Blending design, branding and social strategy, small but nimble new outfit Jones & Bone is the perfect example of a 21st century agency. Read on to find out why the London-based duo prefer to call it a “creative boutique”.

by Mark Tungate , Adforum

When I saw the press release that led to this article, I was intrigued by the agency’s name: Jones & Bone. The website looked pretty spruce so I searched for contact details. Then I found out that “Jones” was none other than Sarah Norford-Jones, a former student of mine at Parsons School of Design in Paris. It seemed like the perfect excuse to catch up and find out about her new operation.

“When we put the names together, it just worked,” says Sarah, who met her partner in life and work, Keith Nigel Bone, at branding and content agency Sunshine.

It certainly does: Jones & Bone sounds like a TV show about a couple of cops solving crimes in Sixties London. In fact the duo and their collaborators solve branding problems in Hipster London – their offices are in Shoreditch. The agency is just over a year old. Except, by the way, it’s not an agency.

Sarah says: “When we decided to start something on our own, we knew it had to be small and flexible. Which is why we don’t call it an agency – we call it a creative boutique. Even in the future we want to keep it tightly knit. We never want to grow bigger than ten.”

Sarah comes from a design and management background, with stints in fashion PR and then brand management at Iris Worldwide before being headhunted to support new business at Sunshine. Keith is a digital art director and creative with more than a decade’s experience at big names like Mother and BBH, among others. One of his heroes is BBH co-founder Sir John Hegarty.

“I grew up in Malta and two of my biggest memories are MTV and the Levi’s ads: people bursting through walls, Mr. Boombastic and all that,” he recalls. Something of the vibrancy and optimism of those brands comes through on the agency’s site.

“We have a lot of passions in common: we both love photography, we’re interested in traditional advertising, but also in branding,” says Sarah.

Keith brings digital heft to the partnership. In fact their first big project involved creating a coherent brand identity for App4, which provides mobile apps for small businesses. Their work for the company has embraced everything from designing a new logo to creating a website and building a social and content strategy.

Keith says: “What we do is tell stories across several platforms. It starts with the branding, which we’ll then carry through to the website, responsive design, social media like Instagram – for example we do curated monthly shoots – and on into the campaign. So there’s a narrative thread.”

They are constantly creating content: even when they travel, they take photos destined for clients’ Instagram feeds. This, combined with the boutique structure, enables them to stay close to their customers.

“When they work with a creative boutique, clients can see where their money and our energy and craft goes,” observes Keith.

“We don’t have a hierarchy,” adds Sarah. “You don’t have to meet with the creative, then the planner, then another person, then yet another person. That may be necessary at a huge agency, but we don’t have to work that way. We can be more like an extension of the client team.”

The clients concerned are often start-ups, so a certain amount of frankness comes into play. “We know they don’t have hundreds of thousands to spend. So we’ll ask them to tell us honestly what they can afford, and we’ll work backwards from that and tell them what we can deliver.”

This accessible approach has enabled them to work with a range of unusual brands, from an influential food “vlogger” to an eco-friendly bohemian fashion brand from Anatolia. If they need to scale up for a project, they’ll bring in talent from outside. “The right people for the right job,” as Keith puts it.

Their biggest project to date has been for the new documentary Back To Berlin. The film follows eleven bikers – all Holocaust survivors or their descendants – as they replicate an historic journey from Tel Aviv to Berlin for the European Maccabiah Games, also known as the Jewish Olympics.

Although the documentary is still being edited, the film-makers wanted an interactive website and branding materials that would raise awareness of the project – especially if they needed funding for distribution and marketing.

Keith says: “Rather than just promoting the film, they wanted to create an educational platform. So the site includes an interactive map with hot spots where you can see pictures and insights. All the bikers are making the trip their ancestors took; they’re telling stories that might have been lost.”

The project came to them via a recommendation from an existing client. Word-of-mouth is clearly working for Jones & Bone, which makes sense given their social savvy. I note that they’re based in East London, which over the past few years has leapt from accessible to pricey. In fact they both live in the area – and many of the start-ups that are potential clients are there too.

So what are their plans for the future? Both of them are constantly having ideas, whether it’s for an app, a book, an event – even a product. “We’ve got the first 15 months under our belt, now it’s about nurturing what we’ve got and growing our client base,” says Sarah. “But maybe at the end of this year we’ll have time for some of our dreams.” 

By Mark Tungate, Editorial Director