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Atomic at 10 – looking forward to another decade of helping clients crush it

On its 10th anniversary, the chief executive of Atomic reflects on the past decade and what the future holds

By Jon Goulding

A decade is a rather elastic period of time. In one way, it seems lengthy – it’s now a decade since the London 2012 Olympics and in the intervening period, TikTok materialised, a global pandemic raged and the UK left the European Union.

But it also seems like only yesterday we launched Atomic, lighting the touchpaper on an independent agency we felt the industry, and especially clients, needed.

We wanted to establish a creative agency that brought a fresh perspective and way of working to help clients solve big marketing challenges. Siloed departmental approaches and internal battles between the ‘traditional’ and ‘digital’ arms of an agency were leaving clients frustrated and their marketing effectiveness dreams in tatters. But why shouldn’t they benefit from the best talent from both sides of the fence working together at an agency willing and able to allow its specialists to be brilliant?

That was our foundational thinking. To get brilliant brand creative and digital talent working as one, or as our strapline says today: “To build brands in the age of performance.”

A decade to celebrate

It’s been quite a journey – we launched at the tail end of the recession brought on by the financial crash of 2008/9 and now we are entering our second decade that may be defined in its early years by rising inflation and a cost-of-living squeeze.

Along the way, we’ve produced work we are incredibly proud of, such as some of the most entertaining and award-winning work for The i newspaper and Royal Opera House to genuine business transformation creative work for Homebase and Heycar. It’s one of the best feelings you can have, knowing that a brand will never be the same again because of the time it spent in your agency.

And we’ve delivered on our effectiveness promise, with work we’ve done for our clients often achieving two-fold and even up to five-fold improvements in both brand and revenue growth than the work and agencies that had gone before.

Independent state of mind

But agencies can’t stand still and our independence and founding principles are already helping guide us in the new ideas and services we will offer clients in the next 10 years.

How? Firstly, because I think the independent spirit is a more compelling proposition than ever for clients. But I’ve never thought that being independent is some sort of badge of honour. It only has value if you do something with that freedom. That means pushing yourself, to never get complacent, to try new things, take risks, invest in new capabilities and learn to feel comfortable not feeling very comfortable about it all.

And it’s that sense of independent freedom we can use as the secret sauce to attract the talent we need to deliver great client work. We know we can’t win in bidding wars for talent but we can offer a place where we can guarantee the freedom to experience a really varied type of creative work, the space to stretch yourself and to collaborate in ways that we know are unavailable elsewhere.

Culture that helps change people for the better

We’ve also created a culture that we believe can genuinely help someone grow as a person – that can mean different things to different people, but our goal is to make sure that every single person that works at Atomic can say they had a ‘defining moment’ working at this agency, one that really helped them develop in some way.

We also want to support our people so they stay healthy on the inside not just on the outside. Unlike so many of the big agencies, we don’t just try to find ways to pick people up when they’re down, we try to help them avoid being ‘broken’ in the first place. We work with the organisation Let’s Reset on a mental fitness approach to help our people navigate the highs and lows of agency life and we are in no doubt there is a correlation between feeling good and doing your best creative work and problem-solving for clients.

Creativity and collaboration deliver effectiveness

There’s no doubt creativity will continue to be the single biggest influence on a brand’s fortunes in the next 10 years.

As Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer, Marc Pritchard, stressed at Cannes this year, it’s time for marketers to “double down on our core job, our collective priority and responsibility, and the superpower that no other industry has – creativity for growth”. Atomic was always about that, even back in 2012 when we started. But today, when you’re in the trenches, trying to develop the best creative work for clients, it’s only applied creativity through collaboration that actually delivers brilliant effectiveness for brands. That means creativity and collaboration will be equally important bedfellows in the decade to come.

And for the next few years at least, every type of client will be looking for growth AND profit, not just one at the expense of the other. That means clients are laser-focused on effectiveness, and the requirement to hit targets and KPIs underpins all our efforts. We will be harnessing new creative capabilities to deepen and amplify our creative approach and bringing into the fold social, influencer, content and eCRM teams.

Looking ahead, I’m excited and optimistic for our next decade. Our independent spirit burns bright and provides people with both autonomy and control – the key ingredients that will help the agency, our partners and clients achieve their goals.

Jon Goulding is the chief executive of Atomic


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