Celebrating 10 years of Goodstuff “moving it on”

This week Goodstuff celebrates a decade as a full-service media agency. We spoke to its founders Andrew Stephens and Ben Hayes about the milestone

By Ian Darby

Goodstuff can make a convincing case for being the most consistently creative UK media agency of the past 15 years. It’s now a decade since the independent business re-launched with a full-service offer, adding buying to its planning resource in late 2011, and it has since grown at a rapid pace without shedding its commitment to ideas through its “media & some” positioning.

That’s something worth celebrating because, in a media agency world obsessed with scale, and in which independence is no guarantee of quality, Goodstuff has shone as an agency that elevates creativity above all else, yet competes ably with larger rivals on delivering commercial value for clients.

Goodstuff started life in 2004 as a communications planning specialist surfing the waves created by the success of Naked Communications. Thanks in part to backing from Manning Gottlieb OMD, and a sizeable piece of business in the shape of Virgin Media’s media planning account, it emerged from the pack as one of the more successful in the field. Yet, as its founders Ben Hayes and Andrew Stephens make clear, by 2009 the momentum had drained from the comms planning scene and a new plan was needed if the agency was to do more than survive.

Hayes and Stephens had worked together in the media department at Saatchi & Saatchi and then at Manning Gottlieb OMD before launching Goodstuff. Hayes says that one of the reasons behind the relaunch in late 2011 was that the established planning cycle was being “debunked” by the rise of digital platforms and a much more fluid “on-the-go” planning model: “As a planning agency it just became harder to become part of a client’s business. By executing, by being in an advertiser’s business, we could be more relevant, more useful and also create longer, more meaningful relationships.”

Goodstuff booked its first media space in December 2011 (ads in Metro for the international calling service FooCall). The minority backing from Omnicom Media Group remained initially (Goodstuff eventually bought out the 20% stake in 2017) but success was largely down to some high-quality appointments: Mindshare’s Bobby Din as investment partner; Simeon Adams from BBH London as media and content partner; and Sam Drake from Starcom as business director. The new faces joined well-established Goodstuff talent including Paul Gayfer, the planning partner, and Simon Wilden, the sciences partner. As Hayes puts it: “We felt that we had as strong a board as some of the agencies that were 20 times our size.”

Bobby Din says he relished joining to lead Goodstuff’s buying negotiations with media owners after 17 years at Mindshare, especially the challenge of building its billings from zero, and that he received a positive reaction from those media owners who were “ready for it, because ultimately trading at the time was a race to the bottom.” He adds that Goodstuff has stuck to its principles: “We don’t have any agency deals, ultimately we still do the right thing first. It’s harder work to be honest, but it means we can offer flexibility to clients.”

The agency has more recently bolstered its senior team with appointments including managing partners Genevieve Tompkins and Laura Moorcraft. And largely it’s a leadership group that’s still together, overseeing growth at the agency from a headcount of fewer than 20 in 2011 to 130. Goodstuff is now the 12th largest media agency in the UK with billings of £231 million.

New business performance has been impressive. Starting with early successes, Yorkshire Tea and Secret Escapes (both are still clients), through to 2021’s wins that include the £30 million Ovo business and £15 million On the Beach account. Goodstuff has also built a reputation for its work with direct-to-consumer brands (including eve Sleep, Habito, Harry’s and Bloom & Wild), which bodes well for future growth.

But it’s primarily the bold, award-winning ideas for advertisers that have caught the eye in the past decade. Named as Campaign’s Media Agency of the Year in 2012, and Media Week’s in 2017, the move to full-service has served to propel the quality of Goodstuff’s thinking to new levels. “The thing that makes us fundamentally different is that we’re a planning agency that buys media,” says Stephens.

This approach resulted in the agency winning the Grand Prix award at both the Media Week and Campaign Media Awards for two years running in 2019 and 2020. The feat was especially notable because each of the top accolades went to an entry from a different advertiser: Hiscox (Campaign, 2019); Dunelm (Media Week, 2019); Samaritans (Campaign, 2020); and ITV (Media Week, 2020). Goodstuff continued this success in 2021 when it won four Gold awards at the Campaign Media Awards for eve Sleep, Ecover, ITV, and Yorkshire Tea.

Goodstuff has built an enviable culture based on six behaviours it encourages people to adopt – “Do The Right Thing”, “Move It On”, “Give A Shit”, “Be Inventive”, “Keep It Simple” and “Be Good”. Hayes dwells especially on the importance of the “move it on” mantra when it comes to working with clients, starting with a blank sheet of paper on each plan rather than simply “adding a twist” to the previous year’s activity, as he suspects many other media agencies do.

Like all agencies, Goodstuff was hit by the pandemic in 2020 but made a commitment to “do the right thing” and promised not to make any redundancies. It also paid end-of-year bonuses to its people. Stephens says: “All of that cost us money. Every other agency that I know of let people go, the easiest thing for us to do would have been to say ‘this is out of our control’. But the decisions we make in the business are in our control. ‘Do the right thing’ does cost you money when the chips are down but that’s what makes the culture.”

And, in recent years, Goodstuff has taken its belief in media creativity to a wider audience. In pre-pandemic days it launched The Goodstuff Media Showcase, a 250-people event inviting creative agencies to view a whole array of media opportunities. And the agency devised, and led, the Land Of Independents campaign in 2020, an initiative that brought together 17 independent agencies for a campaign to promote the benefits of independence as clients planned for growth out of the pandemic.

But what’s next for Goodstuff (apart from this week's big party to celebrate the 10th anniversary)? Stephens says he and Hayes are looking five years ahead and “if we want to remain in the conversation then I think we’re going to need to find some kind of partnerships and alliances particularly around data and digital.”

It’s clear that the drive to “move it on” remains there for the founders, so here’s to the next ten years of Goodstuff’s distinct brand of media creativity.


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