M2: Independence Day For NZ Business

An interview with the new Managing Director of Stanley St, Ian Rodney. Published in M2 Magazine, September 2019, Written by Editor Andre Rowell.

stanley st building auckland

For a while it seemed like success was all about building a global empire. Of course, there are some benefits to scale but not necessarily if you are a creative agency tuned into the nuances of a local audience.

So when the news came out recently that Ogilvy New Zealand’s Managing Director, Greg Partington had purchased WPP AUNZ’s shares in Ogilvy New Zealand, renaming it Stanley St, it might have seemed like a step backwards in terms of that whole global empire thing, but it means that clients get a more “New Zealand-centric” offering. This is of course important when you are talking to a New Zealand audience.

As well as a name change, there are also some fundamental elements that really deepen that local offering. This includes a unique inhouse cultural consultancy offering ‘Tātou’, which means ‘all of us’ in Te Reo Māori, and a project which will create a portal for enabling people of unique work experience & cultural backgrounds to enter the local industry alongside a focus on data, technology and behavioural science. And to lead this big local vision is the newly appointed MD, Ian Rodney, who shares with us the future of this newly independent agency.

Ian Rodney

Can you talk through the transition to the new brand, Stanley St?

Outside of the logo and the email signatures, this has been a change which was a long time coming. This has been 8-10 months of negotiation to try and get this across the line. Global advertising agency holding companies buy agencies all the time. It’s very, very rare that they sell agencies. So this was quite a big one to get across the line, not an easy feat by any means.
We are stoked to be able to achieve it and move from being globally-owned, back to being independent. It’s quite a big move and is going against the trend, which we quite like.

It’s not necessarily anti-group, or anti-holding company. It’s more of a best of both worlds situation where there’s a lot to be gained from being part of a group and there’s a lot of operational insights and learnings that come from that.

But now, we’ve got all those operational insights, we’ve got those learnings, we’ve got those systems and processes and now can go independent. This gives us the freedom to plot our own course, to differentiate, to move with the pace of what is an ever-changing market and be a bit more agile.

Can you talk about some of the dynamics around the why and the how of this transition?

It was a bit of perseverance on our side to try and get it across the line. We wanted to bring the brand home. We wanted to launch a brand which resonated and was a better reflection of our identity.

Local companies don’t get sold very often because they generally stay in the group. It was definitely going against the trend and it wasn’t an easy one, but with a bit of perseverance, we managed to get it across the line in the end.

What would the difference have been to just start something new up?

The company’s MD, Greg Partington, has been in the space for about 40 years and has been here at our offices in Stanley St for the past 15 years. We’ve been working with Briscoes Group for about 35 years, so we have long relationships with these clients. The clients value the work we do with them. 

There is an existing relationship, there is an existing team, and we are very proud of what’s been built here.

The intention was to take back control of the company and move forward in the direction that we want to move towards, with a brand that is a better reflection of who we feel that we are and what we feel we have to offer.

It seems to be a more New Zealand-centric offering.

We’ve seen a bit of a trend in the past while towards localisation. I’m originally from South Africa and I’ve got an outsider’s perspective. New Zealanders have their own sense of humour, they appreciate things in their own way. Ultimately, globally there’s a shift towards personalisation and people want content and experiences that resonate with them.

We do work with a lot of global brands and we’ve seen an increasing trend towards localisation. It’s not just repurposing global content. These are global brands creating local content for local audiences to ensure relevance and cut through.

We have specifically seen a trend towards localisation, as a couple of the brands that we work with have moved towards a local approach. We started to see those brands flourish as they better connect with local audiences in a truly Kiwi way. That writing has been on the wall for a while and now we have the ability to go with that and create a local identity, a 100 percent New Zealand-owned company.

We’re proudly New Zealand-owned, and the profits stay in the country. A lot of agencies are ultimately in New Zealand and are doing work for New Zealand brands, but a big part of that differentiator for us is some of the cultural work that we do.

About two years ago, we launched a brand called Tātou, which means ‘all of us’ in Te Reo Maori. That was a reflection of our desire to start creating more culturally authentic work. We are seeing more demand for that work. We moved into that space organically with a lot of our work with rebranding New Zealand Police, and we formed Tātou.

Tātou essentially comprises of several internal and external cultural advisors, who are able to add in a cultural lense to the work that the agency is already doing. Everything from creative, to content production, to media and strategy; at all stages, we are sense checking cultural competency to ensure an accurate, authentic and respectful product for audiences in a personalised and meaningful way.

"We wanted to bring the brand home. We wanted to launch a brand which resonated and was a better reflection of our identity."

From the media industry, I can see that there has been this really big shift towards globalisation of content. Do you think it is going to be up to more brands to take the mantle of that and hold on to that local piece?

