#AgencyFocus: Dalmatian bounds onto radar
by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) Over the past six months, Cape Town-based agency Dalmatian Advertising has quietly slipped onto the industry radar — and now, says partner and managing director Gabrielle Weinstein, it’s ready to boost awareness of its brand.
Formed when Domino Digital was bought by M&C Saatchi PLC in 2016 and operating independently as part of the global group, Dalmatian has mostly kept a low profile — but that’s about to change. “We wanted to build something worth talking about, and I think we’re at the point where it is, now,” says Weinstein.
The agency has had a successful 2018 so far, scooping the account for Renault in April, just a couple of months after snagging Protea Hotels by Marriott. The Renault win has allowed Dalmatian to expand its presence in Joburg, she says, putting it on track to achieve its goals of growth. Another noteworthy achievement is its win of the Norval Foundation in Cape Town, a new art museum aiming to rival the Zeitz MOCAA.
“Heading towards medium”
“We’re out of the small and heading towards medium,” says Weinstein, explaining that Dalmatian is ultimately aiming for a staff count of close to 50. She anticipates this will happen with gradual, organic growth through new business wins over the next two to three years — nothing aggressive. “You need to build a business incrementally,” she says. “The agency has an incredible culture, and right now we’ve hit a place where we’re quite stable.”
Though she did not provide figures, she reports that the agency, currently in a revenue band of R15-20m, is growing month by month. She adds that the team, a young one, is also going from strength to strength. Under the guidance of executive creative director, Jake Bester, who joined Dalmatian near the beginning of the year, the quality of its work has improved, she says. “It was always beautiful but it wasn’t as smart as it could have been. I think we’ve really grown in the ‘smart’ area, and I hope we continue to do so.” While changing creative leadership is always a learning experience, she says, Bester has settled in and already added value to the agency’s products.
This may have been one of the factors that helped Dalmatian navigate the loss of its position as the brand agency for Tyme Digital in November last year — something that Weinstein describes as “quite a bump”. But 2018 has been generous so far; in addition to the three major account wins above, the agency has been “doing some exciting work” with Petley’s, plus clients in other parts of the world, including the relaunch of a tequila brand for a company in the US, and branding and digital content for the Matetsi River Lodge in Zimbabwe.
The international projects reflect Dalmatian’s emphasis on digitally enabled global work. “The word we use is borderless,” she says. “The agencies of the future need to be borderless. I think where you are is going to become far less relevant.” While there may still be some resistance to this idea in South Africa, she believes that the rest of the world is ready for a more-remote approach. “Clients don’t mind where you sit, as long as they get the work.”
The market, says Weinstein, is in a very transient phase, and agencies need to change. “Clients and their way of working [have] changed, but I don’t think agencies are changing fast enough — which is ironic, considering we’re supposed to be at the forefront.” She suggests that one way of gearing up might be increased openness to collaboration with, and respect for, other players in the industry, something Dalmatian (which frequently partners with other agencies) prides itself in. “I think it’s a great way to share learnings, ways of working and approaches, and meet other cool, creative people,” she says. “The industry’s quite small — it’s worth making friends, and clients are loyal but open to working with a number of different experts in different areas.”
Another way to become future-ready is by “playing open cards and being more real with clients,” she says. Working smarter and faster is also important, as is being a bit more agile in agency thinking, she adds. Agility is something that she believes sets Dalmatian apart; the agency, she says, is used to delivering on urgent deadlines. This is a key aspect of its positioning as a boutique creative with full agency capability — in the words of one anonymous client, “small enough to care, big enough to handle any problem,” she says.
A further aspect of the agency’s approach is reflected in its name, which people ask about. “In its simplest form,” explains Weinstein, “you see a dalmatian in a park — and it’s the one thing that gets noticed. Our purpose is to create work that demands attention.” As for the park, that could be anywhere.
Carey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with a decade and a half of industry experience, having covered everything from ethical sushi in Japan to the technicalities of roofing, agriculture, medical stuff and more. She’s also taught English and journalism, and dabbled in various other communications ventures along the way, including risk reporting. As a contributing writer to MarkLives.com, her new column “#AgencyFocus” is an ongoing weekly series updating the market on agency performance, including business performance, innovation, initiatives, the work, awards and people.
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