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Cooking up trouble with an agency born during COVID | #CompanySpotlight

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One of the few agencies forged successfully amidst the fires of COVID, Trouble Maker is an end-to-end content, media and distribution agency with four founders that have experience with some of the biggest brands in the world.

They came together to create a “pioneering new model that pushes campaigns to inspire change, do things first and make trouble.”

We caught up with one of the founders and chief business officer, Adam Clarkson, to learn more.

How was your company born and where are you based?

Trouble Maker was born in the summer of 2019 out of the desire from its founders to offer the market a new creative and media model; a kind of antidote to slow, expensive and wasteful network agency approaches.

Critically; to do things first, inspire change and make trouble! Our HQ is currently based on Riding House Street in Fitzrovia, with outposts in Copenhagen, Rome & Miami.

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

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We secured our first major contract in late December 2019; a social AOR position with global beer brand Peroni Nastro Azzurro. Having celebrated over the break and then come back in 2020 all guns blazing, no-one could have foreseen the worldwide game-changer that was the pandemic, silently creeping-up to dismantle life as we knew it.

This led to them needing a smarter solution beyond social and saw Trouble Maker become their full-service global agency of record. This took great trust from them but also a desire for change that has gone on to produce incredible results.

So, instead of the world’s worst false start for an agency, we became even closer to our founding client and navigated the unchartered waters of a total lockdown together.

Which was the first huge success that you can remember?

It depends on how we’re measuring success. With our founding client, we had our first brand strategy success by evolving Peroni Nastro Azzurro’s core creative idea from Vita Con Stile, which we felt was cold and aloof, into Live Every Moment, which was more warm, actionable and connected to consumption. This transition has been hugely welcomed by local markets, consumers and our creative department.

Our first effectiveness success came the first time we planned PNA’s media and creative together for Sweden, achieving a 12% increase in awareness and a 13% increase in trial; reaching the highest uplift scores the market has ever seen.

Our first Trouble Maker success came when we hijacked Heineken’s sponsorship of Bond (after all, if Bond was drinking beer he’d definitely choose a Peroni Nastro Azzurro over a Heineken).

We leveraged our Aston Martin partnership to rapidly devise a cinema ad inspired by the No Time To Die trailer; featuring Bond driving through Italy. After seeing the trailer, we developed and shot a campaign of a woman recreating the drive in an Aston Martin before stopping off for a Peroni Nastro Azzurro 0.0%.

We bought media space before all showings of the new Bond film, achieving the highest ad recall of any advert that ran before the film.

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

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The biggest opportunity we see for the business during 2023 is growing our offer to market beyond the classic agency services model. We’ll be launching and developing new propositions, allowing our partners to leverage our expertise without needing to appoint a full-service agency on a retained basis.

From a creative production unit focused on delivering content from end-to-end, through to our partnerships business offer, where leading brands and sponsorship rights holders will be brought together with seamless activation planning and creative delivery, 2023 will be a big year for Trouble Maker…

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

Our full-service approach (even if we aren’t working with clients in a full-service capacity) gives us a much more effective, joined-up and inspiring creative process. Once clear objectives and a big channel agnostic idea has been developed, we start our connections planning process.

With strategists, creatives and touchpoint experts all working together, we build a road map for how our idea delivers against the specific campaign objectives. This unlocks big thinking, entwines creativity with touchpoints and binds all parties under one singular mission.

How does your team remain inspired and motivated?

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We try to think beyond the work when it comes to keeping our team charged-up and excited for the road ahead.

Everything from ‘adventure lunches’ which sees our crew head out for an exploration of something culturally exciting in the area, through to takeovers of the swimming pool at the W Hotel in Barcelona for our Summer Away Day (the Piña Colada bill was eye-watering, btw).

Next month, our strategy team are embarking on the nail-biting task of performing live stand-up comedy in Camden, as they learn how the fundamentals of the art can be applied to the generation of award-winning planning.

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

So many heroes and legends have laid the path that have made Trouble Maker possible.
For example, Ivan Pollard, who was often voted as the best planner in the world by Campaign magazine.

As our CSO’s original mentor, he instilled a belief in tearing-up the rule book and finding better ways. Plus he was an early pioneer of the connections planning method we still use and offer today.

We also see our incredible team of Trouble Makers as heroes; they have unerringly navigated one of the most challenging times for business in living memory and helped us maintain solid growth throughout and always with smiles on their faces (albeit oftentimes, through Zoom).

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

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Never stand still. That is to say, you won’t have all the right answers straight off the bat.
If something feels good, go for it. Don’t seek permission but be prepared to fail and learn from those inevitable mistakes. There is no losing as far as we’re concerned; there’s only winning and learning.

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

We are one of a few agencies whose values are written on the front door, and this is intentional. Trouble Maker appeals to clients that want a step change in their communications and it appears to act as a beacon for them.

If you’re the type of client that is happy to continue doing the same old tried and tested things for years on end, then you aren’t likely to be interested in an agency called Trouble Maker.

So, the name helps attract the clients we actively want to work with and keeps those with different ambitions at bay.

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

That lazy, ugly and repetitive communications become a thing of the past.

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

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Into The Woods, by John Yorke – it’s a thought-provoking examination of the underlying structure and purpose of all stories. It quite beautifully delves into the age-old question of why we are drawn to storytelling and why all stories seem to follow a similar pattern. A fantastic foundation of understanding for placing consumer empathy and human behaviour and expectations at the heart of communications.

The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading by Ian Rowland – at first it might feel like an odd choice as it’s a book that breaks down how to act like a tarot card reader. However, it shows the principles of how people can be communicated to, based on wider trends, yet made to feel personally bespoke to them. Very useful for anyone looking to create global communications that don’t feel too vague and catch-all.

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