They’re innovative, technically advanced, and risk-taking digital masters. Phantom may be a new, small digital agency, but have quickly become ones to watch in the creative digital space
Founded in late 2013, Phantom is the quintessential digital agency. All of its founders are children of the screen; denizens who live and breathe within a digital landscape of their own making.
“Phantom was formed to enable us to do exactly what we love,” said Emily Shorvon, MD and cofounder of Phantom. “While [the founders] have varied backgrounds, we have all spent our careers in digital – collaborating with people and brands that have inspired us to produce incredible work, which spanned a range of exciting projects, customers and continents.
“In late 2013, the timing was right for us to create something truly special,” Emily continued. “We were lucky to have remarkably talented people on board, who were ready to tackle a new challenge alongside us. It has been obvious to us for some time that the traditional agency structure are out-dated. Having been on the studio floor for years upon years, we understood and related to every step and frustration of a project. “We built Phantom on the foundation that we would never lose sight of this and worked to create an agency focused entirely from the perspective of the studio, rather than the management.
“Every member of our team is a freethinker and both creative and intellectual to the core”
“Phantom is a creative agency above all else, but definitely not in the sense that we only care about making pretty things. Every member of our team is a freethinker and both creative and intellectual to the core. At just 15 months old, our team is now 22 Phantoms strong and growing. We couldn’t be more proud of what our team has achieved. It’s amazing to think it’s only the beginning!”
Naming a new agency today can be one of the hardest things its founders face. This was certainly the case with Phantom, as Emily explained: “Deciding on a name that would embrace everything we were, and aimed to be, felt pretty near impossible. There was a lot of discussion, soul searching and mathematics that went into choosing a name. We had lists of hundreds of words, which we either couldn’t agree on, or loved but found other agencies with the same names. We even wrote a small program to concatenate a list of our favourite words and check if the domain was available for random combinations.
“In the end, our name came to us a lot more organically. We found ourselves looking across a construction site one day and chatted about how comparatively abstract our ‘builds’ are. Both require planning, design, construction and a whole team working together – the only difference is our work would never exist physically. “Phantom – ‘illusive’, ‘seen, sensed and felt but with no physical reality’, ‘a figment of the imagination’, ‘existing in perception only’. For us, the word Phantom didn’t just allude to us as a team of creatives – it is also a pretty accurate description for the entire concept of digital.
“We couldn’t see ourselves as being an agency with ‘media/digital/communications’ in, or after our name”
“It is important to have a unique domain and this weighed heavily in our decision. We wanted our choice to be memorable, and luckily our timing presented a great opportunity. With so many new gTLDs available to register in late 2013, early 2014 we were able to be a little playful and utilise interesting domain extensions from day one.”
Cara Hamment, business director also commented: “We couldn’t see ourselves as being an agency with ‘media/digital/communications’ in, or after our name. We certainly weren’t interested in using the cofounders’ own names or initials. We needed something that the growing team could be a part of, and could make their own. Something that represents what we all stand for. We’re our very own (favourite) brand, and a genuine ‘team of Phantoms’. So for us, perhaps the company name and URL meant much, much more.”
The website of a digital agency is of course the first point of contact for many clients. Phantom’s site distils the essence of what the founders intended their agency to be. Emily explained: “Our first priority for 2015 is to launch a brand new site, having rethought the entire design and purpose. We’re including some really ambitious and innovative pieces that will ensure we commit to dedicating time each week developing content. The new phantom.land [site
is now live].”
How an agency attracts new clients are manifold. Cara outlined their approach: “We’ve spent our first year, dedicated to growing our Phantom team to deliver ambitious work for brands we love. We’re incredibly lucky to be able to focus on the work that we want to do and be known for whilst shaping a young company. We believe that this is fundamental to Phantom moving forward, and that’s worth far more to us than a few quick quid.
“In order to do this, we don’t spread ourselves too thinly or take on work or clients that deviate from the Phantom vision. We know that working with an exciting mix of diverse, progressive clients plays a huge part in our growth, and in turn attracts the right potential team members and clients.
Cara continued: “We’ve worked incredibly closely with our clients from the get-go. So close, that we become kind of hybrid teams, we even have desk space at Google. Our clients get to know our entire team just as well as the project managers – after all, who’s better to present designs than the designer who worked on it?
“Big or small, it doesn’t leave the studio without the Phantom seal of approval”
“We started the agency in order to do what we love and dream of: to deliver work that’s even better than the stuff we discover and admire in our personal lives. Big or small, it doesn’t leave the studio without the Phantom seal of approval. We’ve had an amazing response to our work, approach and team culture. The fact that people have been very happy and quick to recommend working with us is testament to this.
