Affinity ID kicked off in 2008 when Geoff Cooper and Angela Day took the agency into private ownership from the Clemenger Group. It began life with 27 staff and has grown to almost 80 digital specialists across a range of disciplines. And it has added two more big names to its board and senior management team, with Nigel Tutt joining as group general manager and Roger Shepherd joining as an independent director.
Tutt, formerly general manager digital at Fairfax Media and recently acting product development director, has a strong background in driving the growth and commercialisation of digital platforms. He was named by the Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers Association as Outstanding Young Executive of the Year in 2011
UPDATE: Tutt’s successor at Fairfax will be Robert Hutchinson, who is currently with the ABC. He joins on 18 November.
“We’ve known him for a while and he’s a really nice guy,” says Cooper. “He’s very smart and has a strong track record of managing teams of quite diverse skill sets and a high degree of confidence.”
Shepherd is currently driving a turnaround at the listed stainless steel manufacturer Mercer Group, where he has been chief executive for the past two years. He is also of Fairfax stock and was formerly the media company’s deputy chief executive. Prior to that he was the chief executive of commercial print company PMP NZ. He joins board chairman Bill Gianotti, one of New Zealand’s direct marketing pioneers and the founder of AIM Proximity, who has been a director of Affinity ID since 2008.
Cooper says these two hires are key to the next stage of the company’s strategic journey. While it is an agency that generally likes to play its cards pretty close to its chest, he says it has experienced 20 percent growth every year since it started and, even with the departure of Vodafone recently, that growth has continued this year. But, after opening an office in Sydney, it is looking further afield and, because it increasingly works on a number of different aspects of clients’ businesses, it needed to hire the appropriate staff.
“Australia is a particular focus but what we’re also recognising is the breadth of work we’re doing with clients now. For a long time, our focus has been on managing brand experience for big, complex companies and what that means is integrating that across the organisation, from marketing, sales, IT and pretty much across the board. The perspective we have is much broader and holistic and that’s one of the key reasons we’ve made these hires at a board and governance level. We set out with very clear criteria for what we were looking for.”
He thinks it’s ridiculous that more traditional agencies still talk about integration by using terms like above and below the line.
“The most important thing is making the brand experience really cohesive. The integration that’s really important is through the organisation, not just the tiny little bit of marketing that’s above the line. That’s a very big focus for us and that’s driven a lot of our growth.”
The rise of Big Data is also a bit of a sweet spot. Cooper says the problem with Big Data conversations it that they always sound vaguely rude (“it’s not how big it is, it’s how you use it”) and, as one writer pointed out recently, it’s like teenage sex: everyone’s talking about it, but no-one’s doing it. Affinity ID is one agency that is—for example, Countdown’s MySpecials—and he says there has been recognition from the business and marketing community that, when used well, Big Data can offer a significant competitive advantage.
“We’ve been focused on this for a very long time,” he says. “One of the big differences is that when we’re talking to people it’s about what we can do with it, rather than educating them on what it is. That’s a big change and it’s particularly evident at board and management level.”
With Vodafone, he says it educated the team on how to eventually bring that customer engagement function inhouse, something it was very clear about from the start. He says a lot of its clients ask for help setting things up so they can eventually run them, but equally, it also does a lot of that work as an external partner.
“We’re very much horses for courses. We’ll sit down and have some very robust discussions about what they need.”
Cooper says Affinity ID now thinks of itself as a group, with its Sydney office and a sister agency called Unity, which offers very similar services to its parent company but gives it another avenue for growth. Unity now handles Westpac’s customer engagement work and has done for around one year.