How a disastrous pitch led to a happy marriage between studios

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How a disastrous pitch article

Last year a brief landed in Tokyo Digital’s inbox from a crazy tech startup requiring a tool-kit to support its launch. Comprising visual identity, through brand videos, apps and website, this was all gift wrapped in an eye-watering VC-stamped budget.

Our specialisms can (sometimes) be described as more brass-balls than branding, so rather than turn down the brief or warn the (soon not to be) client, we decided to bring another design consultancy to surprise them with at the start of the pitch.

Big mistake.

The start-up owners didn’t appreciate being ambushed. They specifically wanted to work with an integrated consultancy rather than juggling multiple teams, contracts, invoices, cultures and personalities. We spent 80% of the pitch trying to explain where the design agency ended and Tokyo started – at one point making “funny” Human Centipede analogies. Cringe.

Needless to say, we didn’t win the job and the [ex-potential] clients’ feedback was that it was the weirdest pitch they’d ever seen and they didn’t buy into our confused dynamic at all. It was clear that in order to tackle these next-level integrated briefs, we’d need to “properly” team up with an experienced design consultancy, create a single brand entity and most importantly — get our story straight.

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Fast forward 18 months and Tokyo Wolf is a new super-studio combining the offerings of Tokyo and the talented folk at Smiling Wolf. With a 20-year collective studio lifespan, similar big-brand experience and now falling under a single entity, we are confident the move will allow us to tackle those larger next level briefs — all without resorting to disgusting analogies to try to explain ourselves.

Tokyo Wolf has been carefully crafted and a year in the making. The consultancies had already collaborated before, albeit as part of an awkward white-label situation that never really worked for anyone involved.

We all now share admin, legal and finance resource, jointly occupy a big warehouse space in Liverpool and will soon merge our London offices to bring all operations under one roof. We let clients and potential suitors in on the secret a few months back and we’ve already managed to bag two global contracts that neither consultancy would have been strong enough to win alone.

Since we first started talking about the partnership, I’ve been wondering why studios don’t team up more often. If it’s possible to combine cultures, share ideas and costs and build a broader base of clients and projects, then surely everyone is a winner.

I’m sure ego can often get in the way of that kind of objective, pragmatic thinking, so it helps to find a partner with a similar approach to work (no storytelling bullshit, ta) and ideally not take themselves too seriously.

Crucially, with double the resource and double the workload, it’s only fair this should mean double the launch party budget. Can someone please ask our FD to return my calls?


Aaron Bimpson is director at Tokyo Wolf.

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