Mediaweek Agency 50: Joel Trethowan shares his pride in Alchemy One’s work and achievements

Mediaweek - Joel Trethowan

“With the energy and momentum we have as a team, we know we’re just getting started with what we will achieve”

Mediaweek held its inaugural Power Lunch in October, celebrating the successes of the media industry and the people who make it.

Joel Trethowan, managing director at Alchemy One and board member of Comms Declare 4 Climate, made #29 on the Agency 50 list.

Mediaweek caught up with Trethowan about what the recognition means for the Alchemy One team, driving results for their clients and his hopes for the industry’s contribution to combatting climate change.

Mediaweek: Congratulations on making the #29 spot on our Mediaweek Agency 50 list. What was your reaction to your placement?

JT: Making the list was definitely a surreal moment. To be listed amongst some of the industry’s most influential and respected leaders was a true testament to our team and the work we do with our incredible partners.

Our mission to deliver radical transformation both for the industry and our partners translates into delivering exceptional outcomes for our partners, our record tenures, and our insatiable desire to lead the industry when it comes to progressing our industry forward.
Being one of the first local media agencies to be B Corp certified in October 2021 was a testament to our DNA as a company. Some highlights around this include our blanket ban on not working with the fossil fuel, gambling, tobacco and alcohol industries, our agency-wide profit-sharing model and our DEI credentials.
I am so proud of the work we have done and the recognition we have received for this, but with the energy and momentum we have as a team, we know we’re just getting started with what we will achieve. That, for me, is what drives me every day, so getting listed as #29, is a massive thank you to our amazing team that inspires me every day and has made this happen.

MW: How does your position on the list reflect the achievements made by Alchemy One?

JT: Being independent and completely bootstrapped since day one allows us to make purely agnostic decisions. I can’t emphasise how this changes the game compared to the broader industry. It has consistently allowed us to focus on what matters, deliver exceptional work and be nimble and bold without any strings attached.

We’ve made giant leaps forward in recent years, driving outstanding results for our client partners and building out our offering across all core services to deliver end-to-end media solutions that are market-leading in their delivery and impact.

When my partner Paul and I started Alchemy One eight years ago, we wanted to create a genuinely inclusive culture driven by our own experiences of being gay within the corporate world. The culture we have created comes so organic and naturally to us as we’ve made a space that we were always looking for, but it is something that our team and partners find unique and special, which I am proud of. A business where people can be who they are.

The result is our incredible team, who will always be our biggest asset. We’ve become a home for ex-multinational talent who have considered leaving the industry but are now celebrated and thriving in a culture where their skills align with their values. Our flat structure allows them to bring their unique and best self to work every day and to grow and develop in a way where they were potentially limited in hierarchical structures previously.

Whilst there are times we have desperately needed talent, our philosophy of only hiring the absolute best in market has created a high-performance team and culture that are driven by one another to set new standards for the industry consistently. Our consistent feedback from clients is that we ‘don’t feel like an agency’ and ‘we didn’t know an agency like this existed’ which I thrive off every day, as it’s a testament to exactly what we’ve tried to create.
This translates in our day-to-day through one of our values, ‘High on Passion, Low on Ego’, which epitomises how we work as a team. We all have unique stories, backgrounds and experiences, but everyone collectively works together to deliver what we all know is best for our client partners.

MW: What are three industry issues on your mind, and in your opinion, how can they be solved or achieved?

