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Working above, below and through the line with Proud-Robinson | #CompanySpotlight

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Proud-Robinson is a small but perfectly formed marketing agency that has worked “above, below and in most cases through the line.” They operate across borders, media channels, traditional networks and communications disciplines to make a tangible difference.

Today, we’re catching up with Proud-Robinson Partner of Culture Lucy Boyd to talk the past, present and future of this unique company.

How was your company born and where are you based?

Proud Robinson + Partners (PRP) started life in Brighton circa 2011.  Our Founding Partner, Ben Robinson, had spent the last decade at the forefront of the transformation of brand experience and saw the opportunity to use this as a catalyst to create something new. 

And those who were there at the beginning of this journey, saw the potential of an approach that could connect back to the cultures and creativity that we loved and was shaping the world around us. Independence was also a core driver – at its heart, we wanted to build an agency that would allow us to do work we’re proud of, with people we trust and respect and to share in the value that we create. 

With offices in London, Amsterdam and Brighton and a network of partners around the world, we’ve been living those 3 founding principles ever since.

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

From the very start, great work ethic, an ability to be smart, efficient and nimble and really strong relationships with our partners and clients has always allowed us to work with heavy hitting global brands. 

Reflecting on it now, it did take us a little while to find the processes and the language that allowed us to translate our vision and ambition into a proposition we felt was ready to scale. At 10 years old we really feel like we are coming of age and have an approach that will allow us to continue to grow and grow.  

Which was the first huge success that you can remember?

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We helped to launch the first mass produced EVs for Nissan back at a time when e-mobility felt very much like an alien / unworkable concept. We created lifestyle touring concepts designed to change hearts and minds about the game changing potential and everyday value of driving an electric vehicle, clocking up thousands of zero emissions test drive miles from Trondheim to Paris to Hamburg and kickstarting EV ownership in even the most EV-skeptic cities across Europe. 

Now every major automotive brand has launched an EV model and it’s a genuine choice for consumers who want to lessen their impact on the environment and embrace a real step change in how we use and interact with cars. Working with true pioneers and passionate early adopters at the start of an e-mobility revolution is still something we’re incredibly proud to have experienced. 

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

We really feel like that it’s a right time, right place moment for us. We have honed a ‘culture first’ approach that is allowing us to deliver fresh exciting work and add tangible value for a growing rosta of brands and businesses – from progressive start-ups to the pinnacle of modern luxury and much in between. 

It has joined the dots between the diverse range of talent we have in our agency and the broad range of work that we love to do – from business strategy, brand building and product positioning, to partnerships, experience design and physical production. It’s provided us with the glue to stitch this all together and to help our clients embrace the power of authenticity and relevance to transform the way they think about marketing. 

It has helped them move beyond rigid and often disconnected notions of ‘purpose’ and find new engaging ways to add value to the communities and conversations they looking to connect with.   

Can you explain your team’s creative process? What makes it unique?

We have always put curiosity and diversity front and centre of our strategic and creative process. Regardless of their role we have worked hard to build an agency full of people who have a genuine hunger and passion for consuming culture in all its many forms. Of course we still have creative and strategic departments but we have always operated a borderless model both internally and external. 

We create an environment where we can use the full power of our collective and individual experiences to get to authentic, fresh and relevant ideas. As well as our full-time team, we have built a community of partners across the world that allows us to flex and adapt to any brief and to ensure that we are constantly exposed to new and different ways of seeing the world.

We have always been a strategy first agency and believers that strategy is an inherently creative process. Some clients feel that this slows them down and the request to ‘just come with the ideas’ is still something we have to push against. If you are looking to connect with a community in a meaningful way you need to understand what drives them. Strategy is the short cut, it’s what enables you to get to great work faster and more effectively.

How does your team remain inspired and motivated?

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We started our agency with a belief that great work comes from a life well lived. We encourage everyone to be a culture-vulture because we know that the greatest inspiration is found in real world experiences. But we also have a ‘no cultural snobbery’ rule – we understand that’s it’s sometimes the trending Netflix show or cult 90s movie and not the Michelin starred restaurant that can spark great creative thinking and create powerful connection points. 

We have always used humility, energy and originality as our primary recruitment criteria and as a result have built a team of kind, smart and collaborative people that can both make each other laugh and push each other to produce work we’re proud of.

How has COVID-19 affected your company?

Real world events and experiences have always been a big part of what we do and so COVID drastically changed the shape of our output for a couple of years. Whilst this was an industry wide challenge, we found opportunities to create those experiences in other forms – from immersive at-home whisky tasting experiences to stepping in the world of Web3 to creating a hybrid virtual Global Vaccine Confidence Summit for the G7. 

COVID brought with it a huge acceleration in technology and capabilities for agencies, suppliers and clients and has paved the way for more often higher quality, more integrated and more sustainable live experience solutions. A little adversity is often the greatest kick-starter for innovation and we’re excited to see where this takes us next. 

Which agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?

Uncommon consistently smash it out of the park – they brought a fresh and exciting approach to creative which feels like it has pushed things forward and really raised the bar. 

I saw Brooklyn agency, Big Spaceship, talk at Cannes a few years ago, have always followed them since and really admire their approach to company culture. They have some really simple principles for creating a great internal culture and PRP shares a similar ethos when it comes to believing that everyone has the capacity to be creative. 

What is one tip that you would give to other agencies looking to grow?

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I think to view growth as a multifaceted concept. Growing your thinking, ambition, and experience will help you to grow your understanding of the value you can add and the type of work you want to make. This will allow you to scale something you believe in and something that is distinctive and differentiated. 

There are so many smaller agencies out there that have proved time and time again that you don’t need to be a global network to make big impactful work or beautifully crafted ideas.

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

It sounds obvious, but outside of delivering excellent work, we’ve always prided ourselves on being genuinely nice to work with. And that means that we have client relationships that stretch back to the inception of the agency and beyond. We probably pitch for about 20% of our annual work to date, with the lion’s share being secured via retained accounts and through personal referrals. 

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

Whilst the seismic shift to hybrid and remote working during COVID brought some valuable flexible working opportunities, it also saw the already blurred boundaries between home and work tip over the edge. 

As we move forward, I think it’s really important for both the mental wellbeing of agency and client teams and the overall quality of the work that we try to re-establish some of those boundaries. Burnout is a bitch and I think that’s something we can all agree on. 

Do you have any websites, books or resources that you would recommend?

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Anthony Bourdin’s Kitchen Confidential is not only a modern classic but if you’ve ever worked in hospitality, you will know that there are lessons for us all to learn in making sure your mise-en-place on point… whatever industry you’re in. 

Brooke Hammerling’s excellent podcast ‘POP CULTURE MONDAYS… ON THURSDAYS’ is the weekly roundup of all of the pop culture news that you’re too embarrassed to admit you didn’t know. It’s both entertaining and often incredibly helpful!

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