In July 1969, Roger MacDonnell teamed with Hilton Mackley and Michael Wall to open a new agency in Wellington, New Zealand. The three men, all in their mid-20s, had worked together at another Wellington ad agency, Charles Haines. But the advent of TV was changing the face of advertising in New Zealand, and the three decided to go out on their own to capitalize on the changing times.
The result was Colenso, the first new ad agency in New Zealand in more than a decade. The agency was named for a Cornish preacher, William Colenso, who established the first printing press in New Zealand.
The new agency worked hard to be recognized within the market as a creative-driven ad agency—a revolutionary concept at the time. Its first client was Zip Industries, an Australia-based marketer of electrical appliances. Other clients followed, including Taubman Paints, which led to Colenso's collaboration with a fledgling Australian ad agency, Singleton Palmer Strauss McAllan, founded by John Singleton. Colenso and SPASM formed a non-financial link, with each agency helping the other with various accounts in Australia and New Zealand throughout the early 1970s.
The relationship ended in 1973 when another Australian-based agency, Clemenger, began to expand into New Zealand and bought a 20% stake in Colenso. Initially, Messrs. MacDonnell, Mackley and Wall thought the Clemenger organization was "too conservative," but Clemenger boss Peter Clemenger convinced them to sell the stake in their agency.
The Clemenger link gave Colenso access to a much larger and more financially powerful ad network; Clemenger was 53% owned by its Australian and New Zealand staff and 47% owned by the Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide. During the late 1970s through the mid-'80s, Clemenger gradually acquired 100% ownership of Colenso.
Colenso's big break came in 1975 when the agency was chosen to handle the New Zealand National Party's election campaign. The National Party, which represents the country's conservatives, won the election by a landslide. The party's campaign was based around the notion of problem solving and used a series of animated TV spots depicting members of the incumbent Socialist government as dancing Cossacks. Not wanting to align itself with any particular political party, Colenso turned down the National Party's next campaign and instead worked for the socialist Labor Party, which won the election.
During the mid-1970s, Colenso started working for blue-chip clients such as Toyota Motor Corp.; it had also acquired the country's "establishment" accounts, such as the Bank of New Zealand and Cadbury. By the early 1980s, Colenso had become one of the biggest agencies in New Zealand; its Auckland office, opened in the late 1970s, grew to become larger than the original Wellington office.
In 2000, it was named by trade magazine Campaign Brief as New Zealand Agency of the Year and was regularly honored at international award shows.
In 2001, Cleminger Communications, comprised of Colenso BBDO, Auckland, and Clemenger BBDO, Wellington, had gross income of $19.7 million, down 7.9% from the year earlier, on billings of $131.7 million.