A radical rock star wannabe, Pepe Marais, executive creative director of Joe Public, describes how, in retrospect, he sees himself in the early days of his advertising career. Over the past five years he has come to redefine himself, cleaning up his act, in his words, in step with the transformation of the agency he co-founded with business partner Gareth Leck.

Marais – and Joe Public – has gone looking for purpose, and he believes he and the Joe Public team has found it, by asking why. Why live life like we do, why do business as we do and, once an answer is found, what to do about the why?

Marais doesn’t give much away as to what initiated his personal quest for transformation – but a drive to find substance in life is a universal need, no matter what the trigger – and this may well have brought Marais to a point of introspection. Once found, of course, that quest for substance will permeate all aspects of life we deem significant. The business you helped found would definitely count in that category.

Leck and Marais initially launched Joe Public in Cape Town off the ‘take-away’ advertising concept – clients picked and paid standard rates for services from a menu – and, while successful, Marais says it wasn’t sustainable over the long run as the agency grew. Joe Public was later bought by FCB which merged it and its ‘second-agency brand’ sibling Azaguys in 2004. It also closed the Cape Town office.

Joe Public finally went independent again in 2009. Marais says the company could not be owned by others if it were really going to flourish. Being a ‘second-agency brand’ of another business was contradictory to where he and Leck wanted to go with the business, and they needed to lift the heavy hand that comes with being a subsidiary off the tiller to move ahead.

Two years of negotiations preceded the buy-out but, ultimately, it was decided by Leck and Marais that they would leave if negotiations were not going to succeed. That pretty much decided it. The duo got their wish. And they won’t be selling again, asserts Marais, who says they have refused two big networks already. At last week’s office-warming, Leck described the process as “taking our destiny into our own hands again’ and credits the move for creating ‘a great sense of possibility again’ at the agency.

As they took back control of the business, Team Joe Public started to ask serious questions about the purpose of their business. A series of staff workshops over the course of six months resulted in Joe Public defining three core purposes for the business: to grow the people that worked there, the people around them and their clients’ brands. So growth in many guises and not just financial.

It would form the foundation for their new positioning, Growthn (growth to the power of n), with n standing for a growth mindset that sees every opportunity and sees every setback as an opportunity to grow.

Today, Joe Public facilitates a process, ‘why digging’, with every willing client who looks for the core purpose of that business. It’s a process that helps brands step up to define what they really stand for. It is a process that contributed to helping vehicle tracking company Tracker transform from a product company to a service company, with a communication strategy aligned to the new business purpose, says Marais.

Marais ascribes Joe Public’s recent growth spurt to executives seeing the value of its Growthn strategic business proposition. Over the past three months, the company has added billings of over R90 million to the business after signing up Foodcorp (ATL), Cobra Taps and Incolabs (owners of Lipice and a host of other brands). The three companies own numerous FMCG brands between them.

Marais says his own and Leck’s hands on-approach and active engagement with clients have helped create the best work they have ever done, citing their work for Clover as an example of this. Their newfound financial responsibility (buying back an agency would do that to you) also translates to how they work with client budgets, says Marais.

Joe Public believes in building long-term relationships with clients; Marais says the strategies that Joe Public puts in place takes several years to work through, in any case. He questions the long-term objective of much of the work the industry produces – and clients buy into.

Much of the profit growth Joe Public is experiencing comes from work traditionally considered below the line, followed by retail and digital.

Leck says it’s a business he wants to keep on building; like Marais, he isn’t looking to sell again. He’s building a business he wants to leave to his kids someday – how many agency execs have you heard admit to that?

So Joe Public, and its founders, have asked themselves some tough questions, and found some real answers. For them, the journey to purpose equals Growthn. It’s personal, it’s business, it’s the basis, they hope, for something substantial, of purpose. In adland – how great is that?

“Growthexplained by Gareth Leck: ‘Growth to the power of n: where ‘n’ is the leverage; where ‘n’ captures the sense of possibilities we want to promote, not just normal growth, but growth to the power of n; and where ‘n’ ultimately stands for the growth mindset – the mindset that makes you see every opportunity, every single day, and every temporary setback as opportunities to learn and grow. The mindset that is required to create powerful ideas – ideas that will make a meaningful difference to our brands.'”

Bizcommunity Originally published on Marketing & Media | South Africa – click to see more comments.


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