VIDEO IN­SIGHT

Hav­ing pa­tiently built its cre­den­tials over the last decade, Ragged Edge grows stronger ev­ery day thanks to its founders’ ego-free pol­icy of only hir­ing peo­ple bet­ter than them...

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Ragged Edge on why ego has no place in build­ing a thriv­ing stu­dio

De­spite be­ing 10 years old, Ragged Edge is – ac­cord­ing to co-founder Max Ot­tignon – widely re­garded as an overnight suc­cess story by the in­dus­try, as the Far­ring­don-based agency has only re­ally popped up on peo­ple’s radar in the past 18 months or so.

By learn­ing new skills on the job and grad­u­ally hon­ing their craft to per­fec­tion, the team has picked up in­creas­ingly high-pro­file work that, as Ot­tignon ex­plains, is driven by pas­sion, sub­stance and in­tegrity – a far cry from his ex­pe­ri­ence of the ad­ver­tis­ing busi­ness… What prompted you to leave ad­land? Max Ot­tignon:

I used to be an ac­count han­dler, a suit. There were a lot of mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the truth, if we’re be­ing kind. You were al­most ly­ing to your col­leagues, and def­i­nitely ly­ing to clients. But what re­ally both­ered me was that you were ly­ing to con­sumers. My all-time low was work­ing on a credit card brand, where the whole idea was to en­cour­age peo­ple to get into debt by frivolously hav­ing fun, which doesn’t seem like a re­spon­si­ble mes­sage to be push­ing.

I left dis­il­lu­sioned, but thought we could do some­thing that ad­hered to the clever prin­ci­ples I learnt in ads, but with more in­tegrity. Brand­ing is about mak­ing long-term de­ci­sions for the ben­e­fit of the busi­ness, not quick wins. You get re­sults by telling the truth, and build­ing some­thing with the rigour and strength to stand the test of time.

You can’t pull the wool over con­sumers’ eyes, par­tic­u­larly in the days of so­cial me­dia when peo­ple can find out about you so eas­ily. You can get caught on any lie so quickly, and it can spi­ral. Do you think there’s still a ‘truth and lies’ di­chotomy be­tween brand­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing? MO:

I don’t work in ad­ver­tis­ing any more, but we work with ad agen­cies and I’ve no­ticed a change – partly be­cause of so­cial me­dia, but also peo­ple’s de­sire for au­then­tic­ity gen­er­ally.

Ad­ver­tis­ing is all about comms: driv­ing aware­ness, re­cruit­ing cus­tomers re­ally quickly. Some­times if you haven’t a firm base to build on, you might have to make stuff up – but if you’re work­ing with a strong brand, the ad agency has some ro­bust stuff to work with and can do great things. Ad agen­cies are amaz­ing at what they do, I’d never wanna talk them down, but it’s a very dif­fer­ent dis­ci­pline. You say there are ‘no egos’ at Ragged Edge. What does that ac­tu­ally mean in prac­tice? MO:

Yeah, the ‘no ego’ thing is re­ally im­por­tant. Like most stuff at Ragged Edge, it kind of evolved. It was never a found­ing in­ten­tion, but to be to­tally hon­est, our strat­egy was al­ways to hire peo­ple bet­ter than us. That’s how to get bet­ter – you have to put your ego aside if you’re bring­ing in all th­ese tal­ented peo­ple who can do things bet­ter than you can.

Hav­ing a hum­ble ap­proach also meant the work got much bet­ter, be­cause you have th­ese great con­ver­sa­tions where no one feels pre­cious, and ev­ery­one can con­trib­ute. We’re not two guys who just want our name above the door. Clearly, some agen­cies do have egos… do you use it as a phi­los­o­phy to sell to clients, or is it more of an in­ter­nal stu­dio cul­ture thing? MO:

It’s more of an in­ter­nal thing, but it comes down to how you be­have with clients as well. As soon as you put aside that sense that you’re out for your­selves, you can cre­ate a proper part­ner­ship with a client. That’s the only real way to get great work through. You can’t force it: you have to en­cour­age clients to be­lieve in it, by lis­ten­ing and by be­ing a bit hum­ble. What hap­pens if you do have an ego? MO:

I think if you’re a re­ally tal­ented de­signer or cre­ative di­rec­tor, and you have a vi­sion and you just need peo­ple to bring that to life, it’s a re­ally valid way of do­ing it. The prob­lem for me is that

I don’t see that as par­tic­u­larly scal­able. You can do that at a cer­tain size, but as you grow you have to let go of the reins a bit. We’ve al­ways tried to start from that po­si­tion – I don’t have to be in ev­ery meet­ing by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion. Was Cam­den Mar­ket your big break­through? MO:

Yeah, it was an im­por­tant one for us to win. We don’t of­ten pitch, but we threw ev­ery­thing at that one to win it. That par­tic­u­lar project felt re­ally per­sonal to us as an agency. I lived in and around that area. Ni­cole, our strat­egy di­rec­tor, lived there; Matt, the de­sign di­rec­tor who led the project, had grown up around there as well.

We mas­sively over-in­vested in it as a project, as it had the po­ten­tial to be re­ally amaz­ing. It was a great brief, be­cause it was about find­ing that truth at the heart of Cam­den, and us­ing it to in­form its fu­ture.

We had never re­ally PR’d some­thing to the level we did that, and we didn’t know what the re­cep­tion would be like. Un­til it makes its way onto things like Brand New, you never know. Were you re­luc­tant to over-push the agency un­til you had that big project un­der your belt? MO:

Yeah, that’s bang on. We’ve al­ways been about learn­ing by do­ing, and Ragged Edge has got bet­ter and bet­ter ev­ery sin­gle year we’ve been around. We wanted to get to the stage where we were con­fi­dent the work was world­class be­fore shout­ing from the rooftops. We’d pre­fer to walk the walk be­fore we talk the talk, which is a bit dif­fer­ent to how you’re taught to build a busi­ness, but it fits our per­son­al­ity re­ally. Did you find peo­ple com­ing to you, and did the scale and qual­ity of briefs im­prove? MO:

Yeah, I think so. It lifted our pro­file, and the qual­ity of the ta­lent we got through the door re­ally went up – and the quan­tity went up too. In terms of clients, it was a bril­liant one to show off. But I think the big­gest im­pact was con­vinc­ing our­selves that we could ex­e­cute at that level. It was one thing be­liev­ing we had the skills, but prov­ing it to ev­ery­body else was ab­so­lutely amaz­ing. It took us up a gear. Any ad­vice for fel­low agen­cies? MO:

Be true to your style. For us, it was all about that sense of hum­ble­ness and in­tegrity. Don’t as­sume you know ev­ery­thing. Prob­a­bly don’t as­sume you know any­thing. Look at ev­ery­thing with fresh eyes ev­ery day, and bring in peo­ple who are bet­ter than you. That’s what’s made Ragged Edge: tal­ented peo­ple who can add new ideas and come up with things that Matt and I wouldn’t have been ca­pa­ble of on our own. If you can do that, there’s no limit on what you can do.

Left:

The Grey Goose Camion­nette hid ‘the world’s most in­ti­mate mar­tini bar,’ which of­fered be­spoke cock­tails to se­lect in­flu­encers all across the coun­try. Be­low:

Ragged Edge has worked with Grey Goose since 2007, on ev­ery­thing from bot­tle de­signs to one-off ex­pe­ri­en­tial en­vi­ron­ments.

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