by Jonathan McNamara
To really understand the work we do at RetroFuzz - our commitment to our clients and their audience - you have to go back to 1997. I was 16.
My two brothers had signed a record deal for their band - Embrace. Their manager was convinced the internet was going to be massive so he asked me to build the band a website. I’d never owned a computer - in fact, I’d never been on the internet before. But I agreed to give it a go.
A month later, a PC turned up at my house. Using search engines and blogs I taught myself how to use HTML; I learned how to register domain names. I ran up massive phone bills because I didn’t clock that it was costing money to go on the internet - it said ‘free’ all over the trial CD. Needless to say, my parents weren’t very pleased about it.
The first website I built was the unofficial site for Embrace but as I’d spent so much time learning how things worked, it ended up being better than the record label’s official site. The band started putting my website URL on all the CD’s and promotional material. From there, I built a mailing list to connect the band directly with the fans. I set up competitions, I ran forums, went to meetups. I’ve always been good at understanding the pulse of an audience - what they like and what they don’t like.
Like most of us, I had no idea what the internet would become. But from that first day online in 1997, I was passionate about it, I wanted to learn all I could. At 16, I had already learned how best to connect an audience with a brand, through digital. In that case, it happened to be a band.
I left school at 17 and went straight into working at a web design agency. At 18 I was recruited for my second job by a headhunter and by 19, I had co-founded an agency with two former colleagues. After three years I wanted a change, so I left the company to work as a freelancer and took two of our clients with me; Embrace, and a band called The Music.
Matt and I had met in 2000 and as he was a designer, we always talked about doing some work together. In 2004 he moved back to Manchester to go freelance and we started working more closely; we shared an office and worked on projects together - it made sense to start a company.
From 2005 we worked, as RetroFuzz, with almost all of the biggest bands and record labels in the UK - artists like U2, Greenday, Noel Gallagher, Arctic Monkeys - as well as management companies, gig promoters and venues. The ecosystem of the music industry meant that we got passed around. What we worked on was entirely driven by the demand; we did everything from websites to banner adverts, MySpace skins, Bebo skins. screensavers, wallpapers, forums, campaigns, videos, animations.
If someone asked for it, we’d give it a go.
In 2011, we began making Spotify apps for people like Nick Cave, One Direction and NOW Music. Off the back of doing that first Spotify App, we undertook the biggest music project we ever did, which was building the NOW Music Streaming platform.
The NOW project felt like a baptism of fire for us, it turned us from being a small agency into a creative marketing and tech partner. Delivering that difficult project is probably one of my proudest achievements. To me, it also felt like our parting shot to the music industry. It was like — we can do everything and anything we try and here’s the proof.
Things changed drastically in the music industry. The focus on where they spent money - and how that industry believed things should be done - no longer resonated with us. Our company philosophy is based on deciding what the right thing to do is, then doing it right. We were in a position where we couldn’t do either of those things for some of our clients.
We needed to adapt; more importantly, we need to align our business with what we believed in.
As a result of our longstanding partnership with Eastpak we started working more and more with brands like Levis, Lee, Adidas, and Wrangler. We found that these types of clients really valued the expertise we could bring; they wanted to bring us on board to work strategically, rather than just delivering design and development. Unlike our clients in the music industry, they really wanted to invest in a long term digital partnership.
We spent countless hours discussing what we wanted RetroFuzz to become. For a long time, there was no compound benefit of repetition or doing the same thing lots of times. We felt that if we chose a niche that was repeatable — one where we could build on the expertise we already had - that we could deliver measurable change to our clients.
eCommerce became our focus. To build brands online and help our clients achieve the greatest commercial return for their investments. This shift for RetroFuzz also meant changing how our company operated. It was important our clients were able to access our expertise throughout our journey together. Downsizing the team was about maximising that access; we wanted to be agile for our clients and build strong relationships that were based on honest opinions.
No longer are we the agency we’d spent so many years building. BUT as a digital consultancy, we CAN make a real difference in how brands approach, and benefit from, digital.
One of the key differentiators between us and many other agencies is our approach to problems. As digital partners, we’re there to assess our client’s needs and deliver solutions for the right reasons. A Shopify agency, for example, will always try to sell you a Shopify website. It’s the same with a Magento agency, or an SEO agency, or a PPC agency. Or an influencer agency. What they have to sell is their answer.
But the reality is that each client is in a unique situation. Our role is to educate them on the options available to them, and make sure that all budget is spent in the best way possible. We’re not just purely paid on deliverables, we’re there to advise and consult.
From our perspective, it’s always going to be about understanding what the client needs; what’s best for them. Assessing how we can connect them with their audience, and showing them the value that can have for their brand.
And then, of course, helping to deliver it.
Most marketers are familiar with the concept of user experience (UX) design in relation to their brand and ecommerce website. But many may not necessarily have had the opportunity to examine the real value it can bring for their customers, their brand and their business.Read more
A large number of people reading this will know of RetroFuzz as a creative agency working at the intersection of music, design and technology. From 2004 to 2016 we designed and built websites, apps, products and platforms for pretty much every artist and label going. But, it was clear that things needed to change. The question was to what?