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Agency Profile: Dare London

Posted on December 21, 2011 and read 8,351 times

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brianna Agency Profile: Dare LondonBrianna Graves

It’s always fun to be in a new city during a holiday and even more so when that holiday is Halloween and that city is London. I encountered many a soul across the city filled with the spirit of spook and those within the walls of Dare London were no exception. From the moment I stepped off the elevator into Dare’s office, where a large hanging plastic butcher’s knife almost chopped my head off, it was clear that celebration was in the air.

“Make sure you say it was Halloween,” Managing Director Toby Horry said to me, “so it doesn’t just look like we’re dirty.” Dirty the office was definitely not. Dare has a classy vibe, a mixture of the clean-cut corporate office environment they took over last year in the middle of Fitzrovia, a hip, bustling neighborhood in central London north of Soho, and the funky flair they have added to the space since.

But it was daringly decorated for the day. Faux cobwebs stretched across the walls, banisters and bookshelves filled with trophies, and there was plenty of hardware throughout the office on which the cobwebs and Halloween decorations could hang. Among the mix of accolades? Campaign Magazine’s Digital Agency of the Decade and IPA Effectiveness Company of the Year 2010. Webby’s, One Show Interactive Pencils and Cannes Lions rounded out the décor holding up a fake spider web. Even Executive Creative Director Flo Heiss, the man behind Dare’s award-winning creative, showed up to our chat with Halloween chocolates in hand. And I didn’t even have to say “Trick or Treat!” I was sold.


Remember the game “Truth or Dare,” where two brave souls challenge one another to choose between spilling the unspeakable or doing the unthinkable? At London-based agency Dare, the two are not mutually exclusive. Rather, the Dare team works by the mantra “Truth and Dare,” always striving to reach the core truth of a brand and be daring enough to state it. It’s about getting the right information out from the very beginning of a project or client relationship to ensure efficacy in the long run.

Dare London has always been rooted in digital, but after merging with MCBD last year to combine MCBD’s broadcast prowess with Dare’s digital dexterity, the newly fused agency is even better equipped to deliver on “Truth and Dare.” MCBD and Dare found themselves repeatedly going up against each other in pitch settings, but with complementary rather than competitive skill sets. So instead of battling, they decided to combine forces to create a creative agency capable in any discipline, rather than a digital agency striving to move beyond digital or an above the line agency attempting to move into a digital space.

Walking the walk in the modern digitally-savvy marketplace can be a huge time and resource-consuming investment for any agency, preventing some from building the infrastructure necessary to deliver on capability, even if the right mindset is there. But not only is Dare’s mindset in the right place, its skill set backs it up. Blending the established strengths of Dare with those of MCBD resulted in a band of in-house specialists, who can produce an app just as well as a complicated site or a TV ad. Dare is not out to create “advertising,” but rather to produce tool-based utilities that solve a business problem.

Upon entering the reception at Dare, you would never know that there are 200 people working at the agency, as the space feels much more intimate than a roster of 200 would suggest. The Dare staff sits around the perimeter of one floor of the building, circling a large, yet cozy, communal space in the center of the floor that contain couches, picnic tables, beanbag chairs, a foosball table and comfy inviting chairs. The common space serves not only as alternate space to work, think or meet, but also for the agency to gather together.

For instance, every Monday morning at Dare begins with an agency-wide get-together (okay, it’s a meeting, but only a quick, light ten-minute meeting) to check-in, motivate and set the tone and priorities for the week. The same space hosts a monthly meeting where the staff can share recent work and accomplishments, while management can give an update on the numbers and state of the business.

To be a member of the Dare crew, one must be both “Good and Nice,” requiring its hires to not only be talented at what they do, but also pleasant to work with. One is not successful without the other. At least, not at Dare. Many individual gestures add up to an agency culture with loads of ways for the staff to bond, engage with each other and share external inspiration without being “forced fun.” There is a film club, a photo club, a softball team and a football team. The last Friday of the month brings the entire Dare team to a pub across the street from the office for brews and relaxation, and a recent “Big Bit of British Culture” pub quiz sounded like it was a round of fierce competition.

