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Founders Stories

Authenticity Meets Sustainability: How Revolt and Anthesis Are Redefining Brand Purpose

Revolt co-founder Alex Lewis reflects on the agency's roots and looks to the future with new partner Anthesis founder Stuart McLachlan

By Dani Gibson

Founded in 2017, Revolt was born out of a vision deeply rooted in the belief that brands can serve as catalysts for positive change in society.

Alex Lewis, the agency's co-founder, traces the company's origins to his early days at the Co-Op Bank, where he witnessed firsthand the transformative potential of purpose-driven branding. "My very first job was at the Co-Op Bank... They had a really clear and compelling ethical policy," Lewis reminisces. Inspired by this experience, Lewis envisioned a space where brands could authentically connect with audiences through purpose-driven narratives.

"When it came to founding Revolt, it was in many ways going back to that initial experience at the bank but trying to build a business that could lean in and be true to those values through everything that they did," Lewis explains.

Launching Revolt necessitated assembling a team of individuals who shared a passion for purpose-driven marketing. "You don't want to take on just any passenger on that journey," he says. "And there are certain skill sets that you look out for. I'm a strategist by trade, complementing that with Client Services is the obvious thing."

That's where co-founder Peter Bardell comes in. Lewis and Bardell didn't know each other but they both knew Chris Gallery from Mother. "Pete and I hadn't worked together before Revolt, and that's a bit unusual. We both knew Chris from Mother and he's one of those people who has an eye for knowing who works well together," Lewis recalls. "He brought us together."

In the nascent stages of Revolt's journey, support came in the form of a strategic partnership with JKR, the design agency. "I'd worked at JKR for many years, they were often the wrangling and design partner on plans for Mars and at the time, Guinness," Lewis recounts. Through JKR's investment and guidance, Revolt found the resources and mentorship needed to navigate the challenges of early-stage growth.

"Being able to scale from two desks to 20 desks and not worry too much about your ability to do that took a huge amount of stress away," Lewis explains, referring to the support provided by JKR. "They brought office space, a little bit of counsel from some of the people who were able to test what Peter and I were thinking and planning."

From its inception, Revolt set out to challenge the status quo and redefine the role of brands in society. "The first way to use purpose properly is to make sure it's what you actually do," Lewis emphasises. "We encourage action to be at the heart of what brands are doing, and then it's about publicising those actions, rather than just making a load of noise."

This proved to be a sound basis on which to launch an agency, and Revolt has thrived, with a client list that includes Mars, Budweiser, Deliveroo and Heinz and offices in London and New York. No surprise then that at the beginning of the year the agency was snapped up by Anthesis, marking a significant milestone in purpose-driven marketing. This strategic move combines Revolt's expertise in brand storytelling with Anthesis's leadership in sustainability consultancy. By integrating sustainability principles into brand narratives, the collaboration aims to drive meaningful change and set new industry standards.

Stuart McLachlan, the founder of Anthesis, says of the deal: "The merger represents a natural alignment of values and vision between the two companies. Revolt's track record of leveraging brand narratives for positive societal impact complements Anthesis's focus on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategies."

As Revolt and Anthesis embark on this new journey together, they remain steadfast in their commitment to driving positive change. Through innovative solutions and impactful storytelling, they aim to empower brands to make a meaningful difference while creating long-term value for society and the environment. With this pivotal collaboration underway, Lewis and McLachlan offer insight into the partnership's direction and the opportunities it presents.

Alex, tell us about that moment when Anthesis came calling, and you had that opportunity to move your business onto a whole new level.

Alex Lewis: In a way, it feels like the end of a chapter. Pete (Bardell, co-founder) and I were chatting at the beginning of last year, and one thing on our minds was the growth of the business. With the appointment of our first MD, our roles as founders were evolving. We saw great potential in the US market, especially as we were gearing up to open our inaugural office there. While it didn't necessarily grant us more autonomy, there was definitely a shift emotionally. Beyond the strategic implications, it marked the end of our initial chapter. That's what kickstarted our discussions with Anthesis.

Stuart, how does Revolt fill a gap in your service portfolio?

Stuart McLachlan: Ten years ago, Anthesis emerged from a decade of frustration, fuelled by my belief that humanity would confront its greatest transformation, akin to the challenge of climate change. Within my industry, I witnessed the frustration of fragmented sustainability efforts.

A pivotal issue contributing to this fragmentation was the absence of a bold, cohesive organisational purpose—a North Star guiding our direction; sustainability initiatives often faltered, intensifying the call for meaningful action.

So we decided to start something new to address that. We embraced robust scientific research, yet acknowledged its insufficiency in driving change alone; we merged breadth and depth to devise propositions for our clients that exceeded market expectations.

