Back on Track: Rob Limb on bouncing back, focusing on the customer and the evolution of direct

In his 2011 book The Psychopath Test, Jon Ronson alleges that some individuals in the corporate sphere possess many of the characteristics notable in psychopaths. They often exude charm, they have narcissistic tendencies, they’re immune to the suffering of others and, in some cases, they have a weakness for art depicting animals of prey feasting on weaker creatures. 

Track managing director Rob Limb certainly has charm, but he would fail the test when judged on those others measures. In an industry typified by cutthroat tactics, Limb has over the last 20 years established himself as one of the nicer guys around.

But two years ago, there was a chance—at least if the industry speculation was anything to go by—that Limb would be added to the pile of examples occupying the cliché ‘nice guys finish last’.

The agency had lost the Spark account and redundancies followed. Suffice to say things were on the shakier side.

Sitting down for a chat recently, Limb admits it was a challenging period in his career.

“It was about 21 months ago when we last spoke,” he says, almost seeming as though he’s still keeping count.

“It was a tough time, but out of those tough times come learnings that later hold you in good stead.”

Limb says that the loss of that account caused the team to stop and think about how they could improve the business.

“Some of the most important decisions we made were not about vision or strategy, but rather about the team that we wanted. We really needed a team that would put customers first.”

“What followed on from there was a period of good fortune, some good new business plays, some important hires, and the rebrand to Track.”

He says the adoption of the name Track was more than just a semantic shift.

“It helped initiate a cultural change,” he says.

“It gave us a fresh sheet of paper. Also, when we went under the name Track, it made us part of a network wholly own by DDB, which it wasn’t before. And although things didn’t change all that much on that particular day, we were connected with teams in Toronto and Hamburg.”

Limb says this enabled him to initiate conversations and collaborate with similarly sized teams in different markets, providing fresh perspectives on how they could achieve their ambitions.

More faces

As any episode of Pinky and Brain can attest, speaking about ambitions and actually achieving them are, however, distinct. The far more important question centres on what the agency has to show for the changes that have been introduced. Or more, specifically, have the changes led to commercial growth?

As is the case with most agency folk, Lim holds his financial figures close to his chest but points to his staff numbers as an indication of performance.

Limb says that since the rebrand last year, Track has grown from 14 to 31 staff members across the planning, creative, digital and client service departments.

Planning has seen the addition of Nic Henshaw (planning director), Katy Holden (junior planner) and Leighton Gosnell (marketing technologist).

Meanwhile, Danny Brown (senior writer), Caroline Phillips and Michael Tomich (writer and art director team), Michael Ashford (art director) and Meredith Reeves (creative services manager) have all been added to the creative team.

The digital department has also welcomed a pair of new faces, with Chantal Moth (lead designer) and Corne Kruger (digital designer) joining the team.

Overall the biggest growth has occurred in the client service department, with Varsha Singh (senior account director) and Ning Zhu (account director), Tom Hewlett (account director), Mel Clasper (account manager), Anna Wilson (senior account manager), Holly Gibson (account executive), and Natalie Wright (senior account manager) all joining the fray.

Limb says the team he employs today is bigger than what it was two years ago, before the loss of the Spark account.

It is, however, worth noting that while the staff numbers are higher, the average employee age has dropped, which, in turn suggests a few more juniors—and their lower salaries—in the mix.

Irrespective of the age of the team, Limb says clients seem to like what they see coming out of the agency these days.

AA Insurance, McDonald’s and Meridian have all been added to the ledger since the rebrand, while Westpac and Air New Zealand have increased their spend.

Serendipitous timing        

In his book Sunday Sketching, the brilliant designer Christoph Niemann says that while most adfolk can deliver good work on a consistent basis, truly great work always necessitates a bit of luck. Niemann made the statement in regard to the creative process, but it’s one that’s just as applicable to success on the commercial side.

Unravel any of the classic entrepreneurial stories and you’ll always spot a moment—or sometimes a few moments—that could’ve gone either way.

Limb is utterly aware of this, and says there was definitely a bit of serendipity behind the growth the agency has experienced over the last year.

This good fortune came in the shape of the growing importance of the principles that had always underpinned direct marketing.   

“The worldview that was coming was that customer experience was really vital, marketing was increasingly becoming a technology discipline and the everyone had a personalisation agenda,” he says.  

“Fortunately, those are all areas that we have great capabilities in and a passion for.”

As businesses looked for ways to better target customers, the skills Rapp offered became more important from a marketing perspective. This trend is, of course, not limited to Rapp and has led to a technology arms race across the industry.

Creative counts

But Limb believes worshipping at the temple of tech isn’t enough.       

“I think over the last two or three years, we’ve seen an over-reliance on technology and the belief that technology is going to solve all our problems, but technology and data are only enablers,” he says.

“You have to find ways for that data to add value to the customers’ lives.”

Limb says that irrespective of all the numbers available these days, customers still deserve more than to be bombarded with hard-selling advertising (even if it’s really targeted).

Branding remains an important part of advertising, and to do that effectively you need to tell a story. To illustrate this point, Limb references the work Track has done for City Mission and Slingshot as examples of the ways in which agencies (direct or otherwise) should use brand storytelling to complement their direct activities.     

“We are driven by emotion and we buy by emotion,” he says.

Limb’s approach seems to be working so far, but he of all people will know that things in this industry have a tendency to change really fast.    

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