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Opening the gate and walking through walls | #CompanySpotlight

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“Even the smallest of gates is more powerful than the tallest of walls”

This is how The Gate introduces themselves and it’s quite the introduction. While they’re technically only 5 years young, they fancy themselves as an agency that “ignores traditional boundaries” and blends creativity, technology and media to help its clients walk through walls to reach their audience.

To dig a little deeper, we shone this week’s #CompanySpotlight on The Gate London with the expert help of its CEO, Jamie Elliott, who has been there right from the beginning.

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How was your company born and where are you based?

The long answer would trace our roots back to New York agency Albert Frank and 1872.   The short one is that this chapter started in 2017 when Kit Altin our Chief Strategy Officer and I joined from Leo Burnett and MullenLowe respectively with a transformation mandate.  We are based in London and have offices in New York and Edinburgh.

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

Our aim is to become one of the top 10 UK creative agencies.  The biggest barrier to that when we joined was the heritage as a Financial Services specialist that had created famous campaigns in that space like the Invesco Zebra and the Scottish Widow. So, attracting clients, and being known for world-class work, beyond FS was our biggest challenge. 

Which was the first huge success that you can remember?

‘Nobody is normal’ the idea we had for Childline has been a game-changer.  It was one of last year’s most awarded campaigns winning us our first Gold Cannes Lions, our first D&AD Yellow Pencil, positioning us as the top performing UK small agency both at D&AD and Cannes 2021 in so doing. 

We also picked up our our first APG Creative Strategy Gold amongst a slew of other awards. It has attracted new business, given us a kick of self-belief and our work across the board has leapt on, with our best other examples - ‘Sex never gets old for Replens, ‘Bum’s the word’ for Anuso and ‘Locked down and out’ for the LGBT Foundation - also taking on cultural taboos and winning awards globally. 

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

Translating the momentum we have gained in 2021 into larger scale opportunities.  We are part of the most fantastic group of partner agencies through MSQ and are seeing more and more clients looking for interesting combinations of specialisms - creative & media or creative & customer experience for example. 

Leading the creative charge in one of these joined-up teams that enable us to take our big creative thinking and translate it across the customer journey, integrating data and increasingly advanced production technology is something we do that other agencies of our size generally can’t.

Can you explain your team’s creative process?

The best creative processes are messy.  Creating great work is not easy and the process unlinear. We are hot on clearly defining the problem we are solving at the outset – a sharply defined problem is a much better startpoint than fuzziness. And, we then have process around hunting for insights in all available data to give the creative teams as many interesting, provocative start-points as possible. 

It is an ongoing dialogue though, Lucas Peon our Chief Creative Officer, and his team are involved from the get go.  We try to give the teams as much time as possible to make the big creative leaps. Quality takes time, which is an inconvenient truth in a world where everyone wants everything yesterday. 

How does your team remain inspired and motivated?

We have a clear long-term ambition and goals to shoot for each year, these guide us and motivate us.  We are hellbent on replicating the success of ‘Nobody is Normal’ with another campaign of that stature and impact. 

I certainly take great inspiration from working with Kit and Lucas and the rest of the Gate crew, all of whom are restless to push things on and up and we have great access collectively to best in class specialists across MSQ.  It’s a strong learning environment.

How has COVID-19 affected your company?

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2020 was very tough.  2021 was our best year by far.  So we have come through it with our reputation considerably enhanced and we’ve also moved into a lovely, collaborative space with our other MSQ partner agencies opposite the Opera House in Covent Garden. 

We are still, in truth, coming to terms with hybrid working but always learning from it and will keep trying new stuff to get the balance right. 

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

I’ve learnt masses from being part of the MSQ community: having informal and daily access to top-notch data, CRM, media and tech expertise has opened my eyes and rounded my marketing experience considerably.  We had one of the great ‘suits’, D&AD Chairman Tim Lindsay as our Chairman and he provided excellent counsel as we embarked on our transformation journey. 

My leadership hero though is well beyond this industry and is one I’ve had since childhood: the late Brian Clough was a charismatic, mercurial leader who took two teams of misfits from footballing obscurity to greatness including the team I support Nottingham Forest.  

What is one tip that you would give to other aspiring creatives looking for work?

Surprise and delight. 

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

I think the next 10 years are going to be fascinating with the explosion of technologies that will follow as billions are invested in pursuit of Web3 and the ever more immersive experiences available in the galaxy of metaverses that will come into being. 

It should be a creative golden age and I only hope that we learn from all the mistakes that have been made in this last age of social media, which has been far from golden. We need as an industry to be much stronger in the face of the next phase of development of the web than we were in the last one.

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

I’m a relentless reader and push outside my comfort zone in terms of topics as often as possible. So, I’d recommend this weird trio (all beautifully written and shortish) read back to back, to stretch and excite your brain: Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli’s book on quantum mechanics ‘Helgoland’; Madeline Miller’s ‘The Song of Achilles’, a modern take on Greek myth; and, then David Baddiel’s ‘Jews don’t count’.  

Header image by Barbara Gibson

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