#AgencyFocus: 27-year-old agency dances with winds of change
by Sabrina Forbes. Almost three decades on, Mortimer Harvey remains proudly independent and has, over several years, undergone an evolution from a BTL shopper marketing agency to a full-service, omnichannel marketing and communications company.
Driving this transition, according to Andrew Fradd, group managing director, is that the 27-year-old agency has always focused on building long-standing and sustainable relationships with its clients. “As a result of this ethos of mutual trust and delivery, clients began extending their TTL requirements to the agency as well, creating greater efficiencies and more integrated campaigns”, he says. The transition was organic with existing clients, which afforded the agency “the opportunity to acquire or outsource the requisite skills gradually. This provided for considered structuring as the service offerings deepened within our clients”, he adds.
Passionate, creative, a little crazy, a little off the wall, a little bit of drama queen. These are just some of the terms the team at Mortimer Harvey use when describing themselves. Not clients, not friends, not even friends-of-friends. This is who they are and they’re happy to admit it.
According to Katlego Moutlana, the newly appointed director and shareholder who continues on as head of strategy, the agency has gone through many changes in the past year and has been working hard to shift how clients and the greater industry view it.
Part of the change of services is the partial renaming of the agency from Mortimer Harvey to simply “MH”. The team and its clients already refer to the agency as such when in conversation. “Our clients often refer to us by the acronym and one client even stated that MH actually stands for ‘Miracles Happen’. It has therefore been a natural evolution, although we will not currently drop the full name from our branding,” says Fradd.
The transition over the past year hasn’t come without teething issues. “The lessons were numerous but the resultant opportunity to create greater depth of delivery and traction within our clients and attract new business proved invaluable. There was moderate trauma along the way as the agency experienced accelerated growth which required careful management and structuring,” he says.
“We’re still developing from within while changing the perception of those outside our family,” says Kelly-Paige Howell, head of digital integration.
The best example of where the agency is going, according to Moutlana, is the ATL campaign MH recently did with Absa Corporate and Investment Bank (CIB). The bank needed to reposition itself post the sudden departure of Barclays Group from the country and reaffirm to everyone that Absa is, and always has been, a truly pan-African bank. The Absa CIB campaign, “I want to make that”, has already yielded strong results with its enhancement of Absa Retail Bank’s new positioning and branding with “Africanacity”. The campaign is about the “purity of the human spirit”, explains Andrew Ambrogioni, chief creative officer, and speaks to all Africa’s “unbridled potential for creative, inspiring, innovative thought and action”.
Another client that’s set to experience the new 360-degree inspired approach is Blue Ribbon Bread. This category is highly competitive and the need to breathe new life into an established brand such as Blue Ribbon became a priority. Ntsikelelo (Ntsiki) Nukwa, newly appointed executive creative director, makes mention of how spaza shops are undercutting big bread brands with their homemade breads. For Nukwa, the bread market is tough and has to evolve. MH is currently finalising its work for Blue Ribbon.
For Moutlana, having clients like Absa CIB alongside Blue Ribbon shows that MH delivers effective work all the way from bread to wealth. This can be done because, at every touchpoint, there’s a human at the other end, and speaking to humans is what the team does. “Because of the mix of the agency, our experience, and our new blood, we have a great ability to speak to the masses as well as the top 100 wealthiest people in the country,” she says.
Friends, the family you choose
When questioned about the work culture at MH, it doesn’t take long for the term “family” to be mentioned by Moutlana, Nukwa and Howell. It’s this ideal that, when you work at MH, you’re really part of the family which has trickled into all elements of the company and the way it does business. Howell’s belief that teams need to work together on every part of a brief or execution shows that, by getting everyone involved in everything, you’ll likely get the best results. For her, good work can’t just come from just beautiful creative or just intelligent data; they have to work well together.
“We’re not precious about where the idea comes from,” says Moutlana, with Nukwa adding: “The entire company works to come up with solutions together.”
When you want to work at MH, more than just your immediate superior will interview. You’ll be put in front of members of departments very different to the one you’re interviewing for. This ensures that the next hire fits into the ‘heart and smart’ ethos the agency pushes.
Fast-tracked black ownership
MH’s recent appointments to the agency leadership has fast-tracked its existing target of becoming 51% black-owned by 2019 to 2018. The majority-shareholding composition lies between Imvula Education Empowerment Trust, which acquired 26% in 2012, and Moutlana, with her shareholdering and directorship.
“It is an exciting milestone for the business and adds significantly to celebrating 27 years as a home-grown, independent, South African agency — somewhat rare in the industry and a story we are proud of,” says Fradd.
The agency and its team have dramatically evolved the past year, becoming more representative of the SA community. “We’ve changed from an older, more-experienced and white team to a younger, blacker team,” says Moutlana, with Howell sharing that they still have a “fierce captain [Fradd] who keeps everything together”. The two founders, David Mortimer and Gerald Harvey, are still part of the family and continue to be involved in the business but have begun stepping back and letting the team take on more responsibility. “They’re very trusting of everything we do but it’s been a weaning process,” says Howell.
Ahead of the curve
From BTL shopper marketing to a full-service ATL offering, MH shows how staying ahead of the curve and knowing when it’s time to change up is always going to be worth it in the end. Nukwa sums it up perfectly:
“The advertising world is constantly evolving with new creative and digital platforms. We have to stay ahead of that evolution, by being proactive and unafraid of challenges. Having said that, I see the advertising landscape as a dancefloor, a place where brands and consumers go toe-to-toe, a place where there’s nowhere to hide. We have to listen to, learn from, live with and love the consumer. Brands must learn to overcome evolutionary obstacles and that is MH’s new outlook on the world that we dance in.”
|mortimerharvey.com • Ramify
Sabrina Forbes (IG) is an experienced and published writer covering the food, health, lifestyle, beverage, marketing and media industries. She runs her own full-stack web/app development and digital-first content creation company. For more, go to moonwrench.com. She is a contributing writer to MarkLives.com.
“#AgencyFocus” is an ongoing weekly series updating the market on ad agency performance, including business performance, innovation, initiatives, the work, awards and people.
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