After a scurry following a room change I meet Nick Howarth, managing partner at The&Partnership, in one of the countless buildings it is “slowly taking over” in Fitzrovia. “I think it’s called ‘Noho’ now,” he chuckles. “If you say you work in Fitzrovia people think you’ve gone back in time about 250 years.”
The&Partnership is a full service agency, more like a holding company. It’s made up of multiple specialist satellite agencies, taking lessons from the old school to piece together the jigsaw of modern media fragmentation.
“When I first started in advertising,” says Howarth, “my media pals were down the corridor, and we used to work on campaigns together for clients. But pretty much from the moment I joined the industry, media started separating. And then, as each new channel came on – digital communications, social media or whatever else – specialist agencies blew up, and there was a massive diversification of different agencies. And I do think that what we’re doing is the answer. I think we’ve almost gone full circle.”
What The&Partnership does is use a myriad of cross-platform skills to create bespoke agencies intrinsic to its clients’ needs. “I think that in the traditional world, and what happens still now, is that lots of clients work with multiple agencies, across disciplines. So they’ll use an ad agency, a media agency, a digital agency, a social agency, a PR agency.”
Howarth thinks this can all get a bit much though. Each agency is self-interested and in competition to promote its own skills. “I’d rather talk to a single person,” he says. “Rather than five separate conversations with five different agencies that will each come back with a solution centred on their interests, rather than my interests.”
By keeping everything in house, it saves the client the hassle of organising multiple campaigns – negating conflict – while offering a synergy of resources. The&Partnership’s model is most interesting because it creates a new specialist unit to work within an existing business. Such is the case with &Toyota, the subsidary created to handle all of Toyota’s marketing, digital and media activities across Europe.
“We’ve had a relationship with the Toyota Motor Corporation since 2003,” says Howarth. In The&Partnership’s embryonic years, one of its first jobs was producing the Toyota Aygo adverts, which led to handling global communications of Lexus out of Tokyo – including the ambitious hoverboard advert last year (they literally built a hoverboard).
“It was by some distance the scariest and most exciting campaign we’ve ever done,” says Howarth. “We reached 40m people globally, so whatever it cost to make the board and the track [he won’t tell me], it’s paid for itself 100 times over in terms of PR.”
It was this campaign that really fortified the relationship between the two. Mooted as the agency “coup of the year”, The&Partnership plucked the £240m contract from Saatchi & Saatchi and Zenith, both owned by Publicis Groupe. “These are guys [Toyota] who are thinking small, incremental changes to the status quo probably don’t cut it, they want a much more radical solution – an overhaul,” says Howarth.
The &Toyota subsidiary comprises a network of dedicated hubs inside Toyota offices around Europe, creating “very specific opportunities and different conversations in each country.”
Howarth thinks that the automotive industry has a communication issue when connecting with potential customers. “Ads often feel like they’ve been written for petrolheads,” he says. “And I think that what they need to do is make people fall in love with their brand. Make it feel like it’s a brand for them. And that’s not necessarily about functional communication on Mpg, boot-space capacity or wheel trim, it’s also about what we as a company stand for: what’s our purpose?”