The Showcase 2022

Overseas expansion and a wealth of international wins: MSQ's 2022

From a major push into the US to stepping up on the global new business stage, the MSQ group has had a whirlwind year

By Creative Salon

MSQ roared out of the Covid crisis with an ambitious international expansion plan and a string of local and global new business wins that helped the business increase revenues by over 50 per cent.

Led by chief executive Peter Reid, executive director Kate Howe, and chairman Charles Courtier, the group is now set fair for further expansion in 2023. Here Peter Reid gives us his take on the past year and, below, Creative Salon rounds up the company's fast-paced twelve months.

Peter Reid, MSQ's global chief executive, on MSQ's 2022

What three words would you use to describe 2022?

Terrific (MSQ). Turbulent (Economy). Terrible (Ukraine).

Talk us through some of your agency’s highlights this year?

In 2022 we celebrated our tenth anniversary with our strongest performance so far – and with ambitious plans to grow further still. From a basic results level, like-for-like revenue increased 30 percent to a record £91.3m, and EBITDA rose 51 percent to £11.4m. That means MSQ has more than doubled in size in the last 3 years.

We welcomed some brilliant new clients, from global giants like Lego and Johnson & Johnson to local favourites like the AA, Guide Dogs and MoneySuperMarket.

We welcomed new faces in new and pivotal roles, with Greg Jones joining as Smarts’ inaugural European CEO, Adam Powers becoming twentysix’s first Chief Experience Officer, Andy Edmonds taking on MSQ Global Studios in Asia, Charlotte Wolfenden becoming The Gate London’s first MD and Lisa Leone being named MSQ North America’s Chief Creative Officer.

The way our work has improved across the board has been a real highlight – we’re creating smart, creative, cross-discipline campaigns for the likes of AXA Investment Managers, Royal Mail and Zalando, and I particularly love the work coming from one of the newest agencies in MSQ’s stable, Elmwood, who have produced brilliant rebrands for Preparation H, Wrigley’s Extra and The Week magazine.

Finally, ‘Doing the Right Thing’ is one of our key business pillars, and as we’ve grown I’m pleased we’ve stayed mindful of that. We’ve brought in Jude Owens as our first Head of People to help shape our recruitment and talent development. We launched MOSAIC, a platform for people of colour to connect across all MSQ agencies. And we continue to lead the way in sustainability – we’ve been a carbon negative business for 2 years now, have planted 150,000 trees and funded 38 global sustainability projects. And in June we launched our first Sustainability Report, a low carbon website outlining our progress as we cut carbon emissions by a further 50 per cent by 2024, and sharing our learnings from the steps we’ve taken so far.

What one thing are you proudest of this year?

All of the above! Despite general adversity, it’s been our most successful year yet.

But on a personal note, I’m proud of the ever-increasing breadth of young talent in our business. To me that’s exemplified firstly by our Young Lions, two brilliant young creatives in MSQ who attended Cannes Lions to give us – and the wider industry – a fresh take on the festival. Their enthusiasm following a week of inspiration was contagious – and much needed considering the perceived talent crisis and how often we beat ourselves up as an industry. Their social takeover produced some brilliant content and I cannot agree more with their assessment that the industry should be doing more to send junior creatives, the next wave of changemakers, to Cannes.

The other truly proud moment from a talent perspective was welcoming new Ukrainian colleagues to the business. No-one should have to leave their country in such a way, so welcoming Olesia and Inessa to the business was a privilege.

And what’s been your biggest challenge?

I think our biggest challenge has been one that’s indicative of the industry in general – to move beyond ‘target setting’ to deliver real diversity of thought and representation of communities. I’ve always been proud that in the UK, more than 50 percent of MSQ staff are based outside London. It means we’re closer to our clients and not stuck in our London bubble. But driving meaningful change requires much more – and we’re very mindful of that.

What are you most looking forward to in 2023?

Taking the US by storm. At least, that’s the plan. We feel there’s a great opportunity to pioneer our multi-disciplinary model in the US. And from the clients we’ve spoken to so far, there’s real appetite for an agile, truly joined-up, post-holding company approach.

We’ve spent the last 18 months laying the groundwork, building an enviable leadership team in the form of Aaron Lang, Justin Cox and, most recently, our new MSQ NA Chief Creative Officer Lisa Leone, and we’ve brought Smarts, Walk-In Media and MBAstack to the region. We’ve won CFA Institute, Dartmouth College and Doordash, and kicked off work with MSQ Global Studios and MSQ Data. It’s a platform that we think can go from strength to strength in 2023.

