Smyle: from humble roots to Creative Experience Agency of the Year

Agency marks an impressive year after overcoming pandemic challenges.

Smyle: the agency won gold
Smyle: the agency won gold

Smyle launched in 2003 and has always been rooted in delivering activations based on powerful ideas and bold creativity.

From its humble roots as a production company, Smyle quickly evolved into an experience-focused creative agency, with a passion for innovation, developing additional in-house services to evolve its offering to clients.

Rick Stainton, group executive director, Matt Margetson, innovation director, Dominic Thomas-Smith, managing director, and Andrew Dawson-Wills, operations director, formed the launch team. The affectionately titled "Fab four" remain actively working in the agency day to day and are hugely passionate about its long-term future.

In 2018, co-founders Stainton and Margetson sold a majority stake to private equity firm Rockpool after growing overseas sales to £16m.

Over the past few years, the agency has continued to focus on evolving, which has included further developing its strategic and creative resource, significant investment in digital and building out its content offering.

Keith O'Loughlin joined as chief executive in January 2019, with strategy director Dax Callner joining shortly after. Ambitions were high and the agency reported strong growth across 2019-20.

Smyle's continued success in 2020 has centred on its innovative approach to the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, which resulted in the majority of live events for 2020 being cancelled or postponed.

In response, the agency delivered several digital products. It fast-tracked the development of its "Beyond" platform, its approach to digital/hybrid experiences, which enabled the agency to help clients switch to highly creative digital experiences with ease and at speed.

It also launched "Metric", an experience measurement tool, while the formation of its D-Lab team drove technical innovation and digital creativity. It has developed a plan to drive the agency and its clients to a more sustainable future.

The pandemic highlighted the responsibility Smyle has in creating a socially conscious agency and it is focusing on how it can play its part in various areas across sustainability, wellbeing, diversity and inclusion.

The Smyle team also reached out across the industry as founders of the One Industry One Voice coalition, leading the #wecreateexperiences campaign to raise a unified voice in response to challenging times.

Although the past 12 months has been an incredibly challenging time, Smyle also found the period to be one of great energy, innovation and opportunity. As a business, Smyle has dialled into its core creative strengths to innovate solutions for the new demand, developing new ways of working, creating imaginative content and delivering award-winning digital experiences for its global clients.

Smyle is the Campaign Experience Awards 2021: Creative Experience Agency of the Year

Campaign caught up with Dax Callner following yesterday's virtual ceremony to discuss the win.

Campaign: How will you celebrate this win?

Callner: Right now? A pub-poured pint in localised Smyle "social bubbles". As soon as it's safe? A long overdue, and huge, party.

What for you was the highlight of the past year?

The determination and innovation our industry has shown in response to the pandemic has been incredibly impressive. We have such respect for what all agencies have achieved, it's been wonderful to see people, agencies and specialist partners come together as #oneindustryonevoice.

Which agency or project do you most admire?

Wow, so many people and agencies are doing such inspiring work, especially over the last 12 months. If we had to pick one, Block 9 for their immersive experiences across art, music, theatre with ambition at the heart of their activations. They consistently challenge expectations and collaborate with an array of talent to create truly impactful work that really makes a statement.

With the UK emerging from the pandemic, what does the future look like for Smyle?

The UK vaccination program is one of the best in the world. If the science is right, we will see an increase in safe social contact in the coming months. We know there is pent-up demand, people can't wait to be together again, and we're looking forward to an expected re-emergence of physical events.

We're planning for a future in live experiences that is both physical and digital – a hybrid model that combines our heritage in IRL events with the incredible digital skills and innovation from our "URL" activations over the past year.

We are confident that the industry and our agency will thrive, domestically in the coming months, and with international growing as the global vaccination programme gains the upper hand with the pandemic. In parallel with recovery, this is time for Smyle to accelerate our efforts in innovation, wellbeing, sustainability, diversity and inclusion, education and community to build resilience and ensure future relevance.

See the full list of winners in the 2021 Campaign Experience Awards