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Ad Lib: How Sparks & Honey morphed from agency to consultancy by mapping culture

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Terry Young
Terry Young Credit: Spark & Honey

When Terry Young founded the agency Sparks and Honey in 2012, it was billed as a "next-generation" agency based on cultural relevance. Last month the Omnicom agency announced that it was—you guessed it—repositioning as a technology-led cultural consultancy. If it sounds like yet another agency scrambling to maintain relevance with buzzwords, Young says it's an outward reflection of what they've been up to internally for years.

"My belief was that culture was at the center of truly understanding how to build campaigns or anything we do in advertising," says Young on this episode of the Ad Lib podcast. "We built something that was really beyond advertising. We built an engine that allows us to understand what makes humans tick, why humans make the decisions they make in the world. That engine has taken us on a journey, of tackling very big enterprise-wide problems. In the process we already were running up against McKinsey and Bain and Palantir and BCG."

That "engine" is a tech platform called Q, which synthesizes everything the agency learns about the culture at large and, ultimately, aims to predict what will pop next. Every day at noon the agency stops to hold an hourlong presentation that essentially distills everything that's trending on the internet, and then maps trends both big and small onto the broader cultural landscape. Informed by these daily briefings—which are open to the public and streamed on Facebook live—Sparks & Honey was early to esports and cannabis marketing. The agency is currently bullish on space—and opportunities that exist for brands there.

On the podcast, Terry discusses exactly how the agency maps culture and why consulting now comprises two-thirds of the shop's business. We also get into what his current obsessions are—voice is a big one—and how a mid-career Peace Corps stint continues to inspire.

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