Designworks ups its Welly firepower with The Church acquisition, earns top prize in STW awards

  • Design
  • March 10, 2014
  • Ben Fahy
Designworks ups its Welly firepower with The Church acquisition, earns top prize in STW awards

In an effort to fill a demand for digital, UX and motion content in the Wellington market, STW-owned Designworks has acquired 100 percent of 15-strong design and digital communications agency The Church, making it the region’s largest strategic brand and multi-disciplinary design practice, with around 130 staff across its five offices.​

Designworks group chairman Sven Baker welcomed aboard the "great bunch of young, super-talented and passionate design-loving people" and said they were fired up about being part of the agency's future. 

"I'm very confident they will be a powerful addition to the Wellington office," he said in a release. "Paul Soong and his team bring a combination of capabilities we've been looking for to emulate the multi-disciplinary dynamic we've built so successfully in the Auckland market over recent years."

As well as their strong interactive skills, he says they're also strong in the marketing communications sphere, "which again is a valuable addition to the Designworks toolkit as we strengthen our position as an omni-channel brand creation and curation arena". 

He says this acquisition is not an admission that it lacked skills in those areas, but its core technical team for interactive and UX was migrated to the Auckland office a few years back (it recently broke the champagne on a new northern office), so he says this was about giving the agency momentum with a great new team, "particularly in the space where we've got a bit of demand from clients". And he says it will also be nice to have some more resource closer to its growing Christchurch office. 

When asked how much it paid for The Church, which has worked with the likes of Loyalty New Zealand, the Health Promotion Agency, Statistics New Zealand and the NZSO (it created 16 videos for the tablet appthe site and the YouTube channel for the 2014 campaign), Baker said: "A wise man once told me if both parties walk away with one black eye each, it's probably a fair deal." ​

Soong founded The Church in 2000 and was there when the agency was relaunched in 2011 with Simon Kozak as chief executive (it had offices in Auckland and Sydney at the time but there is now only one office under that name). And Soong says he's incredibly excited about the future this creates for the new Designworks Wellington office.

"We have great alignment in values and vision and have very complementary skills," he says. "We share a common belief in the power of design to transform a customer experience and business performance. We've always admired and respected Designworks from afar and now we can’t wait to add our energy to the mix.”

The Church team will move into the Designworks Wellington campus on March 10, and they have already begun collaborating on a number of joint projects and new pitches.

But the acquisitions don't stop there. Designworks New Zealand has also picked up a Grand Prix Award at this year’s STW Dashboard Awards ceremony, winning the 2013 Business of the Year Award. 

Designworks received the award, which is given to the company that delivers the most outstanding performance across every measure of STW’s Dashboard and in the eyes of the judges, at a gala dinner held in Sydney that was attended by several hundred leaders from across the 76 companies in the STW Group.    

Baker wasn't able to provide any specifics on the company's financials, but he says it has doubled its revenue in the past four years. And he says the staff increase over that time has probably been proportionate to that. Baker puts this growth down to an increasing client base, but also an evolving offer and a demand for content that can be used on its clients' own channels (Designworks has recently created a new film and photography division called DW Motion)​.

"We're doing some interesting things in terms of content generation, digital, spatial and motion," he says, pointing to its recent work for Methven as a good example. "It's the perfect time for us, as we're very channel agnostic." 

In presenting the awards, STW chief executive Mike Connaghan said Designworks continues to deliver world class results across the board and exceed its expectations.

"Their work is award-winning and their commitment to design as a powerful business tool is evidenced in everything they do." 

No doubt as a result of this success, Baker's role within the wider STW group has also changed recently and he has been appointed as chairman of STW New Zealand, where he will "look at how the group can serve this market better". 

"It's very low touch role, but a very interesting one. They see New Zealand as a really strong market and a high-performing creative culture." 

The agencies in the STW "constellation" include Assignment Group, JWT, Ogilvy, The Brand Agency, Ikon and others, and he says there are a few other newbies that he will be able to announce shortly. 

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