Reflections on a decade of defying expectations

In the last 10 years, EightyOne has launched campaigns designed to shock and delight consumers, sister agencies to deliver full-service to clients and grown beyond the founders’ wildest expectations. By following their noses and being ‘prepared to have a crack’, the independent agency has accidentally become Wellington’s largest shop. 

Starting out as a humble design shop, EightyOne is now the biggest ad agency in Wellington. Managing Director Matt West says the agency is built on the relationships it has cultivated in that time. Some of those relationships are synonymous with the agency itself.

Powershop has gone from a small upstart to a proper player in the New Zealand energy market alongside EightyOne’s collaboration. The agency pitched for the account in June 2018 and have been churning out campaigns ever since. Similarly, EightyOne’s partnership with Women’s Refuge has been a huge success, the 2022 ‘Great Night In’ campaign raised a total of 14,628 Safe Nights for women and children building violence free lives – the charity’s most successful fundraiser ever. 

Since 2012, the ad world has continued to do what the ad world does – change constantly. As platforms shift and consumer expectations continuously adapt, agencies had to move with the changing tide. Social media turned out not to be the silver bullet it was originally sold as, but media fragmentation has meant there is a huge pressure on outputs.

“[Social media is] just another potent channel when executed well, but 10 years ago it was the only channel the people were talking about,” Matt says. He boils the changes to the industry down to just one word, ‘ambition’.

“Agencies, at their best, are here to drive positive change. But plenty of clients don’t aspire to that, and I think that’s driven agencies to aspire for less,” he says.

“The clients that understand how potentially powerful their advertising and marketing can be, have tended to find like-minded agencies.”

Traditionally, that meant being a big agency with a big network backer was a huge advantage. Given EightyOne’s exponential growth – Matt isn’t so sure that advantage
still exists. 

Carving out a space in the industry for an independent agency isn’t something they have had to do consciously, West says. It happens by itself. 

“We all work in the business, so no ivory towers. The big networks have mostly gone, aside from the massive agencies up north. We don’t have to ask permission which is obvious.

“The ability to invest in projects and initiatives we believe in sets us apart. In effect dipping into our own pockets. We’ve been involved with saving the Manumea in Samoa, helping the NZSO, mental health and the Wellington City Gallery. Helping The Good Registry. There have been plenty.”

While being an independent agency may no longer come with the limitations it used to, Matt says the team is really only just starting to reach their potential. 

“We’re just getting started blah blah, isn’t that what everyone says? We took a good few years to find our feet, so we probably don’t see ourselves as a 10-year agency. More a three-to-four-year advertising agency. Based on that timescale, we’re crushing it.”

It didn’t escape EightyOne’s notice a few years back that for a Wellington agency, they had almost no Government clients. It’s a ratio the team has worked to balance out, but they still base themselves around private sector work. 

“That’s all to do with affecting change. We work with Government organisations that want to change behaviour. Like the teams at Inland Revenue, Internal Affairs [DIA] and MBIE and of course, Sport NZ.”

In December 2020, the agency launched EightyOneX – a brand activation consultancy that amplifies the commercial interests of sponsors and sports marketing assets. 

Megan Compain, who for more than a decade worked in commercial partnerships at New Zealand Rugby, was brought onboard as Director. The fit could not have been more perfect, with Megan, a former pro-athlete who represented New Zealand in women’s basketball at two Olympic Games and remains the only Kiwi woman to play in the WNBA.

Matt says EightyOneX stands out as something to be particularly proud of in the last 10 years. 

“Luring Megan to run it was a coup,” he says. “Seeing her turn EightyOneX into New Zealand’s number one sports marketing agency has been impressive.”

In June 2022, EightyOneX launched a new Black Ferns brand-building campaign – ‘Like a Black Fern’ – with New Zealand Rugby to generate support for the team during the Covid-delayed Women’s Rugby World Cup. At the time of the launch, Megan described the campaign as shining a light on the momentum around women in sport and an opportunity to bring the players’ infectious attitudes to the fore. The campaign paid dividends when the Black Ferns won the World Cup in front of a women’s fixture world-record crowd of 42,579 at Eden Park.

In 2019, EightyOne launched a crowd-funding campaign to secure naming rights to the Basin Reserve and change the name to ‘Support Women’s Sport Basin Reserve’. The story was picked up by 20 media outlets, with 26 percent of people who engaged with the campaign thinking the idea was ridiculous. Although the target of $50,000 was not met, Matt describes the moment as a seminal one for the agency.

“We realised that ideas need to generate their own gravity, particularly in a fragmented media world.”

In April 2022, EightyOne announced an expansion into Auckland with a satellite office in Kingsland. Given the agency’s Wellington success, an Auckland presence seems like a nice-to-have. “Fingers crossed for that punt,” he says.

Looking ahead, Matt is blasé about what the future holds – he trusts the team to meet new challenges head-on.

“I predict carbs will make a comeback. I’m delighted to see baggy jeans are back. The death of television will be announced again and again. Another silver bullet will emerge – maybe AI or the Metaverse? It’ll become part of our lives, but not the only part. New agency models will launch to meet these, and they will evolve like they always do.

“Ideas always win. I can’t see that changing. Ones that have the power to bring people together. Manifestos will die because no one really cares. It’s better to do something, rather than say something.” 

This article was originally published in the Dec/Jan 2022/23 issue of NZ MarketingClick here to subscribe.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *