A new era for Iris & why boldness in agencies has never been more important

As we celebrate reaching an 18-year milestone and unveil our new brand and proposition ‘For the forward’, Co-founder Claire Humphris asks; When the role of the agency is being questioned more than ever, how can agencies provide more value to clients?


After reaching the ripe old age of 18 (Iris, not me, sadly) I took a bit of a trip down memory lane in the Iris archives (and the archives of Campaign) to find out some of the things that we have valued over the years, as an agency that has always worked hard to be a challenger and constantly evolve. I wanted to find some truths about Iris and what agencies need to do in order to be more valuable and relevant to clients in today’s unstable environment. 

I came up with four things. 


  1. Don’t be afraid to do things first.

It’s in our DNA to want to try new things.  In our new world while new platforms and technology should never take the place of a good idea, it’s always good to try new things and get comfortable working in the unknown – because change doesn’t stop for any agency. 

Some of these have ended up in Guinness World Records like Gig In The Sky with Sony Ericsson (and the first gig held at 35000 feet). Others have been more to do with behavioural change; in a previous life I worked on the sexual health campaign for the Department of Health and at the time we were trying to change the narrative and use incentive rather than fear to change behaviour (and conversations) around condom use – which created the Queue Jump with a Condom campaign..  And other firsts have been just to give a moment of light-hearted entertainment – like putting Domino’s on Tinder for Valentine’s Day.


  1. Provoke and Challenge

Agencies that like to provoke and challenge are often the ones that you enjoy reading about, work with interesting clients and attract the best talent.  A lot of people join Iris because they wanted the freedom to be able to recommend to our clients the right answer, rather than the answer that was the predominant discipline in the agency.. This restless ambition and rebellion even, comes through in some of our best work.

You just need to look at our work for adidas There Will Be Haters to see that the best work in the industry, is the stuff that is challenging to the market. People won’t always like the challenge (Daily Mail article hating on our ad anyone?) but I’d choose polarizing over middle of the road any day of the week.  A cliché, but a true one, is that you really can’t please all of the people all of the time. 


  1. Be commercially minded AND creatively minded

We were one of the first agencies to integrate management consultancy into our business 10 years ago with the acquisition of boutique consultancy Concise. Since we’ve brought them on board they have been able to super boost our capabilities and enable us to have grown-up conversations with clients about how they spend their money, when they spend their money, and where it’s best to spend their money in order to grow their business and customer base. It has transformed the nature of our relationships with our clients and you just need to look at what’s happening in the market with management consultancies moving in on agencies to know how powerful it can be. 

Presenting our Domino’s case study to prospective clients is an absolute dream.. not only is it great creative work, but we can prove that we are able to grow a client’s business.  This year we took the question of ‘how can we be more valuable commercially to our clients’ even further with strategic acquisitions in digital media and online acquisition with atom42 and pricing strategy with Pricing Solutions. 

However – integrating commercial consultancy with creativity isn’t quite as straightforward as acquiring a business and expecting the profits to follow.  It has taken Iris a long time to be able to find a seamless way of working between the two sides, that speak completely different languages.  A joint mission and open, no ego way of working is essential for it to work. 


  1. The strength of specialisms is irrefutable

Iris started as a youth marketing agency.  We came of age as a digital specialist, had a slightly confusing identity crisis in our early teenage years, and have since grown into a fully integrated, multi-specialist network.  It’s meant that we are winning awards across a really diverse cross section of work, from PR and experiential to film through to strategy and insight.

It has also meant that at times, we’ve been difficult to pigeon hole.  Found it hard to sum up what it is we do for clients and intermediaries.  Being different, being challenging, often means that you are misunderstood in the market.

But make no mistake – clients don’t want silo’s.  They also don’t want to work with 100 different agencies, hoping that they can collaborate effectively without ego to answer the brief.

They don’t just want a deep range of specialisms – they need the capability to weave them together to create real bottom line value for clients.


Looking to the future

A good few years back Campaign wrote a great article about a great agency celebrating 30 years – it was BBH, they had recently been acquired by Publicis and were the most awarded agency at Cannes that year.  Similarly, just this week a similar article written by Cilla Snowball about an equally respected agency, AMV, celebrating its 40th birthday and its achievements over those four decades. 

It got me thinking – Iris is going to turn 20 in 18 months.  What would I love Campaign to write about Iris at that milestone? What sort of agency do we want to be, who do we want to work for, what work do we want to create?  What do we want to achieve in the next 10, or 20 years? 

We are 18 now and our new brand and proposition ‘For the forward’ represents a more grown up Iris as a collective of specialists, and the mind-set that drives our behaviour. It’s a clear rally cry to our people, clients, talent, prospects, readers of Campaign – that we are for those who are progressive, driven, restless, and will not stop until they find the right answer. If you think that you are like that – then we want to work with you. 

It’s never been more necessary to be that bold.  If you look at the chaos out there for clients – it’s pretty bad.  There are some obvious brands that are a bit old and dusty and in need of a transformation, but even some of the most successful brands are facing such stiff competition that if they don’t invent new products, services, brands or find new customers, they will be out of business either by being outspent or undercut by competitors.

Agencies CAN help with this.  The worst thing we can do is play it safe.  Taking small incremental steps isn’t enough.  If you don’t ever change anything for your clients, it’s not just standing still, it’s as good as going backwards. 

We have a responsibility to help clients make sense of all the change and disruption, and find the best way forward.  We have a responsibility to question whether we are genuinely making things better, to challenge clients on how they are going to survive the next few years.  To take the pressure and disruption our client’s businesses are facing and turn it into competitive advantage.

And to constantly ask ourselves – are we driving our clients’ business forward, or are we sitting ducks?