Special Group chief executive Michael Redwood says business on the other side of the ditch is growing so quickly that he anticipates the Sydney office will employ more staff than the Auckland branch by the end of 2016.
“We’re definitely on track to achieve that by 2016,” Redwood says. “That’s the function of a market that’s five times as big, but the team in Australia are getting onto a lot of the big pitch lists now. I fully back them to convert some of those pitches into great new business.”
This rapid growth, which has seen the Sydney office grow to 30 staff within 18 months, was recently recognised by Sydney-based Adnews magazine, which declared Special Group the Emerging Agency of the Year.
Since opening its Sydney branch, Special Group has been appointed to a number of clients, including Red Bull (which Special works with on both sides of the Tasman), Paspaley Pearls, bootmaker RM Williams, Sandhurst Foods, Harris Farms Markets and Pet Barn, as well as major projects for Qantas amongst others (Redwood said he was particularly proud of the global rebrand Special did for RM Williams).
Special Group creative partner Tony Bradbourne attributes the early success of the agency to the approach employed across the ditch.
“Most multinational networks open in a market because they have a client that they think they can make some money from. Our approach could not be more different. We looked for people first. Our belief is that smart marketers are attracted to the best talent, talent that can help transform their businesses and fulfil their ambitions.”
Redwood mirrors these sentiments, pointing to the recruitment of founding partners chief executive Lindsey Evans, managing partner Cade Heyde and executive creative directors Matty Burton and Dave Bowman as integral to the success.
“You cannot win in this industry without having access to talent,” Redwood says. “We were looking for business partners who were like-minded people and who had similar definitions of success as ourselves. We took our time in terms of finding those people, but we hit the jackpot with our local partners in Australia.”
While there’s often reference to a veritable dead zone that plague indy agencies as they grow, Redwood says Special has not yet experienced this.
“It certainly applies to a lot of businesses as they go through the transition from medium to substantial. However, it’s always been part of our plan to grow by adding offices as opposed to adding mass in New Zealand. We want to work with the kind of clients who want to do the kind of work that we want to do rather than just being big for the sake of being big.”
The growth of Special Group also comes at a time when many agencies are under pressure as margins are squeezed and spend on traditional media is reduced.
So how has Special Group managed to avoid this?
“We were born between 2008 and 2009, so our agency has been designed for current market conditions, so our business is not geared at feeding the TV production machine,” says Redwood.
“And that’s definitely assisted greatly by our dual advertising and design capabilities. In a marketplace where traditional media is a less and less dominant part of the marketing mix, our design capability really equips us well to help clients across their whole customer experience. That’s been one of our key points of difference.”
- Read more on what's happening in agency land in the upcoming edition of NZ Marketing.