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Creative industry Leader Interview - 5 minutes with...

Sarah Wildman-King & Miranda Hart

Founders, Wonderworks

Sarah Wildman-King & Miranda Hart, Wonderworks

Creativebrief: As Co-Founders of Wonderworks, what’s each of your primary focuses?

Sarah Wildman-King: As it's our company we work closely together making sure that we stay true to why we started Wonderworks in the first place. It sounds cheesy, but we truly believe that Wonder is the key to unlocking great creative ideas that cut through and resonate with audiences. We thought long and hard when naming our agency. We wanted something that would define the DNA of the agency, how we operate as a business, our team culture and the clients we work with. We set out to surround ourselves with people and things that inspire us and then deliver great work through our passion and hard work. 

We are so fortunate to have a partnership that allows us both to shine in areas we naturally gravitate towards and enjoy. I have the MD role, responsible for all things operational & commercially across the business, but until recently I also played the role of Client Services Director. Miranda is our Creative Strategist searching out the moments of wonder that drive the strategic and activation solution. Sometimes we joke that Mir creates the Wonder and I make it work but in truth we are both joint CEO’s of Wonder and key to any campaign and client relationship. Our clients see the value of both of us on the projects at key times. We certainly couldn’t do it without each other.  

Miranda Hart: As Sarah says we are very fortunate to have such a strong partnership. Although we both play different parts in the process, we definitely trust and inspire each other most days. This is a fundamental part in helping to get the best out of any client brief or challenge the business may face. Most of the time we agree, but we see things from a slightly different stand point given our background and experience. Sometimes this creates a healthy tension that pushes us both outside of our comfort zone. That is good. It would be boring to live inside your comfort zone. With what I do, everyday is different to the next. Creating new and unique brand propositions and activations that stand out in a busy landscape is challenging but exciting.

Creativebrief: What were you each doing before that led you to found an agency together?

Sarah Wildman-King: I used to be a key supplier to an agency Miranda worked at. It was a big project featuring a fantasy football game for Thailand’s biggest whisky brand. This was back in the day when internet marketing was just becoming a thing! It was really successful and required us to work very closely together and got us to a point of understanding and respecting the way we both work. When I decided to leave Miranda offered me a job with her. From there she left to start her own thing, but we continued to work side by side until the opportunity came for us to truly start our own thing in partnership. That is when Wonderworks was born in 2014 and we haven’t looked back since then.

Miranda Hart: It is rare you find people you connect with and implicitly trust. Sarah was one of those people. She is someone who was always hardworking, diligent, self-sufficient and inspiring with her calm attitude to solving challenges and leading people. When Sarah shared the news that she was leaving her role at the Fantasy Football company I just knew we could make it work together. I was looking for a right-hand man to help me run Circle IMC at the time and she ticked all the boxes and then some. What she lacked in her agency experience she made up for in all her other qualities. Thankfully she accepted the challenge and joined our agency. I was the MD and Sarah was our Client Services Director until I left to set up a new agency. But as fate would have it we were lucky enough to come back together in 2013/14 to create Wonderworks which is a true reflection of our new partnership.

“Our ambition for Wonderworks is to stay true to our vision we had on day one: do great work for great people inspired by wonder. We want to learn and grow along the way and have a laugh or two in the process."

Creativebrief: What do you think is unique abut Wonderworks? What do you think makes it stand out?

Miranda Hart: The philosophy on which we were started. We truly believe that if you put Wonder at the core of everything you do you will stand out. It is what we do for the brands we work with, and it is how we run our agency. It defines our culture, our client relationships and the type of work we do. We didn’t set out to create the next big international agency employing tens or hundreds of people, we didn’t focus on making us both rich. We just wanted to create a heart-felt business that would allow us to learn, grow and shine giving us both the flexibility and freedom to work with great clients on amazing project. We are both working mothers, so it was important it also gave us balance in our life. The result has been amazing. Our clients really respond to our simple and honest approach.

It is our forth birthday this September and we have experienced enormous growth whilst remaining true to our culture and vision. The type of work we do is very specialised in the world of luxury lifestyle brands. Focusing on our core strengths and experience in premium drinks and skincare industry means we are well respected for our knowledge and expertise. We work on large international briefs for some of the world’s biggest brands, but we don’t behave like a big inflexible global agency. Our attitude is one of collaboration and partnership which means our client list keeps growing.  

Sarah Wildman-King: Some of it comes from the fact there is two of us. The brief is never the brief and the budget is never the budget. Just discussing things between us at the very start of the project gets us to the point of understanding that very quickly, which means we have to ask the tough questions of our clients at the start of the process just to ensure we are all very clear on the task at hand. We don’t like to spend the client's budget in the wrong places while getting to the bottom of the brief. That helps us build trust which is essential to any working relationship. We also have a strong leadership team that share our vision and make sure it permeates throughout the whole team from top to bottom.  

Reyka - Wonderworks
Reyka Foraging Expeditions

Creativebrief: What do you think is your best agency work this last year?

Sarah Wildman-King: By far the most rewarding and enjoyable projects was the international launch of Roku Gin. It's owned by one of our clients Beam Suntory, an interesting client because of its mix of brands from the straight talking American brands of Jim Beam to the Japanese Suntory business surrounded with interesting cultural philosophies. The launch of Roku gin really demonstrated how we shine as an agency. Outside of the liquid and the packaging we developed the brand at its core from the key comms, KV, brand film, serving strategy, bartender engagement, shopper, travel retail and events strategy. Our first job was to launch it internally at the international conference to all key markets and distributors. The success and excitement was overwhelming, all the markets wanted it and it won a highly valued internal marketing award. To this day I still get excited when I see it in travel retail and question how many bottles have sold today alone. But at its heart that campaign had a simple Japanese philosophy and storytelling narrative that had the power to translate and flex at different touch points. That is what we call a moment of wonder.