These brands need to differentiate in some way and there is a trend leaning towards global, so how do you stand out? I think the more you can speak to individuals as individuals, in a personalised way, in a way that resonates with them, in a way that connects with them, the more relevant your brand will be.

People want connections with brands, they want brands to stand for something, they want brands to have an opinion. Especially in the age of social media, people are connecting and engaging with these brands like never before.

Ultimately, my view is the more relevant that brands can be, and the more connected they can be to the local community, the better it will engage that local audience. That will be harder and harder the more globalisation takes place, but the more something is globalised, the less relevant it might be. It might be harder to connect and it also becomes harder for local brands to stand out.

If we are, as an economy, shipping a whole lot of products around the world, it’s those stories and our connection with indigenous culture that becomes part of our unique selling proposition or brand story.

Most definitely. It’s not that because we are focused on local, that we are only thinking local. It’s thinking global, acting local. How do we help the local brands tell their story at a global level? We’ve seen some great examples of this, even recently, with the BP Thank You Button. This is a campaign that was thought about locally, in conjunction with their mission statement of ‘Everyday Brighter’. We manifested that in a way that was for this audience, locally.

That was around research of Kiwi’s and their habits being courteous on the road, or potentially not being courteous. We developed this innovative product, which is quite different for us; an agency creating products and an experience. We had these products developed and shipped around the country.

 

The response has been absolutely phenomenal locally, and more importantly, the response has been massive globally, to the extent where BP in other regions and markets would like to know more about this product. That’s quite exciting to produce something locally, that is now getting attention globally.

Do you feel that the relationship between an agency and a brand has changed and evolved?

It has to evolve. That is a big part of this drive towards independence is that it allows you to evolve at the pace of the ever changing market. The reality is, as we are talking, your kids are watching Netflix, you are watching Netflix. With digital disruption, audiences are fragmented. There is more and more pressure from brands to connect with these audiences through multiple means and multiple channels. You need to be a lot more agile and disruptive and connect the brands with the communities which they wish to engage with.

That’s very relevant and that’s a big reason why we wanted to make this move; to keep up with that demand for new ways to reach ever fragmented audiences.

Where do you get your content from? What do you watch and consume?

Little bit of everything. I’ve got kids so it might go from a business book one night, to Dr. Seuss the next night. I listen to podcasts on the ferry on the way into work. I consume quite a bit of content via social. I use social as a bit of a filter, following certain people and brands that resonate with me as a filter for market content that is out there on the internet.

I rely on my peers and colleagues, we try and share a lot of content and presentations with each other. I’m just quite hungry for content from whatever source. With the M2 Success Summit recently, those sorts of opportunities are always good to get some outside perspectives.

stanley st team

How do you describe yourself as a leader?

I’m definitely quite hands-on. I come from a hospitality background, so I’m very much a people person. I’m pretty good at working with people and exceptional at handling complaints. I can make a pretty decent cappuccino.

Ultimately, it’s really about helping people achieve success. I saw a quote many years ago that defined success as helping others to achieve. That’s stuck with me over the years and has formed my style around mentorship and helping to grow those around you. I’m a firm believer that if you learn something, that’s only 50 percent there. Learn something, but then come back and teach someone else. That for me, is 100 percent.

If someone wants to go to a conference or go to an event, that’s amazing, that one person can go. But if they can come back and share that with 100 people, that exponential knowledge is very powerful. I’m a firm believer in helping others to achieve success and growing everyone collectively.

Along with that, we run a business and profit is a big part of that. I’m always a firm believer that profitability is a by-product of happy people. That’s happy staff and happy clients. We need to enjoy what we do, we spend a lot of time, often more time, working with our colleagues than we do with our families. We need to have strong values, get on well with each other, and have mutually respectful working relationships and do good work.

That sounds good, but sometimes it’s hard to look at that when you’re looking at the books and you’re working with payroll.

Most definitely. It’s a vision, it’s kind of like the holy grail of where you want to be. But it is a good thing to be measuring yourself against and sense checking yourself against. It’s quite important to just keep that in mind. Yes, you want to be achieving profit but you want to, where possible, try and do that with really happy teams and happy clients. Reassess that from time to time and make sure it is working that way. And if it’s not, what changes can you make to get it there?

What are some of the things that you take into account in terms of that happiness factor?

It’s down to having good relationships with your employees and having good relationships with your clients. Being able to have open and honest conversations.

I’m a big believer in “good service” is what the clients think it is. Having those regular check-ins with them to ask, ‘How are we doing? How are we getting on? Where can we improve?’ I came from a meeting five minutes before [this interview] where the conversation was ‘Where are the gaps? Where are we not fulfilling? How can we fill that?’

