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Agency Profile: St. Luke’s

Posted on February 17, 2012 and read 6,304 times

Agency Profile: St. Luke’s thumbnail

brianna Agency Profile: St. LukesBrianna Graves

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I love a good cream tea.

I’ll let you in on another little secret: I did not know how much I loved a good cream tea until I visited London agency St. Luke’s.

I was welcomed from the moment I approached the gates of the St. Luke’s office, though the gates themselves were a bit hard for me to find. I missed Duke’s Road and carried on down the London city sidewalk straight into the hustle and bustle of the King’s Cross St. Pancras tube station before realizing that I’d made a wrong turn.

Backtracking my steps, I finally found the gates outside St. Luke’s, reminiscent of a royal entryway, and rang the bell. I was kindly and warmly ushered inside and that, my friends, is where I encountered the cream tea… waiting just for me.

I won’t torture you with details of the warm scones with clotted cream and jam, or the hot, sweet tea that accompanied my introduction to St. Luke’s, but alas, all good things must come to an end. And so was the case with my cream tea. Thankfully I managed to learn a thing or two about St. Luke’s in between bites of clotted cream goodness, and I liked what I heard.


What would you do with a “Make Yourself More Interesting Fund?”

It may sound like a daydream of an offer, but at St. Luke’s, it’s a reality; each employee is given a stash for self-improvement. Not just something like learning to drive a car, but rather a skill like learning horse massage or a new language.

What might one do with a newly bestowed skill set? Well, in addition to autonomously enjoying your new talents, they could also be used to contribute to the community. Luckily for that cause, St. Luke’s allows each employee fifty hours per year for any kind of community programs they would like to participate in or contribute to.

For those who prefer group fun to the independent learning track, St. Luke’s also has that covered. The crew at St. Luke’s had just finished an ice sculpture lesson and competition days before I visited the office. Before that? As an agency, St. Luke’s learned to properly filet a fish and to make pasta entirely from scratch.

Not only does this make them an extremely well-rounded and talented bunch (with sharpened chef skills), the constant dedication to the betterment of its staff also earned St. Luke’s the recognition of being one of the Sunday Times’ “100 Best Companies to Work For.”

Whether good intention moves from the inside of a company out or the reverse, I do not know. But what I do know is the energy moves in both directions at St. Luke’s, where they are just as concerned with the greater good of the planet as with the versatile and ever-improving skill sets of the people within the walls of its office.

Eleven years ago, it was not cool to be carbon neutral. In fact it was even a little weird, as the trade press at the time openly pointed out. But St. Luke’s wasn’t very worried about being cool –that came independently of its carbon footprint. St. Luke’s was more concerned with being a responsible company with solid environmental values, and it just so happened to be the first agency to achieve carbon neutrality.

Fast-forward to 2012 and St. Luke’s environmental commitment has not been lost. Every time St. Luke’s pitches, it gives a few acres of endangered rainforest to one of its clients to thank them for their business, while simultaneously maintaining its commitment to the betterment of the planet. Oh, and St. Luke’s is also ISO-accredited.

You may know St. Luke’s as “The Agency Formerly Known as Chiat\Day London.” When Chiat\Day sold to Omnicom in 1995, it did not feel like the right move for the clients and staff working in and supported by the London office. A management buy-out, supported by Omnicom, gave everyone at St. Luke’s a share in the company and thus, personal investment in its success. Management remains open with all the staff about the financial and profit status, keeping the team informed of any change or new direction.

Open is St. Luke’s style across the board. From the outside the office is hidden, set back from the street through a small courtyard behind a set of royal-looking gates. Inside the agency it feels homey and welcoming. It is a cozy space with high ceilings and understatedly classy décor. There are no divisions between people and without guessing by age (we all know that would be discrimination), it would be impossible to determine leadership from an intern based upon the seating arrangements. Between 30 and 40 employees all sit together, with access to a couple quiet conference rooms for presentations, private meetings or more intimate brainstorming.

When asked about the type of personality that fits best at St. Luke’s, Executive Creative Director Al Young said, “I think you have to be open, or willing to be open to prosper here; people who are willing to enter, share and build on something together. You can still be tough and strong about what you think, but you’ve got to be open and you can see that openness in this open panel that everyone inhabits.”

St. Luke’s still believes in teams, Young said. Not because they are a formulaic way of cracking a problem, but because of the team aspect of looking out for one another, doubting, questioning and strengthening each others’ ideas.

