The days of smothering the broader market with a marketing message are over. The tactic that Glen Condie’s firm Maverick Communication has so successfully taken by the horns calls for a more active approach. He talks to AMANDA GOME.
Glen Condie is 35 years old and started his marketing agency Maverick Marketing and Communications in 2000. The company is now turning over $9 million a year.
Glen (pictured right) shares with Amanda Gome the story of his company’s genesis and growth.
Amanda Gome: Are you maverick? How did you come up with the name and how did you get started?
Glen Condie: I was doing an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald and was asked about the work we do and kind of ideas we came up with, and I used the term maverick and I liked it so much that I renamed the business.
The niche you saw?
The average Australian sees 240 thirty-second TV ads a week, and I don’t remember any from last week, so we thought there must be more innovative ways to distribute messages to consumers out there. So this is why we came up with the concept of a non-traditional agency that would use ambush marketing and guerrilla marketing and experiential marketing and event-based marketing to distribute messages – to engage consumers at a deeper level than the sort of more passive media such as TV where it’s a one-way communication.
At the start did you have to convince clients that this was the way to go?
Good question. Early on, a lot of knocking on doors. I mean you’re trying to carve out a whole new area with no results, no runs on the board. So there’s a lot of knocking on doors and trying to get clients to take a punt and take a few risks.
Nowadays, they beat down our doors. We haven’t had to go out and try and win or try and knock on doors for a long time now, and I think that that’s because we’ve done a lot of great work. We’ve got a lot of credibility. We work both within Australia as well as around the world. I’ve been paid to do speeches in India, the United States, Europe. I’m on my way to do one in Toronto at the moment…
What do you talk about?
Youth marketing, non-traditional marketing, ways of engaging consumers outside the bounds of traditional or what you would traditionally do as a marketer. There’s a lot of demand. I mean I even lectured the Prime Minister’s office in Canberra on youth marketing, on understanding young people.
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Why don’t they understand, and what do most people need to understand about young people?
Teenagers have been the same right through the ages. Young people… don’t talk at them, talk to them and the nature of… particularly Government… is they lecture them. They talk at them, they don’t engage them in conversations and they don’t tend to try and understand the issues that face them. Take the time to understand that and engage them in conversations.
And how would that translate into a marketing campaign?
We’ve just done a national music event tour where we do music festivals for up to 8000 kids for the Malibu brand. You’ll go to them, bring them some of the finest music acts from around the world, make it a free event. Make prices reasonably good so they can come along, they can immerse themselves in a terrific experience, and being that they know it’s bought to them by Malibu that rubs off.
I mean these kids are savvy. They understand that their time, their attention and their eyeballs are worth something to marketers, so if you want to trade with them, you’ve got to give them something. Give them a great experience.
What’s been the most successful guerrilla campaign you’ve done and who did you do it for?
We launched Big Brother. In about 2003 not many people knew about Big Brother the TV program. We built a whole bunch of mobile radio transmitters and we put them underneath all the bridges on the eastern seaboard, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Tullamarine Bridge etc. and we enabled them to break into FM frequency bands.
So I’ll use myself as an example. I live in Manly in Sydney. I’m driving down Spit Hill on a Monday morning at 7:30. My radio’s tuned to Triple J and I’m listening to a song. Suddenly hit the bridge, all the music on my radio stops and all I hear is ‘Hey you on the Spit Bridge, do you ever get the feeling you’re being watched? Big Brother’s watching you.’ And then I drive off the bridge and the radio goes back to normal.
How much did that cost? That would have been incredibly expensive.
It cost them about $25,000.
You’re kidding! Is it much cheaper doing guerrilla marketing and ambush marketing?
It depends on the scale of course, like anything. One of the things is when you carpet bomb you spend a lot of money, but when you smart bomb you spend less. You spend less time thinking about what you’re going to do, and don’t just approach things by trying to smother everybody, and traditional marketers often take that approach to television. ‘The more ratings I buy, the more ads I put on TV, the more successful my campaign will be.’ You know, that’s not true.
Isn’t that changing though now? Aren’t advertisers really starting to niche with advertisers asking ‘who is my audience?’. Isn’t that becoming a lot more sophisticated?
