by Herman Manson (@marklives) Be ready for a host of new start-up agencies in the South African market, says Ben Wren, co-founder of one of the newest, Area 213. According to him, the market opens up every couple of years as the local market goes through a period of acquisitions by global networks.

The networks vacuum up the medium-sized agencies to merge with their own and create agency plays with scale. The existing smaller agencies combine to leapfrog into the medium plays (Bletchly Park and OFyt is one recent example, with more announcements to come), which in turn opens up the market for new start-ups.

Area 213 logoAgency-entrepreneur

Wren launched his first agency,  Aloha Advertising,  in 2002, aged 28, and sold it four years later. In South Africa, he co-founded 60 Layers of Cake (since merged with The Jupiter Drawing Room) before a (very) brief stint at OwenKessel (now OwenKessel Leo Burnett). In 2013, he joined Trigger/Isobar as group managing director.

Wren has partnered with Candice Whisgary, who joins Area 213 as general manager. Whisgary served as account director at Bletchley Park, group account director at Quirk, and client service director at Isobar SA.

The name Area 213 came from Wren looking at the names of some of the best innovation labs  in the world, where he noticed that the word ‘area’ defines innovation, tech and pushing boundaries; a number sometimes follows:

  • Area 3 is the home of adidas Style
  • Amazon Lab126 is a research and development company that designs and engineers high-profile consumer electronic devices such as the Kindle family of products
  • Area 51 (possibly) supports development and testing of experimental aircraft and weapons systems…

SA no. 213

When he looked up the alphabetical list of all the countries in the world, South Africa was no. 213.

Wren promises that the agency will underpin creative ideas with technology and innovation. Area 213 offers a through-the-line solution but digital sits at its heart, he says, who credits his time at Trigger/Isobar for transforming his career away from being just another ATL guy.

Ben Wren
Ben Wren

He offers four competitive advantages for Area 213. The agency focuses upon insight and understanding a client’s customers. To this effect, it has partnered with research company WhyFive. Whisgary says that showing commitment upfront by investing in customer research helps build trust and confidence in a new agency.

Looking for people

Wren promises a truly integrated agency — both his and Whisgary’s backgrounds have seen them work at both TTL agencies and digital specialists. Wren will be looking for people with backgrounds in both to join the agency. The results, he believes, will be smaller teams for integrated campaigns, freed from agency silos and presents a cost-saving to clients.

Area 213 is also setting money aside to actively invest in ecommerce start-ups; Wren and Whisgary are pro-actively approaching ecommerce business as investors. As partners, they bring both cash and communications expertise into these businesses, while staying at the cutting-edge of ecommerce technology. It’s a long-term play intended to add value to both Area 213 and the ecommerce businesses they invest in [it’s also putting their money where their mouths are — ed].

Wren promises to build partnerships with clients. He believes agencies have lost the trust of clients by forcing ‘solutions’ onto them that bolsters the agency’ bottom line (read TV ad), without really taking into account what would make the most sensible solution for the client. Being in his 40s has given him a different perspective on business and business relationships, says Wren, who promises integrity rather than a short-term focus on cash.

Candice Whisgary
Candice Whisgary

Project work

Wren acknowledges that the large agencies are doing a lot right. He intends to prove his agency’s mettle through project work — proving to clients that what it offers is what they want and need.

Area 213 launched 1 February 2015 with no clients, and Wren and Whisgary are currently on a business-acquisition drive. Wren expects to steer the new agency onto ‘stable’ territory over the course of the next 12 months.

According to Whisgary, the possible clients on whose doors they have knocked are receptive and supportive, indicating that there is space in the market for new, innovative shops. For Whisgary, innovation also means clever, low-cost solutions, rather than expensive gadgetery.

The year of new agency start-ups

Wren predicts 2015 will be the year of new agency start-ups. Technology has changed the agency environment and allows for a new breed of integrated, tech-savvy and innovative agencies to emerge.

Client frustration with agency mergers (costs, renewed focus on profit margins, staff churn) also has the potential to put a lot of new business on the market.

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