When I told people I was starting a new job at Jellyfish, people asked loads of questions. The most common from creative agency people was ‘who are Jellyfish?’. From people who knew little more than the name, it was ‘why’s a brand person like you going to a performance agency?’. But from those in the know, there was a sense of intrigue: ‘Now that’s interesting – what are they planning?’.
So a couple of months in, I thought I’d share some answers, some observations about the fascinating new world I’m now in, and what it’s making me think about the future of the industry.
Intro’s and origins
I myself hadn’t heard of Jellyfish until someone senior at Google introduced me to Jellyfish’s VP of Creative. This Googler couldn’t have been more effusive, saying Jellyfish is the only company in the world they’d want to work at besides Google.
It’s undeniable that Jellyfish’s brand awareness lags its impressive business performance, which stands at +45% growth on average every year for the last 8 years. Word has spread via people in the know, and new clients have tended to come in more through referrals than through the inefficient business of pitching. And like many digital-first marketing companies, its output often doesn’t have brand fame as an objective, so can’t always be the shop window that it is for pure-play creative and media agencies. Which partly explains why Jellyfish is currently more ‘trade secret’ than darling of the trade press. Whilst plans are afoot to solve the brand awareness issue, it’s an approach that doesn’t appear to have held back growth to date.
Jellyfish was founded by a group of individuals from outside adland, with zero attachment to how agencies worked in the past, and who had nothing to do with the creation or maintenance of the increasingly creaky holding company model. Just smart, entrepreneurial business people, with an ambition to build, from the ground up, the kind of company clients and partners want to work with and people want to work at.
Appropriately for a company that’s in the business of digital marketing transformation, Jellyfish’s own origin story is itself one of transformation – from its roots as an IT consultancy in Reigate, UK, via its evolution into a performance marketing company, to its current incarnation, a new breed of global marketing services company with over 2000 people and 40 offices globally.
Jellyfish is injecting new DNA into the marketing services industry. The London agencies of the 20th century can mostly be traced back to a handful of Soho shops of the 60’s , but Jellyfish has no connection to Soho, or its US equivalent, Madison Avenue. It isn’t an adaptation of adland’s existing DNA; it’s a completely new bloodline.
In fact Jellyfish’s growth has perhaps only been possible because of, not in spite of, its existence outside marketing’s establishment. And it’s growing fast – it’s currently hiring for 266 roles, has new offices opening all the time, and only a couple of weeks ago announced 5 new acquisitions of creative and content businesses .
Rob Pierre, Jellyfish’s CEO, doesn’t just want to build a better marketing services company – he’s on record as saying he wants it to be the blueprint for the world’s best organisation, full stop.
But what is Jellyfish really?
Because it’s part of a new category of company for which the industry hasn’t yet settled on a common descriptor, and because it’s evolving and transforming all the time, it can be hard to categorise. Jellyfish doesn’t call itself an agency or consultancy, instead describing itself as a ‘digital partner’.
When the Drum recently published a list of the most admired ‘digital agencies’ in the UK, Jellyfish was named No. 2. But the pure play creative agencies I’ve worked at also came out well (no. 40, 10 and 3 respectively), which shows the term ‘digital agency’ is too broad to be a useful descriptor today, now the majority of marketing communication is in some way digital.
Martin Sorrell’s definition of S4 Capital as “a communications business for the new marketing age” is also true of Jellyfish, and that’s helpful language as it points to a new category of company, of which S4 Capital and Jellyfish are two global front-runners, but this is also really broad.
Jellyfish plans and buys media, but it’s not a media agency. It does digital transformation consultancy, but it’s not a consultancy. It has serious expertise in the adtech platforms, but it’s not an adtech company. It makes creative content and advertising, but it’s not an ad agency. It does performance marketing but it’s not a performance marketing agency. (Performance agencies don’t tend to win Emmys, as our organic social creative team did last year for their work for Netflix ).
Importantly Jellyfish isn’t a holding company. It has one exceptionally unified organisational structure with a single global P&L, and every effort is made to make each acquisition or new hire feel like part of one global company from day one. Jellyfish only does things if they’re scalable – if it can’t productise a service and scale it globally then it won’t offer it. CEO Rob Pierre describes his vision for the growth of Jellyfish’s organisational structure and culture being ‘a vector image not a jpeg’ – so that regardless of how big it grows and no matter what your vantage point, every part looks and feels like Jellyfish, meaning no new component will add complexity, weaken its structural integrity or water down its cultural unity.
And whilst it’s not an agency, I’m told Jellyfish’s bar in the London offices on two floors high up in the Shard (which I’ve yet to visit but will be my home), has the best view of any agency bar in London. Which I suspect will make it pretty popular with agency types when word gets out.
So why am I at Jellyfish?
- To experience growth
I’ve worked in large network creative agencies for around 20 years. When I started at AMV BBDO in 2000 there were still Aston Martin’s and Ferrari’s parked in the basement car park, the last visible trace of adland’s glory days. But for much of this time, this part of the ad industry has struggled to adapt to the arrival of the adtech platforms. So despite being all about delivering growth to its clients, it’s been having trouble delivering growth for itself.
