#AgencyFocus: Promise Group — creating the remarkable
by Sabrina Forbes. A small, seemingly inconsequential start — branding a coffee mug 13 years ago — turned a creative, ambitious duo into leaders of a team of 74, with offices just off the main artery that joins Sandton and Bryanston in Johannesburg. In 2005, Promise Group’s co-founders, Marc Watson (ECD) and James Moffatt (CEO) set out to create an agency led by a concept that’s still highly visible on its office walls. It’s simple but effective: “Come with remarkable, or don’t come at all.”
This 2017 Financial Mail AdFocus Medium Sized Agency of the Year has experienced impressive growth this year, a lot of it organic. Its May 2018 win of Castle Lite’s digital account enabled Promise to achieve more synergy overseeing the combined brand portfolio; it already held the Castle Lite BTL account when it won the multi-agency pitch. Other wins in 2018 include Bestmed and Hansa Golden Crisp (digital).
While the agency’s pitch ratio the past 15 months sits at 83%, the two still believe organic growth from existing clients is an important part of who they are and something they continue to pursue. “It’s been something we’re very good at,” shares Watson.
The team believes its ability to organically grow its accounts is one part having the right clients, and another part being so intrinsically involved in each client’s business that the transition to more work and the upselling of additional services seems natural. “We’re in a fortunate position where we have a lot of wonderful clients who allow us very close to their businesses,” says Watson.
“We do have a very open and authentic relationship with our clients,” adds Moffatt.
The agency’s move to becoming more involved in the deeper details of its clients’ businesses has allowed it to add a unique service offering to the mix, one that very few creative agencies have been able to get right. In November 2016, Verushen Reddy acquired a 26% equity holding in the Promise Group and joined the leadership team as the director of strategy and digital. His experience in data, eCRM, digital media, analytics, and digital strategy was the springboard for Promise’s shift to data.
“We take a consultancy approach with a lot of our clients and are starting to advise on things like business processes,” says Reddy. In addition, he explains that “agencies traditionally service clients only on their need for advertising. We work further up the vendor acquisition chain.”
In their minds, their offering isn’t much different from the likes of Deloitte or Accenture but is backed by a deeper understanding of creativity and decades of experience in the advertising game. What they’re aiming to do is identify where marketing plays in the bigger business picture while being involved in many of the decisions and strategies outside of the marketing/advertising loop.
When either pitching for work or dealing with existing clients, Promise aims to challenge its clients’ readiness for the future. “You have got to show there’s an agency out there that’s brave enough to challenge a client’s business model,” says Reddy.
Through research and insights into various audiences, Promise worked with Afrisam to develop new products based on the heavily data-driven outcomes of said research. “It allows us to advise them on what their product set should be, not just help them sell the products they define,” explains Reddy.
As expected, Promise is one of many agencies which has added ‘data’ to its list of services. It’s about “getting data ready for marketing use because now you’ve got to have real proof of concepts. When Promise talks data, we’re talking about unlocking the potential of data for our clients… data for us is a standalone service to our creative work,” says Reddy.
Data before creativity
For the agency, data comes before creativity. It uses data-driven insights to develop strategies and creative solutions, which gives the agency the opportunity to measure the results of its solutions in real time, shifting with agility as the need arises.
Promise has created a “lean in” culture when it comes to agency pitch work. According to Reddy, the approach to pitches has been culturally shifted to create a hunger and drive around creativity, with each member of staff competing to be involved in every pitch.
“We’ve turned being a part of a pitch into an achievement… the teams no longer look at pitches as just more work,” says Watson. As an agency that believes in idea meritocracy, he shares that “no one is too junior to have an idea or an opinion, or to make a real change.”
The leadership team of four men (Watson, Moffatt, Reddy plus Craig du Preez, the managing director) has also recently made the decision to expand exco and give more responsibility to upper management. In turn, there will be more opportunities for everybody to lean in.
Speaking about industry changes during the last decade, Moffatt notes that he’s seen the fragmentation of what agencies do into 1000 pieces instead of just a few. Procurement departments are now also more heavily involved in the decision-making processes but, unfortunately, still see agencies as service providers and not valued resources. “The offering of agencies has greatly diminished. We need to be the ideas [people] again, not solving technical issues,” says Reddy.
Is it the fault of the agencies themselves or just part of a continuous cyclical process? The jury’s still out. Creativity, especially, needs to find its place and relevance again. Reddy reminisces about when TV ads used to be an inspiring break between uninspiring content and adds how now “you’re forced to watch an advert in the middle of a Game of Thrones episode”.
Watson adds that there needs to be more-focused messaging on the unique platforms available — with content that is made for the platform specifically.
Unlike many other agencies, Promise stays away from using an on-demand work force and prefers to follow the more-traditional route of having all its staff full-time. For Watson, a disjointed team won’t truly understand the nuances of clients and the culture of the agency and clients’ businesses. “We come here every day and do this together,” he adds.
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|promisegroup.co.za • Ramify Premium
“#AgencyFocus” is an ongoing weekly series updating the market on ad agency performance, including business performance, innovation, initiatives, the work, awards and people.
Sabrina Forbes (IG) is an experienced 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.
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