Ultimately, it just comes down to really good relationships with the employees and clients and understanding if things are going wrong, if things can be fixed, where can we fix them? Be agile around making those changes. It needs to be intentional, you need to be actively seeking out that information and making changes off the back of it.

Does happiness work hand in hand with a high performance culture? Or is there some compromise within that?

I think so. I would like to think that we can be busy and we can be productive, but we can still be happy at the same time. Agencies are a busy environment and we work under time pressures. We’re always trying to do our best work, which does present challenges.

But I think if you’re enjoying the work you’re doing, if you’re enjoying the team that you’re working with, people are quite happy to put in hours to get it done, if it means a better output at the end of the day.

Do you have a good work-life balance?

Yeah, I do. I have two young kids and I spend a lot of time with them. I try not to work on the weekends too much. If I need to, I get it done in the evenings after they’ve gone to bed.

I’m very happy with my work-life balance. It’s also helped by the fact that I live in Gulf Harbour, so I have an hour on the ferry before I get home. It is quite good to wrap up some work, listen to some podcasts, let go of the day and then arrive home ready to be a good husband and dad.

"I’m always a firm believer that profitability is a by-product of happy people. That’s happy staff and happy clients."

Do you find it hard sometimes to switch off and to let things go when you get home?

Yeah, it can be quite difficult. If there is something big happening at the agency, that’s going to sit with you. You’re going to be thinking about that.

The other thing is what we do doesn’t turn off. There’s always new ideas, there’s always opportunity for proactivity, there’s new ways of helping clients meet their business objectives. If you’re passionate about the clients you work on, that’s something that’s going to be on your mind.

If you’re someone like me who doesn’t settle very easily and something is broken, that’s going to bother me. It means I’m pretty good at DIY at home and it means I’m pretty good at fixing things in the office and making sure things are right. It can be difficult.

Without sounding like a cliche, I enjoy what I do. I’m quite passionate about it. So it doesn’t really bother me to be thinking about this while I’m out on my jetski fishing. It’s on my mind and that’s a good thing and that’s where some of the best ideas will come from.

In terms of performance and culture and the business side of things, are there challenges within the creative world as well? Are there just a lot of crazy creatives running around?

I think there will always be a little bit of craziness in all agencies, not necessarily just from the creatives. If you’ve ever been in a creative environment, you’ll know they’re filled with entrepreneurial, risk takers, ideas people, and freethinkers, they’re a fun bunch to work with. It’s always a fun and interesting environment, no two days are the same. But equally, it’s amazing putting people like that together and giving them a brief that challenges them and seeing what they come back with. It’s amazing when that challenge and free thought and entrepreneurial spirit is put to use in good ways.

How would you describe the New Zealand psyche from your perspective?

There have been a few interesting learnings. Tall Poppy Syndrome is not something I was familiar with before arriving in New Zealand, but seems to be quite prevalent. It was quite a surprising one for me because New Zealanders are a very proud nation, so Tall Poppy didn’t really sit well with that.

I was quite surprised when I first arrived in the country, by the lack of diversity, especially in the advertising space. Coming from South Africa, diversity is first and foremost. From 10 years doing digital communications and marketing in South Africa, only once was I ever the target customer.

We are continually thinking about the audience that we are trying to engage with, so a lot of diversity comes through that. South Africa has multiple official languages.

I was quite surprised by the lack of diversity, especially coming through in the advertising in New Zealand. It’s something I’m quite passionate about and would like to see it done a little bit better as we move forward.

Are you seeing that shift?

It’s something that Ogilvy, as the agency previously, did quite well and we’ll continue to champion that as Stanley St. Epecially through our cultural offering, Tātou, it does bring it front of mind, which is quite nice. I’ve been quite pleasantly surprised, especially with that perception since joining the agency, to see that that is quite front of mind. It was quite a pleasant surprise.

You would think it would make commercial sense to have a team who was coming up with the creative or strategy, or whatever, to be reflective of the target market.

Most definitely. In an ideal world, you’d have a very diverse workforce and I think it’s always nice to get those cultural insights from people from within that culture. Where we’ve lacked it in the past, we’ve used cultural advisers which have been very useful.

One of the initiatives that we are looking at launching as part of moving to Stanley St and becoming independent, is an internship programme for young Māori and Pasifika students. We acknowledge that we want more diversity in our skillset. As I mentioned, Tātou has been this cultural lens which sits above the work, I want that now to permeate through into the work.

It’s not just cultural advisors who are sense checking work, I would love to see some Māori and Pasifika students coming up through the business, increasing our diversity, increasing our skillset, increasing our cultural capability and this programme is intended to try and help us on that journey.

