303’s winning change

25/03/2003 - 21:00


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A NEW collaborative working approach – both among staff and with clients – has changed the fortunes of 303 Advertising, which won agency of the year at the recent Oasis Awards.

303’s winning change

A NEW collaborative working approach – both among staff and with clients – has changed the fortunes of 303 Advertising, which won agency of the year at the recent Oasis Awards.

Nearly a year ago the firm was facing a very bleak future. It had lost the major accounts of BankWest and HBF, key creative director Mike Edmonds had been lured to Marketforce and its managing director Stephen Wells announced that he was leaving.

The agency was also facing a review of its lucrative Western Australian Tourism Commission contract, which it ultimately lost, and that for the Office of Road Safety.

303 Advertising has emerged from that difficult year with a raft of awards besides agency of the year, including client of the year and radio campaign of the year.

There also are new premises, dual Olympic hockey player and tourism industry identity Kevin Carton has been appointed as chairman, and there’s a whole new way of doing business.

303 managing director Jim Davies and his fellow directors Lindsay Medalia and Ray van Kempen decided to buy Mr Wells’ share of the company and then went to ground to work out what they would do.

They also added Alan Taylor as a director. He owns 10 per cent of the agency.

“We talked to clients and people in the industry that we trusted. They told us we were out of step with what clients wanted. We were described as aloof,” Mr Davies said.

The firm also hired Future Proof’s Ruth Spinstone to advise them. She told them that people were looking for a trusted partner rather than an advertising expert.

That restructure also involved a move from the firm’s old 28 John Street offices to new digs at 1 Outridge Crescent, Subiaco.

The new office was laid out on more egalitarian lines. Gone are the ‘power offices’. Everybody in the agency has the same type of desk, and accounts and creative staff are clumped together in teams rather than being billeted with their own kind.

An informal lounge room-type setting sits where the traditional board room should be. The office even boasts its own cafe.

“The difference is the way of working. Under the old system the agency ran under the power of three – the writer, the art director and the account director. These three are the experts and they will give you the answer to your needs,” Mr Davies said.

“We’ve abandoned that to go with the power of everyone. If a client has a problem we may bring in staff that don’t have an involvement in that business to share the ideas more.

“We liked to listen to people’s problems and come up with solutions rather than telling them what to do.

“We went the completely opposite way of more to provide insight rather than answers.”

Mr Davies said most clients were very knowledgeable about the advertising industry now but still needed the experience of people who had worked within it for a long time.

He said the collaborative approach had not cost the agency on the creative front.

“Any suggestion we put up could be creatively sound, even award winning, but we’re only interested in getting results for clients,” Mr Davies said.

“It’s almost more satisfying having client of the year. We were also finalists in virtually every creative category. It shows you don’t have to browbeat a client into accepting something they’re not sure about to get good creative work.”

For his part, Mr Wells said he had left the agency because he felt that advertising would become a diminishing part of the marketing mix.

“Clients are saying that times have moved on in terms of communications,” he said.

There has been a perception within the WA advertising industry that Mr Wells’ operational style was to blame for 303’s poor fortunes.

Mr Wells said he totally disagreed with any suggestion that he had been responsible for the ‘aloofness’ claim levelled at 303.

“My concern was the quality of the work. If you turn out poor work you are letting yourself down,” he said.

“I believe my record speaks for itself.”

During his time with 303 Mr Wells was named advertising person of the year three times and 303 won agency of the year four times.

There are also no plans to grow the agency into Perth’s biggest advertising agency, or indeed to make it a smaller agency, something that had been on the cards during its difficult year.

Mr Davies said there were no plans for 303 to go after a $10 million-a-year client or to pitch for a range of small clients.

He did not want the firm to grow beyond 40 staff – it has 34 now.

“I worked for Saatchi and Saatchi in London and that had 750 people. Even Saatchi used to break its people into groups of 40. Studies show that once you get groups of more than 40 people, problems start arising,” Mr Davies said.

“Our biggest single client is Edith Cowan University and that bills about $2.5 million. Our next biggest would be Cecil Brothers [Betts and Betts] of about $2 million. We don’t want the $10 million client that dominates the agency.

“If we do have a small client it’s for a reason. Adultshop is not a big client but it brings tremendous creative opportunities. Rottnest Island Authority is not big but we love the product and it’s a WA icon.”

Mr Davies said there were two main reasons for bringing Kevin Carton on board – to create a more stable leadership structure and because of his contacts.

He said Mr Carton had no shares in the agency.

“Under Stephen – he was both chairman and managing director – we were never sure if we were talking about board issues or management issues,” Mr Davies said.

One of the key deciders of the agencies future will be whether it wins its recent pitch for Western Power’s business.

It is understood the pitch is likely to come down to a race between 303, Marketforce and The Brand Agency.

“It would be a lovely brand challenge for an agency like ours. It’s a major, high-profile client,” Mr Davies said.

He said the agency had parted on good terms with Mr Wells. Indeed, it even did the software for the website of his V3 Leisure Management and Marketing venture.


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