Fifteen months after abruptly quitting Grey London, the agency they’d built into a creative hot shop together, Natalie Graeme, Lucy Jameson and Nils Leonard have launched their much-anticipated new project, Uncommon Creative Studio, which they say offers a new approach to brand building and managing talent.
Uncommon launches with Graeme, Jameson and Leonard as business, strategy and creative leads, respectively. (At Grey London, they served as managing director, CEO and CCO.) The broad goal of Uncommon is two-fold—to be closer to the ownership of the ideas that drive business, and to work with brands (or create them from scratch) that “people in the real world wish existed.”
Leonard said the impetus for Uncommon came partly from a frustration of working in the traditional agency business, where breakthrough ideas often aren’t appreciated or leveraged properly by clients. He pointed to two Grey projects—The Angina Monologues for the British Heart Foundation in 2010, which he said could have become a money-making annual event but didn’t; and Volvo’s LifePaint, for which Grey London won two Grand Prix at Cannes, and which was produced but was a struggle to do so.
Uncommon hopes to have more ownership over such ideas—by creating brands itself, or by investing in startups. It will also work with existing clients, in the U.K. and internationally, by incubating ideas within their businesses.
“Why are we dependent on people less ambitious than us to make our dreams come true?” Leonard said. “These are things that are much more creative than adverts. People actually like them. And we can monetize them.”
Leonard has some experience with this, having spent his year away from advertising—all three execs were subject to a noncompete with WPP since leaving Grey—working on and launching Halo, a brand that is producing what it says is the world’s first fully compostable coffee capsule for home coffee machines.
Halo now joins the Uncommon stable, as does Headstart, a business that is using machine learning in the recruitment business.
Jameson has recruited an international network of 25 strategists who will work with Uncommon on projects. The agency will also set aside Fridays as a day when the staff and company as a whole will work only on their own projects.
“For every client, we build a bespoke creative studio, bringing together people from our fluid network of uncommon makers and minds,” says Jameson. “We know that the more diverse, irreverent, unusual, restless and unexpected the people, the more diverse, irreverent unusual, restless and unexpected the ideas. And, as a majority female-founded startup, we never begin with the status quo.”
Adds Graeme: “Never mind the other agencies or even the Googles and Facebooks of the world—the most talented people want to start their own thing, to get their cake and eat it. They get to do that at Uncommon.”
Other agencies, notably Anomaly, have focused on idea ownership and IP. Uncommon will be different, says Leonard, by caring about the types of brands it want to build—ones that “make a difference” in the world.
“Starting brands, or the promise of creating products, isn’t a new conversation in our game. But having a point of view on the brands that you start and how they should behave is,” he says. “We believe that the brands the world really wants are made a different way, behave a different way, and we have backed ourselves to demonstrate this.”