“When it comes to actively pitching, Phantoms are naturally always interested in projects that bring new challenges. Where we see a partnership opportunity that makes sense in terms of skills and passion we can bring to the table, we’ll get in touch. If that passion is missing, it’s just a job, and it’s going to show. But we’d never go knocking from door to door.
“We’ve been fortunate to pick up industry recognition and coverage, which really helps us reach a wider network and get our name out.”
Emily also said: “We’ve found that our brand really seems to stick with the people we meet and have been grateful to see our studio packed with projects almost entirely through word of mouth. We’re reliable to a fault and put our whole heart into everything we do, which I imagine gives people complete confidence in recommending us to their contacts. Making Phantom available to new clients this year is extremely important to us, meaning we’ve needed to commit to bringing on board a bunch of new Phantoms in preparation for approaching new brands.”
The ‘business’ of being creative is often fascinating, as agencies approach the business side of their enterprises in different ways. So how do clients help Phantom to grow? “Providing there’s an interesting challenge, there’s no project too big or too small for us,” said Cara. “We feel incredibly lucky to have such an exciting mix of diverse and progressive clients, which enables us to be selective about who and what we work on. This also means we can focus on Phantom’s very own projects.”
Emily also commented: “We have been really selective about who we work with – as a young agency, it had been far more important for us to put our full energy into the brands we loved to work with, rather than risk spreading ourselves thin. This has been a really successful approach for us, letting us scale quickly within our flagship clients.
“We are sometimes met with the enviable problem of being too much in demand and have developed successful strategies for scaling our full-time team accordingly. We’re always open-minded about helping solve problems and our team will do all we can to facilitate requests or point our contacts in the right direction. We’re building on our team again as we speak in preparation for opening our doors to new clients. We [were really excited to enter] 2015 with a growing capacity and look forward to sharing Phantom with everyone.”
“Phantom we will always try to seek out new ways of doing things, hopefully discovering something cool and unique along the way”
Jamie Nicoll, creative director also said: “Phantoms don’t like to play by the rules. Digital is a medium that has yet to be mastered by anyone and at Phantom we will always try to seek out new ways of doing things, hopefully discovering something cool and unique along the way. For me, the way we approached the design and build of our new site defines our ethos. We like to be different, innovative and lead trends rather than follow them.”
With a diverse range of clients how does Phantom organise its workflow? “So many great ideas are lost by siloing people into strict developer, designer and project manager roles,” said Matt Booy, technical director. “One of the founding principles of Phantom was ensuring the team has the opportunity to be involved at all stages of a project no matter their experience or job title. One example is involving the entire team in initial brainstorms. Better work can be created when individuals are personally invested. We encourage open discussion and experimentation between devs and designers and are proud of the fact that our devs have a creative streak and our designers are not afraid to get stuck into code.”
Emily also explained: “Being entirely full-time and in-house, our team works closely together every single day. We understand each other’s skills, talents and weaknesses completely. We invest a lot of thought into carefully selecting custom teams for each project by playing to each Phantom’s strengths and complimentary abilities. We’re also very conscious of each individual’s interests and provide as many opportunities as possible to expand their skill sets on live projects.
“In our time, we’ve turned around plenty of sites in three days, but are equally adaptable to working on giant builds for upwards of six months. With clients like Google, we have the privilege of working on a lot of huge impact projects, where time-intensive security procedures are extremely important. The variation is actually really refreshing and we find the small, high-adrenaline projects provide great punctuation throughout the larger ones. In both instances, we do pride ourselves on being extremely efficient and completely realistic. We stick to timelines, costs and our word.”
With ones and zeros running through the veins of each phantom, is the toolset they use equally divergent? Matt outlined their approach: “We still heavily use Adobe Suite for design – old habits die hard! However it does make sharing files easier amongst ourselves and other clients and studios.
“We use cloud-based services and applications for development and project management: Bitbucket, Google apps (Drive, Docs and Mail). We are always creating tools and applications in-house to help us with project workflow and creation. One example is a web-based app, which lets us quickly localise and share banner creatives with our clients.
Emily also commented: “Project creation wise, we are really open minded and happy allowing each Phantom to experiment and use tools that they enjoy working with. We find ourselves sticking with industry standards in many instances to avoid complication. In all honesty, we also find it more sophisticated across the board, especially when switching between tools on the same project.”
” Like everyone in the industry we’re still waiting for older browsers to die!”
With Jamie concluding: “We often use InVision to create walkthroughs of our designs. It lets us quickly demonstrate concepts to clients. Our designers also take the time to create example animations in After Effects. It helps explain the idea behind the interactions of a website or an ad and sells the experience, rather than just the visuals.”