• Harmful industries and advertising; namely gambling:

Australia sadly ranks as #1 in the world for gambling losses per capita, losing on average $1,276 per year. This isn’t something we should just accept. There is current momentum in the US with a federal bill to ban sports betting advertising, whilst progressive countries such as Italy introduced a complete ban on gambling ads in 2018. While the effects of Italy’s ‘dignity decree’ haven’t been immediately drastic, it’s in our interests to follow their lead and protect future generations.
We also don’t have our heads in the sand about the immediate impact gambling ad revenue has on other elements of Australia and its cultural codes (such as sport sponsorships). Belgium has demonstrated a conscious effort to reduce the knock-on effect too, implementing a progressive ban coming into effect from June 2023 with delayed implementation in the sporting sector until 2025 (and allowing for jersey sponsorship until 2027). This teaches us to strive for progress over perfection, allowing time for transition, and to immediately introduce legislation with incremental builds.
As advertisers and marketers, we can be intentional with our dollars to either actively avoid unaligned contexts, or alternatively support individuals, codes or contexts where they’ve taken a stance. If tobacco ads bans reduced smoking by 23.5% per capita in developed countries, and a ban on gambling yielded similar results, we would reduce our per capita losses to $976.14 per year (from $1,276). It still wouldn’t be enough to take us down from our infamous #1 world ranking, but it’s a significant starting point to helping Australians.

• Can any leader ignore the talent crisis leaking from agencies and the industry?
The industry has ridden on the coattails of “Mad Men”, making advertising a “cool” place to work for too long. Recruiter’s sentiment reflects this, with a significant element of retention being “the work”. The disconnect uncovered in Comms Declare’s “Fuelling Fantasies” report highlights one angle of this: 73% of industry individuals are reluctant to work for a greenhouse gas polluter, yet 77% of agencies have worked on them in the past year.
Creating a culture where staff connect with, relate to or stand by the work they do will lead to greater retention. The ultimate goal? Staff are proud to tell their family and friends what campaigns and brands they’ve helped bring to life. We should strive to connect company and individual values and reflect these in operating models, policies, procedures and products. B Corp certification is one-way Alchemy One has certified that our values reflect that of the future and current workforce, and it’s returned dividends on our retention rates and subsequent talent. 

• The parallels between automation, data privacy and ethics.
AI isn’t an autonomous moral agent: despite “technological autonomy”, it exists without responsibility. On the other hand, our industry is responsible for its trust crisis, and the hype surrounding ChatGPT needs to be approached with caution if we’re to continue moving our industry forward. We witnessed the mistake of head-in-sand thinking during the Cambridge Analytica era.
More recently, we are also cognisant of the Privacy Act Review report released by the Attorney-General, what it means for our industries’ use of data, and the implications it will have on the infrastructure our industry has shaped itself around.
Instead of getting caught in a race to the bottom to maximise efficiencies, we need to be proactive in working together to craft principles on how to beneficially use ChatGPT (and future AI tools) without compromising the efforts made on our industry’s positive initiatives, such as our momentum surrounding DEI or decarbonising our digital footprints.

MW: What is your outlook for Alchemy One in 2023?

JT: We’ve had an amazing start to the year and are coming into 2023 with more positive momentum than ever. 2022 was a year of radical transformation for us and our clients. We’ve previously remarked that the last year has felt like five years with everything our team has accomplished, so we have set incredibly high bars for the year ahead.
Each of our clients is on their own radical transformation journey, and we’re thrilled to have a diverse set of challenges to overcome, partner alongside, and deliver growth throughout. Undoubtedly, the economic landscape will continue to present its hurdles while we’re on this path, so 2023 will be about delivering on our product while maintaining sight of the intersections between client, consumer and societal centricity as a critical ingredient for success.

 MW: What are your hopes for the industry in 2023?

JT: We’d love for the industries’ initiatives to move away from lip service and develop to full fruition. We must challenge each other to design briefs where both commercial and ESG objectives have equal emphasis and effort behind measurement – not as an afterthought in the “Other Notes” section. We need to finalise the creation of decarbonisation metrics and then start setting benchmarks to beat, to drive our industry’s contribution to combatting climate change.
We should move away from generic, singular “Purpose” categories in industry accolades and start having the diversity and DNA of ESG initiatives intentionally measured as part of any brand’s long-term success in both business and communications. In summary, we need to ensure “competition” doesn’t get in the way of holding ourselves and our industry peers accountable to maximise our collective impact.

Top image: Joel Trethowan

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