Creativebrief: Industry wide, is there any work that you’ve been really impressed with recently?

Miranda Hart: Premium drinks is an exciting industry that moves very quickly, and I have been doing it for 20 years. It is very trend led. There was a wave of storytelling events, then it was all about multi-sensorial. Now it is all about pink gin or no and low. After a while they all seem to follow a similar path. It is about being the first to spot the trend and own that territory or activation type before the rest or to zig while everyone else is zagging. I am probably quite cynical when it comes to looking at other agencies work if I am honest. I like anything that is super simple that delivers a message that gets a beautiful product in people’s hands and leaves then with a sense of wonder. It was last year now but McDonalds Mc Café, great tasting coffee simple. This campaign is what I meant about going against the crowd of brands all doing the same thing. Making fun of the bonkers overpriced hipster coffee culture made it stand out. Personally, it made me giggle. As an agency owner we are responsible for creating complex serving rituals for premium drinks brands feeding this trend of madness. Another simple standout activation for me was for Beefeater's launch of Pink Gin. Simply, they disrupted commuters’ journeys with the sweet smell of strawberry that was pumped into the underground while people walked past the extensive advertising takeovers featuring pink gin. Not high in terms of engagement numbers but it got lots of press and buzz, so it was very successful.

“In the world of premium luxury lifestyle brands, it is important that you don't do anything that will erode brand affinity. It is very hard to be considered luxury and not be socially and environmentally aware."

Creativebrief: How do you see the space evolving over the next few years?

Miranda Hart: It will be interesting to watching the trends in premium food & drinks categories that continue to come on top. Right now, we are in a midst of a gin boom, but surely, they cannot all survive. Many are also turning their hand to new whiskies. What will happen in other spirit categories, as tastes change, and brands strive to create the new hero serves to replace the G&T is anyone’s guess. Because we work with international brand owners we are always looking at what is coming out globally in terms of products and consumer trends and that’s exciting.

Bartenders are becoming more influential in delivering brand messages with a new wave of bartender rock stars charging big money for their involvement and voice in activation campaigns. Consumers are becoming more discerning, they are drinking less but better quality, which is good for brands in the premium space. The new wave of no and low alcohol on the market is a trend to watch and one I am interested in on a personal level as I am on my own journey. Digital and AI will continue to impact our world with the need for comms messages to be delivered to consumer in many different ways some of which we don’t even know yet. So, in short it is a very exciting industry to be in. Like I said never dull!

Creativebrief: What’re your ambitions for Wonderworks?

Miranda Hart: Our ambition for Wonderworks is to stay true to our vision we had on day one: do great work for great people inspired by wonder. We want to learn and grow along the way and have a laugh or two in the process. In terms of size and scale we would like to continue our fantastic growth trajectory adding in more specialist services and expertise we can offer our clients. We would like to solidify our global footprint in some way with partnerships and collaborations that support our insight lead creative process. Overall our ambition is to be known as one of the world’s best premium food & drinks agencies. Big dreams but it’s all possible with the right team.

London Essence Company - Wonderworks
London Essence Company

Creativebrief: Looking outside the industry, personally who and what has inspired you?

Miranda Hart: We are both busy working mothers constantly juggling balls both at home and at work. But we both find the time to draw on the world around us for inspiration. Our team inspire us. We have quite a diverse mix of staff from all over the globe who bring in many flavours, behaviours and points of view across several generations. We both try and use our commuter time to read or listen to podcasts, trade press, management or personal development commentators. I am always forwarding on things I find on Pinterest or in the press to my team telling them it will come in handy one day you’ll see! I’m always taking pictures and tearing out pages in magazines and papers. 

When we started Wonderworks, Sarah and I said at least once a year we would take ourselves away and spend time together off site, wonder safaris in key cities around the world. The time would be part inspiration part creation sessions, opening our eyes to the world around us. At the moment we are planning a trip to Japan to get a better understanding of the unique philosophies and ways of living this culture has. We both believe there is no substitute to getting out there and experiencing life as our consumers do. In Japan they call that Gemba. Loosely translated it refers to the real place where value is created. In manufacturing the Gemba is the factory floor. In our world of premium drinks, it is in bars, restaurants and stores across the world where our customers purchase and experience the brand. First hand knowledge is the highest form of information. These trips give us perspective through experience and they feed our work and the rest of our life. We love this part of our job.  

Topic of the moment

Customers want to know more about the social, economic and environmental impact of brands. How do you encourage that from brands that you work with? How do you ensure that they’re also matching that agenda?

We are quite fortunate in that most of the brands we work with have an element of that at the heart of their brand world. Usually they are one brand in a big company who take the environmental and social responsibility very seriously both corporately and within brand comms. In the drinks industry we are legislated by tough responsible drinking guidelines when communicating brands. Others build charity elements into their campaigns, building deeper relationships with their customer base on topics that resonate with them. In the world of premium luxury lifestyle brands, it is important that you don’t do anything that will erode brand affinity. It is very hard to be considered luxury and not be socially and environmentally aware. 

About the author

Izzy Ashton, Assistant Editor of BITE, Creativebrief

Izzy is a writer/researcher for BITE, Creativebrief’s daily insight into global marketing trends and the cultural movements driving them. She keeps abreast of the latest communication, technology and consumer news, and is responsible for conducting interviews with key agency strategists and creatives to gain insight into the most innovative global campaigns.

www.linkedin.com/in/izzy-ashton-950352a7