Now under Revolt's leadership, we can engage with the market at an elevated level, harnessing our collective expertise to enact change.

So how will Revolt be brought into the Anthesis proposition?

McLachlan: We're not in the business of amalgamating companies into a shapeless whole; that's not our approach.

Instead, we embrace the recognition of diverse identities. Each facet of our business, whether technical or digital, will naturally cultivate its own distinct culture, separate from that of Revolt. Our strength lies in the diversity of cultures, which we proudly celebrate. Operating across 23 countries, we encounter a rich tapestry of geographical and regional nuances—from Catalonia to Stockholm to Shanghai to Abu Dhabi, and beyond. This diversity enriches our work, which is not just about discussion but about tangible delivery, tailored to local cultures and languages.

However, there's a crucial need for a unifying force. We adhere to the principle of unity in essentials, delineated by our vision, values, purpose, and strategy. This is where convergence is essential. Gradually, this process will culminate in a unified brand. It's a journey of evolution that we're committed to, whilst recognising the inherent value in the Revolt brand. We must undertake a meticulous process to amalgamate the essence of Anthesis with that of Revolt, ensuring we preserve and enhance both brands' value.

Lewis: Pete and I swiftly embraced the vision for Anthesis and became excited about shaping its brand, as we'll soon become part owners. Our enthusiasm stems from the broader service spectrum and the skills we bring from Revolt's journey. We quickly grasped this evolution.

However, internally, we must remain mindful as not everyone fully perceives Anthesis's potential; awareness is growing weekly. Anthesis's appeal lies in offering a blend of autonomy and structure, unlike scenarios where private equity drives autonomy. Our plan involves distilling Revolt's essence into Anthesis, though not necessarily under the Revolt brand within the next year or two.

Our challenge is familiarising staff, talent and the CMO community with the Anthesis brand. In the interim, there's work to be done in showcasing Anthesis's evolution into a company that attracts creatives, strategists, and CMOs alike. The emotional journey involves letting go of a highly successful business, one in which we hold the largest stake, and a venture that was personally meaningful. It wasn't merely a commercial endeavour; it held personal significance for us.

But while there is obviously a change, it's not so much about giving things up as it is about embracing new opportunities to collaborate with different people. While there is a relinquishment of certain aspects of autonomy, it's seen through the lens of excitement in working with new skill sets and expanding our footprint. We now have the chance to embed the rigour we've always strived for in our work, while also tapping into fresh inspiration. It's different, but it's exciting.

In what ways do you anticipate the merger will enhance your collective ability to adapt to evolving industry trends and meet the changing needs of your clients?

McLachlan: We believe we're witnessing the end of an era, where many established models and systems are proving to be dysfunctional. Our clients are confronting the reality that they must embark on a transformative journey with their businesses. This demands a new breed of leadership, one that is inspirational and pioneering. To bring their assets and stakeholders along, they must forge connections, establish a clear purpose, and communicate effectively. It's essential to grasp the entire value chain, not just traditional customer and supply chain dynamics.

This shift necessitates a different skill set, blending scientific rigour with emotional intelligence. We're enthusiastic about this paradigm shift, as it aligns with our vision for business. We see ourselves as assembling the pieces of a puzzle, ensuring the right image is on the lid and the correct pieces are in the box. We're committed to supporting our clients every step of the way on this journey, navigating through regulatory challenges towards value creation. And maybe we can inspire others by showcasing the path to success.

Lewis: Looking back 15 to 20 years, we can discern the seeds of digital transformation beginning to take root. It's a fascinating parallel to the current landscape as we collaborate with Anthesis. The prospect is undeniably thrilling, albeit intricately complex, necessitating expert guidance. Recognising the inherent value is paramount.

In the industry, agencies embraced this shift, while individuals ventured into their own initiatives. But, the most successful partners in digital transformation were those offering end-to-end solutions, seamlessly blending scientific rigour with creative innovation to see how it all stitches together.

They also understood how to tailor the value proposition to different audiences amidst shifting demographics, financial challenges, and heightened scrutiny. This calls for holistic solutions that carefully marry these elements. As we forge ahead, we're strategically positioning ourselves to meet these demands, acknowledging the analytical recognition of our progress in this direction.

What advice would you give now to a budding entrepreneur, who's thinking of launching their own agency?

Lewis: Be passionate about what you want to do. Don't chase it solely for financial gain or attention. If you're discontent with your current job or salary, that shouldn't be the driving force. I left a job I enjoyed with great colleagues, but that wasn't my motivation. Pursue something because you believe you can contribute to building an amazing business. Be ready for intense and hard work because you're gonna have to roll up your sleeves throughout that journey.


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