Pushing further than any other Kiwi-founded agency has gone before: Why Special is Campaign Brief’s 2022 New Zealand Agency of the Year

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Pushing further than any other Kiwi-founded agency has gone before: Why Special is Campaign Brief’s 2022 New Zealand Agency of the Year

Exploring every opportunity to create a body of work that lives up to its name, Special has achieved extraordinary results for its people and clients; pushing further than any other Kiwi-founded agency has gone before with the opening of new offices in London and New York, Special is Campaign Brief’s 2022 New Zealand Agency of the Year


Winning Gold and Bronze Lions at Cannes Lions and an incredible 16 Agency of the Year titles in one single calendar year, Special was also shortlisted among the very best agencies in the world for AdWeek International Agency of the Year. In addition, Special was named ‘Most Effective Independent Agency in the World’ by the Global Effies – a first for any agency from the Southern Hemisphere.

Furthermore, the Special network was ranked in the Independent Network of the Year top ten at Cannes Lions (led by the stellar efforts of Special New Zealand), just behind Wieden + Kennedy and just ahead of Mother.

Reflecting on the agency’s major highlights in 2022, founder Tony Bradbourne points to the overall quality of the work and its results: “Three campaigns ranked in the ‘World’s 100 Most Effective’, ‘4th Most Awarded Campaign in the World’ for ‘David’s Unusables’, and the results we’ve helped generate for clients, which ultimately saw us named #1 Most Effective Independent Agency in the World by Effies Global. This is pinch yourself stuff really.”

With work that won Special New Zealand Agency of the Year in Campaign Brief’s The Work 2022 – with almost double the amount of acceptances than the next Kiwi agency – it’s no surprise the agency got punters taking notice. From the amazing Kathmandu ‘Summer Never Sleeps’ to the highly innovative ‘Last Performance’ for Partners Life, to selling out Wellington Stadium for an event that no-one attended, along with enlisting the help of the Beatles, Tom Petty and Billy Joel to teach Kiwi drivers what the safe traveling distance is between the car in front, the agency made clever and arresting work.

Pushing further than any other Kiwi-founded agency has gone before: Why Special is Campaign Brief’s 2022 New Zealand Agency of the Year

For Special Executive Creative Director Jonathan McMahon, standout work included a diverse line-up of campaigns.
Says McMahon: “I’m super proud of the work we have done for Kathmandu, especially our latest film, ‘Summer Never Sleeps’. When it comes to film in general, we never really have the biggest budgets down this end of the world, and we can rarely rely on celebrity power to win hearts, so we must find other ways to shine.”

McMahon believes the outcome was world-class: “It was a true team effort and a celebration of the brilliant platform, ‘We’re Out There’. It speaks to the benefits of this range that is appropriate in equal parts diurnally and nocturnally. The soundtrack is wonderful and catchy; it features an owl DJ, marshmallow pillows and a sheep that is put to sleep by counting humans, among much more.”

He also points to ‘Fourth Trimester’ for Contact Energy as a big generous act: “Giving away three months of free energy for Kiwi families with newborns is a beautiful and thoughtful offer that lives up to the brand platform, ‘It’s Good to Be Home’. But what I love about this campaign was our infant-luencers. You see, along with these three months of free energy, all babies received a onesie displaying a humorous headline.

“Then new parents did what new parents do best and shared pictures of their babies on social media – turning them into baby-sized billboards of adorable free media. These babies then became the faces of our actual billboards, to promote the initiative.”

Executive Creative Director Lisa Fedyszyn says clients at Special aim to make a meaningful difference to people’s lives and that this goal is part of the agency’s collective purpose.

When it comes to life insurance, New Zealand is one of the most underinsured in the world. Partners Life wanted to change that and challenge the nation’s mindset to help New Zealanders understand just how important life insurance is.

To do this, Special brought the television characters back from the dead before the end credits of New Zealand’s most popular murder mystery series, The Brokenwood Mysteries, so New Zealanders could understand the importance of living with foresight rather than hindsight.

Explains Fedyszyn: “Our dead characters became our spokespeople and we collaborated with The Brokenwood Mysteries to ‘hijack’ their property to reach the consumer in a truly entertaining and engaging way. We also received our most rewarding Advertising Standards Association complaint: ‘I felt I had been tricked into watching this advertisement’.”

Pushing further than any other Kiwi-founded agency has gone before: Why Special is Campaign Brief’s 2022 New Zealand Agency of the Year

Another standout was the work the agency did with the team at Kiwibank, to help prove its commitment to making Kiwis better off.

“In New Zealand, home ownership is considered a birth right,” explains Fedyszyn. “Yet in early 2020 our housing market was one of the most unaffordable in the world. It was in this overheated market that we helped Kiwibank create an innovative product that made it easier for New Zealanders to get a foot on the property ladder. We called it Co-own.”

By encouraging people to join with friends, family and even colleagues to pool their resources, Co-own put home ownership in reach for thousands of Kiwis who would otherwise have missed out.

