Oli Taylor, Co-Founder at Absurd


For my project, I could have picked a brand that you’ve all heard of and that shows off some of the incredible work we’ve been involved in over the years. But I have chosen a piece of work that I feel really did have a huge impact on me and my partners at Absurd.

It was for a construction company based in Zurich. It specialises in the application of Ultra High Performance Concrete (UHPC), mostly used for large scale DAM lining and Bridge Construction, and is one of the largest family owned companies in Switzerland.

It was one of my first clients as an agency owner, having recently left my role at a global service design agency and joining forces with two former colleagues to create Absurd.

As an agency of only a few months old at the time, we had an existing client base mostly made up of relationships which had been forged before Absurd, clients who came to the business through the founding team’s previous work. So this was one of our first brand new client relationships and our first international client, where we were working with both their UK and Zurich based teams.

It was all very exciting – a huge international client and we were going to do brilliant work for them.

After getting off to a great start, with lots of positive engagement, the project transcended into a sharp learning curve for us as a new agency, but it was an experience that has shaped the way that we approach and foster new relationships.

There are a number of reasons that the project didn’t end up as the ongoing relationship that we were hoping… and why it changed us for the better!

We were introduced to them as a digital partner to help them consolidate their existing WordPress websites into a single global platform. We took this on with the view to re-platforming them to Umbraco, a much more stable and scalable platform than WordPress.

We were also young, eager and keen to do more than just fix their website. We also wanted to show off the full expertise of our agency and address their whole service offering and solve all their problems, or at least highlight them to their internal team so that they could address them.

The client was excited by our approach. But as soon as we began to implement our kick-off sessions with the rest of the business, we soon realised that we were not all on the same page.

Our workshops with the client teams in both the UK and Zurich were intended to enable us to draw out existing knowledge from within the business and help shape a view of who our target customers were, how they could be segmented against different needs, goals and challenges.


But they actually highlighted some ‘big gaps’:

  • There was no stakeholder team invested in the project, so everything was coming through one team member who was new to the role and who had limited digital experience.
  • We were going to struggle to get access to customers or any customer insights.
  • The client’s purchasing decisions were solely based on cost and we were, perhaps, too focused on pushing a bigger, more holistic piece of (service design) work. Potentially confusing / overwhelming the client.
  • We were constantly told we need to show value ‘now’, before we can get any budget to look at things properly. What that actually meant for the client was to put a media budget in place and drive traffic to the existing sites. Something we were reluctant to do as we knew that without any consideration to what these platforms were doing, there would be significant conversion issues leading to a low ROI from any media budget.

Armed with this new knowledge and the realisation that we would be forced to take the client down a route that we fundamentally didn’t believe was right, we completed the project and the relationship came to an end.


So what did we learn that positively shaped our future? 

As an agency we were on a journey to build our reputation and become known for work that we wanted to attract more of. We knew everything we did had to be done right and for the right reasons – what this client was asking wasn’t the right thing to do based on what we knew and our experience.

We also recognised that we could easily get drawn in by the desire to have a large ‘multi-million dollar global company’ as one of our first clients under the pretence that this would help us attract more clients of this scale. But actually, if this meant we were compromising on our approach we wouldn’t actually have a case study that we were proud of anyway!

At the time, after having the conversation with the client and walking away after project one, we felt like we had failed. We had this carrot dangled, yet we ended up with a small low value one off project. In hindsight, walking away from that situation was right because they would have dragged us into a mess that we wouldn’t have been able to fix – so actually we avoided ‘failure’.

One of the other things we learnt from the experience was the gap in our agency’s skill set and where we needed to expand the team and our capabilities to help us manage more ‘challenging and demanding relationships’. We hired senior roles and brought in advisors that have given us the ability to work with big global organisations, structure the team to give us the weight to drive large scale global relationships through and to deliver value to international businesses from the start.

Today we’re proud to say we have long standing relationships with all our clients, which include AstraZeneca (FTSE100), GVC Group (FTSE 100), Brother International Europe and Umbro.

We took key learnings from a project that didn’t end up being what we thought it was, adopted our team and have fortunately never been in that situation again.