It’s quite an exciting thing for us. We’ve been spending quite a lot of time thinking about how we can give back. We want to say we are proudly a New Zealand business, by New Zealand, for New Zealand; but what does that actually mean? When you ask us, is there substance behind that? We want there to be substance behind that.

We’ve been thinking about how we can give back and what that looks like. Something that resonated with me was this nurture programme that we’ve been looking to at the moment. We will launch it when we figure out the details and make sure we do that in an effective way. I think it’ll be a great way to give back and a great way to see more Māori and Pasifika skills in this industry, which are quite hard to find at the moment.

We’ll reach out to a few people who are experts in this space and have done this before. We’ll seek some advice and counsel and then have a look at putting this programme together. I think that’ll be an amazing way to acquire talent for the business long term.

Your best employees are going to be people who have come up through the agency, grown with the agency and come on that journey. Long term, that provides benefits for the individuals who will get a great opportunity and learn a lot. It’ll provide massive benefits for our clients because we’d love to put these individuals to work for these clients and their projects. And I think it’ll be a great thing for the agency.

There’s obviously a really nice feel-good factor that we are doing something that’s really good for New Zealand, but it’ll also be a great source of talent for us. It’s a win-win all around.

 

"I would love to see some Māori and Pasifika students coming up through the business, increasing our diversity, increasing our skillset, increasing our cultural capability and this programme is intended to try and help us on that journey."

Can you talk about Stanley St’s investment in data, technology, and behavioural science, as part of your future approach?

Again, that’s an opportunity that’s been provided through our new found independence. Mergers and acquisitions are quite hard when ownership sits elsewhere. Being independent and being 100 percent locally-owned gives us an opportunity to start looking at mergers and acquisitions.

Greg Partington, who has been the Managing Director for many years, has now moved to Director of Stanley St Holdings, which is the holding company which owns the agency. His sole focus is going to be around mergers and acquisitions to try and bolster some of the skills that we already have. The areas that we’re going to be looking at is data analytics, CRM and digital marketing automation.

Our feeling here is that we don’t want to change fundamentally who we are. We work with multiple clients, we’re doing good work in that area, so we don’t want to completely change overnight. But how do we evolve that? How do we future proof our offer? How do we remain relevant? How do we help these brands find new ways to reach these fragmented audiences?

A couple of the things that we are already very good at is that we have a very strong internal media team, not too many people know that, especially for a creative agency, we have a very large internal media team. We have a very strong creative team and we have massive production capabilities. From working for this many years in the retail space, which is fast-moving, with the likes of Briscoes Group, we’ve ended up with quite enviable internal production capability.

We’re looking at how we can play to our strengths; we’ve got this media, we’ve got this creative, we’ve got this production. How can we bring on things like data analytics, CRM and marketing automation that would see us create a new media solution, embracing data, content and technology to meet clients’ always-on needs? How do we take that content and make it digital and always-on? That’s the area that we’ll be focusing on moving forward.

What would that look like moving forward?

It’s really a move towards content. Content is not necessarily TV commercials. Content could be short social media posts, digital banners, it could go through any different channels. It’s really a channel agnostic approach.

Through any of these media channels, we can reach these audiences, but how do we create this content in an always-on, real-time environment to keep it relevant and be more agile?

It’s really just shortening lead times, with more low-cost content, a big focus on storytelling and being a lot more agile and a lot quicker.

Have you noticed with the rise of digital and analytics, has that changed expectations around the performance of marketing?

Yes, most definitely. But I think that’s a good thing. It’s massively powerful for both brands and agencies to have access to that sort of data and analytics. There’s a lot of investment that goes into the campaigns and the work that we do and we want to see the best return possible.

That kind of data and analytics allows us to adjust campaigns inflight and adjust work inflight to make sure we are getting the best return. And secondly, we can learn from the campaigns that we do, so that next time we do something, we are that much better.

Do you see that there are certain mediums that do well at different times?

There are some trends like. Ultimately, it’s really about what works best for the client. I think some agencies might be fixed to a certain channel because that’s where they focus on.

What I quite like about a full-service agency is that it’s more around finding the right channel that’s going to be the best fit for your client and the audience that they’re trying to speak to. Our capabilities allow for that.

I’m sure there are channels that might be performing really well at the moment, but ultimately it’s about finding the right channel for that audience.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Don’t make your complexity your customers problem. I think too many brands get this wrong. Brands are complex these days, they have multiple divisions, multiple departments, and they assume their customers will understand that.

Customers see you as one brand. They want you to have one voice, they want things to be seamless. When they phone your call centre, they don’t care which department, they just want it to be easy.

Too often, we make our own complexity our customer's problem, and it shouldn’t be. They just want a seamless experience. That’s the best piece of advice I’ve been given.

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