Eyes on the prize: Moving towards the future of media, Together

Following being crowned Media Agency of the Year at the 2022 Beacon Awards, Managing Partners Kris Hadley and Rufus Chuter reflect on what sets Together apart from big international players, the agency’s strengths as an independent and what comes next.

After leaving their roles at global media agencies – Kris at OMD and Rufus at FCB – the pair founded Together in late 2018 armed with only two foundation clients, an empty office in Ellerslie, and a vision for where media was heading.

Fast forward to 2022, where the agency is close to 30 people and not only won Media Agency of the Year, but 11 other awards including Best in Show for the work it did with AIA.

These wins were not only a recognition of how far Together has come in a relatively short time, but a reflection of the agency’s total business performance – from staff initiatives, to industry contribution, to the quality of their work and their overall commercial performance.

“We always had a very clear view on how media was changing and what a next-generation media agency needed to look like. I think our ability to execute against that vision fast, and in a way that reflects the New Zealand market has been a factor in our success,” says Kris.

“We knew modern media needed to be strategy-lead, with consultancy-style expertise in data, technology and audience-based media buying. As an independent agency we feel we’re able to make decisions against this vision and action them quicker than the bigger networked agencies, and in ways that reflect what our clients are looking for.”

Thanks to support from the industry and their families in the early months, Rufus and Kris were quickly able to find their feet.

“I think people really wanted us to succeed because they could see we’d made a brave move leaving the security of our previous roles. We were each doing two or three people’s jobs, working all hours and most weekends, just desperate to repay the faith people had shown in us,” he says.

Instead of taking on any investment or debt, the two threw themselves into Together to build solid foundations for the capabilities they needed.

Over time they were able to grow their client base consistently and have attracted some of the best media, data and digital talent in New Zealand who shared their vision. 

But then, when the agency was barely a year old, Covid hit.

Rufus Chuter and Kris Hadley.

“Weirdly it came at a good time for us,” Rufus says. “We’d had lots of momentum, but Covid meant we had to pause and take stock, and   while like everyone we had to make some tough decisions, it gave us more confidence in driving the direction of the business, rather than the  business driving us. We won new projects and continued to invest and established key capabilities like Connect, our Salesforce Marketing Cloud practice, data and technology team and Dynamic, our responsive content offering.”

This confidence and drive didn’t go unnoticed at the 2021 Beacon Awards where Together was the second most awarded media agency on the night.

“I think we took a lot of people by surprise that night. We’ve had people tell us that was the moment they felt Together ‘arrived’ but we just felt like we’d been quietly doing really good work, particularly in programmatic and data since launch, we just hadn’t really entered awards,” Kris says.

But they didn’t stop there. Not long after, Together’s work was named Best use of Data at the TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards and in Asia Pacific at the Drum Awards.

“That made it even more satisfying to return the following year and prove that it wasn’t a fluke by winning Best in Show and Media Agency of the Year at the 2022 Beacons.”

Of course, all this wouldn’t have been possible without a talented team who shared Rufus and Kris’s vision.

“The Together team are incredible. We’re a data and technology agency but we’re powered by brilliant people. That’s central to our philosophy: marketing is increasingly driven by technology that everyone can access, so it’s strategic and creative people that create competitive advantage. Our best work directly reflects this – it’s work that’s strong strategically, and where creative thinking has been applied to technology or data to create a unique media solution. We’ve been so lucky to have so many incredibly talented people join team Together and contribute to the agency’s success.” 

In terms of the biggest challenges brands and marketers face navigating the current media landscape, Rufus says there are many.

“Modern media’s complicated, attention’s fragmented and the landscape’s always moving. Marketers tell us they need strategic thinking, digital expertise and genuine partnership far more today.”

Taking this into account, Together has always oriented itself towards audience-based media buying and a strong strategic offering.

“We can all see that most media will be planned and bought on an audience basis in the foreseeable future. But programmatic media has a long way to go to realise this future; it’s been planned by downstream specialist teams, in isolation of strategy, using opaque technology, and questionable data and measurement solutions. At Together we have a bunch of initiatives we term ‘good programmatic’ to address this, and it’s an area we believe more and more focus should be applied to.”

As well as this, Together is focusing on using analytics to align media decisions with whatever drives business or behavioural outcomes for its clients.

“Most models suggest that marketing’s impact on sales can be modest relative to a bunch of other factors such as pricing, competitor activity or even weather. So we’ve always been  keen to understand what impacts business outcomes through analytics, and then engineer customised ways of leveraging this in media through things like custom media bid algorithms, so we can win the media bids that matter. It’s often highly creative as well as analytical which we love.”

The Best in Show winning work Together did for AIA reflects this. It included designing a unique system to capitalise on competitive activity in real-time, driven by analytics showing this was a significant driver of category behaviour.

“What’s consistent is it isn’t about off the shelf data or technology solutions. It’s about customised solutions that combine elements in unique ways to reflect each client’s business,” Kris says.

And as the industry changes rapidly, Together views technology as an enabler, helping clients develop custom marketing solutions to get results.

“Most of our work involves marketing and advertising technology, but usually configured in customised ways that reflect the individual business we’re working with.”

This is applied across a range of areas including cross-channel experience orchestration so the team can link paid and owned media experiences, through to data-driven audience design and measurement.

“We’ve also developed a suite of custom tools, like Fusion our audience design platform, that helps marketers take greater control over their audiences in a post-cookie media world.”

With close working relationships with technology and media partners, Rufus says the Together team aim to be more collaborative and ambitious than other partners.

“As a strategy-led media agency we’re in the privileged position of having very close client engagements that provide us great context to their business.

“We’re constantly discussing how we can create shared value for our clients with technology and media partners and much of our best work involves close collaboration. It’s also shown in the speed with which we achieved both Google Premier Partner and Salesforce Marketing Cloud consulting partner status.”

This is combined with maintaining a culture of curiosity and engagement with the world of media through sharing sessions and partner presentations.

“I’ve always liked the quote ‘life’s too short to do average’ and we’ve tried to foster that philosophy across the agency and enshrine it in our values too,” Kris says.

As for work they are particularly proud of, they struggle to narrow it down. 

“Every brief’s an opportunity, and we’re really proud of the work we do across so many clients and categories. Whether it’s raising $1million for youth mental health with Land Rover, using The Chase to help people feel less embarrassed about money, or applying behavioural economics to programmatic for Ministry of Health’s vaccination campaigns. We still count ourselves lucky that we get to work with so many brilliant businesses and tackle so many different challlenges every day.” 

So where to from here? 

“The future’s really exciting,” Kris says.

Although they have never chased growth for the sake of growth, he says they are well set for where media is heading, with continued expansion of programmatic buying and the death of cookies given the agency’s strength in data, audience-based media buying and analytics alongside core offline media planning and buying. 

“We’re also excited about Connect, our Salesforce Marketing Cloud and Google Cloud practice, as more businesses look to plan paid and owned media experiences together as well as developing our Australian client base. Honestly, we still feel like we’re just getting started.

“But fundamentally if we can continue to do good work, with good people, we’ll be happy.”   

This article was originally published in the September/October 2022 issue of NZ Marketing.

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