Zulu Alpha Kilo puts its skin in the game with Consonant

The indie shop takes an equity stake in the skincare brand and will act as its in-house agency to help it scale.

Zulu Alpha Kilo and Consonant Skincare have deepened their partnership, with the agency taking an undisclosed equity stake in its client in a move that has both parties feeling optimistic about their future together.

In addition to the stake, Zulu will act as Consonant’s in-house agency, providing services including strategic planning, design, digital, data science and production in order to help the independent beauty brand in its goals of scaling its business.

“The beauty industry is very image-driven and having the highest possible quality strategic communications can be a real differentiator,” says Bill Baker, founder and CEO of Consonant. “It puts us on a different shelf from the other smaller, independent brands. It puts us on the same shelf as the big, global players, which is definitely an advantage.”

Zulu already had staff dedicated to working with Consonant, says agency founder and CCO Zak Mroueh, and that arrangement will continue. Further, Stephanie Yung, who Zulu recently rehired as its new head of design, will “play a big role in terms of immersive design,” he notes.

Mike Sutton, the agency’s president, says the new arrangement gives Zulu “skin in the game.” That not only means a vested financial interest in the success of Consonant, but a greater degree of work on the brand’s entire customer experience, beyond just the promotions and creative work it had previously done.

“The degree of involvement for Zulu is going to increase, and all of our capabilities are going to be used to their full potential across ecommerce, loyalty, their distribution and retail partnerships,” he says.

Baker says years ago, he had approached several agencies with an equity-for-service proposition, but he was rejected. However, “Zulu actually understood that in a good partnership, there can be benefits all around,” he says.

The two companies’ initial partnership led to four years of creative work together, which has included the award-winning launch of Consonant’s flagship store on Toronto’s Queen Street West and its Hydration Hub pop-up in the city’s underground PATH network.

“Their strategic counsel has already been phenomenal. Beyond just the actual output, their thinking has really made a huge contribution to the business, already,” says Baker, who points to the company’s “beyond the bottle” proposition as just one example.

Partnering was always part of the game plan, according to Mroueh, who says Zulu has sought similar deals with other clients as well, though could not disclose them publicly.

“The idea of in-housing has always been the company’s philosophy, from day one,” he says. “We want to act like partners. When you’re dealing with a big corporation, that’s harder, because they have shareholders. But when you’re working with a smaller, Canadian-owned business, it gives you that opportunity. Obviously, you want to do your best work for all of your clients, but when you have skin in the game … it’s no longer a client-agency relationship. It’s truly a partnership.”