Ben Whattam, Founder & Managing Partner, Keko London

“It’s not necessarily going to be a complete move to the one-stop-shop, but the consolidation and rise in choice for clients looking for a simplified approach is going to change the landscape."

Kara Melchers

Managing Editor, BITE


Ben Whattam - Keko

Career to date:

2013, Managing Partner, Keko London
2010, Senior Creative Strategist, Imagination
2009, Senior Planner, J. Walter Thompson
2003, Account Director, Foolproof


Creativebrief: Could you just outline your career to date, focusing on particular highlights and how you ended up at Keko London?

BW: It began at a digital research consultancy called Foolproof; as a start-up, they taught me what it meant to be entrepreneurial. I stayed there for six very happy years, and it took me from Taipei to Vancouver. From there I moved to RMG Connect/JWT to help them define a customer and user experience proposition. There, I learned about brand planning and communications planning. Advertising made me really understand the power of a brand, of creativity and of forging that emotional connection. I then moved to Imagination, where I learned about experiential and retail.

When I left, CEO Douglas Broadly said he saw me starting something myself but, at just 29, I could hardly pay my rent. Serendipitously, I met a lady called Brigitte Kemper, who owns an agency in Germany called Kemper Kommunikation. That’s where Keko (Ke – Kemper, Ko – Kommunikation) comes from. I decided to go into business with Brigitte, and I’ve never looked back. Our first account was Bentley Motors – a pure brand and product strategy brief at that point. But it was the perfect place to start from in defining a new breed of agency.

Creativebrief: In your role at Keko London what’s your primary focus?

BW: I’ve worn two hats from the start - Managing Partner, which is glamorous things like making sure there’s loo roll, people get paid at the end of the month and that is IT equipment for everyone. And Head of Planning, leading the strategic output for our clients. Over 50% of my week is still spent working on client projects. But we’ve just made a really exciting hire, a new Head of Planning. This means I step sideways from that role and have someone that can take the strategic work onto another level, while I focus on our existing client relationships and helping grow new ones. 

We have 13 local language skills, we support 42 global markets from our base in London – and our Singapore office came to life 18 months ago to support another 14 markets and eight languages."


Creativebrief: What do you think’s unique about Keko London?

BW: There’s two ways to look at uniqueness. First, there’s uniqueness in who we are – and that comes from our ability to change and adapt. Keko London began life as a brand agency, then grew to be a creative and advertising agency, then we added retail shopper marketing, then CRM. We’ve also added digital development and user experience. We have 13 local language skills, we support 42 global markets from our base in London – and our Singapore office came to life 18 months ago to support another 14 markets and eight languages. You can only grow like that if everyone in the agency group is open to adapt, learn and be open-minded. From working with big agencies, and now competing against them, our biggest opportunity comes from our being able to move and adapt faster. We call this #KeepVerging. It summarises our internal philosophy and our culture of continually learning and moving forward.

Secondly, our proposition. We’re getting close to being a true one-stop-shop solution for our clients, with a very specialist knowledge in global affluence, that we believe is relevant to brands looking to take advantage of a growing global disposable-income.

Creativebrief: Do you think in a world where everyone tries to cater for the masses, choosing the specialism of global affluence makes you stronger?

BW: I do, because clients don’t necessarily have the money to go on a voyage of discovery with a new agency partner. We want to work with brands that have head offices and regional markets, and therefore need a level of scale and brand behaviour which requires and depends on agency support. We’ve chosen to work with those brands that typically have an emotional proposition and seek a share of wallet that is competed for not just from competitors in sector, but also out of sector. That means we don’t have to learn some of the fundamentals when we start working with new clients in new sectors. So, if we start working with a whiskey client, for example, we have to learn the unique characteristics of the whiskey segment, but not their audience, because we work with their audience all the time. We know where they are and how to find them, what their other interests are, how to engage them with different media channels, and influencers that might help influence them. It gives you a head start on that conversation, and our team can keep focused on staying experts on that global audience.

We work in five main channels; broadcast communications; owned digital channels; live experiences; retail activation; and then CRM in the most modern sense of the word. Everyone in the agency has to understand how those five big channels of communications work together. Then we have deep dive experts in each one of those fields – from traditional creatives to user experience and data scientists.

Creativebrief: In the last year, what do you think’s been your agency’s best work?

