Pop-up agencies: Getting up, getting out and getting stuck-in

How taking our team to market helps us get better results

By Jonny Westcar | 21st March 2018

Today, it can be pretty easy for agencies like us to service a truly global client base without even needing to leave the UK. But while tech like Slack and Zoom can go a long way in making up for not having face-to-face meetings with a client, we’ve found that one of our major USPs is our ‘pop-up agency’ model, which as the name suggests, involves rounding up our talent, packing a bag, grabbing our passports and taking our team to wherever the clients business is.

In the last year alone, StormBrands has popped up in Chicago, Florida, Gdansk, Karachi and Lille. We do this not because we’ve got a thing for airport lounges or because we’re just looking for any opportunity to leave the grey skies of the UK behind, but because – in many instances – we genuinely think this is the best way of working. The jetlag is worth it because of the results we get for our clients…


Pressure-to-perform comes as standard

Ask many creatives and they’ll tell you that some of their best ideas materialise when their back is against the wall. Strict deadlines are usually a friend, not a foe to the creative process. And because the very palpable deadline of plane tickets home are built in to the pop-up agency model, we have always found that this time-pressured way of working helps us to deliver the sort of inspired result the client needs quickly.

You can completely immerse yourself in the client’s world

Critically, branding is about nuance. And it can be very difficult to gain a real understanding of the subtleties of how a market works when working remotely.

For example, while working for a food brand in Pakistan, our on-the-ground research was instrumental in helping us to understand how actually even a simple product like a biscuit can be meeting completely different needs depending on the market. For example, in the UK, we see them more as snacks, something to eat in addition to meals. In Pakistan, biscuits can be viewed more as an affordable meal substitute, and therefore nutritional value and quality is far more important to the end consumer than it would be if it was a nice-to-have addition to the daily diet.

It builds better client relationships

The best work emerges when you really get under the skin of your client’s business and what it needs from you. Working remotely inevitably means working in close quarters with our clients, which in turn helps to build working relationships with stay strong long after we’ve packed up our bags and gone home. For example, while working for a leading food manufacturer in Asia, we were able to really get to know the client through a series of management interviews, structured workshops and creative sprints, which enabled us to pinpoint exactly what they needed with razor-sharp accuracy, in real time.


Insight Instantly Actioned

Our pop-up agency model owes much of its success to the very close relationship we have with our insight partners. They’ll often conduct intensive research before we get to the pop-up location via, for example, closed social media focus groups and video diaries so that we always arrive with a good understanding of the particular habits of the consumer groups in question. Once we’re there, they’ll broaden this knowledge through the sort of research that can only be carried out on-the-ground, such as escorted shopping trips and face-to-face consumer interviews.


However, what really makes the intersection between insight and creative special in the pop-up agency model is how closely we work. Traditionally, the relationship between a creative agency and an outsourced insight team can be sluggish, with information sharing and feedback processes slow. The pop-up agency model eradicates this because we work directly with the insight team. Indeed, often we end up living with them too for the length of the assignment. They will literally be in the room as we develop creative, meaning all insight-led feedback is instantaneous and the directions we take stay aligned to what is most likely to work in that market. This means we can focus and fine-tune the creative and ultimately, get results, much, much more efficiently than we could working in a more traditional way.


It’s also good for our people, being curious about the world and culture is an intrinsic part of creative work, the pop-up agency approach enables our talent to go out and live the work to find better solutions.


It’s easier to conduct on-the-ground research

Working in the client’s customers’ territory allows us to really understand the market, the context and channels the brand is active in and of course the end-consumer. As a result, our insight into what the client needs to do to win out is much greater. For example, while working for a major drinks brand, we conducted on-the-ground research in France in order to understand its very different relationship with beverages compared to many other major global markets. Clue: while in the UK we might have one option on the go in the fridge or cupboard, the French – mais bien sur – are more connoisseur-like and have a tendency to purchase several different choices which will then be ‘paired’ with different meals.


You can make things happen, quickly

No matter how enthusiastic our team and the client is about making things happen quickly, with the best will in the world differences in time zones and working patterns can slow things down. So one of the most obvious benefits of the pop-up agency model is that you can truly work as a team, making decisions – and making things happen – quickly.

The result is a truly streamlined way of working. It’s just us, the client, our insight partner and a determination to start getting results for a brand ASAP. And, thanks to the many different benefits of our pop-up agency model, that’s just what we do.

By Jonny Westcar | 21st March 2018

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