The amount of hours spent attacking the workload at St. Luke’s ebbs and flows. While I happened to be visiting during a busy stretch, where the teams had put in a solid couple weeks of late nights and weekends, Young assured me that reprieve would soon be found on the other side. Maintaining the balance that keeps one sane is important to St. Luke’s leadership. So in quieter times, the partners might close the office for an afternoon, allowing the staff to find inspiration outside of the office in the streets of London with friends and family.

But producing the quality of work that meets St. Luke’s standards is of the utmost importance.

The shared experience of improving one’s self, one’s community and one’s planet sets a stage for motivated, focused, happy employees ready to attack the work and improve the bottom line for clients and company.

We’ve all heard that print is dead. But being the good Samaritans that they are, St. Luke’s took on the task of saving the print industry for its client, The Newspaper Society, which represents all local newspapers in the U.K. Forty million Brits read local papers but the massive decline of print is killing the morale of the sales forces. With revenues and public perception dropping and the dual task of improving the perception of the industry to advertisers, but also of those who work for the local newspapers themselves. St. Luke’s created an initiative called “The Local Business Accelerators” to reward small, but promising local businesses. The Newspaper Society knew it could afford to give away up to fifteen million pounds (British pounds, as in money) of advertising to the right businesses (“right” as determined by local peers). Those voted the best business in each region could earn not only the free advertising, but the raised visibility and access more help from people in their communities, as well as the chance to work with Deborah Meaden of Dragon’s Den. 1,200 businesses entered in the first week, creating internal excitement within the papers and opening conversations between publishers, advertisers and businesspeople. Even the Prime Minister congratulated the effort.

St. Luke’s also sets the agenda for thirstier endeavors involving alcoholic beverages such as Bulmer’s. Bulmer’s is a cider flavored with berries and lime. While one of Heineken’s brands, it is not as easily sold as a cold brew, especially to an apprehensive drinker afraid to try new things. So St. Luke’s set out to reward those who were willing to experiment and try something new. An actor approached strangers on the street to ask if they’d like to see his mate’s band play later that day. Promoting the show and approaching people with no warning, this actor dared strangers to take a risk. Some seemed frightened, some excited, but the reward for all fifty strangers who took the bait? A private show with one of the biggest bands in the U.K., called Plan B, in a tiny pub in Islington. Oh, and Bulmer’s for everyone! All the while proving on behalf of the Bulmer’s brand that if you take a risk, good things happen.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.


Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.


While discussing some of St. Luke’s work over distinguished sips of English tea, Al Young and I began to talk about periods, vaginas and menstrual cups. Not your typical conversation, but in itself a microcosm of the business problem that St. Luke’s faced in its work with client Mooncup. Mooncup is a menstrual cup and periods are obviously a topic that many women (and certainly men for that matter) do not like to talk about, killing awareness through word of mouth for the brand. So St. Luke’s took the conversation online, putting a screen between people in an effort to open the lines of communication to deliver the message that the Mooncup is a normal and accepted form of sanitary protection. Posters throughout the London Underground subway system teased the topic, piquing interest in visiting the site And who would not follow the breadcrumbs to find out what that means (safely behind the screen of a computer, of course)?

With a site and a message like “Love Your Vagina,” St. Luke’s attracted thousands of visitors, all of whom were encouraged to enter a pet name for their taboo lady parts. “What do you call yours?” the poll asked.

lyvscreen Agency Profile: St. Lukes

Promoted throughout a social media footprint comprising Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, more than 14,000 nicknames were submitted with enough names to rhyme in triplets. And so the “Love Your Vagina” song was born, comprised of 25 of these names.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

In just over a month without any media spend, nearly a quarter of a million people viewed the site and song and the campaign was picked up across print and online media. The “Love Your Vagina” song even took home silver at the London International Advertising Awards.

St. Luke’s cares about the planet and have been demonstrating that for years, they are nationally recognized for the way they provide for their people, and their work… well, they got thousands of people to talk about vaginas and put money, attention and pride back into the print business. What could be next for St. Luke’s?

“To create some online tool/place/location that has a utility so fantastic that everyone around my dinner table will know about it,” Young said. “That’s the thing that we should be aiming for.”

Keep an eye, and an ear, out for St. Luke’s’ work, featured soon in dinner table conversations near you.




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