Mark Taylor is a co-founder of Arcade, the Singapore-based ‘creative entrepreneurs’ agency that recently sold a stake to Publicis Worldwide.
In this Q&A with Mumbrella’s Asia editor Robin Hicks, Taylor talks about where the idea for the four and a half year-old agency came from, what makes Arcade different, how the Publicis Groupe deal will affect the agency, and why clients buy into agencies with side-projects.
Where did the idea for Arcade come from?
Three of our founders were from creative agencies, the other was from a content agency. We saw the world changing around us. The ripples of the Great Financial Crisis were starting to hit Asia, so some would say our timing was good, and we genuinely believed there was a better way of doing things. We call ourselves ‘creative entrepreneurs’ to remind us of the necessity to take risks, try new things and learn through experimentation.
Where does the name Arcade come from?
In the old days, a penny arcade housed the most entertaining and innovtive games that enticed you to part with your precious penny. We want to create simple, refreshing experiences that go beyond any medium.
Our Ventures arm underpins our philosophy. For us it’s a playground, doing things beyond our experience and expertise, which allows us to work with anyone and with fewer constraints [on Arcade’s website, the blurb for Ventures reads: “We call it the Pinball Effect; when ideas ricochet into new and unexpected directions. Arcade Ventures is our playroom, our R&D department – an entrepreneurial ecosystem that keeps pushing the boundaries of creativity in communication.”
How much money do you invest in new projects that might not work?
It’s a bit of a numbers game – you need to do ten projects to get one to stick. That said, what our people learn in the process and how these projects influence our culture is immeasurable.
Can you give us an example of these projects?
We’re making a horror movie called The Undertaking [a film about events at an abandoned hospital in Western Australia, which is billed as ‘A truly original movie that will not only redefine fear, but also the film-making process.’] Watch the trailer.
We also created an app called Moodmakr [which gives the user deals, content and experiences to suit their mood].
Don’t clients see side-projects as a distraction to the day-to-day work on their business?
I think clients are inspired by side-projects. Having side-projects in our conversations with clients can change the conversation about other things. One idea can lead to other unexpected ideas. Pretty soon clients stop saying ‘where’s my TV ad?’ and start to join in the exploration.
Now that you’re part of the Publicis family, how will that change your approach to side-projects such as the film you’re working on? Will you have to cut back on the time you spend on them?
The Publicis Groupe are keen supporters of being entrepreneurial. I think you’ll find it is written into their core values. Our horror thriller feature film is a blue sky project that’s got a life of its own. The balance of what has been created under our ventures arm shares a stronger affinity with our advertising business and often directly involved our clients in new and unexpected ways. We have found clients are just as keen to experiment and learn as we are. In a world changing this fast everyone has to become serial entrepreneurs to stay relevant and survive!
What about the culture at Arcade? Given that your offering is diverse, does that make it hard to hire the right people?
The culture may not be for everyone, but I think that a spirit of experimentation is in everyone. I’ve seen it in people in the biggest agencies and also the smallest. It could happen anywhere. Arcade comprises of very senior people at the top, not much of a middle and lots of juniors, some straight out of University. The great thing about younger people is that they don’t know any better – they don’t think in a prescribed way.
This worked for us in a project we did for Google, for whom we designed a concept store. None of us are retail designers, but our model for experimentation combined with our fearless young Turks put us in the right position to come up with something new. That design has now become the blueprint for all Android retail stores around the world and been admitted into the Android Hall Of Fame in Mountain View.
How is your time divided between the work you do for paying clients, and side-projects like your film, The Undertaking?
Our side-projects are treated like every other job and built into the agency WIP so they are part of the normal flow of business – resources are always allocated and accounted for.
How can you measure the value that side-projects bring to the agency, is that possible?
In a spreadsheet, that’s hard to work out. We have created a lot of new business wins from that sort of work. But we haven’t sat down and put a numerical value on these projects.
How do you resource talent for your agency? Do you have to find a different sort of creative to work at Arcade, given that the work is quite diverse?
No. Ultimately, we are looking for creative people with an entrepreneurial spirit and the willingness to experiment outside of what they already know.It’s not harder for us to hire, it’s always been hard – these types are very rare. But when we do find the right people, we invest in them and set them up in their own business and give them the experience of running their own show. We find that shift in responsibility and control immediately elevates their thinking and the type of solutions they offer their clients.
What sort of agencies were your inspiration when you launched Arcade?
The Monkeys [formerly known as The Three Drunk Monkeys] in Australia. RGA do amazing work with Nike in product development. And Google Creative Labs blur the lines of creativity all the time. We like being inspired by companies outside our industry, often they are a better clue for things to come, VICE magazine is a great example of that.
Where do you see Arcade in a few years time?
One of the things we’ve learned is that we should stick to what we’re good at. We’re not going to start a green car company. We have to stay true to what we do. We’ll never be a big agency with lots of departments. It’s always been our ambition that the ventures and the agency work become one in the same and together with our clients we have a laugh coming up with cool stuff.