And what one change would you most like to see in our industry next year?

I’d like to see the industry move beyond theoretical sustainability programmes and standard carbon reduction policies to genuine mitigation strategies and making real reductions in year-on-year output. I mentioned earlier how proud I was of our Sustainability Report – we believe that all businesses in our industry should be producing these to drive towards Science Based Reduction Targets. Then it’s about developing low carbon marketing services and carbon removal programmes – embedding sustainable initiatives that make a long-term difference to our planet’s future.

Creative Salon on MSQ's 2022

International expansion has been high on MSQ’s agenda this year as the group roared out of the covid crisis.

In January the group launched its Walk-In Media operation into New York, the first step in plans to crack the US market. Led by founder Simon Davis, who has stepped up to become the agency’s global CEO, the US office offers media planning and buying, locally and internationally. Eric van den Heuvel, who had led the media division of MSQ’s The Gate in New York, now runs the US branch of the agency, working alongside MSQ’s North American president Aaron Lang and chief strategy officer Justin Cox.

MBAstack, MSQ’s customer experience agency, also put its flag in US soil opening its first office outside of the UK in New York. The launch follows a series of business wins in North America, including Reckitt, CFA Institute, and Dartmouth College. MBAstack New York is overseen by managing director, Nicola Nimmo, who adds the role to her existing role in the UK. Nimmo is supported by new MBAstack US employees, as well as MSQ’s existing team of 150 people in New York. Jack Gallon is executive creative director across both territories.

MSQ’s agencies also notched up some impressive wins, starting the year by landing Three’s SIM-only network Smarty. The group win is a sign of things to come, uniting several of MSQ’s specialist agencies to handle the brand, direct response and customer communication requirements for Smarty. The account is being led by MSQ’s The Gate and MBAstack agencies but also taps other group expertise.

Another group win came in the form of CFA Institute, a global business offering financial education to investment professionals, which picked MSQ to handle its global marketing account. MSQ’s brief from CFA spans advertising, media, demand generation, customer experience and analytics.

Then in the summer came the mighty Shell win, with MSQ joining Shell’s global agency roster following a six-month competitive pitch. The Shell account is being led by a core international MSQ team from London, APAC and the Americas and including MSQ agencies The Gate and MBAstack. MSQ’s brief from Shell spans a range of multichannel offline as well as digital, social and influencer campaigns.

Meanwhile The Gate landed the sight loss charity Guide Dogs account, becoming the charity’s strategic brand and creative partner with a brief to build public understanding about the sort of work the organisation does. Then towards the end of the year The Gate snared the account for the motoring brand the AA.

MSQ’s growth trajectory was highlighted when it released its full year results for the year to the end of February 2022. The group recorded a 57 per cent hike in revenue to £91.3m. EBITDA was up by 51% to £11.4m, buoyed by a number of new global clients including AXA Investment Managers and Visit Britain, Lego, Juniper Networks, Deloitte, Schroders, and Johnson & Johnson.

To service all this new business, MSQ brought in more top talent. Amongst the newcomers, The Gate hired Charlotte Wolfenden as its first managing director. Wolfenden previously worked at Adam & Eve/DDB for seven years, most recently as managing partner. MSQ’s creative production studio Brave Spark hired Nick Tasker, formerly creative director of Neverland, in the new role of executive creative director.

Rajet Gamhiouen joined MSQ in the new role of group head of new business from Sticky where she was most recently head of marketing and new business. MSQ’s PR and creative agency Smarts hired a new European chief executive in Greg Jones. Jones was previously managing director at consumer PR agency Mischief. MSQ’s digital agency Twentysix  hired Adam Powers as chief experience officer. Most recently, he was global head of experience design at HSBC.

And as a signifier of the group's future ambition, Matt Williams was promoted to MSQ's global head of marketing in the summer.

Creative Salon Says: MSQ has had a phenomenally busy year. Its push of its specialist agencies into new territories - particularly into the US, where it already has a solid base and a huge opportunity - shows the full ambition of the business. And its crop of new business wins, both domestically and on the global stage, shows the connected brands strategy is working.

As MSQ's creative agency, The Gate often produces the group's most visible work. It's wonderful 2020 campaign for Childline, Nobody Is Normal, proves the agency has great creative chops; we'd like to see more of them in 2023.


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