How any agency approaches the work they are commissioned to create means paying very close attention to how the digital environment is changing, as it evolves all the time. Matt commented: “HTML5 hasn’t quite lived up to its initial utopian dream. Variation in browser implementation and performance on different hardware still means extensive testing is required. Like everyone in the industry we’re still waiting for older browsers to die!
“One positive is that browser development is now much more reactive and has much shorter update cycles than in the past. Even better is that the updates are now mostly automatic so the end user is more likely to be on the latest and greatest. This give us more freedom in pushing cutting-edge solutions with confidence that the audience will be able to experience them as intended!”
And has mobile become the dominant platform it appears to be? Matt continued: “The web is ubiquitous and we can no longer just split traffic neatly into mobile and desktop. Analysis of the actual user base can help us make an informed decision on where we focus development whilst still providing a consistent experience across devices. There is no ‘one-fits-all’ solution for briefs.”
“Hardware is pretty exciting – cheaper wearables and the promise of VR going mainstream is something we are keeping our eye on”
Jamie also concluded: “A consistent experience across mobile and desktop is something that is simply expected today and we take this into account with every website we build at Phantom. With wearables on the rise and the Internet of Things becoming more of a reality, there will be more of a focus on UI/UX. Responsive design will play a central role in keeping things consistent. There is a lot of discussion about responsive versus mobile first versus progressive enhancement, but I think it all comes down to what type of content you are working with.”
“Hardware is pretty exciting – cheaper wearables and the promise of VR going mainstream is something we are keeping our eye on,” said Matt. “Devices like the Oculus Rift have been in the hands of devs for the past year. But with big hitters like Samsung and Sony joining the party, is this the year that VR (finally) takes off? We anticipate advertisers and brands will jump on board, however finding a point of difference after the initial wow factor has worn off is the real challenge.”
Clearly Phantom has taken great care when choosing the people to join their team. What criteria do Phantom use to hire their next team members? Emily outlined their approach: “We started Phantom feeling really privileged to know some of the most amazing and talented people imaginable. Phantoms by nature are perfectionists, motivated, thrive on collaboration, take inspiration from their personal interests and go a hundred extra miles to help each other out. As our team grew, it was always these qualities that told us pretty quickly whether a candidate was right. We value raw talent and drive over years of experience.
“Retaining a strong team culture and identity is hugely important to us. Phantom is a clique but one that we welcome people into with open arms. It’s not a place to just go to work for a paycheque – we are a close team and genuinely care about each other and absolutely everything we do. Working within Google, we have definitely been influenced by their emphasis on culture and fantastic staff treatment. Creating the best working environment is a win for everyone. We consciously refer to ourselves as a brand rather than an agency. We wanted to create a brand that not only represented us as a team, but we could visualise all wearing proudly on a t-shirt.
“We see ourselves expanding into other industries in future and created a logo that would be completely universal. ‘The Phantom’ to us is a complete personification of our team, something we collectively own and represents us. It is so much more to us than a logo (creative director Jamie and I even have it tattooed on us!). It’s actually pretty difficult to walk into Google without seeing Phantom gear in the form of a t-shirt.”
In terms of advice for burgeoning artists. Cara said: “No two days are the same, so don’t be afraid to ask questions, providing you’ve tried to find the answer. People will quickly get fed up of doing your work for you! Likewise, be willing to go the extra mile to help your team.
“Talk and learn from everyone – go to industry meet-ups, not only do they give you heaps of insight from people with living experience within the industry, but connections, that might end up playing a big part in your career and decisions. I’ll always be grateful for the advice I’ve received so far and continue to receive.”
And what does the future hold for Phantom? Emily concluded: “We’re definitely on the look out for the right collaborations in fashion, consumer tech, entertainment, beverages and publishing. We’ve always had an agreement that we would work with brands that we ourselves would wear, watch, use, listen to and endorse ourselves. This is super important to us and something we will always have at the front of our mind when pitching for or accepting work. We want to be the perfect fit for our clients and likewise, we like for them to be a great fit for us too.
“Also, we have plans in motion to diversify outside of digital on a number of side projects that are close to our heart. We will utilise these as a way to keep developing our brand, giving our team members a creative outlet to experiment in areas that step outside their day-to-day. Last but not least, our team is growing – we’re constantly hiring. It’s really great to see the industry so alive, there’s nothing more rewarding than being able to offer amazing people great opportunities.”
There is little doubt that Phantom is an agency on a meteoric trajectory that will see them diversify into every brand category. Their creativity is the product of their deeply felt desire to work within the exciting digital spaces around all of us, with clients and colleagues who share a common desire to set the world alight.