King James gets Unconventional


King James website

When Alistair King and James Barty founded their very well regarded agency King James ten years ago they agreed it was going to be an unconventional venture. They set out building King James sideways, expanding into digital, eventing and public relations amongst others, and now the group is pushing into book and magazine publishing.

The group recently partnered with Shaun Johnson to launch a new book publishing house and has bought a substantial stake in pop magazine One Small Seed. It’s not a gimmick either. Alistair, who sat down with MarkLives to discuss the new ventures, insists that the business aims to transform how books, especially fiction is published in SA. He is currently investigating alternative printing methods, packaging formats, pricing models and distributions channels. In March next year the group will publish the South African PEN, a collection of short stories, followed by a collection of South African literature. He hints that the collection of short stories might reveal the talent he requires for building a stable of new South African writers.

One Small Seed is the first magazine King James has bought into. Alistair believes the pop culture title will allow his agency a window into the world of pop culture. Forget about focus groups – he is plugging his agency into the cutting edge. Further investments will be announced in the months ahead to build critical mass and to ensure the new ventures contribute to the bottom line of the King James Group.

Taking an ad agency into media ownership might sound odd to many executives but Alistair explains it wasalistair king from king james born from a personal and professional need not to come stuck in a single medium and from frustration with the general state of the ad industry. Tired of being forced to grow at breakneck speed and to win the maximum number of awards possible or risk being described as losing its edge the group decided not to pitch for any accounts in 2007. Instead the focus shifted to building relationships with employees and customers. “I wanted to build a more sustainable business and a happier agency,” says Alistair.

The results has been dramatic, with the agency becoming one of the most awarded in the country this year (for achievement with real client accounts, he notes). Business is growing at a speed that suits the group, and so is its people.

Alistair’s belief in multiple careers is driving the business to look beyond the obvious niches an ad agency could expand into. His privately owned record label has produced eight records to date. The expanded King James is exciting enough to keep him in the business, provides King James with access to a diverse group of people, and adds color to the agency. Time will tell how media ownership impacts on the group. In the meantime life at King James just got a lot more interesting – not to mention creative.

By Herman Manson, Follow us on Twitter!


Published by Herman Manson is edited by Herman Manson. Follow us on Twitter -

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