by Herman Manson (@marklives) Charlie Stewart met Jakes Redelinghuys soon after Stewart, a Scot, and his South African-born wife moved to South Africa. Both men were dropping off kids at the local crèche.
Stewart helped Redelinghuys build up SuperVision, a creator and distributor of biometric applications. With new investors on board, the duo planned an exit strategy (they both prefer working for themselves) and a new digital agency called 2Stroke was born. For its first two years, 2Stroke would be a part-time gig while Stewart and Redelinghuys exited SuperVision.
Its initial focus was on web development but Stewart soon realised the business needed to differentiate itself. Drupal, an open-source content-management platform, offered the company a platform on which to build its specialised offering.
Drupal had already taken off in the US and Europe, and Stewart and Redelinghuys knew it was a matter of time before it spilled over onto SA shores. The strategy worked; today the agency, rebranded as Rogerwilco in 2014 (the name is derived from the classic two-way communication to confirm that a message has been received, understood — Roger — and will be complied with — Wilco), is a leading Drupal development agency in SA and employs nearly 30 people.
But, at the beginning, it was tough going: neither of the founders could pay the business the attention it deserved. They had also decided to base the business in Durbanville outside of Cape Town and initially recruiting new talent, who might live in Durbanville but did not necessarily want to work there as well, was an issue.
Having the last laugh
No matter, Rogerwilco is having the last laugh on that score, as Cape Town becomes progressively more congested, finding talent willing to stick around close to home has become much easier.
Having set itself up as Drupal specialists, the agency soon landed Media24 as a major client. It also started building out its SEO capacity (it’s a Google Partner). The SEO business is interesting in itself: it’s not simply about technical optimisation at Rogerwilco — it’s also about content.
To support usability, customer interaction and credibility with Google itself, Rogerwilco has built up a custom-content team that works closely with its search optimisation team. Stewart says most content on the internet is crap, and Google is getting better and better at filtering this down in its search results. Google doesn’t like content that’s been replicated from other sources, so creating your own content makes sense — as long as it adds value to end-users (and not just SEO rankings).
Design, photography and video
The content division is being built up from text to include design, photography and video. It’s on the ecommerce side where custom content offers another real advantage to clients. Stewart says lots of ecommerce plays simply copy and paste manufacturer-supplied content, both images and text, on their sites. As we’ve already established, Google doesn’t like replication, and usually this content contains no call to action for consumers.
While content and SEO are a good growth market for Rogerwilco, Drupal and engineering complex content platforms remain the primary focus of the business:
- For NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development), the agency set up geo-spacial technology to highlight the location and inter-dependencies between large infrastructural projects funded by the AU.
- For The University of Cape Town (UCT), it built a central content-management system and admin dashboard that managed all 550 individual UCT websites, ensuring they comply to UCT policies, security, procedures, processes, roles and responsibilities and frameworks.
- Associated Media is one of a number of publishers Rogerwilco advised on SEO. The agency provided detailed guidance to help the company move a number of its sites, including Cosmopolitan, to a new platform in late 2014.
Says Stewart, “Part of the advice was around mitigating traffic loss during the move while the bulk of the effort went into planning the new sites’ architecture to make it easier for search engines to crawl and pinpoint what the various content pages were about and why they were relevant to people’s searches.”
Six months after the move, Cosmo’s organic search traffic is up 116%.
According to Stewart, the benefit of specialisation is critical to the success of Rogerwilco. While other agencies consolidate to win accounts, Rogerwilco has been able to pitch on and win big brand projects because of its specialist knowledge. These brands include Sanlam, Wesbank, Sage and Red Bull.
Rogerwilco recently moved into office space previously occupied by Mark Shuttleworth (not the garage, the two joke). Culture is important and the agency offers weekly massages, yoga classes and regular visits by health professionals that advise individual staffers on healthy living. Rogerwilco is not a sweat shop and Stewart will defend the healthy lifestyle of team members. Churn is relatively low compared to the the rest of adland, he says.
Stewart, fresh from the UK, and Redelinghuys, an engineer rather than an adman, didn’t have entry points into the market when they launched, so they did a lot of small jobs for small businesses when they started out. It taught the agency the value of return on investment by holding it accountable to small business owners (people who really feel when money leaves their back pockets).
The agency still services some of those original small businesses; Stewart says he hasn’t found anyone he would trust sufficiently to hand them over to. Three of the five clients signed in its first year of operation (1998/9) are still with Rogerwilco.
The rebrand from 2Stroke came about because the partners felt that the market saw the agency as an unsexy production house, compromising their ability to build a brand, secure big brand projects and their ability to hire staff. It meant the business often had to compete on price — a slippery slope, says Stewart. But it was also a reflection of its growth.
“By 2014 we’d been in business for six years and had outgrown those awkward ‘teenage’ years that emerging companies go through — our team had expanded to 30 or so faces; our clients were increasingly looking to us for consultancy and advice, rather than just production; we were winning awards; we’d moved into sparkly new offices,” says Stewart. “We’d turned from the duckling into the swan and felt that the time was right for us to put on some new plumage.”
The rebrand has helped reposition the agency with a more-strategic orientation. In 2014, revenue grew by a third, as did the group’s headcount.
Herman Manson (@marklives) is the founder and editor of MarkLives.com.
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