the showcase 2023

Navigating Unpredictability, Fostering Diversity and Shaping the Future: St Luke's 2023

From disrupting norms with Butterkist's microwave popcorn to tackling industry barriers to entry, we delve into St Luke's 2023

By creative salon

For St Luke's, 2023 wasn't just about weathering the big-picture challenges it was about seizing opportunities, setting industry agendas, and fostering innovation.

Under the leadership of CEO Neil Henderson the St Luke's crew emerged from 2023 not just unscathed but energised and excited - no mean feat for any business in the current climate.

We caught up with Henderson to talk about the year and, below, give Creative Salon's perspective on the agency's performance.

Neil Henderson, CEO of St Luke's, on the agency's 2023:

What three words would you use to describe 2023?

In it together

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

Being nominated for Campaign's Agency of the Year three out the last four years and Oystercatchers' Agency of the Year for the fifth year in a row is a testament to the incredible energy and commitment of the whole St Luke's team. We also won Oystercatchers Best Agency Culture for the second time, were named a Campaign Best Place to Work for the sixth year in a row and awarded CPD Platinum for the third year in recognition of our unique approach to developing our people.

We won a host of new clients including the £17m Wickes account and it was our most creatively awarded year ever, this included a D&AD pencil, golds, silvers and bronzes at Creative Circle, the Clios, Andys, One Show and FAB, as well as a shortlist at Cannes Lions and a ‘best outdoor’ and ‘best press ad’ in Campaign’s Annual.

Despite a tough economy there have been loads of things to be excited about this year. We aim to set the agenda in everything we do, whether that’s innovation for the industry, stuff we do as a group of people and of course the work we do for our clients.

We are always pushing the boundaries of how we use media and we love the way outdoor is developing. Butterkist is always disruptive and this year we made digital screens across the country look and sound like massive microwaves to launch microwave popcorn.

Our Heathrow OOH destinations campaign made you feel like you were really there and helped drive passenger numbers close to pre-Covid levels. And we picked up a D&AD pencil for our Dole Fruit posters printed with specially formulated fruit ink with more nutrition in them than the fast food on sale nearby.

We are obsessed with the power of immersive brand worlds and our Tyrrell’s campaign was held up by Mark Ritson this year as a leading example of how to build a brand and reduce the reliance on price promotion. No wonder Tyrrell’s stole leadership in the posh crisps category.

South Western Railway benefited from our distinctive brand world with lovable avian duo Wes and Sandy. The campaign had a category leading ROI of £4.40 for every pound spent in advertising.

Ocado has been setting the agenda in the intensely competitive supermarket category, increasing its active user base by 49% since we started working with them two years ago. Our new campaign this year - yes with that earworm music - delivered too, retail revenue increased 7.2% YOY in the quarter following its launch and it was named Campaign ad of the day.

Finally on the work front we helped Holocaust Memorial Day Trust deliver their critically important message. We are now working on next year’s brief just as we witness an alarming rise in anti-semitism.

Our junior team were named rising stars by Creative Circle and shortlisted for best emerging talent by D&AD and Campaign Big.

Our Creative Partner, Jules, clocked up 1 billion views on Tiktok with his brilliant AR filters and was named a TikTok Effects House Ambassador as we applied his talents to AR work for Heathrow, SWR and KP Snacks.

St Luke’s day saw the whole agency shooting zombies, building virtual empires and learning about new frontiers in AR gaming.

What one thing are you proudest of this year?

We aim to tackle big industry problems with action rather than just chat. In 2023 we launched Flying Start, the industry’s first positive action training scheme to help improve ethnic diversity in the agency and the industry at large. The scheme is aimed exclusively at people from ethnically under-represented groups who haven’t been in an agency before. Figures from the ‘All In’ census show that “Black, Asian and non-white groups” are much more likely to want to leave the industry. Flying Start aims to give candidates who wouldn't normally think of advertising as a career a pathway in and helps prepare them for jobs and internships in the creative industries. Everyone at St Luke’s got involved in the whole process from applications to delivering the training and we had two brilliant Fliers in Senny and Takbir, both of whom now see advertising as their career choice. The experience was an inspiration for everyone. Applications for 2024 open soon.

