Specsavers and the in-house life

One of the major creative shifts in recent years has been the rise of the in-house agency. Here, Nicola Wardell, MD of The Agency at Specsavers, talks about the challenges and rewards of in-house life

Wardell joined Specsavers in February 2020, after a long and distinguished agency career, including stints as CCO at Havas and managing partner at Grey London.

Guernsey-based Specsavers has had an in-house creative function since 1988. Under former Creative Director Graham Daldry, who joined in 1999 and wrote the famous ‘Should’ve gone to Specsavers’ line in 2002, it has produced some of the most notable campaigns from any in-house agency. When Daldry left the business in March 2020, Specsavers’ in-house team had grown to 90 people, encompassing everything from data analysis to retail interior design.

This interview forms part of a series from the In-House Agency Leaders Club, created by consultancy WDC and ex-CR editor Patrick Burgoyne, which will explore the unique opportunities and complications of working in-house.

IHALC: When you were thinking about this role, what was it that attracted you to it? And what kind of preconceptions did you have about it?
NW: I think the ability to influence the clients is greater. I’ve always, like I’m sure most agency leaders, believed that what’s best for your client, is best for the agency. But there are sometimes the inevitable conflicting agendas. So, the thought of just being able to be 100% single-mindedly focused on what’s the right thing for that brand, and the business with nothing else getting in the way, was really appealing.

I think the other thing is, (and maybe this is just a personal thing), as I’ve got older, making a positive difference through the work I do has become more important. So, the Specsavers brand was a real draw to me. I remember when the job description came through, I said to my husband, ‘Oh my god, this is like my dream job’, because it’s doing what I know I can do but in a client-side organisation, for a brand that makes a difference. Our brand purpose is all about making a positive difference to the lives of all through sight and hearing. Throughout my career I’ve done the confectionery, the snack foods, the booze, all great fun and still important work. But what we do here as an organisation really does impact people’s lives properly. And that meant a lot to me. It really is quite a special business. It’s still family owned and it has a great culture.