by Herman Manson (@marklives) It’s been a little over two years since Rob McLennan and Graeme Jenner teamed up with King James Group to launch full-service startup ad agency, King James II, in Johannesburg.
Starting of a base with zero clients, the agency today has four partners (including managing partner, Charles Matterson, and strategy partner, Lesego Kotane) and employs 25 people. Revenue is somewhere between R20 and 30 million. It’s turned its first profit one year into trading.
Come of age
According to McLennan, the agency finally feels like it has come of age — graduating with a strong client base, including the SABC commercial business (SABC3 and its commercial radio stations such as 5FM, MetroFM, Radio 2000, SAFM, Lotus FM and Goodhope FM).
Altech, Garmin, MAN Trucks South Africa, University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and iStore are all the list, too, plus King James II recently signed Mrs Ball’s Chutney (Tiger Brands) and deodorant brand Status (Tiger Brands).
The agency is making it onto pitch lists and recently moved into its new headquarters in a 110-year-old heritage manor house in Parktown, shared with Atmosphere, Punk and Society, the PR, digital and social media agencies of the King James Group.
The move allowed the agency to actively formulate its internal culture, which McLennan describes as “less corporate and more like a family”. The management team breakfasts together on Monday mornings in the kitchen that’s been converted into a boardroom.
Non-traditional, flexible approach
The agency takes a non-traditional, flexible approach to solving clients problems, says McLennan, and a lot of the work the agency does would be considered non-traditional.
An early challenge the new agency faced was establishing an identity in the marketplace, independent of King James in Cape Town.
Both agencies operate independently from one another, although King James Group — which has a shareholding in both — provides King James II with certain backend services such as finance and HR. The agency can also tap into the integrated group offering. It keeps the agency nimble but with well-established backing.
After two years, says McLennan, clients are coming to King James II directly because they have built up a decent portfolio of work.
When they set up the agency, McLennan and Jenner jokingly referred to themselves as “two men and a teacup”, referring to a time when they had little else to do but to sit and drink tea while waiting for possible clients to call them back. Three weeks in, they pitched against FCB on the Altech Autopage business — and won. Their first campaign aired three weeks later.
This win provided both a financial and a confidence boost to the startup team. Next followed the SABC and Wits. Now the agency needs to make sure it can scale to handle larger accounts in a sustainable way.
It definitely feels like a ‘real’ agency now, opines McLennan, especially after its move to its own premises. It suddenly feels permanent and settled.
Culturally, the agency operates as a bit of a dysfunctional family, he quips. Work focuses upoon creativity realising business results.
He hopes King James II will emulate the creative and financial success achieved by King James in Cape Town. It is busy establishing itself as a strong standalone agency — not merely a satellite of the Cape Town business — and is adding to the group’s strengths.
Herman Manson (@marklives) is the founder and editor of MarkLives.com.
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