And what’s been your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge has been dealing with the sheer unpredictability of our business environment. Fortunately we have a high ratio of retained business but nevertheless the uncertainty about whether projects will go ahead has made planning revenue and resourcing more challenging than ever. The new business market has created unpredictable pitches as well. There have been some strange lists with agencies saying yes to pitches they wouldn’t have considered a year ago, which makes it tough to know what to go for and how to assess opportunities. Unpredictability has affected everyone’s personal situations with all the attendant stress in people’s lives, making managing the agency’s mood challenging. I’ve been glad we are all in the office three days a week. That feeling of togetherness is essential for keeping people’s spirits up when no one knows what’s going to happen next!

What are you most looking forward to in 2024?

Seeing our female leadership team taking on more responsibility. We have an amazing complement of female talent who are now moving into serious management positions. They will be changing the shape of our proposition and the way we do business in 2024.

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

The power of personality to win categories. At St Luke’s we have seen the impact Tyrrell’s quirky, British personality has had on the posh crisp market this year. Yorkshire Tea has done the same brilliantly in the tea market. McDonalds, EE and Just Eat are all doubling down on bringing personality to their categories. It’s a welcome trend and it would be great to see it becoming a more central part of how brands compete in 2024.

Which industry leader have you admired most in 2024?

Charlie Rudd. He’s a lovely bloke and Leo Burnett has gone from strength to strength under his leadership.

Creative Salon on St Luke's 2023

In 2023, St Luke's not only secured substantial victories but also underwent strategic personnel changes, bolstering its commitment to creative excellence. The jewellery company Abbott Lyon chose St Luke's as its lead creative agency after a competitive internal pitch. And to top of the year, Wickes, the home improvement retailer, appointed St Luke’s as its lead creative agency after they gave a notably robust and distinctive response to the pitch brief. 2024 will see St Luke's further strengthen connections with the brand's current audiences, extend outreach to new audiences, and fulfil the overarching purpose of fostering a sense of pride in one's home for the nation.

Key personnel changes saw Rich Denney promoted to the role of joint chief creative officer, highlighting St Luke's dedication to nurturing and recognising talent within its ranks. The agency has also welcomed Pete Mould as head of art and design in a newly established position, contributing to an agency-wide restructuring initiative. Additionally, Elly Fenlon, formerly a senior planner at Leo Burnett, has joined St Luke’s as planning director, bringing her strategic insights to the team.

St Luke's commitment to addressing industry challenges is evident in its participation in the positive action training programme, Flying Start. This initiative, in collaboration with the social mobility charity The Brokerage and supported by the law firm Lewis Silkin, tackles the ethnic diversity problem head-on. The eight-week training programme offers insights into various agency disciplines, contributing to a more inclusive and representative advertising industry.

The agency's prowess has also been recognised with multiple award nominations. St Luke’s received an impressive seven shortlists at the Creative Circle Awards 2023, spanning categories such as Best PR Events & Stunts and Most Creative Personal Project. Furthermore, the "Nutritional Ink" campaign for Dole Sunshine Company earned three D&AD shortlists, demonstrating St Luke's creative chops in the media, direct, and health & wellbeing categories.

St Luke’s notable campaigns throughout the year have showcased its creative versatility. From the debut work for TotallyMoney, emphasising personalised financial plans, to helming a campaign for Heathrow Airport during peak ski season, the agency has consistently demonstrated its ability to craft compelling narratives across diverse sectors. The collaboration with Star Pubs & Bars for Heineken UK and the disruptive Christmas campaign for Heathrow Airport further underscore St Luke's breadth.

Additionally, St Luke's love of innovation was evident in campaigns such as turning outdoor sites into gigantic microwaves to promote Butterkist microwavable popcorn from KP Snacks, while the agency's work for Ocado took a shift towards naturally observed moments, reflecting a more relatable and humorous side of online grocery shopping.

Creative Salon Says: 2023 has been a year of growth, recognition, and impactful campaigns for St Luke's. It's definitely not easy being a boutique independent agency in the current climate but Henderson, joint CCOs Al Young and Richard Denney, CSO Dan Hulse, MD Ed Palmer, CMO Jess Gibb and the rest of the St Luke's gang can look back on 2023 as a job really well done.

The agency's ability to secure substantial wins, foster talent, address industry challenges, and consistently deliver standout creative work means St Luke's heads into 2024 with all guns blazing.


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