Every month, we go inside the top Innovation and Design companies to unlock and discover what they’re really like. This month we visit Redscout, a boutique business by design, with 70 creative strategists and designers globally, including 15 in London, and speak to Jason Cobbold.
Jason, UK Managing Director, let’s us discover what it takes to be a ‘scout’, and shares more about the Redscout vision, story and secret sauce.
This is part 1, where we delve deep into the Redscout culture. Stay tuned for part 2 where we find out what makes a Redscout person and what they look for from new hires.
A bit of background:
Redscout was founded in 2000 in New York by Jonah Disend. Jonah, who is still actively involved in the agency as Global CEO, had been working as a planner in the world of advertising and was growing restless with the fact that the skills behind planning—namely deep consumer insight and creative brand thinking—were only being used to inform brand communications. He saw the potential to use these skills to shape not only how brands talked, but also how they behaved, as well as the products and experiences they created. An entrepreneur at heart, he left the advertising business and helped pioneer the New York innovation industry when he set up shop in his apartment with an impressive early roster of clients that included Diageo, PepsiCo, and Johnson & Johnson. That entrepreneurial spirit, and the belief that consumer insight and creative brand thinking can help transform how brands innovate, is still at the heart of the company today.
Our team is structured, first and foremost, in the interest of crafting great work and giving clients unfettered access to our passionate team of thinkers and makers. Unlike traditional agencies, over 70% of our staff are the individuals who plan, write, design, and create the work for clients. We choose not to employ layers of account management or project coordination so that our strategists and designers have a direct and highly collaborative relationship with client teams. It helps us work more efficiently and to build stronger, more honest, and more productive relationships with clients.
We also hire strategists and designers that have cultivated a unique hybrid skill-set and range of experiences in marketing, planning, and innovation. We do not have separate research, strategy, creative writing functions at Redscout—these all roll into our Strategy team members as an integrated combination of skills. Our strategists work with clients to define strategic opportunities, write consumer-facing concepts, and are trained to moderate consumer focus groups, ethnographies, co-creation, and other forms of consumer research. Similarly, we seek out designers who have worked across multiple disciplines
How would you describe what you do to your friends over a drink?
We do two things: one, we help brands define their purpose and voice in the world, and two, we help brands create new products, services, and experiences that make good on that purpose.
What is your ambition/vision?
Within the industry, we seek to be the most admired premium innovation business in the UK. But ultimately, we want to have impact. On a project scale, we seek to meaningfully impact the brands, businesses, and clients we work with for the better. Impact can come in many shapes and sizes. It could be a brand director truly understanding and empathizing with their consumer’s needs…or seeing a killer new product on shelf…or fundamentally changing the way a CEO sees his or her brand’s role in the world.
What are you most proud of since you launched?
We’re really proud of the culture we’ve built in the office over the last two years. All agencies says this, but Redscout’s offices have always had a very special culture with an eclectic mix of people and backgrounds, an entrepreneurial hustle, a sense of creative liberty and boundary pushing, and a close-knit familial vibe that has evolved and strengthened over 16 years. We’re proud to have created that in London too. That kind of culture doesn’t materialize overnight, but we’ve knit together a superb, energetic team that has really internalized Redscout’s values and approach and is dedicated to creating incredible work. Oh, and we also genuinely love to hang out with each other.
The dream of a London office had been germinating for many years. For one, London is home some of the world’s greatest strategic and design talent. The city is a creative and cultural centre that had always captivated the team and leadership in New York. On top of that, we had a strong global network to pull from — for years, we served European and global clients out of the New York headquarters, so we had long-standing relationships with several London-based clients. And perhaps most importantly, we saw a real opportunity to help establish and grow the innovation industry in London.
Where do you draw inspiration and insight from?
Where don’t we? We like to dig both deep and wide—deep into the immediate category at hand but also out into far flung places for lateral inspiration. So, if we’re developing a new cider brand, for example, we want to become absolute experts in cider—we may take a cider-making class, geek out on all the varieties of cider apples, spend hours in the aisles of off-licenses (and pubs), speak to cider fanatics, brewmasters, and beer entrepreneurs. But we’ll also look for wider sources of inspiration—scouting out drinks in distant countries, talking to anthropologists on changes in pub culture among Gen Z, and digging into other big cultural shifts that could impact the cider category (from health and wellness to culinary tourism). We’re always scouting out ways of getting under the skin of the consumer, the category, and the broader culture.
What do you do differently?
One big one is that we often think about innovation from a brand lens. Of course, consumer insight, the commercial lens, and culture are critical inputs to great innovation. But we also know that today, every product, every service, every experience is a marketing vehicle for the brand. We measure our success not only in launch quarter sales and revenue growth, but in how our innovations positively shape consumer perceptions of the brands we work with—building equity over time.
One of the biggest differences for many new Scouts is that we work in a way that’s flexible and bespoke to clients rather than rigid and process-oriented. We believe in designing project plans that are bespoke to our client’s needs and constraints, which means that every project we do looks a little bit different.
Of course, we have a toolbox of tried- and-tested approaches that we often use. However, as a business, we have made the conscious decision to minimise the amount of rigid, proprietary or ‘branded’ processes we sell to clients. We prefer to collaborate with clients to set out a process. We also have a bias for simplicity and clarity and a general aversion to industry jargon. The work we do has a habit of travelling through our clients’ organisations from one department to the next—and the clearer and more comprehensible the approach, the more likely the initiative’s buy-in. And finally, it’s just more fun, intellectually stimulating and rewarding for our team to have the freedom to craft the process that’s right for the challenge, than to simply sell the one that’s on the shelf.