A world made better through creativity and data

We talked to EightyOne Managing Director Matt West about how Wellington’s largest independent agency is using good data and super creativity to change the world.


What is ‘super creativity’?

Good question. Super creativity is world-class creative with better insights. We believe data can find us those insights that allow us to lift the creative product to achieve outstanding results. The ‘super’ also refers to the incredible talent we have here at EightyOne. Our Executive Creative Director Chris Bleackley is assembling one of the most talented creative teams in the country.

What role does data play?

Data helps us identify the right questions to ask, and find better answers. It’s our way of looking at something and starting to make sense of the problem. Albert Einstein famously said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning” – so we don’t.

Our sister company DOT Loves Data is one of those unicorn companies. They’re an odd blend of 30 people who are PhDs, data engineers and scientists off solving big, scary problems like traffic congestion, poverty and injury prevention. They’re incredibly insightful and truly unique, and our relationship with them is part of what sets EightyOne apart.

When we really get creative with big data, we can find the right questions to ask, (like: Why were donations to Women’s Refuge going down when those who were continuing to give were giving more?), then use a combination of data and creativity to find the answers.

An article in the Harvard Business Review surmised that “Asking a lot of questions unlocks learning and improves interpersonal bonding”, and part of our super-creativity philosophy is about this linkage between learning, insight and solutions. 

How does being independent define EightyOne?

Being independent means we’ve been able to grow at our clients’ pace and our own, rather than being driven by the bottom-line needs of international masters. We love Wellington, and New Zealand. Being independent means we can respond to the challenges our home presents, we can pick and choose, and we can dive into exploring and solving problems, even when there isn’t necessarily a big payday at the end of it.

We believe in changing the world. That means we’ll continue to push forward in the areas we think we can make a difference in. We’re passionately fighting for a fair hearing for women’s sport in sports media. It’s 90:10 in favour of the men, and we don’t think that’s good enough, so we’re doing something about it. Women’s Refuge is a charity that we desperately wish didn’t have to exist, and we’re working with them pro bono to help support them and the women they help. 

What about EightyOneX?

EightyOneX is a branch of our agency that specialises in sport and sponsorship. We love sport, we love ideas, we like coming up with ideas for sport – that was the genesis of it, really. We’re lucky to have Megan Compain heading up EightyOneX, and bringing her sports-related commercial experience to the table. She’s started relationships with Replay Jeans out of Italy, Nura headphones out of Australia and Tudor Watches out of Switzerland. She’s also heavily involved in the NZOC work we do and is bringing new insights and opportunities to that. So, six months in, EightyOneX is working out great.

You’re building a bigger team in Wellington – why?

We’re an advertising agency built for the modern age. With many new independents and merging agencies popping up, the term ‘consultancy’ gets thrown around, but we’re consciously not consultants. We
believe clients want support for everything in the one place, and that’s what they’ll get with EightyOne. The specialisation of the post-media carve-away era went too far, and we’re part of the wave that’s swinging back to give clients a full-service experience.

Advertising isn’t only TV ads, nor is it just creative. It’s a channel-agnostic, holistic exercise. And we do all of that for our clients, not just storytelling. 

Growing a bigger team also allows us to tackle more challenges and attract the best talent. Growth gives us a critical mass to deliver work that’s truly world class. That has to be the goal. 

So this is why you’re establishing a media arm. But why now?

Because the time is right, and it’s what our clients need. We’re enormously lucky to have Grant Maxwell join us to head up EightyOne Media. He’s a great fit for our super-creativity, data-focused approach to finding better solutions for our clients, with decades of experience in media strategy.

What’s the work from 2020 that you’re most proud of?

We took Women’s Refuge from a donation pool of $1.4 million in 2019 to $4.1 million in 2020. That goes a hell of a long way to helping that organisation support all those women and children. It was the best example last year
of us living our mantra. We started with smart data, took insights, applied some really smart creative on the back of what the data told us, and we’ve helped change the world for a number of people. Developing Safe Night [where people can quickly and easily pay $20 online to book a secure room for a woman and child] has been an incredibly potent answer to their fundraising challenge. We’re looking forward to doing even more with them this year. 

Safe Nights campaign.

Seeing Powershop continuing to deliver outstanding results and knowing our creativity [alongside] was part of that success warms the cockles of our hearts. And a personal highlight was winding up the White House with our Trumbers typeface on Twitter. It got us kicked off the platform four times – something we’re particularly proud of. 

What’s next for EightyOne?

Our vision is a world made better through creativity and data. We’ve got more growing to do as we pursue that goal. We want to get stuck into solving more of New Zealand’s big, intractable problems, and we’ve got the data, the creativity and the team to do it.


This article was originally published in the March/April 2021 issue of NZ MarketingClick here to subscribe.

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