Talking true integration with TMW Unlimited CEO Chris Mellish | #CompanySpotlight

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TMW Unlimited is a company that’s something of a Creativepool veteran, having been a part of our community for more than 7 years now. It’s also our 3rd ranked advertising agency and has earned a veritable bounty of Annual Awards. So, this Company Spotlight has been, in many regards, a long time coming. But better late than never.

An integrated creative agency with a 35 year pedigree, TMW Unlimited has is an agency that combines digital and traditional expertise to create campaigns and ideas that inspire and move people. This week, we spoke to CEO Chris Mellish to get a peek behind the curtain at this dream factory and figure out exactly what he means by “true integration.”

How was your company born and where are you based?


We have three offices: one in London, one in Bristol and one in Reading, which is a result of how TMW Unlimited came together in its current form. TMW Unlimited has always been based in Central London, but in 2020 we brought together four agencies into one to create the full-service integrated creative agency we have today, including our B2B specialists at TMW Business. 

We share personnel and capabilities across the agency but each office is proud of its local roots (and local pubs).

What was the biggest challenge to the growth of your company?

Historically, TMW Unlimited has always predominantly been known for our CRM experience to the extent we had perhaps become slightly pigeonholed, so over the past couple of years we have strived to become known for what we are: a truly integrated creative agency.

Whilst in the past brands may have believed they needed one agency for big creative challenges and other agencies to deal with more specialist capabilities – whether that’s CRM, social, experiential or data – it’s become increasingly crucial that communications from brands deliver across all possible touchpoints.

We call it true integration: not just taking a TV ad and making the rest of the creative match, but delivering campaigns in a connected way through all touchpoints, without any compromise on creativity.

In reality, this wasn’t so much a conscious shift for the agency as something that happened organically. We already had the teams within the agency who are channel specialists in their own right, and they were giving our existing clients the interconnectivity that brings – as well as benefitting from the creativity we pride ourselves on – we just had a job to do to communicate that to the industry.

Happily, we’re now really seeing that come to fruition. For example, the AAR recently published the figures on new business wins for integrated work and we were right near the top of the rankings, both for total wins and pitch conversion.

Which was the first huge success that you can remember?


We’ve spoken a lot a recently about how we’ve never really pinned our achievement on one huge moment, it’s always been more of a case of building momentum with a consistent series of successes and progressively seeing all of the hard work paying off.

To name just a few moments, we’ve run London’s biggest ever domestic tourism campaign and made an enormous impact on the city’s economy; we’ve become the primary strategic partners of ABBA and helped them to achieve the biggest pre-sales of any event ever; and we were also made creative partner of WW (formerly Weight Watchers) at a crucial stage of their brand journey. 

Of course we view all of these as huge achievements in their own right, but it would feel wrong to single out one win or one team when what we’re proudest of is how the whole agency has come together.

What’s the biggest opportunity for you and your company in the next year?

We’ve got the opportunity to work on some transformative briefs for some incredible brands. The team are doing some amazing work on recently won business like ABBA, WW, Aviva and the IOC; we’re also seeing consistently growing remits with some of our longest standing partners like Vodafone, BMW and Toyota. 

Whether the clients are old or new, the ultimate goal is the same: to create ideas that move people and keep the momentum going.

Can you explain your team’s creative process?


As many teams will tell you, most great marketing is built on a genuine human insight. Where we’re lucky is that we have access to our very own Human Understanding Lab, a team of 100 neuroscientists, behavioural scientists and data engineers from across UNLIMITED who are able to feed into every brief we respond to, and give our clients access to vast insight into what drives human behaviour. 

What all of this deep understanding has enabled us to appreciate is that to drive action in customers, we need to combine creating motivation with inspiring emotion, and it’s through this framework we try and respond to briefs and deliver results.

It should be said though, the Lab is not there to replace brilliant strategists or talented creatives. What it does do is enable them with all of the insight they could ask for to inspire great ideas – and, ultimately, ideas that will move people is what we’re after. Not ideas for an email, a TV ad or an Instagram post, but an idea for a brand that we are able to bring to life to drive results across all touchpoints.

How does your team remain inspired and motivated?

We’ve got a strong set of values that everybody tries to embody: take pride, give a damn, be brave, and stay curious. It’s probably the last two that keep us most inspired. As a group, we’re always actively seeking out the new and the unusual to find inspiration in the world around us. 

We also believe in challenging each other and the industry to speak out to make things better wherever we can. It feels like there’s a constant stream of talks and discussions and happening internally, so it’s difficult to imagine feeling demotivated or uninspired in that environment.

How has COVID-19 affected your company?


The biggest legacy is that we’ve transformed our system of working to one that’s based entirely on trust. We’ve spent a lot of time finding out what the team is after, and all the surveys have made it clear that most people don’t want to be in the office 5 days a week, nor do they want to always be at home. 

Almost everyone is looking for the flexibility and work-life balance that being able to work from home brings, and they also a want to be part of a fun, vibrant agency.

Based on the evidence we’ve seen, the fears that some companies had about reduced productivity with people working from home are unfounded. Not only do our team members tell us they are able to get more done whilst also being able to handle the responsibilities of home, the proof is in the pudding. 

The business is thriving, we’re creating fantastic work and our clients are happy, and that’s with people remotely, as well as in the office. That’s what we mean by trust. We’re not interested in ‘presenteeism’ so we empower individuals and teams to do what they feel is right for them on any given job. If it works for them and our clients, then it works for us too.

How do you go about finding new clients/business? (Pitching, work with retainers, etc.)

We put a lot of effort into sourcing new clients, and it’s important that we try to make sure that clients who would benefit from working with us know who we are. We’re also lucky that a lot of clients come directly to us because of previous work and/or what our clients have said about us.

We’ve also learned that knowing when to say ‘no’ to pitches can sometimes be as important as saying ‘yes’. It can feel instinctively very wrong to turn down opportunities, but unsurprisingly we’ve found we’ve had better success in winning and delivering work when we’ve been honest about whether the brand and brief feel like the right fit for us an agency and focussing on that.

What’s your one big hope for the future of the industry?


I’d love to see our industry become more inclusive and better reflect customers we serve. The way we articulate that internally is that we want everyone to feel empowered to bring their full selves to work, whoever that may be. Clearly, this isn’t going to be an overnight change but a continuous process, but it’s been encouraging to see how much dedication there is.

Something I also passionately believe is that the industry has a huge role to play in helping to combat the digital skills gap. In both my roles – CEO of TMW and President of BIMA – this is becoming an increasing focus. 

It’s hard to believe given the way the world is changing, but the amount of young people getting training in digital skills is actually decreasing. 95% of our BIMA members told us a lack of skills was holding back their growth, and it costs the British economy billions every year. Sadly, this decline disproportionately affects girls and women.

That’s why we’re undertaking initiatives such as BIMA’s Digital Day, a day in which some of the countries leading digital companies (including TMW) go into schools to set kids a brief, this year to uncover how technological and digital solutions could bring awareness to our environmental footprint for the WWF. 

Seeing young people being inspired by events like this prove that, by working collaboratively as industry, we have the power to achieve more and genuinely improve lives in the process.


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