She says the agency was also excited to work with the Optus team to inspire young working Australians and prove it is never too late to say yes to an opportunity, especially at a time when many Australians are currently re-evaluating their goals and making major life changes.

“We did this with the film ‘The Violinist’ working with violinist Eric Avery and a re-worked and scored rendition of the Australian classic ‘Working Class Man’. As we see him in the film go from a construction worker to playing in a prestigious orchestra. Personally, It was such a privilege to reimagine a cultural symbol of what it is to be working-class in Australia with a track I’d grown up listening to, and to see it brought to life with such talented artists as Eric Avery and director Justin Kurzel.”

For Executive Creative Director and Head of Digital Stu Mallarkey, creating a Christmas fundraising event at Sky Stadium for the Wellington City Mission (that no-one went to) was pretty special, but a long term labour of love was creating Te Kākahu Hou, re-imagining the age-old graduation gown to draw attention to New Zealand’s modern approach to learning, to bring back overseas students.

According to Chief Strategy Officer Rory Gallery clients should be asking their agency for honesty: “We are here to give our clients an outside perspective that makes people, consumers and customers central to our thinking. We thrive when we feel comfortable in being able to give the answers we think will be effective. Those answers aren’t always easy for clients to do or buy and often lead to uncomfortable conversations. Encourage those conversations; they usually end up with the best outcome.”

Along with opening its doors in New York and London, the Special Wellington team welcomed the arrival of ECD Mark Forgan back from Paris after 15 years, and went on to immediately win Trademe, Hell Pizza and University of Otago.

Says Bradbourne: “Seeing Special Wellington make such inroads, working with such iconic brands in the first six months, is a legendary start. We ran a launch press ad stating that we are here to make a real difference to Wellington and we are super proud to have sponsored Semi Permanent and helped bring that amazing two day creative event to the capital to inspire business and creative folk alike. And, to have partnered with Wellington City Mission, creating an event called ‘Silent Night’ where we sold more tickets to Sky Stadium than Queen or Guns ‘n’ Roses and raised a huge amount for this incredible organisation.”

Bradbourne adds it’s inspiring to see the amount of attention Special is generating in London. “Even though we’ve only just started, it’s great to see how open people are to us bringing our style of creativity, bold thinking, innovation and craft to this incredibly competitive market. We have an incredible team of global partners, incredible depth of talent in every office, and a global leadership team who are driven to make it special every day. You can’t achieve our group ambition without the best talent.”

Pushing further than any other Kiwi-founded agency has gone before: Why Special is Campaign Brief’s 2022 New Zealand Agency of the Year

A massive year of growth saw Special New Zealand’s revenue increase by 29% and profit by 35%. This could have to do with the agency picking up a new business win every single month, bringing into the fold Oyster Bay, Tourism Fiji, Emma Lewisham, Alta, Kiwirail, Interislander, New Zealand Trade & Enterprise, The Collective, Plant & Food Research, Fatethm AI, Datacom, Opes Partners and Beca.

And Special became only the second-ever New Zealand agency to win a ‘Best of Discipline’ Gold Pencil, The One Show’s equivalent of a Grand Prix. Special was named Spikes Asia – Asia-Pacific Independent Agency of the Year, The One Show Asia-Pacific Independent Agency of the Year, and was named in the Australian Financial Review’s Boss Most Innovative Companies – New Zealand’s Most Innovative Media & Marketing Company.

Special also started the year with Bradbourne named Campaign Asia Agency Leader of the Year in Australia and New Zealand, followed by Campaign UK naming the agency’s CSO Rory Gallery Global Strategist of the Year. The agency finished the year with ECD Jonathan McMahon being named Creative Person of the Year by Campaign Asia and seeing Priyanka Patel being named Account Person of the Year.

According to agency leaders, diversity sits at the heart of the 75 strong team at Special – not only in gender, age, race, sexual orientation and religion, but also in the experiences, views and opinions of its people. The agency is proud to have a 65:35 split female/male across the agency and a 50:50 split at a senior leadership level.

With 21% staff growth, a commitment of 2021 was to increase staff representation across traditionally under-represented groups in New Zealand, such as Maori and Pasifika – representative of the national diversity makeup.

The agency team is proud to have seen an increase of 66% across both ethnicities in the past 12 months.
Says Fedyszyn: “We have a team of creatives in our department who come from a range of backgrounds and experiences, with unique personalities and styles, so we don’t so much inspire them to think differently as we encourage them to be themselves: to tell their stories and bring ideas to life in their own style with their own tone of voice. And, more so than take risks, I’d say we encourage the freedom to explore: to look at the possibilities.

“No one wants to create something mediocre, so while we can and do obviously encourage creatives and their ideas into certain strategic areas, we find giving the team more accountability and ownership, as well as creating a space of trust and collaboration, leads to a higher quality of work.”

Bradbourne adds that culture in a creative company has to be built and focused around creating, supporting and feeding an environment that is all about doing great work. He admits culture by itself won’t achieve that.

