Style Council: Why Rankin’s ‘The Full Service’ Agency is the Future of Fashion Advertising
Photographer and director Rankin is as prolific an entrepreneur as he is a creative. Over the past few years his stable of businesses and activities has been growing steadily – he’s not just a respected photographer and director, he helms a magazine, runs a production company and has curated an exciting roster of directorial talent. His latest venture ties everything together in a neat – and timely – move.
The Full Service is a creative agency, complete with strategists and creatives as well as filmmakers and post production folk. For the fashion world, with its shrinking cycles, this one stop approach looks like an answer to their prayers – but even outside the stylish world of fashion and luxury, there’s an appetite for this kind of nimble set up.
To realise this vision of an agile, hungry and super-integrated agency, Rankin hired managing director Maruska Mason late last year. The Grey London alum is working with creative director Vicky Lawton to develop the agency. LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Rankin and Maruska to find out more…
LBB> So, you’ve got your career as a photographer and director, there’s your production company Rankin Film, your roster of directors, Rankin Film Reps and, of course, Hunger magazine. Why did you decide to add The Full Service, a one-stop agency, to the family?
Rankin> I always feel when we talk about this stuff that we sound a bit like we’re evangelical! I don’t want to sound evangelical but it all comes from the way the industry has changed in the last few years. Obviously we’ve reacted to that and everyone is reacting to it in different ways.
I was watching so many fashion brands flailing around when making work for themselves. I feel like that area of advertising often done by very small graphic design or art direction companies that are never very ideas-led, they’re more style-led or aesthetics led. I could see there was a gap.
Also, the change in the way people are consuming not only products but media and information was happening so fast, but I was seeing people still doing these campaigns with four stills and a fashion film. They were just a bit meaningless. I just felt that as more and more people became more and more interested in fashion, their campaigns were so narrow and uninteresting. That was my initial rationale. I’m not going to be competing with the big boy ad agencies because they see this work as a bit beneath them. Beauty, in a big agency, is often seen as the lowest common denominator, which I always think is a bit sad because it’s a bit cleverer than that and a much bigger business than people realise.
I know fashion quite well, I know beauty quite well, I’ve got a production-led company, I’m a photographer and a director and because I ‘ve had these magazines for a long time, I create a product. It just felt like we were in a good place to do something unique. There’s a massive potential out there to be very collaborative with people, whether it’s with a brand or another ad agency or other photographers and directors, there’s this massive opportunity to create something that works for lots of different people.
LBB> Maruska, what was it about Rankin’s vision for the full service that made it such an appealing prospect for you?
Maruska> I come from a very solid, traditional, big agency background, the last one being Grey. To be honest, Grey was still a very untraditional and unconventional within the agency model, but at the end of the day with was still a big agency. What I wanted for my next move was to actually a place that would be more agile and that really tapped into the ways the modern landscape is changing in terms of the ways the modern advertising and marketing industries are changing. When I met Rankin, it all aligned because it was very important for me to see his vision, as he’s a very talented creative but he’s also very clear on his business vision.
I like challenges and I thought this was a great opportunity to take the leadership of something that’s very special. I think what’s very important for me is that Rankin and I have the same vision and he really trusts me to take the agency to the next level.
LBB> This one stop approach has got to be interesting for fashion brands! The journey from catwalk to retail has shrunk significantly, for example. How have these changes informed The Full Service?
Rankin> Yeah, it’s moving so fast. I used to go to shows in the 90s… then I kind of gave up because I found them so fucking boring. Now, the show outside the show is mental. People are becoming not just icons but stars in their own right – the Grace Coddingtons of the world – any of the bloggers that were traditionally fashion editors.
That as a place and a position is nuts. You wouldn’t have even imagined that 10 years, even five or six years ago.
They’re not stupid, the fashion brands, they can see how the experiential event of the fashion show can translate to immediate sales and big numbers. The shift in how fast things are getting made is changing and we’re in a position to respond to that.
LBB> Fashion, beauty and luxury are areas you’re most known for – but are you looking to expand to other sectors?
Rankin> We’re not going out there to punch above our weight. I think we’d like to grow and do different sectors but we’re still working in luxury goods. We’ve got six creatives, we’re a production-led company and I think that’s very attractive for brands. We encourage them to come on the shoot and be involved in the creative process. I think there are much smarter consumers but also much smarter marketing directors who have got creative heads and are bored of being told what to do or they’re bored about being too restrictive about what they’ve got to do.
