ASK US FOR IDEAS, or AUFI, is a matchmaker for brands and creative agencies. Founded in 2010 by Toby Wilkinson and Nick Bell, they have developed a network of brands and agencies including Made Thought, Commission, Google and Spotify.
We caught up with Nick to find out more about what they do and to hear about their Christmas wrapping paper project.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us about what you do at AUFI?
I founded AUFI in 2010 with Toby (an old school friend) and we now help the world’s most ambitious brands connect with the industries most remarkable creative agencies.
Typically, clients will come to us when they are specifically looking to engage with a worldclass creative agency in order to create, build, transform, reimagine, or invigorate their brand or product. This might be a new but-soon-to-be industry leading start-up like Voyage.auto or an established brand like Google or Spotify. Culturally those companies are seemingly very different, but they are all unified by a desire to work with the best creative minds available, and we help them find that.
For each client that comes to us, we help them meet a shortlist of 3 or 4 agencies from within our roster, holding their hand along the way, offering guidance on things like briefing protocol and budget expectation. They engage directly with each agency, meaning we don’t add a complex layer of communication in the middle and we stand by to be on hand to all parties as and when they require it.
Once the client has met each team, they’ll likely receive a detailed proposal from the various parties, and then, after a couple more meeting/team sessions, commission their preferred agency to carry out the work.
We’re unlike the more traditional ‘agency search firms’ in that we put a massive emphasis on chemistry and cultural fit, valuing that above anything else. In order to do that, we’ve had to get to know the agencies we work with down to the minutiae. Our network is so much more than a list. We know the founders and key staff of each agency, what they’re best at, what ambitions they have, what projects they may be working on behind the scenes, their career history, what they’re hungry for – all of which ultimately allows us to draw truly nuanced connections between brands and the team best suited for them.
The other key differentiator between us and other creative intermediaries (although we steer away from that description) is the calibre of the agencies we work with. We firmly believe the network we’ve built to be a collection of the finest agencies in the world, and there’s no one who knows them as well as we do. It’s their support when we were getting off the ground that has allowed us to flourish, and without them we’d be nowhere.
“We help the world’s most ambitious brands connect with the industries most remarkable creative agencies.”
What inspired you to become a matchmaker between agencies and brands?
I’d love to say there was some epiphany or glorious moment, but it came about through circumstance more than anything. I have always been passionate about design, particularly things built with real integrity and attention to detail – but it was Toby who initially had the idea to look at ways to connect creative people with buying customers. He’s the entrepreneur really. He needed a partner to work with, knew I had a creative mind and could help build out that side of the business, and hey presto.
Interestingly, it was our lack of experience, client or agency side that turned into our biggest strength. We had no preconceived idea of how or what to create so spent time with both agencies and clients asking them ‘if we could build you something that you’d use, a new tool to help you connect more effectively, what would it look like?’ And that’s what we went out and built. Without that naivety, AUFI wouldn’t be what it is today.
“Frederic Malle x Made Thought because that man is a true visionary and the pairing is a match made in heaven.”
Are there any projects you are particularly proud to have been a part of?
What’s most rewarding is when the client and agency really recognise that without us they’d never have found each other. Linden Staub x Bibliothèque and all its microfoiled gold goodness a couple of years ago will always look brilliant. Frederic Malle x Made Thought because that man is a true visionary and the pairing is a match made in heaven. Espelma Candles x Commission was a recent combination that’s just come out and looks incredible (clean burning candles in the chicest reusable merino glass – the packaging is so great), Obby x Koto, Roli x Design Studio (it was a milestone for lots of reasons), ARC Vehicles (an electric super-bike) that we connected with both Design Studio and Made Thought this year for separate brand elements is also pretty rad (the bike itself looks like something you’d find if Batman broke through into the Tron world). The list goes on!
“We’d wanted to collaborate with our agencies on a project for sometime.”
For Christmas you’ve created Wrapping Up, a set of bespoke wrapping papers made with 12 of London’s leading studios. Can you tell us more about it?
We’d wanted to collaborate with our agencies on a project for sometime. We’re always connecting them to clients and we just wanted to do something with them ourselves. They really are the most incredible collection of minds, and so when we read somewhere that Christmas wrapping paper was actually a massive single-use polluter, a bulb clicked somewhere and we got going.
We invited a deliberately contrasting collection of agencies to each submit a design which we would screen print for them on to a super limited run of different coloured paper (shout out to Harvey Lloyd Screens – talking of artisans!). There was no brief at all other than they had to use two inks in the screen printing process, and one of them had to be white. The variation of coloured ‘bases’ and juxtaposing ideas has made the body of work really interesting, with the white ink remaining the only common thread holding it all together.
How have the wrapping papers been produced?
The identity of the project was created by Lowrie, a relatively new studio to the London scene but one we were really keen to support given how talented they are. The website was designed by Freddy Taylor, a really good friend who works at Wieden+Kennedy during the day and on a million other brilliant projects by night. It was built by the world’s greatest creative programmer/developer Rich Cook and the paper was all supplied by the lovely folk at G . F Smith. The launch event last week was produced with the help of a brilliantly calm yet devastatingly effective creative producer called Jesse Harris. Big up Jesse. She’s in Africa now. Boo.
“Commission's psychedelic maelstrom is beautiful.”
Do you have any personal favourites from the set of 12?
I love them all and we’ve fought in the office over who’s keeping what (people tend to want to frame them rather than use them as wrapping paper) but there’s something miraculous about Don’t Panic’s combination of bacon and the effect of fluorescent pink ink through a silk screen. Commission’s psychedelic maelstrom is beautiful. Lowrie’s hip-hop infused offering has made quite a splash, Bibliotheque’s clever play on the word Christmas and their contrasting use of white ink on parcel paper is wicked and A Practice for Everyday Life’s is as impeccable as you’d expect – I just can’t pick one!
What can we expect from AUFI in 2019?
Discounted wrapping paper sale in January? NAH – buy them at wrappingup.co.uk before they sell out! 😉 THANK YOU.
All the proceeds from Wrapping Up go to charity Wrap Up London. They are available to purchase here: