Iconic Tokyo-based graphic design and typography publication, IDEA MAGAZINE, recently invited us to contribute towards their 399th print edition. It turns out there’s no AUFI equivalent in Japan – so they commissioned an origin story from us as part of a wider editorial initiative that aims to shine a light on the inner workings of the global design scene.
We’re constantly striving to find creative businesses that stand as a north star in the worlds they play in. IDEA MAG epitomise that – a publication revered across Asia for its insight on design and the unparalleled print craft they bring to every issue.
Read the translated five-page-spread below, where we go into detail about match-making brands with creative agencies based on shared values and chemistry, first and foremost.
Creative Intermediaries: Inside The In-Between
“Creativity is our last true competitive advantage”. That is the driving message set out in ‘The Creative Study,’ a global deep-dive that aims to define the undefinable: why creativity matters.
We published this report because creativity is our currency. ASK US FOR IDEAS exists as a creative force aimed at bridging the gap between brands and creative agencies. We offer a matchmaking service that helps businesses all over the world find their perfect agency partner. A gateway to creative excellence. A carefully curated network of the top 1% of creative agencies around the world and a resource for clients looking to find them. An intermediary, if you will. Come to us with a creative challenge, and we’ll work to connect you with the best possible agency partner to help you solve it.
Despite being unique in offering what we offer – we don’t believe we’ve re-invented any wheels. Wherever there is a commodity surrounded by demand, intermediaries exist. Real estate, cars, currencies, fine wine, tradable goods like oil, sugar and carbon, they all have broker-based businesses that sit between the buyer and the sellers. Creativity should be no different (except for one thing that sets it apart which I’ll come to later*), yet for some reason brands have always been expected to sift through the markets themselves.
And the markets, well, quite frankly they’re wild. Numbers incoming. Bare with…
- Last year in the US alone there was a record breaking 840,000 new businesses registered, boldly setting out to disrupt status the quo and change the fortunes of the entrepreneurs behind them. This is neatly tied to the fact that the Venture landscape invested nearly twice as much capital into new companies than any previous year in history ($330B).
- There are more dollars being put in the hands of creative practitioners than ever. Global annual marketing spend has been growing 5% YOY since 2019, and is expected to hit $4.7-trillion by 2025. This is made up in part by those new businesses, but also by a plethora of scale-up/growth stage companies, and an enormous pool of established businesses that are looking to fight these challenger brands by pouring gasoline soaked dollars onto “looks at us” bonfires in the hope of holding onto as much market share as possible.
- There are more creative agencies out there than ever. A report recently published by research heavyweight IBIS-World puts the global number of advertising agencies at 397,365. Whilst there will inevitably be a fair amount of crossover, this number doesn’t seemingly include branding agencies, digital agencies, and many others that categorise themselves more broadly under the ‘marketing’ umbrella.
“There’s more competition between brands – and therefore more need to differentiate, stand out and communicate better”ASK US FOR IDEAS co-founder, Nick Bell
All told, if you were to include some independent practitioners (and there are plenty of those who are operating at the highest level), I’d hazard a guess that the supplier-pool will extend comfortably into 7-figures.
In short, there’s a lot of demand and a lot of supply. There’s more competition between brands (both new and old), and therefore more need to differentiate, stand out, and communicate better.
This means finding a great creative partner to help you as you form, grow and accelerate within your market is more important than ever. And finding the perfect one is the holy grail.
This is why we exist. To bridge the gap between clients and agencies. To guide brands to their creative agency other-halves. To know the agency landscape better than anyone, and demystify it to clients seeking the best creativity in the world. And not simply because there’s a buyers and sellers market, but because we fundamentally believe that the right creative partnership can define a business – and finding that partner in an ocean of options can be an arduous and often costly exercise.
“This is why we exist. To guide brands to their creative agency other-halves.”ASK US FOR IDEAS co-founder, Nick Bell
AUFI was founded ten years ago, and whilst the client x agency landscape wasn’t as crazy as it is now, there was still a white space for our service. It was a transition moment in fact. The bigger agencies were beginning to be called out for being lumbering giants (their shiny lobbies and expensive pool tables finally seen for what they were – unnecessary overhead), with a smaller, more agile, more creative and more passionate offering coming to the fore. At the time brands were aware that’s where the talent was going – senior creatives leaving the networked behemoths to set up these challenger studios – but they didn’t know exactly where to find them. Picking out the top performing agencies when there was very little to go on beyond word-of-mouth was problem numero uno, and ASK US FOR IDEAS formed to solve it.
Our offering has remained by and large the same over the years. A brand with a creative need – be that branding, advertising, digital, marketing – arrives at our door, and after getting to know the client and their needs through conversation, and guiding them in areas where they want guidance (what budget might be appropriate, what to look out for in initial agency conversations, etc.) we work as a team to establish a shortlist of up to five agency options that we know to be hyper-able at solving the challenge in hand. We make introductions to those agencies, and step back whilst the various parties get to know one another. Further, independent discussion ensues between the brand and each of the agency partners, and after a week or so, the brand can expect a selection of proposals on their desk that outline the way each agency would tackle the project, comparable quotes for the work, timeframes, case studies and anything else the agencies feel might help illustrate why they are the right partner for this particular job.
“Chemistry is the ingredient that creates a platform for truly brilliant ideas to be uncovered”ASK US FOR IDEAS co-founder, Nick Bell
It’s not rocket science, obviously, but amongst the more simple box checking listed above, we try to zero-in on something much less tangible. That thing that differentiates creativity from the other aforementioned commodities: The *People. And, more than the people, it’s really a search for the personal chemistry between them.
If we’ve done our job right, on paper the teams should all look tick, tick, tick. It’s at that point we encourage the clients to look beyond those factors, and at their emotional reaction to the teams they’re exploring working with. Who was it that had that undefinable edge, who felt right, where there was a buzz in the room that didn’t necessarily exist with the others? Chemistry is the ingredient that creates a platform for truly brilliant ideas to be uncovered. When there is a resonance between client and agency and the relationship goes from just “supplier x buyer” to a true partnership, magic happens.
“We believe we’ve only scratched the surface with the connections we hope to make”ASK US FOR IDEAS co-founder, Nick Bell
This emphasis on chemistry as the most important factor in a great client x agency relationship is also why we tend to reject formulaic and numerically evaluated RFPs. Buying creativity is not about data. It’s about a relationship between two groups of people, and the possibilities that can happen when they come together. This can’t be found using spreadsheets and scoring systems – whilst that approach can perhaps help initially – what we encourage our clients to look out for is the moment when culture and a shared ambition of two companies truly align.
And it’s really no more complicated than that. We’re incredibly lucky to work with the talented people we do. Our business is made up of a team of brilliant and passionate individuals whose roles are all intertwined in a way that creates a real sense of collective responsibility – and we believe, really, we’ve only scratched the surface in terms the connections we hope to make.