We're lucky to work with an incredible array of agencies, varying in scale, style, culture, geography, and discipline. The thing that unifies almost all of them is their resource model: Hire exceptional talent and retain that talent by working with equally exceptional Clients. This model works.
The best agencies out there have operated this way successfully for decades, and no doubt will continue doing so a long way into the future, not least because the model is far from broken; a team of creatives with a tried and tested rhythm – a subtly balanced chemistry they've perfected over multiple projects – comes with some very obvious strengths. Yet, we're seeing something else emerge alongside them – a new breed of creative team, particularly present in the last few years, who don't quite live by that rulebook.
Inside AUFI's studio walls, we familiarly call this new agency model 'deconstructed'. They're often made up of / founded by a small handful of very senior strategists and creative directors who, rather than keeping talent on full-time salaries, pull together bespoke teams for each new client that approaches them, leveraging the ever growing pool of top-tier freelancers to augment their own skillsets and deliver a truly tailored experience to their clients. We sat down with Alex Ostrowski, Creative Director and Founder at London based Lovers, a team who epitomises this way of working, for a conversation about the unique creative world he's playing in.
- NBDiving straight in: Tell us a bit about you guys - When and why was Lovers born?
AOLovers began in 2015 as a basic observation: the best work gets done when people care, and the knockout stuff only comes when they really care. At that time I was seeing dozens of amazing, talented people leaving ‘agencyland’ to go freelance in search of more agency over themselves, what they put their energy into, and with whom. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to design a working model that mobilised these diverse specialists ONLY around projects they care about individually, and collectively? No bread and butter, only pudding. That’s what we do.
- NBAre there certain types of client profiles that fit this way of working?
AOEveryone we help is on a mission to move people in some way. Not just to project an image or a message, but to create a strong and real feeling. They want to meet clear-headed, creative thinking partners who are super-organised but also able to bring magic to the table. They want to see a level of passion, care and inspiration applied, whether that’s driven at rebranding their organisation entirely, or expressing some vital idea they need to better share with audiences. What they care about most is that our response is not only ‘right’ but also ‘inspired’ and that’s something we’re comfortable promising with our model. They tend to be open-minded, clever and fun.
- NBWhat role do you specifically play within the Lovers world, and how do you pick who you collaborate with?
AOAs our founder and creative director I help lead Lovers with my colleagues in the permanent central team. Day to day my job is to provide creative direction to clients and collaborators in the wider collective. I listen carefully to those who seek our support, helping them focus their ambitions into clear objectives that can light up our supergroup of thinkers and doers. We build our project teams based on experience, personality fit and project chemistry. As well as the problem solving aspect, I have the fun job of choreographing collaborators. I enjoy thinking of this as a dance, the elegance of which is as dependent on our collaborative process as our thinking or talent selection.
- NBWhat would you say are the key benefits for Clients who embrace this type of agency?
AOAttentiveness, genuine interest, team chemistry, a motivated performance that can be hard to find in a creative partnership. The continuity and care of a dedicated creative and production leadership team, plus the executional flare of a flexible supergroup of motivated specialists. This comes with an ouptut flexibility that clients enjoy, because we can become a thinking partner across different projects from identity, to campaigns, films and other pieces. Our fluid model also plays nice with in-house resource at the client’s end, as we don’t have the ego complex that agencies can sometimes cling to with regards to in-house vs out-of-house. On a financial note, Lovers in zero waste model, as our overheads accommodate only the central team of orchestrators, ensuring more pounds and dollars go directly into client work.
- NBAs the founder / agency owner, what are the challenges you have to address given this methodology?
AOOur partners and collaborators rely on a gold standard collaborative methodology, because our model is about choreographing inspired performances. Amazing project stewardship from our core creative production team is essential, and we’re currently banking our first five years of process best practice into a Lovers playbook for flexible collaboration. Our biggest challenge is making sure every project purrs and creates joy in the team and the audience, but that’s also the fun of what we’re doing.
- NBAre there any projects that stand out as ones where the result was tied to the way you work? Shout out to any particularly compelling client experiences…?
AOEvery project we’ve ever done has been shaped by our model and methodology. One great example is our work with Greenpeace. We map the hearts of our collaborators using seven special questions, one of which is ‘are there any organisations you’d love to help?’ – when Greenpeace approached us about helping them campaign to end ocean plastics, we were able to appoint a lead designer who had specifically name-checked Greenpeace in answer to this question. His energy lit the project up and inspired a completely original process for making the work, which involved fishing plastic out of the sea to build a custom typeface for the project.
- NBFast forward to the ‘end-goal’ - what does it look like for you guys, what’s the structure of your team and who are you working with?
AOHalf a decade in, we feel we’ve established lots of structural fundamentals in our model and now want to help organisations in more sectors, so we can share and grow our experiences between clients sectors more. For example, what we learn helping a funeral company can be really useful to a food waste app. Our work with an online learning library can add perspective to our work for a shoe brand. Our mission is to put wind in the sails of what we call ‘inspiring progressives’: those organisations doing great things in business and society. Our dream is to build up a strong club of people at organisations fitting that description, so we can make amazing work together, from the heart. Work with the energy to shape deep feeling and belief out there in the world, in positive ways that feel great to see.