Rather than launching as an agency, Bearded Kitten's origin story is more of an evolution, during which it has changed over the past decade from a festival sideshow to the winner of Campaign Creative Experience Agency of the Year.
Established as a festival brand, Bearded Kitten's name harps back to its days of drawing beards, moustaches or whiskers on the faces of partygoers. In its infancy, it toured festivals, hosting mud wrestling matches with the aim of being a space for fun, non-musical entertainment that encouraged interactivity.
Over the past 10 years, the company's three owners, Joana Ferrao, Timmy Sampson and Barney Sutton, have elevated the agency, while still holding on to the elements they believe makes it unique. The agency sees itself as coming from a "front of house" background, thriving on connecting with an audience.
The independent agency was incorporated in 2011 with partners Ferrao, Sampson and Sutton forming the senior leadership team.
Proud of their ability not to have to outsource anything, Bearded Kitten's staff of 36 includes an internal design and build team. It also has a pool of more than 200 freelancers to allow the agency to flex up around activations.
The agency has been growing and now has digital immersive and interior departments, expanding from its initial remit of being entertainment-focused.
Key appointments have included Mark Davies, who joined in January from Scruffy Dog, and Sarah Lennon, who was contracting with the agency before becoming head of interiors in November 2021 and Dean Rodgers, who was also contracting with the agency before taking up his role as head of immersive in January.
Pernod Ricard is one of the agency's most visible clients, with Bearded Kitten producing activations for the drinks company's brands across its portfolio.
Recent work includes The Glenlivet "Beyond the fireplace", breaking the whisky brand's mold to host a cocktail party at a beach-styled pop-up. For Irish whiskey Jameson, it threw a St Paddy's house party with games in the kitchen and a secret masterclass, while for Malfy Gin it brought the Amalfi coast to Shoreditch, giving guests the chance to sip cocktails under a glowing sunset.
Talking about the agency, Estelle Martin, head of experiential and consumer activation, Pernod Ricard, said: "Bearded Kitten is a refreshing, creative agency that push the boundaries to create unique, creative and engaging activations that resonate with our consumers across our portfolio of premium brands. We trust their ability to deliver outstanding results in a cost-effective way.
"The campaigns they create are instantly identifiable with powerful consumer journeys and innovative approaches. Their ability to come prepared with solutions, no matter the issues, is a testament to their strategic thinking. Foreseeing potential hurdles and tackling them before they ever hit."
Bearded Kitten's client list also includes Red Bull, Google's DeepMind, Twitch and Netflix. It has also assisted VCCP with Cadbury projects. While there is excitement around its current client list it also harbours ambition for growth into new markets, with hopes of continuing to push the barriers around experience retail. Its sights are set on brave, exciting clients that want to disrupt and do things differently.
Its approach to projects is collaborative and inclusive. Ideas are not restricted to the creative department, instead the agency aims to foster a holistic, inclusive, creative environment.
Home for Bearded Kitten is in Make It Bow, where it resides alongside 20 other creative businesses. The agency, which created the space, occupies a quarter of the building, including its workshop, storage facility, editing studios and test-build space. Having a property arm to its business has allowed Bearded Kitten to create a brand home it can grow into as well as providing affordable workspace to others.
Bearded Kitten is the Campaign Experience Awards 2022: Creative Experience Agency of the Year.
Campaign caught up with Timmy Sampson and Barney Sutton to discuss the win.
How will you celebrate this win?
We got over-excited and went large in Soho straight after the awards ceremony... then bizarrely 1980s throwback Pat Sharp came to our office the following day for a Fun House re-enactment! Very odd.
We plan on celebrating properly with the entire team on our away retreat in June.
What for you was the highlight of the past year?
Walking into SITU Live Westfield opposite the Apple store and realising we've built a pioneering retail experience that's there to stay.
Describe the past 12 months?
Total rollercoaster. Every day was a new challenge where something mad and unexpected happened. We had to be at our most inventive and agile to survive.
The 2021 experience has certainly made us stronger as a team and as an agency. We retained 95% of our staff, and grew from 20 to 36 full-time kittens. We poured £750,000 back into the company, launching two new departments, improved staff welfare with the TTTs programme, refreshed the Bearded Kitten brand with a new, slicker website and social, we also pushed harder than ever before on our environmental policy, introducing carbon tracking across projects.
Our new-biz team had a seismic year landing new accounts worth over £7m – doubling our year-on-year growth.
Which agency or project do you most admire?
PunchDrunk is very inspiring. They are in a league of their own in terms of site-specific experiences. The level of thought in theatrical performance and world creation is mind-blowing.
With a bright 2022 upon us what does the future look like for Bearded Kitten?
We are so excited for 2022. It's set to be the best Bearded Kitten year yet. The team are in a great place; those that joined last year have really bedded in now and are really nailing their roles and departments. It feels special. The vibe is great and we are delivering stunning work.
There is so much in the pipeline with new business. We have four exciting public-facing projects to launch before the end of the year.
In terms of evolution, we are expanding our fabrication facility to be able to take on even more technical projects in-house. We are also launching our new and improved sustainability scheme, entitled "Greenway", in the coming weeks as well as the eagerly anticipated "Talent Troupe" curated by the immersive department.