Nick Bayes grew up in Yorkshire. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

CEO lunch with Nick Bayes

Monday, 6 August, 2018 - 10:21

Nick Bayes says The Brand Agency diversified its offering and took on work other agencies avoided to push through the recent downturn.

Some might think Yorkshire in the UK was at its most creative when its culinary leaders decided that pudding was served as a savoury dish.

Born and bred in the northern English county, Nick Bayes might argue otherwise.

Then again, he left the place some decades ago to pursue a career in the advertising world in London and eventually ended up in a far warmer place.

“I grew up in East Yorkshire, as a child of the 1970s and spent the first 18 years of my life there before moving down to London to uni, and then started my career from there, really,” Mr Bayes told Business News.

“This is my first porky pie, sir. At the time, it wasn’t a university, but now it is.

“So, it was the London College of Printing and Distributive Trades (later the University of Arts London’s London College of Communication).

“It’s a mouthful, but (ad legend) John Hegarty and some other famous advertising people went there, and I did what most people do when they don’t know what they want to do.

“I did business studies with a little bit of marketing and PR, and then went from there.”

Mr Bayes credits the heavy vocational element of the course he did with exposing him to the pointy end of the professional communications world.

For instance, he did work experience with Lindy Woodhead, then a leading public relations expert in London’s high-profile fashion world, the kind of thing readers familiar with the television show Absolutely Fabulous might relate to.

After his studies finished in the mid 1990s, Mr Bayes’ career kicked off at small advertising agency doing PR work.

It was during these early days that he started working on what would become a significant thread through his career in the UK and, soon enough, Australia – the specialist field of direct marketing.

By 1999, Mr Bayes started to get itchy feet and decided to travel to Asia and other parts of the Southern Hemisphere, the British reverse of Australian youth who take time out to travel in Europe.

“I was going to stop in Sydney for a couple of weeks before I went to South America … and I’ve been here (Australia) for 18 years,” he said.

“I thought, ‘this is a bit different than Yorkshire, this is all right, this is’ and then, at that time, I got sponsored by a direct marketing agency there.”

He soon ended up in the Sydney office of global communications giant Foote, Cone & Belding as a direct marketing specialist working on accounts such as Samsung and Compaq, before it merged with Hewlett-Packard.

While direct marketing was synonymous with pamphlets, newsletters and other content delivered direct to consumers via the letterbox, by the early 2000s it was morphing into a digital product and its exponents were at the cutting edge of the changes that have subsequently turned advertising on its head.

An as-yet unquenched thirst for travel led Mr Bayes and the partner he was to later marry to take a year-long sabbatical around Australia and get to better know the land that was becoming his home.

His (now) wife is a fellow Brit who worked in the same sector as he did.

“She is from Swindon, so I came to Australia and met a Swindon girl,” Mr Bayes said.

The pair settled back in Sydney after their travels and Mr Bayes went to the Moult Agency to work on accounts such as Vodafone.

“I had a wonderful time; I loved the agency, but then we’d been to Perth,” Mr Bayes states in a way that only locals can understand.

“We’d been in Sydney for six years, and I was approached by (The Brand Agency CEO) Steve Harris.

“We’d been thinking about Perth a little bit, considering it, and considering Brisbane as well; we had some family there.

“And then I got head hunted, got contacted.

“There was an agency here looking for somebody and they put me in touch with Steve.

“I met Steve a couple of times. We got on really well and, in true Steve style, he said, ‘well, ok, can you start next week?’”

Of course due to corporate considerations it didn’t start that quickly, but by May 2005 Mr Bayes had become The Brand Agency’s head of direct marketing, with his wife taking on a strategic planning role at the business.

A new chapter in Mr Bayes’ career had started just as Perth started to boom.

The Brand Agency had, at that time, won a number of clients. At that time my two biggest clients were RAC and Bankwest,” he said.

There has been a big shift in the Perth advertising scene during the subsequent decade or more.

The Brand Agency has expanded to become the state’s number one agency, overtaking its key rivals Marketforce (a long-time leader in the Western Australian sector), and 303MullenLowe.

All three agencies have registers dominated by national or international players.

After several promotions and an executive course at Harvard University, Mr Bayes took over as general manager of The Brand Agency, effectively the Perth chief.

He believes the firm has better weathered the disruption of the market by digital forces such as Google and Facebook as well as the tumultuous local economic downturn by diversifying its offering and being prepared to do work that traditional advertising agencies shunned.

“Clients still want you to solve issues for them, but now the way to solve those issues can be from a whole host of different things,” Mr Bayes said.

“So now we have some more tools available to us, and the key is to set up an agency that has those specialists in all those areas.

“It’s about surrounding yourself with people who are the top people in each of those areas so they can provide solutions.

“And being unbiased as well, so the way we set up that business is, yes, we have all these divisions and these specialists, but it’s all the same P&L (profit and loss).”

Apart from work, Mr Bayes said he was very focused on family, but eventually some careful prising reveals there is a good reason to be in Perth – the ocean.

“Being someone who grew up on the edge of the North Sea, moving somewhere that’s the ocean, you know … ,” he said.

Before having children, he and his wife, an avid underwater photographer, did a lot of scuba diving. It was a sport he got into through his work.

Being the PR agent for Diver Magazine in the UK, he felt he had to learn the ropes and ended up picking it up in the Middle East.

“I’ve scuba dived in Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, which was amazing, Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef, but the best dive I’ve probably done is the (Exmouth) Navy Pier in good old WA.”

He is planning a big trip back there next year with his family, as his kids start to get old enough to appreciate the water.

“It’s the ultimate form of relaxation, you can’t think about anything else, other than not dying,” Mr Bayes said.

“We’ve never been a family that goes and sits on the beach and just does nothing.

“But I think by doing something where your mind is really active, and I’m being facetious when I say you’ve got to worry about not dying, but you’ve got to think about all of the things, and you’ve got to be in the moment, and that’s a great way of relaxing.

“You’ve just got to think about that.”


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