Stacey Bird and Jack Croft are normally inseparable. But at a crucial career juncture they spent two weeks apart to ponder their future.
The pair, who met at university, had their first job offer from a big London agency, plus the chance of two other placements. The well-paid agency job was the sensible option, especially for Croft, who was already a father of two. Yet despite the company’s prestige, their heart wasn’t in it. They were dreaming of another place: 4Creative, Channel 4’s in-house agency, which had offered them a placement with no guarantee of a job afterwards. At the end of those two weeks "we met up in a grimy cafe, with these sad cups of tea", Bird recalls. "We both said it at the same time: we want to go to 4Creative."
Bird and Croft have always shared a vision for what they want to create, even when their choices haven’t made sense to others. In the end, turning down the secure agency job for 4Creative was a risk that paid off: they were hired after their placement, and their work for Channel 4 made them one of the most sought-after creative teams in London.
This year the pair took another leap when they left 4Creative for Wonderhood Studios, the start-up founded by ex-Channel 4 boss David Abraham. Bird and Croft were the first creative team to join under Wonderhood’s executive creative director, former BBC Creative leader Aidan McClure. There were no clients and no guarantee of success.
All this might paint a picture of swagger, but Bird and Croft are down to earth. What bonds them is a love for the work. At university, they spent their holidays on agency placements. During that time Croft became a father, and Bird, then in her early twenties, was seen as a "mature" student, so both had career goals before many of their peers. "We’ve been through a lot of shit," Croft says. "It toughened us up and got us used to working together."
After graduating, the duo set their sights on 4Creative, where they had done a workshop. "It seemed like a lot of fun," Bird recalls.
The work they produced over the next five years continued the fun that drew them to 4Creative. There was 4NewsWall, which delivered the day’s top stories in GIFs to get young people watching the news. During the 2015 general election, they shut down digital channel E4 to encourage youth to vote.
Most recently, Bird and Croft were behind the trailers to launch the first two seasons of The Great British Bake Off on Channel 4. The 2017 animated ad featured 335 baked characters, while the sequel featured a cast of wonky treats singing a Christina Aguilera tune. "We wanted to make people feel things for cake they never had before," Croft says.
Yet even singing cakes can start to feel stale. Bird and Croft were happy at 4Creative, but the desire for a new challenge was growing. Their achievements had attracted many offers from other agencies but none swayed them, until Wonderhood came along.
Abraham launched Wonderhood to unite advertising and broadcast programming. The company comprises two adjacent studios: Studio A, the ad agency, and Studio C, which produces programming for broadcasters and platforms.
While at 4Creative, Bird and Croft had bigger ideas for TV shows, but the structure there barred access to the programming side. Abraham, whose leadership had impressed them at Channel 4 and had previously founded the ad agency St Luke’s, had created a compelling model. "Wonderhood and David had our same vision," Bird says.
Still, leaving 4Creative was not an easy decision. The dedication required to build a business from scratch has meant leaving their comfort zone. But in weighing up the choice, Bird says, "it felt like a train was leaving the station and we wanted to be on it".
Wonderhood has declined to disclose its clients, but Bird and Croft say they are "very busy". Bridging the gap between advertising and TV appeals to many brands, but the two insist they won’t just make TV. Bird says: "Our ambition is to do whatever is right for the client, to offer them a bigger vision."
"Content has become the most hated word in advertising," Croft says. So, for inspiration, they point to brands using content in an authentic way, such as The Lego Movie or Netflix series The Defiant Ones – "basically a massive ad for Beats", he adds.
Bird and Croft acknowledge the possibility of failure at Wonderhood. But, Bird says: "We wanted to go somewhere that made us feel scared." No matter the outcome, the industry needs more of Wonderhood’s entrepreneurial spirit, and creative risk-takers like Bird and Croft to see it through.
Stacey Bird and Jack Croft are senior creatives at Wonderhood Studios