Out of the 200 people working at Dare, sixty are creatives comprising fourteen traditional art-director-copywriter teams, fifteen creative technologists and fifteen designers. Senior and junior teams work together at Dare, though more junior teams are less likely to define themselves with traditional creative team distinctions, and that’s okay. Dare strongly believes in a team-two people working together-but there could be a Planner or Creative Technologist among that mix. Account management is broken into five groups, each of whom manages four to six clients. And each account is spearheaded by a Brand Leadership team made up of senior creatives, senior planners and senior account people, who are collectively responsible to lead the account from creative output to client satisfaction. This empowers the Dare team closest to the account to make and own the key decisions for client and agency success.

There isn’t a typical workday at Dare, just an expectation to get the work done well. Individuals are responsible to manage their workload, so whether that involves being within the walls of the office or not is an independent decision. When workload requires late nights or working on weekends, the agency leadership makes sure to compensate with time off at a less crazy juncture to maintain the balance and ambition of their teams. In general, Dare aims to avoid the weekend warrior work and encourages its creatives to make the time to inspire themselves outside of the office.

“I always think that the bottom line is that 99% of all of the stuff that you do as a creative is autobiographically influenced, and if you don’t have a biography and you’re just at work all of the time, there’s nothing that you can give to the work,” said Executive Creative Director Flo Heiss.

Despite the freedom to produce the goods under individual accountability, the Dare team holds itself to high standards. The agency has a long history of creative dominance with innovative projects like the myFry app, Virgin Rockstar, Diageo Premix, Axe Feather (back in 2006) and Lynx Blow (in 2006/07).

When Stephen Fry, a celebrated British author, playwright, journalist, actor and comedian, released his autobiography, “The Fry Chronicles,” he trusted Dare to bring the novel to life in an engaging and unexpected digital form. Dare turned to insight and truth, reflecting on what would make the content interesting for readers to consume. Rather than photocopy the pages of the book into a turn-the-page iPhone app, they slice-and-diced Fry’s autobiography into 112 self-contained, themed, app-sized bites. From people to subject, feelings to “Fryisms,” the myFry app allowed people to ingest sections of the book at their leisure. The myFry app soared straight to the top of Apple’s App Store charts, and outsold Penguin’s former bestselling app by 100%, demonstrating that Penguin “gets digital.”

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In 2010, Dare’s client Virgin Holidays was facing a number of challenges that were independent of the brand, yet still affected Virgin’s bottom line in a cluttered market of frustrated travelers. To justify Virgin’s premium positioning and increase awareness of their worldwide destinations, Dare turned up the VIP dial with “Rockstar Service.” Unveiled from the inside out, Dare and Virgin first trained and guided the Virgin staff to provide the best of the best diva-quality care. They even enlisted James “Tappy” Wright, former roadie for stars including Tina Turner and Jimi Hendrix to set the example as the “Head of Rockstar Resources.” Once the attitude was internally embraced, Dare took the effort outward with “The Danke Schöns.” A spoof band of pretentious musicians communicated the message that “On a Virgin Holiday, everybody gets treated like a Rockstar” across TV, radio, outdoor, press, email, direct marketing and a range of digital, from a site to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Wikipedia and Ebay.

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This year, Dare employed the can-do attitude of The Can Man for Diageo. Faced with the challenge of increasing interest in and purchase of Diageo’s Premix drinks, rather than the typical weeknight selection of beer or wine, Dare took a digital brief and expanded it offline as well to mix things up, so to speak. As the smooth Can Man and his suave sidekicks sculpt ice, knit or build model ships, “Yes We Can” is the message they spread across all channels including TV, radio, online and social media. With digital at its heart, the integrated campaign consists of TV commercials, an online film, a Facebook competition, radio ads and online advertising.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.
Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

Truth and Dare? Yes they can.

Now I don’t know how Dare London celebrated Thanksgiving or how they intend to celebrate the New Year. But if Halloween was any signal, I need not worry about their prospects for merriment. As an annual sign of appreciation, the entire agency is granted holiday time off between Christmas and New Year’s to rest and recharge with family and friends. After the success of the Dare London team this year, they deserve it.




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