Most Creative Advertising Agency: Mother

Mother’s chief creative officer, Felix Richter, discusses how diversifying the agency’s creative output and doubling down on its Make Our Children Proud mission resulted in one of its most successful years to date

“I think there are essentially two ways of doing creative leadership in agencies,” says Mother CCO Felix Richter. “Either you have a very strong style and idea of what good work is, and then you hold everyone to that standard, or it’s a polyphony, where you have multiple original voices next to each other with very different specialisms and doing different kinds of work.”

Since moving from Droga5 New York to Mother’s London office two years ago, much of Richter’s focus has been on the latter of the two, both in terms of diversifying the agency’s creative output and bringing in new talent from a range of backgrounds. “It was a slow process, because if it goes too quickly then it doesn’t really work. So this polyphony that I’m trying to build is still evolving, but it was really nice last year to see how it started to work,” he tells CR.

While many ad agencies saw widespread redundancies last year, Mother bucked the trend and recorded its highest revenue ever, up 7% year on year. It also retained longstanding clients KFC, Uber and Ikea, and won pitches for brands including M&S Clothing and Reese’s. “For me, the most satisfying thing is that if I look at our work highlights from last year, it was very often teams with new people and people who have been here for 15 years,” says Richter. “That really has come together nicely, where the high calibre that was already here, and people with different perspectives joining in, have led to interesting new things.”

Top: Best Friends campaign for Uber One; Above: Big Blue Bag for Ikea

Mother and Ikea are often touted as the gold standard of client-agency relationships, having produced some truly great creative work over the course of their 14-year partnership. Last year was no exception, with the outdoor campaign for its upcoming Oxford Street flagship leaning into the Frakta bag’s icon status in a simple yet effective way.

Richter puts the stunt’s success down to the level of creative ambition from both sides of the client-agency relationship. “I think it’s a combination of the trust of working together over all these years, plus an equally high rate of ambition on both sides, which makes something that could also very easily just say ‘Ikea coming soon’ into something much more than that,” he says.

The agency’s original approach to social campaigns has also served it well, both in the case of its Turkey-Sized Meatball campaign for Ikea and its debut work for Reese’s Put Peanut Butter In It. “I think what’s important is to recognise that there are different platforms, with completely different rules, and that a lot of the traditional advertising dogma just does not apply,” says Richter.

“Bringing in the content team very early on and having their perspective on it is very important, but equally [so is] having an open mind and experimenting with how to adapt our thinking to make something that really works.”

In both cases, the team combined solid advertising concepts with best practice on producing content for social, something the CCO believes many agencies still aren’t doing effectively. “It’s social-first … but at the same time not completely giving up on the need for a distinctive output and an idea.

“I think what happens on the other end of the spectrum is that people go, it’s TikTok, so you need the sound, and you need to do the dance, and then there’s no difference between [brands]. I think it takes openness and understanding that there are different schools of thought, and then experimenting and trying to find something in the middle.”

Turkey-Sized Meatball for Ikea

Asked about Mother’s biggest challenges over the past year, Richter highlights a frustrating development that he describes as “phantom pitching”. On several occasions, the agency won competitive client pitches with the promise of great work on the other side – be it a global campaign or major brand transformation – only for the opportunity to disappear because someone else in the business decided the project could be done by the in-house team or abandoned it altogether. “That’s a thing I feel like I hadn’t seen before to this extent … where we’ve done a lot of sprints and big efforts and supposedly won it, and then it was nothing. It’s hard on morale, it’s hard on resources.”

While unrelated to the phantom pitching phenomenon, Mother’s Pitch It Forward initiative is continuing to highlight a simpler alternative to the time-consuming and often wasteful pitch process, winning both M&S and Jägermeister this way last year. First launched in 2022, the initiative applies to any new retained clients that choose to appoint Mother after a chemistry meeting. The first-year profits from this relationship are then donated to not-for-profit organisations that help young people get into a career in the creative industries.

Pitch It Forward is part of the agency’s broader focus on its Make Our Children Proud mission (previously Make Our Mothers Proud), which informs everything from the work it creates to the clients it chooses to work with. “I think because we are independent and these are our values … we are committed to not making it something that is on the side but is really part of the core business,” Richter explains.

Alongside the agency’s existing relationships with non-profits Greenpeace and Make My Money Matter, which received a number of accolades in this year’s Annual Awards, Make Our Children Proud equally applies to advertising that surprises, delights and ultimately entertains audiences. “It’s not always a worthy thing,” says Richter. “A lot of times it’s, let’s make something that a 19 or 20-year-old can look at today and be like, this is really interesting, I might want to spend my life doing something like this.”