking its mantra of “Open, Kind, Brave”.   

Our model from the very start is that we designed our business to break down the silos between separate advertising agencies and design companies and digital agencies,” Bradbourne told Mi3.

“So if you look at our body of work, it's very eclectic. London just produces some of the world's absolutely greatest strategies, creative work, executions and craft.

"But it's also an epicenter for talent. One of the reasons that drew us to London is that we believe we've discovered some exceptional talent to better lead us in that market. One of them is Jennifer Black as partner and CEO and we’ll have more announcements in the upcoming month. We've had our first pitch today, which went really well.”

London means 'truly global' expansion

Bradbourne said because of Special’s global profile now, “we do get the massive rock star talent wanting to talk. That's certainly something we're seeing globally, is that talent really want to work with independent agencies; there’s something about the independents that you just can't replicate elsewhere.”

Outside of cracking the British advertising market, Bradbourne said the timing of Special’s US and UK presence was serendipitous for a wave of Australian and New Zealand companies with eyes on international expansion.

“We already work with a number of clients where North America and Europe are really key markets for them to push their product into,” Bradbourne said.

“So I think we're going to be an interesting new offering for New Zealand and Australian clients that want to take their products to the world. And we can do that with a much cleaner and more consistent model. But apart from that, we're really ambitious for the clients that we can try and bring into Special in the UK.”

Special’s Australian co-lead, Lindsey Evans, told Mi3 from London that along with the international talent the agency was attracting, brands here and abroad were looking at independents and better operating models after their Covid experience. 

“We've always had the ambition to be able to work with global brands and global talent and scrum around global brand problems, no matter of geography,” she said. “And then, I guess, on the back of the momentum in LA and how well that's been going, we've been collaborating on the ground to make things happen in the UK. London is the natural next step in joining that up to be truly global.”

Evans said Covid had proven to many blue chip and challenger brands that agency partners could be structured differently. 

“It's really sort of levelled the playing field for all agencies,” she said. “It's just about talent, it's not about offices, it's not about scale, it's not about departments and hierarchies. It's about people getting around problems and thinking differently about things. And we've been afforded opportunities that we definitely would not have been afforded pre-Covid.” 

Special will announce its creative and strategy chiefs for the London operation in coming weeks. 

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