The big agencies of the 20th century got big by being the best at partnering with the big marketers of that era – P&G, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Ford etc. The big names of the 21st century will get big by being the best at partnering with the big platforms and brands of this one. In fact quite a few of the new platforms have themselves been early adopters of Jellyfish as clients – businesses like Google, Netflix, ebay, Uber, Spotify and TikTok.
Despite having huge love and respect for where I’ve come from, I’m not ashamed to admit to wanting to work in a company that’s growing fast – as fast as many of the platforms it partners.
- To learn & practice modern marketing strategy
I can’t claim to be an expert like many at Jellyfish in how to use the platforms to help brands grow, but I’m very excited to learn for my own personal growth.
Jellyfish has a significant digital marketing training business for both clients and partners (you can take a look at and even book courses here), with the first of its two floors in the Shard devoted to it. This world-class training capability is already helping ease my transition.
Strategy (or brand planning as Jellyfish call it) is a relatively recent but fast-growing capability. Alongside media strategy, we help connect up these specialisms and deliver unified marketing strategies across them. Strengthening our brand planning function means that, when the time is right for specific clients who want us to take strategic leadership on their business, we’ll be even more ready to do so. And as digital marketers are probably better known for their mastery of tactics than strategy, the brand planning team here are firmly committed to helping digital marketers up their strategic game, especially around helping people get back to basics and learn marketing’s fundamental principles.
- To help bridge brand & performance
I wrote a blog post last year called the ‘Wrong and the short of it’ , which talked about the power of combining brand & performance, a theme which Mark Ritson subsequently termed ‘Best of Bothism’. It was written out of frustration with the persistent division between brand and performance marketing and a feeling that only by ending it will be able to unlock the full potential of the modern marketing toolkit.
Jellyfish is set up to do just this. It bridges all of marketing’s big divides and has all the components of the modern marketing machine sitting happily together under one roof: media & content, technology & creativity, brand & performance, data & ideas, agency & consultancy. Others may possess some of the component parts, but Jellyfish’s structure and culture could give it an advantage.
- To help make more effective digital marketing
We’re as aware as anyone of how bad a lot of digital marketing communication is creatively and therefore how poorly some of it works. While Mark Ritson, Bob Hoffman and others are fighting the air war against ineffective digital ads, we’re helping fight the ground war – trying to make them better in practice.
And we’re just as happy optimising creative assets made by a client in-house or by another agency as we are originating our own. Regardless of where it comes from we just want the work to work brilliantly across every platform. We know the brand and its objectives; we know the platforms and the algorithms; we know the audience’s behaviour on the platforms; we just want our clients’ brands to perform on them to their fullest potential.
- To be a part of the future
Whilst the holding companies may be finding it tough right now, small, independent creative agencies seem to be doing well. They’re getting on ever larger pitch lists and some are winning very large global creative origination briefs, for which they may not have the scale, technology or even inclination, to handle the creative asset adaptation, deployment and optimisation required.
So perhaps in the future the marketing communications landscape could comprise two types of company: 1) Lead strategic partners who manage the on-going business of media planning, deployment and creative optimisation across the platforms; 2) Specialist creative agencies and studios whose role is to create new assets to challenge those currently being deployed. A ‘Champion vs Challenger’ model rather than ‘Media vs Creative’ model. A future where smaller pure-play creative agencies and larger companies like Jellyfish happily coexist in symbiosis.
So what exactly am I going to be doing at Jellyfish?
Two months here has confirmed much of what I thought was happening in the industry and is teaching me loads more.
Little did I know when I arrived that within a few weeks of arriving I’d have helped create a brand strategy and new video and display campaign for a new social networking app, been through a round of optimisations on it, helped revise the copy in the app stores in line with the new strategy to help it perform better with both humans and the app stores’ algorithms. I’ve written about bringing brand and performance closer together, and am now learning what that can actually mean.
I’m applying my existing strategy skills to client business. I’m trying to help bridge the divide between brand and performance. I’m trying to help make digital campaigns that are more visible, impactful and effective. And I’m going to continue to write about marketing and creative effectiveness, but from a fresh perspective.
If you’ve made it this far you may have picked up from this that I’m genuinely excited about the future – Jellyfish’s future, the future of marketing and the part Jellyfish can play in shaping it.
Please do get in touch if it’s a future you’d like to be a part of.
Or even apply for one of 266 new roles at Jellyfish here: https://apply.workable.com/jellyfish-group-ltd/
 The original agencies from the mid 19th century to the 1920s all grew up around Fleet Street and the Newspaper industry. The next wave moved to 1960s Soho with its connection to the film and TV production worlds following the advent of commercial TV in the mid 50s. So agencies tend to arrive in waves, following shifts in the dominant media industry of the age. The digital age unsurprisingly has fewer geographical ties, which means the next wave of agencies can start anywhere, even Reigate. https://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/history-advertising-no-155-soho/1373263
With apologies to AMV BBDO, The Economist, and the late David Abbott, perhaps the greatest British copywriter of all time, for the desecration of their ‘”I never read The Economist.” Management Trainee. Aged 42.’ poster, the first execution in their much-loved, long-running and highly effective campaign.
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