We’ve done a couple of car things which have been really interesting to work on because, for car work, they’re fairly small but we got to get to pitch on the main campaign through Italy, which has been really exciting. We won Samsonite just before Christmas so our first Samsonite campaign comes out soon. We’ve definitely been doing other things – we’re small but hungry for good creative work, but what I wanted to be clear about was that we’re not trying to nick Unilevel work.
Having worked with these big giants and knowing how we work it’s almost pointless to try and do it because we we’re not that kind of company yet, not to say we wouldn’t be in a few years. If an ad agency phoned me up with a creative brief for anything now, our team would be really excited to work with them. I think it’s changed – being collaborative between agencies is, I think, a smart move. It’s being agile and able to tap into what a brief is and come up with a solution really quickly.
LBB> What’s interesting about the setup is that you’ve got all of these different forms of expertise working together – how integrated is it?
Maruska> To start with we’re all on one big studio space, we’re not even on different floors! And we very much interact at all stages. For example, we have creative development and it doesn’t mean we just have creatives working on it, we might pull in the design team. We might create a mood film with the film team, so it’s very integrated from the very start.
When we shoot it, we bring all teams to the shoot, as there’s so much happening in parallel. We have the film team, the behind-the-scenes, the design team doing the lay out on set, the creatives working with Rankin or the director. It makes it unique and it’s something that clients really notice and comes through from their feedback. It makes us quick and agile.
LBB> So it seems like a set up that’s been created with the idea of creating many different kinds of assets and content, from film to stills and gifs – something we saw with your recent Dune campaign.
Rankin> Because we’ve got everything under one roof, it allows us to do all that within a limited number of days of shooting. We did two day shoots and traditionally that would have been a five day shoot to get all that material, but because we’ve got all these creatives in house who have all got enough experience doing fashion films or doing shoots, we can create all that content and assets in a shorter period of time. It may be a bit chaotic and a bit rock and roll, but it’s amazing because no time is wasted. I hand over stuff, like an orchestra and we’re giving people different roles, and the young creatives would never get the opportunity to handle that stuff so directly at a traditional agency.
LBB> It must be an experience for your creatives and strategists getting so hands on with the production side of things…
Rankin> We’ve got two creatives who had never really talked to production before. They came up with an idea and I said, ‘that’s a million pound idea. A million quid. We can’t do that you need to come up with something that’s cheaper’. They don’t need to go to a producer to ask that question. That’s great, they’re learning a whole new skillset.
And for clients it means that we’re not just agile, we’re thrifty. We want to put the cash on the screen, not in the pockets of groups of ridiculous people doing tests.
LBB> And I guess that approach also informs the kind of people that you’re looking to bring on to grow the agency too!
Maruska> I think what’s really nice about this is bringing lots of different energy into the existing energy. The kind of person we’re looking for isn’t just an adverting person who wants to work in another agency for the sake of career progression. We’re very clear that we’re looking for people who want to move in a different direction, who want to learn.
LBB> And finally, what’s been impressive over the past few years is to see how you’ve continued to build your business, with the growth of RFP and RankinFilm Rep as well as The Full Service. How do you balance your businesses with your own work as a director and photographer?
Rankin> I hate to use this description but I’m one of those weird people who only sleeps for four hours a night. I remember they used to say that about Margaret Thatcher… and I used to think, ‘how the fuck can you only sleep for four hours a night’….? But it means I have this period between 5am and 9am where I just do loads and loads of work.
I do also have an amazing team around me and that really, really helps because they can pick up the slack if anything is not working. But I’m weirdly good at keeping those balls up – I feel like I’m juggling occasionally.
I’m also very passionate about everything I do. People often say, how do you divide your art from your commercial photography and I’m like ‘what are you taking about?’ It doesn’t make any sense to me. Anything that’s creatively driven is interesting to me and, whether you’re communicating through advertising or through art, that’s the buzz.
I don’t think of it that way, I don’t compartmentalise the advertising. I think if you say ‘yes’ to something you should do your best job, whether it’s a magazine cover or a piece of art. I’ve just done a beautiful set of art pieces for a really amazing perfume brand – it’s almost like a book we’re creating and it’s art. And I’m as passionate about that as I am about Samsonite. But I’m also hugely privileged to be able to work in so many areas.
Genre: People , Strategy/Insight