Former TBWA global creative chief and McDonald's worldwide marketing vet team up to open brand consultancy PLTFRMR
Chris Garbutt, former global chief creative officer at TBWA Worldwide, and Colin Mitchell, who last served as McDonald’s senior VP-global marketing, have joined forces to open PLTFRMR, an independent consultancy aimed at helping companies ranging from Fortune 500 to startups create and develop their brand platforms.
PLTFRMR is the latest in the string of senior talent-led startups that have opened during the pandemic. Earlier this year, former BBDO New York creative chief Greg Hahn teamed up with Canadian agency No Fixed Address to open Mischief in New York; Barton F. Graf founder Gerry Graf partnered with South American vet Maxi Itzkoff to found consultancy Slap Global; and ex-Engine and 180 LA CCO William Gelner helped Asia Pacific agency Special Group establish a U.S. foothold in Los Angeles.
Garbutt and Mitchell, however, offer a unique pairing of top creative executive and senior brand leader. Together, the two have helped steer brand-building at some of the world’s most prominent companies.
Mitchell departed from McDonald's in June after a four-year tenure. During that time, his remit was to articulate the fast food giant’s brand vision and reinvigorate the brand around the world. That included a major identity overhaul that dug back into the brand’s roots to bring its classic “feel good” mantra to every aspect of the brand, from advertising to design.
Garbutt, who departed TBWA last week, had a storied creative career at the network, starting out in his native South Africa at TBWA/Hunt Lascaris and then moving to its Paris office, both of which he steered to numerous creative accolades—including multiple Creative Agency of the Year accolades at Cannes Lions. After another celebrated run at Ogilvy in Paris and then leading its New York office, he rejoined the TBWA network in 2015 as global creative chief overseeing its creative output, which included work for McDonald’s under Mitchell and notable moves for brands including Adidas, Gatorade, Nissan and Apple.
The state of marketing today served as the inspiration for the company’s model, Mitchell says. “If you had to summarize what’s happening in the industry in one big macro-trend, you have what we call a great fragmentation. Everything is being split up into smaller and smaller parts—channels, brands themselves, metrics, technology and most importantly, consumers’ attention.”
In terms of brand building, “it doesn’t work,” Mitchell says. “Great brands thrive on focus. Consumers’ lives are chaotic enough, and they’re really looking for points of clarity. That insight has informed everything we do.”
PLTFRMR proposes to help companies “define, design and develop” their brand platforms and pinpoint or redefine their “value exchange” with consumers. Whether it’s entertainment, utility or purpose, “brands need to give to get back, so that consumers feel compelled to reciprocate,” Garbutt says.
The company represents a reunion for the pair. Prior to their last gigs, Garbutt and Mitchell worked together at Ogilvy, where Mitchell served for 16 years, last as worldwide head of planning overseeing more than 100 offices. Their combined efforts included notable campaigns such as IBM’s Cannes Lions Grand Prix-winning “Smart Ideas for Smarter Cities” and pushes for Coca-Cola, Tiffany, Louis Vuitton, Dove and Perrier.
They came together once again during the pandemic. Mitchell and his family left Chicago earlier this year to spend time away from a downtown setting, in Greenwich, Connecticut. While there, he caught up outdoors with Garbutt, who lives nearby in Rye, N.Y. Mitchell now works out of a Chicago office, while Garbutt may soon be looking for a new space; he’s selling his house to help fund the venture.
PLTFRMR opens its doors with one client, Ultimate Medical Academy, a healthcare school in Florida, already on board. Its chief marketing officer, Linda Mignone, is a former client of Garbutt and Mitchell from their time at Ogilvy. Mitchell and Garbutt say they are also in conversations with a number of brands they declined to name.
PLTFRMR arrives at a time when COVID has accelerated a shift in the advertising and marketing landscape, prompting new ways of working and the birth of nimbler models aimed at addressing marketers’ shift toward project-based assignments.
Forrester estimates that major holding companies are expected to furlough or lay off 49,000 workers worldwide. “The flood of creative talent into the marketplace will spur a new wave of entrepreneurs as many establish their own business concepts to deliver agency and marketing services,” the company wrote in a report in late October, adding that it anticipates at least a 5% increase in small or mid-sized startups focused on marketing, adtech and martech. “At the core of their offerings will be creative problem-solving skills; unencumbered by legacy structures, they will be free to find creative solutions in a nimble, cost-effective manner,” Forrester wrote.
PLTFRMR seeks to make the most of the changing terrain. As creative and marketing talent increasingly goes freelance, its founders believe their company also offers a new platform for the growing community of free agents.
The company, with Garbutt as chief creative officer and Mitchell as chief strategy officer, will have a lean full-time staff of core leadership. Led by Garbutt, it’s also established a “talent cloud” of about 70 hand-picked professionals across design, traditional creative, and technology from which it will pull accordingly, given the needs of a project. The founders say that such a model will also allow them prioritize diversity as they build out teams. PLTFRMR is also in the process of building out a scholarship program to help provide opportunities to help sustain and grow a diverse talent pool.
The pair liken the model to how Hollywood creates teams to work on films. They disband when a movie is completed but might come together to work on future projects.
“Five years ago, one brand was built much the same as another,” Mitchell says. “Now the really great brands have very particular views of how they should communicate and behave, and if you accept that, you need very particular types of talent for that.”
“When I was inside of an agency structure, I found it really challenging sometimes trying to provide clients with the best skill sets around solving a specific problem, because we were stretched, running on fumes at times,” Garbutt adds. “This way, we can keep the expert core small and focused and then decide on the shape of the team we need to build to solve the problem.”
While Garbutt worked on building the talent cloud, Mitchell has focused on developing a modular suite of strategic tools designed to address the needs of clients. “Whatever the problem is, whatever stage a client is at, we can give them a price, timing and clear deliverables and turn it around very fast and efficiently,” he says. “When I was a client, I found what you really crave is a very clear proposal with deliverables, timings and cost.” Such a setup informs the company’s modular, project-based revenue model.
The company’s flexibility also extends to who it works with on the job, whether it’s a client's other agencies or in-house teams. “We’re not precious about working on projects nor are we precious about working with other partners,” Mitchell says. “In our conversations with CMOs, they want to mix and match agencies and talents, and they want adults who can play well with others. Agencies for cultural reasons sometimes find that quite hard. We want to be designed from the get-go to fit that new world.”