It all started in the early Eighties, when ATC was born as a pioneering and visionary creative agency which, with time, has broadened its gaze and message, focussing on a key question: "Why?"
To know more about ATC's professional history, we have interviewed the agency's key people, heading a team of 32 people: Renzo Riccò - CEO, Donatello Occhibianco - General Manager, and Karim Ayed - Communication Director.
The story begins in Milan in 1985, when a business unit headed by Renzo Riccò, called Advanced Trade Consulting because of its pioneering specialization in trade communication, was created within an existing advertising agency. In just a few years the first successes are reaped, beginning a regular partnership with Nestlé. Then, in 1992, precisely 30 years ago, the spin-off is carried out. ATC was officially born, signing the first important btl projects for Friskies (later acquired by Purina), Maggi, Leerdammer, Olio Sasso, Buitoni, Illva Saronno, Maxxium Italia, Neutro Roberts, Unilever, Helena Rubinstein. During the Nineties, the agency gets new customers in several industries, specializing in packaging and, incrementally, adding new competence that sparked the evolution into All Things Communicate.
It all begins with an acronym
ATC stands for All Things Communicate, meaning that each communication item has a specific role within the customer journey: an acronym which aptly tells the nature of this integrated communication agency. "Customers like and value our edge-to-edge approach and our ability to pinpoint the needs of their brand" - says General Manager Donatello Occhibianco - "For us, seeing the bigger picture is a necessary premise, as every brand has a different story to tell, different values to create a bond of trust with consumers on, goals to reach depending on the strategy and a time-to-market to uphold. Starting from this scenario shared by our customers, we develop targeted communication plans, from the definition of the strategic positioning and the creative concept, down to the execution of online and offline btb, btc and btbtc projects."
"Creativity belongs to those who love to ask why"
The claim which pops up on the ATC website is the pivot around which the agency's philosophy is built. "That’s right. - confirms Donatello Occhibianco - Every project by ATC is the answer to the question "WHY?", which follows us in every step of our strategic thinking framework. It helps us channel the creative effort and the customers' budget, focusing on what can give value to a brand for its targets." This vision aims at creating added value for both customers and final consumers, by designing tailored solutions for every target, touchpoint or channel: "Courageous, precise and timely solutions, to make the best out of brand and communication strategies throughout the whole customer journey and to gain a solid competitive advantage."
The 3-step creative process
ATC's framework applies to communication and branding the potential of design thinking, supporting customers along the journey of product-service innovation. There are three key steps in this value creation process. Donatello Occhibianco describes them for us: "The first is: Inspiration, because the right answers need to come from good questions. In order to successfully manage complexity, today brands need to be empathically aligned with consumers, understand their needs, recognise market trends and be fully aware of their own business goals. From a solid understanding and analysis of the context - target needs, market boundaries and brand essence - we identify the correct marketing leverages on which we build our creative project. Then we move to Design. Thanks to a strong strategic foundation, creativity can give value to the brand and the product system along the path to purchase. We give a voice to products and brands, through unique and effective concepts, created to get tangible results in all touchpoints of the customer journey. Finally, Smartness. In the crucial step of execution, the quality of materials and of the content becomes a proof of the brand's value. To rapidly make the creative process concrete is essential to put our customers and their targets at the centre of a fruitful dialogue. Freshness, consumer engagement and consistency with the brand's values: these are the strongholds of a creative process which never loses sight of business goals."
The importance of a differentiated team
ATC's communication projects are carried out by 32 people with specific expertise, organised in inter-disciplinary departments. "This allows us to operate fluidly, creating every time the most suitable team - says Donatello Occhibianco - from retail to packaging, from space design to events, from social campaigns to platform development, creative projects always start from our "why?" in the department of strategic communication headed by our Communication Director, Karim Ayed."
The value of ATC's "Why?"
We are living in a time - says Occhibianco - where agencies show extreme verticality, offering specialisations and punctual competences, especially in the domain of digital. Apparently going against the stream, ATC pursues the route of horizontalness, guaranteeing a broad vision in communication strategy. Our specialisation is to be good at doing different things. This allows us to support marketing departments in directing the project, to safeguard consistency and become business accelerators: being a turnkey partner means respect time-to-market, optimise energies and control budgets. Another strong point is our constant presence beside our customers: relationships are crucial in our line of work. Only when competence and trust are there, an agency can really give value to a company and especially, when needed, can say those critical and proactive "no's" which then lead to a much more important "yes": that of consumers and, before this, of trade personnel."
A rich portfolio with successful case histories
In these thirty years, ATC's portfolio has included many interesting case histories. In the year 2004, Renzo Riccò and Karim Azzabi shaped the image of Lavazza in Ho.Re.Ca creating the Blue Ribbon, still a trademark of the brand's cups. Again at the beginning of the third millennium, ATC has helped Fumagalli to launch the first controlled supply chain in the field of cured meats, from breeding farms to the final product. "A visionary industrial project - remembers Occhibianco - forerunner of today's priorities, putting in the first place high product quality, animal welfare and sustainability. A virtuous example of sharing the big picture, in a relation lasting for more than 20 years." For Nestlé, ATC took care in 2010 of the international redesign of the system-pack for Gourmet, a brand for which ever since its beginnings ATC has managed the launches of new sub-ranges. The year 2013 has seen the international relaunch of the Nescafé Milano brand in the Ho.Re.Ca channel, culminating in the launch of the Roast and Ground range in 2017. Moving to more recent success stories: the design of the international instore toolkit for Sanpellegrino and the pack design of Levissima's first R-Pet bottle: "Ricicliamo insieme" ("Let's recycle together"), for which ATC has won the Media Key award in 2021 and 2022.
Always updating, always evolving
Speaking about changes and market evolutions, the General Manager, Donatello Occhibianco, reveals: "The scene has changed many times in thirty years, also with unforeseeable accelerations, but ATC has always been up to market opportunities, shunning fads, consolidating the know-how of internal resources and investing on continuous learning. Also thanks to synergies with vertical partners for events or for digital activations, ATC has grown pursuing its nature of integrated communication agency and focusing on project direction."
The present is digital, but the customer always is at the centre of it all
Concerning the importance of the digital and virtual world, Karim Ayed - Communication Director - tells us how much the digital revolution is a pervasive and consolidated phenomenon. "Social media - he says - are a necessary asset in our job. IoT in our lives might be more silent yet not irrelevant. The case of metaverse, at least for now, is a little bit different. This term is used to describe rather diverse experiences, from virtual reality to more or less decentralised virtual worlds: for sure, some applications are meant to become, sooner or later, mainstream. When? It depends very much on the speed of technological evolution, on the "democratisation" of costs and on the ability to create experiences and opportunities which are really relevant for a wide audience, reducing as much as possible the barriers to entry which, for now, are still quite high. The potential is extraordinary, but in the end 'the user is the king'."
ATC's communication in the next 40 years
To sum up, we asked the ultimate question, referring to the theme of this special issue celebrating Media Key's 40th anniversary. We asked if, as a visionary agency, ATC can ideally imagine how its communication will be in the future, in the next 40 years. "A challenging question - answers CEO Renzo Riccò - but if I close my eyes I still see that the values making up our name will still be relevant. Communication styles and channels will evolve, but for sure we'll be saying that All Things Communicate!"