“You also need a collective will and group ambition to push for ‘great’. Then you need culture to make it fun, keep everyone bound together and smooth over the pain that sometimes comes with pushing further. We have what we believe is the most progressive employment policy in the land, we are flexible in where and how people work, we give everyone a huge amount of personal responsibility, and trust that everyone respects that, and we don’t over manage.”

Pushing further than any other Kiwi-founded agency has gone before: Why Special is Campaign Brief’s 2022 New Zealand Agency of the Year

The work seen and noted in 2022:

Kathmandu – Summer Never Sleeps
‘Summer Never Sleeps’ highlighted summer as a time for spontaneity, inspiring people to venture somewhere new and live their best summer yet, not only during the day but at night too. Produced by Special and Scoundrel, the Summer Never Sleeps film formed the foundation of the creative campaign, following a group of friends on their quirky summer adventure from night to day, and into night again. To the soundtrack of Jimmy, Renda-Se, by Brazilian composer, Tom Zé, the friends roast marshmallows, bike off trail, snoop a merman portrait painting, swim fully clothed, dance, march, and row through the night, all while sporting Kathmandu’s range of purpose-designed outdoor gear. It was named in Vimeo’s ‘Top 10 Films of the Year’ along with an AdAge Editor’s Pick.

Partners Life – Last Performance
Special brought back the murdered characters in New Zealand’s top crime drama The Brokenwood Mysteries to deliver their ‘Last Performance’ in a seamlessly integrated content innovation, which then played in each episode right before the last credits rolled.

The Sound FM – Traffic School
To educate drive-time listeners on what the safe travelling distance is between them and the car in front, The Sound FM tried an experiment in sound. With a little help from Tom, Billy, Axl, JJ Cale, Bryan, Ronnie and John, Paul, George & Ringo.

Wellington City Mission – Silent Night
Special created ‘The Silent Night’ – a Christmas fundraising initiative for the Wellington City Mission that aimed to sell out Sky Stadium with an event that no one attended. Developed in conjunction with Special PR and media agency OMD, the fundraiser was in response to Wellington City Mission experiencing a fourfold increase in demand for services when compared to pre-Covid levels, leading the team to predict there would be a spike in demand at Christmas as New Zealanders grappled with the cost-of-living crisis. To help generate emergency fundraising, Special Wellington staged ‘The Silent Night’, a crowd-less public event generously hosted by Sky Stadium on Wednesday, December 21. With 34,000 absent ticket holders showing their support for Wellington City Mission through this unique non-event, it allowed 100% of ticket revenue to go to the charity.

Hell Pizza – Steak n’ Cheese Pie Pizza
To create awareness for Hell’s new Steak n’ Cheese Pie Pizza, that contained no real meat, Special created a tomato sauce with real blood in it. The campaign was led by three very wrong (but so right) radio commercials. The sauce blood bag has been an incredible new product innovation for Hell. With over 3,000 side orders of ‘ToMeato Sauce’ sold this has been one of Hell Pizza’s most successful NPDs ever. Hell was especially pleased because that meant they got 3,000 meateaters to try a vegetarian pizza.

Tourism Fiji – Booster of Happiness
Tourism Fiji released a new video to invite the man at the forefront of New Zealand’s Covid-19 response, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, to Fiji for a ‘booster of happiness’ as he stepped down from his role. Executed by Special PR and shot by production house Radlab, the 60-second tongue-in-cheek video invitation has been released to offer the Bloomfield family a trip to Fiji. The video showcases the country’s tranquil white sandy beaches, crystal clear water and, above all, the friendly faces of Fijian locals who were there to welcome him. In the video, six-year-old Ratu Isikeli Sauturaga tells Dr Bloomfield that the country’s traffic-light system is a lot more relaxed as he sips a traffic light mocktail, and Mohammed Zoheeb invited Dr Bloomfield to enjoy a much-needed shot of vitamin D on their shores.

Education New Zealand – Think New
Special re-imagined one of education’s oldest symbols – the Graduation Gown – to shine a light on New Zealand’s bold new approach to education. The campaign generated PR and news coverage that reached over 172 million prospective students.

Kathmandu – Bio Down
Special helped launch the world’s first fully biodegradable jacket. The campaign film showcased the lifecycle of the jacket as part of the Kathmandu’s brand platform ‘We’re Out There’. The light-hearted ad included live acting, claymation, puppetry and exaggerated imagery to make a statement. The visuals were accompanied by an educational voice-over from renowned Kiwi actor Rachel House. The film highlighted the functionality of the BioDown jacket, displaying it in extreme conditions before demonstrating how it is broken down by tiny microorganisms with the line ‘made for out there, biodegrades in here’. So consumers don’t have to worry if the product ends up in the landfill, the jacket will completely disintegrate.

The rest you can read in the latest issue of Campaign Brief, which includes the annual CB Agency Hot+Cold Charts for New Zealand and Australia, out now.

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