Small but nimble
The size of the agency was also important to Wheen when setting up distillery. He believes the relatively small size of the agency works in their favour as it gives them the agility to work on projects with just days’ notice. “Not many agencies can do that,” he adds.
This has seen the agency work with the likes of Oxfam, WWF as well as on a recent campaign for Lil-Lets that examined how women could reduce the amount of plastic used on their period. After being approached by the brand in 2018, distillery produced all the content for the campaign, running it on social and identifying key influencers. The year-long campaign, in collaboration with Dream Quickly, had a reach of 17.5m as well as an engagement conversion of 51%. As Wheen explains, it is a campaign “that has smashed all their expectations.”
This nimble way of working extends to the way Wheen decided to build distillery, opting to become a content studio “because we can turn around material, really high-quality product very quickly and jump on the back of trends. We’re all about the thinking and the making and the blowing up of content, really making it fly.”
Last year was a celebratory one for the agency, being awarded two Lovies as well as winning video of the year at the British Media Awards. A career highlight for Wheen, who explains, “For me that was a really proud moment that felt like distillery had come of age…it felt like we’d made it somehow.”
Getting out of the echo chamber
Besides running his own agency, Wheen is also an active member of Outvertising, formerly known as PrideAM, the not-for-profit LGBTQ+ advertising lobbying group. He is heavily involved in the Pride Brand Makeover awards and is immensely proud of the impact the awards have had on the industry.
As he explains, “For me it’s about ways of getting out of the echo chamber.” He goes on to talk about the launch of the group’s second iteration of their Outvertising paper, a guide for the industry on how to produce LGBTQ-inclusive advertising for a mainstream audience. The paper was produced to speak to agency and brand leaders looking to diversify their marketing.
For Wheen though, “The real work is actually getting that paper [Outvertising] in front of people who aren’t so engaged in the debate, who perhaps aren’t as aware to really start making a real difference.” He expresses irritation about business leaders who think their work on diversity and inclusion is done: “The thing that bugs me is that whole tick box mentality of yup, I’ve done diversity, what’s next?”
While many agencies talk a good game on the importance of agile marketing, distillery’s growth and international credentials underline the fact that size is no barrier to scale. As the agency model shifts and changes, attributes like speed and nimbleness cannot be underestimated, something Wheen well knew four years ago when the idea for distillery was simply that, an idea.