SpecialGuest’s success developed organically over the years based on a few top brands tapping into the creativity of founder, Aaron Duffy. Duffy’s process has always been agile and steeped in ideation through prototyping. Along the way, Duffy has encountered like-minded creatives who want to work with top brands on big ideas outside of a typical agency setting. This top tier group of multi-award-winning creative directors includes storyteller Steve Peck, experiential, branded content and tech-focused creative Elisa Tan, designer Lake Buckley, and Aaron, bringing his communications and experimental filmmaking background. SpecialGuest’s new model is built around three core service offerings: its creative director community, in-house strategic and conceptual team and execution capabilities.
The flexible creative director collective, which is available for project-based work, consulting-by-day or full campaigns, is complemented by SpecialGuest’s internal strategic and conceptual core that consists of strategists, art directors, copywriters, designers, and producers who unite to support any size project. SpecialGuest also leverages its production background in executing some of the most experimental, successful campaigns to inform its concepting, creative development and design thinking process so it’s never burdened by production realities.
Led by Duffy, SpecialGuest offers a nimble solution to an industry in which brands are taking greater ownership, top creatives are seeking new ways of working – whether with in-house brand teams or on new creative platforms – and concept and execution are increasingly becoming one in the same.
“Our model has the know-how and resources to prototype, design, bid, develop, engineer and produce award-winning work,” Duffy says. “A big part of being creatively strategic today is knowing how to make things that have never been made before. We’ve done it over and over again and it’s led to the most powerful, breakthrough communications for brands. With increasing distribution channels that require an exponential amount more of content, there is a breakneck pace at which brands need to deliver creative content in order to stay relevant. A more nimble approach means that we can deliver more while keeping a strong creative core.”
According to Duffy, SpecialGuest’s new model was initially inspired when the creative leader was directing Google’s memorable TV spot, “Parisian Love”, still considered to be one of the best Super Bowl ads of all time. “That spot provided a big insight,” he says. “It showed that when smart communicators, producers and brands get together, you can make breakthrough work. Working outside the traditional ad agency path, people on the brand side that excel at communications and had production sense came together with people that have communications sense and excel at production. It was a different way of working, but it was the perfect overlap.”
Duffy says that SpecialGuest is built to partner with in-house creative teams and brands in general to concept and execute great work. And while he admits that the company’s business model is new to the industry and is not the most familiar way to work, Duffy says that SpecialGuest has already proven that it works in practice on many projects through the years including its recent, successful “Reinvention” project for global consulting firm, McKinsey. Utilizing the creative director model, SpecialGuest collaborated with Madrid-based creative studio Espadaysantacruz and director Marc Reisbig on an inventive, kinetic sculpture that took a year to develop and became a metaphor for how McKinsey has reinvented the way it works with clients.
SpecialGuest’s clients span the market, from McKinsey – to top tech brands – to fashion brand, Rag & Bone. When Rag & Bone decided to make a film in lieu of a runway show for New York Fashion Week, they worked with Duffy to concept and execute the award-winning film, “Why Can’t We All Get Along”, starring Kate Mara and Ansel Elgort. The film is a great example that stands on the pillars of SpecialGuest: Ideation through prototyping, hybrid-thinking alongside hyper-making and collaboration. Conceptually, it was a true collaboration with Rag & Bone’s founder, Marcus Wainwright. At the point of execution, additional collaborators, Benjamin Millipied and Bob Partington, were brought in as Duffy’s co-directors. The film has been touted for living at the intersection of art and technology and Duffy does not believe such a film could have been conceived of without the knowledge and experience of a decade of experimental filmmaking.
Following the success of the above projects and more, Duffy believes the industry as a whole is now ready for what SpecialGuest has to offer. “SpecialGuest is here to lower the barrier of working with amazing creative communications talent. We have a roster of top creative directors, a team and network to support that talent, and the top producers in the world that can bring the creative ideas to life. In the spectrum of working with traditional ad agencies, in-house teams, and freelance talent, brands now have a new option when they want to take a bold creative step forward.”
SpecialGuest is a communication & arts company. Part of what makes SpecialGuest unique is the company is rooted in production and experimental communications. SpecialGuest produces the work in-house so their clients speak directly to the people making the end product. SpecialGuest is a collaborative, strategic partner, rather than holding clients at arm’s length from their creative process. And, the company is able to pivot and shift as media and culture are ever changing. SpecialGuest is a company of hybrid thinkers and hyper makers.