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Squiggly Careers, Sci-Fi Magic and Why the Brief You Have is the Brief You Want

Invention and reinvention with Charlotte Bunyan, Arq Co-Founder

Charlotte Bunyan knows rather a lot about rather a lot. She’s donned a dizzying array of hats over her award-winning career and has now landed at Arq, an innovation lab working at the cutting edge of Extended Reality and Web3, as co-founder and Managing Director.

After the recent consolidation of Arq, Seven Communications and We Are Collider under the ‘We Are Group’ umbrella, we sat down with Charlotte to see what makes her tick. We covered everything from strategy, the magic of sci-fi writing and being able to distil a creative idea down to a single, simple line.

How did you get from where you were to where you are?

I have what the experts scientifically term a ‘squiggly career,’ meaning my job history isn’t so much non-linear as all over the place. I started out studying German and Psychology, interned at a PR agency, and then shifted to a management consultancy working with brands like Mars, PepsiCo, and Walkers. After a little sabbatical in Italy to write a novel I’d been tinkering away at, I decided to pivot to writing full-time. I was a Senior Copywriter at a marketing communications agency, then Head of Copy, and then I went into a government comms role.

This was a fascinating experience, and it was ultimately the catalyst for me moving into brand strategy. Before long I was in a creative strategy role at Jack Morton, where my passion for experiential marketing really blossomed. After that I became Head of Strategy at Collider, co-founded a parent-tech start-up, then Chief Strategy Officer and leading the Futures arm at CULT. All culminating in the move to the management team here at Arq.

What is the thread that unites these diverse careers?

I think it all boils down to human behaviour. People are weird and strange and wonderful, and constantly figuring out new ways to understand them, to engage them, to get them to do and try new things has been a really rewarding challenge for me. At heart, even going back to my management consultant days, I’ve always loved finding out why do some people do ‘this’ and some people do ‘that.’ Taking those insights into the realm of innovation and emerging technology is fascinating too as you suddenly have all these incredible technological tools to change that behaviour.

More personally, I’ve also found working across so many different disciplines means I have a unique perspective on things, meaning I can bring something unique to help craft whatever idea we’re working on into something more powerful and compelling.

Do you find that your different experiences clash or complement each other?

Oh, definitely complements. For example, when we’re defining a strategy to help generate creative ideas, my ‘writerly’ hat always comes in useful. It’s a great skill to be able to express a complicated strategic idea in a simple headline. I try to think of it like a newspaper headline: is the idea catchy? Does it grab the attention? Is it likely to be talked about? Asking ourselves why people would care about something, and then being able to articulate that core principle simply and elegantly is an invaluable ability for any creative process.

So where has the interest in innovation come from?

Innovation, invention, reinvention. Change is the only constant, so if you’re not evolving you’re going backwards! But emerging technology is just an enabler, not the solution itself. The really exciting stuff comes in the value it creates for the person who is actually engaging with it.

The latest technology can sometimes be a distraction, where really our focus should always be on why someone would spend their time with a particular brand. What’s the value exchange here? Why would they share their date in the first place? How can we use emerging technologies to make these crucial moments more memorable, easier to engage with, and sustainable? The ultimate goal is to create experiences that are not only impactful in the moment, but that also allow for ongoing engagement or recall in virtual or digital spaces.

On innovation, I think it’s fair to say it’s always had something of a pull over me, especially during my time at Jack Morton. There was a big emphasis on emerging technology in our experiential activations, so working closely with our Innovation Director there, I developed a deep interest in how technology could enhance our projects. My inner sci-fi geek really revelled in all the different possibilities such technologies could unlock.

You mentioned writing a novel earlier. Was that a sci-fi book?

No, but maybe it should have been! I’ve written a few things over the years (it’s always good to keep your creative muscles in tune) but I do think there is something special about sci-fi, particular in the industry I’m now working in.

The well-known quote from Arthur C. Clarke expresses it well: “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” This really captures what excites me so much about innovation. The moment technology transcends its practical purpose and becomes something extraordinary, well it’s almost magical isn’t it?

That fascination drives my whole approach to integrating emerging tech into creative strategies. I do want it to be effective, sure, but I really want it to be enchanting.

What are your career highlights to date?

Oh, this is always such a difficult question. I tend to recall the things I’ve done most recently. I’m really proud of Metaverse Beauty Week. It had its challenges, but creating something from scratch, conceptualising that idea, and bringing it to market was a proud moment. A brilliant team supported in enabling that to happen. It was a first of its kind, pushing the boundaries of what was possible, and it delivered amazing results. 30,000 people attending is no small feat, so yeah, that’s definitely a career highlight.

To be fair, I’ve always enjoyed the projects that stretch or challenge me. The Great Festival of Creativity at Jack Morton, for example, was amazing, coordinating a whole army of stakeholders to showcase creativity as a valuable asset for the UK. We had participation from big beasts like the British Fashion Council and Jaguar Land Rover. It was an exhilarating project that emphasised creativity’s tangible benefits to the economy.

Do you have a dream client?

Another tricky question. Honestly, I don’t know if there’s a single dream client. It’s not about the brand itself, it’s more about the attitude. I love working with challenger brands or those looking to reinvent themselves, brands that are open to new approaches, embrace change and treat you as a true partner. One of the loveliest clients I worked with was Scania, a big truck company that’s part of the Volkswagen Group. We did amazing work for them because they wanted to make a change and trusted us as a partner. It might not seem like a dream brief on the surface, but it was incredibly rewarding.

I remember attending a strategy course once where someone asked about how to get excited about the briefs coming through their agency which they felt were a little boring. The panel’s response was great, essentially saying that the brief in front of you is always the most exciting. It’s your job to make it energising and exciting for both the creative team and the end consumer. That’s an ethos I can really get behind.

Where do you see the agency world heading in the next few years?

Agencies are always evolving. For better or for worse, we’re very sharklike: keep swimming or sink to the bottom. That said, I do think there is a trend towards a more collaborative and multidisciplinary approach. We talked a minute ago about developing creative ideas that are newsworthy or that can be distilled into compelling headlines, and that cross-pollination is something Arq has really been able to benefit from as part of the We Are Group. Collaborating across Collider, Arq and Seven means we can play to our strengths and bounce ideas off each other, something that has led to some very unique results.