Creature: misbehaving intelligently

Meet the agency that aims to leave the industry in a better state then they found it

By Jeremy Lee

The founders of Creature aren’t really ones for introspection. Instead, they try and forge ahead with initiatives that are designed to, in their words, “leave the industry a better place than they found it”. With schemes such as “The Real Living Wage Pledge”, the “In The Wild” creative development programme, and a more recent campaign for the Department for Opportunities that highlights the Class Pay Gap, Creature has always looked forwards not back.

But here we are – sat on a sofa in the agency’s Curtain Road headquarters and underneath a sign that displays proudly the agency’s mission statement: "The Home of Intelligent Misbehaviour”. It was in this same building (and on the same floor) that the agency’s founders assembled nearly 11 years ago to launch the start-up.

While it’s unusual for start-ups to remain in the building in which they were launched, this doesn’t reflect a lack of progress but instead a self-confessed surfeit of ambition at launch (understandable, perhaps, given the eldest of them was just 30). The six original employees must have rattled around like peas on a drum, but the office space is now satisfyingly full and buzzing with activity.

The agency was formed after a meeting of minds (and also a self-confessed lack of foresight on what they were going to do). “We had lofty ambitions, as evidenced by the office. But I think the one thing that hasn't changed — literally the only thing that hasn't changed — is this desire to leave the industry better than we found it,” says Dan Cullen-Shute, previously at Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners (DLKW).

Cullen-Shute and fellow co-founder Stuart Outhwaite-Noel (the other remaining founding partner is his Mother creative counterpart Ben Middleton who is having a massage at the other end of the office) shared a frustration with the advertising norms of behaviour that were prevalent at the time. In particular, the grandstanding, exaggerated swaggering arrogance and the lack of equality of opportunity that existed back then (and still does, albeit to a lesser extent thanks to the work of people such as them).

“We thought maybe we could do this better. And we're all very conscious that advertising is the industry that talks a lot and does very little,” says Stuart. And for an agency that was still in its infancy they were aware from the outset that they didn’t want to fall for the mantra of “make more noise than your size” — in fact, they didn’t want to make noise at all: they wanted to create action.

“We've got this this arguably grand vision… but actually if you break it down, it's quite deliberately manageable. We don't want to change the world. We don't want to save the industry from itself. We just want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to push it on a bit and to try and make it better..... and then underneath that is we have always had this almost allergy to chat without doing,” says Stuart.

Idealist? Well, maybe. But then their youthful exuberance meant that they could use their creativity to approach things in a different way — indeed, at launch they labelled themselves a “creative company” rather than the more limiting “advertising agency”. But that’s not to say that as well as coming up with creative solutions to some societal problems they can’t also come up with creative solutions to advertising too.

In its first year as it was gearing up for business Creature staged a theatre production of Eugene O’Neill’s play The Hairy Ape and the launch of its own honey brand, made by bees in hives atop its building.

More recently it has been working with brands that bigger agencies covet — including Eve Sleep, Dunelm and Beagle Street — but Creature has never been afraid of also getting involved in political or societal issues that its founders always thought important.

It created a party political broadcast for the Green Party and ahead of the US Election launched a movement called "The Great Unfollow" that encouraged the public to unfollow the outgoing US President Donald Trump on Twitter.

“The political stuff is really tricky because we are not political as a business. And we have tried very hard to be welcoming of any political persuasion. The idea that anyone who votes Tory or who voted Brexit would feel uncomfortable in here is wrong,” adds Dan carefully.

Neither of these projects were money-spinners — instead they are a display of belief in things that matter to them and to their principles.

It’s also what motivated their desire to help those who had been employed in the hospitality industry until Covid struck. “This was when, I'm sure you remember, the Prime Minister told people not to go into pubs and restaurants but hadn't ordered them to close so they can take on insurance. They were just empty. And advertising has quite a good history with pubs and restaurants. We were like right, we need to do something to help with that,” he says. There followed a campaign that encouraged commuters who were know working from home to donate their travel costs to supporting those in the beleaguered hospitality industry.

Equally, the agency’s “Corona thank you notes" came out at about the same time and were created to thank key workers from a variety of sectors who were helping the national effort.

Big hearted gestures, all. While providing advertising with a conscience is at the core of the agency, Creature also actively seeks to widen the funnel of talent of people entering it.

Acknowledging that the top of the industry is dominated by people who all look the same (and come from similar backgrounds) the Creature trio have sought to attract more entry level talent that can then shin their way up advertising’s greasy pole. Adi Hussein, an aspiring creative who lacked the portfolio (and background) to benefit from traditional routes into advertising was the first beneficiary through Creature’s “In the Wild” mentorship scheme. This offers a paid internship and is designed to attract more diverse talent. It’s also a project that Creature has encouraged other agencies to adopt.

If combining responsible and ethical capitalism with social purpose (and having quite a lot of fun along the way) constitutes "intelligent misbehaviour" then hopefully more agencies will misbehave similarly.

Either way, Creature is well on its way to leaving the industry a better place than they found it — and you get the impression that this still youthful bunch have got a lot left that they want to achieve.


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