The & Partnership's Muster one year on: provocative and profitable

Campaign talks to the 'unmissable' brand experience agency's co-founders, creative director Alec Braun and managing director Tom Rutter, about their 'ballsy' first year as part of The & Partnership, and their plans for the future of Muster.

(L-R) Muster co-founder and creative director Alec Braun; co-founder and managing director Tom Rutter
(L-R) Muster co-founder and creative director Alec Braun; co-founder and managing director Tom Rutter

When Alec Braun and Tom Rutter walked into Johnny Hornby’s office to pitch their idea for an experience agency, they were "ballsy, brave and provocative" about what they wanted to do. But as soon as they left the meeting they cringed over whether that had been the right way to go about it.

It turns out it was: after a year of conversations, Hornby welcomed the pair into The & Partnership and Muster was born in February 2017.

"We went in there and did a pitch of ‘OK, you’re missing something in your suite, that something is us, you need us’," Braun recalls.

"We both walked out of that thinking ‘That was energetic,’ and then we went ‘Oh, was that the right thing to do?’ But testament to [Hornby] and the kind of attitude he has to this place, that was exactly the sort of thing he wanted to hear. Had we gone in and done the whole ‘We think there might be an opportunity…’ it just wouldn’t have worked."

That ballsy attitude is clearly something the pair aren’t afraid to use when approaching marketers. "Clients respond really well to this duo," Braun says. "You get good ideas delivered flawlessly – that’s ultimately what we sell."

Much like a pair of creatives in an ad agency, Braun and Rutter’s attributes complement each other. One is the more outspoken creative with a big beard (Braun), while the other is more of a thinker who, at times, is more reserved. Or as their former boss Julian Pullan, vice chairman, president international at Jack Morton Worldwide, puts it: "Alec is a live wire and Tom is a very safe pair of hands."

"They're like a comedy duo," Hornby adds. "One is straight and the other is more flamboyant. You want the straight one to work out [whether a creative idea] is doable. The thing with them is that wouldn't buy two of two of them but you would buy one of each."

Having been together for 15 years, it seems the pair are morphing into each other; both are even dressed in a dark top and blue jeans when they meet Campaign. However, Rutter decides to take his jacket off as he gets ready for photos "so we don’t look similar".

The pair’s long-established bromance – they're godfathers to each other's daughters – began at brand experience agency Jack Morton, where they met in 2004 and worked for around eight years. Then in 2012 they were appointed to lead Engine’s Slice and successfully turned its fortunes around.

Building relationships

Braun and Rutter say they’ve had a profitable first year as part of Hornby’s group, with 98% of the revenue driven from work they "found and nurtured" themselves.

The majority of that revenue has come from three high-profile business events in Europe for clients they are unable to disclose. On the consumer side, Muster became mixer-drinks brand Fever-Tree’s first experiential agency and created an escape game activation that ran twice in the UK and once in Berlin.

Given that the majority of the work has been with clients outside of The & Partnership, Rutter adds: "There’s still that massive opportunity in utilising the work in the group."

That’s not to say that the pair will be going after the advertising budgets; instead, their plan is to make use of the relationships with the clients' chief marketing officers. "Rather than move money around the building from existing streams, the idea is to create new ones and get in front of those clients, letting them know what we do," Rutter explains.

Muster has also been working alongside CHI & Partners to help add an element of experiential if a brief requires it. "It’s not as siloed as some people think," Rutter says. "We assemble a team depending on the brief. It’s not an ad response [or] an experience response, it’s a creative response."

Hornby adds that other agencies within the group such as media agency M/Six are also able to get behind an event Muster may be hosting to engage more consumers through other channels.

The future

Looking ahead, the pair are clear that the revenue is in the B2B work, but this doesn’t mean that they will shy away from consumer activations. "That sweet spot, in terms of giving B2B audiences more compelling ways of delivering their content, is what we’re going after," Braun says. "We don’t want to be jack of all trades, we want to be very specific in terms of what we’re focusing on."

They also plan to double the size of the team from its current five, including them, and are setting "ambitious financial targets".

One thing they’re not prepared to do is work with the latest tech just for the sake of it. Braun has a continuing frustration with clients who want to use the latest software for their campaign.

"There’s this kind of constant infatuation with whatever the buzzword in technology is, that brands have to leap on that and do something with it," he says. "It just boils down to ‘What are you trying to get across here?’ I am getting a bit bored of people banging on about something they’ve read about and it not being relevant to a campaign."

Braun and Rutter have a challenge on their hands but, having worked so well together for so long, they should be on track to impress Hornby further and make a success out of Muster.