BW: For Triumph Motorcycles, we developed a campaign called Spirit of ’59 – because it’s 59 years since 1959, when the Triumph Bonneville story began. We tried to capture the spirit of the age, from art and music to that sense of independence and freedom with which Triumph has become synonymous. We found Dean Stockton (aka D*Face), a global street artist based in Shoreditch and long-time collector of Triumph motorcycles. We tentatively asked him if he would be interested in designing some custom Triumphs. Luckily, he said yes. We thought of the campaign from the perspective of PR, advertising, digital, social media content, distribution, live events, experiential tool kits, retailer tool kits and CRM activation. So, a really comprehensive campaign. Triumph then asked if we’d like to do the social-media buying; we said yes and delivered 100% over target on leads for 50% of the budget, and sent the rest of the money back. Apparently, we’re the only agency ever to send money back.


Creativebrief: What about industry wide, what work or agency have you seen that you’ve been really inspired by?

BW: VICE is bringing together a lot of the things that we’re trying to do, creativity, culture and technology, but on a massive scale. Chanel’s ‘Fifth Sense’ perfume campaign combined the powers of femininity and creativity. They did it not just in digital, but in experiential activations, and it felt like a really inclusive campaign. It was a very good example of a brave client and agency working together with a clear purpose, to reach a new audience.

The fashion label Saturdays NYC created a capsule collection with Mr Porter that launched through digital content and experiential activations. It was really clever to merge the boundaries between advertising, PR and new product development.

Creativebrief: Is there an agency outside the UK that you think is particularly influential or is it more brands collaborating with other brands?

BW: Brands and some of the adventurous publishers such as PORTER, the first truly global magazine, stand out. Inspirationally, the New York agency Big Spaceship gave me the confidence that we could do it. They sit more towards the technical user experience end of digital though. The way that they’ve constructed the agency culture and working processes with clients is really interesting and I think testament to a clear vision and daily mission.

It’s not necessarily going to be a complete move to the one-stop-shop, but the consolidation and rise in choice for clients looking for a simplified approach is going to change the landscape. I hope the trend of collaboration with clients will continue."


Creativebrief: How do you see the advertising industry evolving over the next few years?

BW: It’s not necessarily going to be a complete move to the one-stop-shop, but the consolidation and rise in choice for clients looking for a simplified approach is going to change the landscape. I hope the trend of collaboration with clients will continue. Global clients choosing an advertising agency, a brand agency, a retail agency, a digital agency etc. – I think those days are coming to an end because the pace of change within that customer journey is just too fast. Clients don’t want to pay for four account managers from four different agencies to work on one project. The opportunities for creativity need to be de-coupled from channels, and we need to activate and proliferate that creativity across channels quickly and efficiently.

Creativebrief: What are your ambitions for Keko London moving forwards?

BW: Keeping the momentum without a doubt. I’d like to grow the media capability, and I’d like to grow the social insight and technology because we’re doing some interesting things in this space, but we’re reliant on big third parties to help power us. Then of course I’d like to win more work. We’d like to add a new sector every year. But we’re really proud that we’ve retained all of our clients and that we’re growing slowing and confidently.


Creativebrief: Looking outside of the industry, personally, who or what are you inspired by?

BW: Businesses that are able to change and challenge the status quo. Natalie Massenet is a genius so it’s hard not to be inspired by her and the business she created. There’s a technology agency called Fifty Media which is run by a talented guy called Simon Shaw who was actually a tactician in the America’s Cup. He started to look at how to write algorithms for social media search to identify people that might be interested in sponsoring sailing; now he has a growing agency with a unique insight and planning tool.  We started to partner with them two years ago.

Topic of the moment

Customers want to know more about the social, economic and environmental impact of brands. Is that something that you think is important and then how do you find that within the brands that you work with? Is that a conversation you find you’re having with clients? How do you evaluate each of these in the brands you choose to work with?

The main two we use are typical PR measures of sentiment and then new social listening measures. I read a piece the other day on Campaign that claimed purpose marketing is over, but I just don’t buy it. The level of interrogation consumers will put on businesses is bigger than ever. We’re working with one of our clients on trying to bring their CSR programme into their consumer programme so that they’re not two entities that are opposing magnets. Social media will continue to grow the level of transparency, but social media is only a voice to a real movement that is happening – and we don’t see it relenting.  

We’ve been running a workshop called the Customer of 2030 and it demonstrates that a brand’s sense of purpose has to shine through for these audiences. And they like brands that don’t just talk about it, but act on it. It will be a hygiene factor soon; it’s not necessarily going to be a decision factor. Now’s the time to start being proactive.