They are getting more sophisticated, which is terrific. But you know what? There’s still the old adage that no Unilever brand manager ever got fired for making a television ad, but it is changing. You’re absolutely right. And one of the things I like to say is that nowadays companies are starting to realise that the ones that don’t take risks are the ones taking the greatest risks.
What do you see changing in your industry, in marketing? What are the trends?
The beauty of the digital age is that we can move messages to market incredibly quickly. We can collect data from them quickly and we can engage them quickly. If we were doing a music event, we ticket it online. We provide information online, we do so many things on a digital platform and I’ve actually…
I’ve been a judge last year up at the Cannes Festival in France, and what I did was I spent four days with 16 different judges from all around the world looking at the best work in the world, and let me tell you, some of the greatest thinking is coming from that digital platform because the digital platform, when you get your head around that, it’s more [tactile].
It’s quicker to market, so it allows you a greater scope of creativity in terms of being able to react quicker and engage quicker, so I really think that finally the digital platforms are delivering the hype that probably we saw a lot of before the bubble burst in 2000.
And what are the new things you’ve seen on the digital platform?
I’m not so interested in the technology as what the technology delivers. Do you know what? I just do a music festival, I cut a music clip and I can get it to a million people on YouTube within a week. And that means I don’t have to pay a TV station and I don’t have to do any of those sorts of things.
The monopoly of broadcast media has been taken away from the broadcasters. Between MySpace and YouTube I can build communities of people, I can message them, I can show them music videos, I can show them things at a much quicker, cheaper timeframe than I ever could before.
How are you working with digital platforms for business clients?
All the customers that we work with, whether it be a Telstra, whether it be that whole brand or any other brand, they are interested in distributing messages to markets as quickly and efficiently as possible.
What are you doing with Telstra at the moment?
We did a lot of work with BigPond. Things like music events and brand experience, launch of the wireless broadband. Telstra was this big old slow moving thing, but they’ve realised they’ve got to move in there. It’s supposed to be progressive, technology-based, and certainly the BigPond end of it is much more progressive and much more savvy than you would ever expect of a company like Telstra.
What are some of the mistakes when you’re looking at business advertising that you see? Apart from using the old media and the traditional way you talked about, what do businesses need to be doing in the marketing space?
Not treating consumers like idiots. They really are (doing that). So often there’s this arrogance of knowing better than these people know themselves. Forget about everything else and come up with a great creative idea that can engage people.
How do you do that? How do you come up with really good creative ideas that are fresh all the time?
It’s difficult. It’s the cornerstone of our business and making that puts a lot of pressure on us. Innovation used to come from locking a couple of people in a room, and to me (that is) diametrically opposed to what creativity is all about.
So we use everyone in our organisation to brainstorm ideas and we also realised that there’s many brilliantly creative people out there that were clever enough not to get into marketing. They might be musicians, they might be comics, so we have an external network of people that we tap into when we need a fresh approach and then we have professional marketers that can craft those thoughts or craft those genesis ideas into a robust marketing idea that we can then deliver to our client.
And do you pay for that?
We sign them to confidentiality and we say ‘look at it for half an hour, give us your thoughts’. You know what? Whoever cracks it we’ll give a $5000 cheque to. So there’s no downside for them.
Or you, by the sound of it.
We don’t pay them until we show ideas.
Now you’re 35 and you’ve got a revenue of $9 million. How many staff have you got?
There’s about 26 or 28 in the Sydney office. We’re looking at some offshore offices at the moment.
What was the hardest thing about starting a business?
I remember our first office cost us $25 a week and had no natural light, no windows; it was above a newsagency. Almost like above a newsagency in Crows Nest and we used to go to Bakers Delight on a Monday and buy a dozen bread rolls and we’d have two dry bread rolls a day for lunch. And it was horrible.
How long did that last?
For about the first year or two. By about the fourth year we were paying ourselves well and certainly seven years down the track it’s been very very kind to us and it makes it all worthwhile.
But you know what? I think that when you start a business you need a big healthy helping of self-confidence and naivety because if you knew (what) was coming you probably wouldn’t do it. Oh, and definitely some stupidity.
The first few years are horrible, all the research says that. Then you get to the next stage. What’s hard in that second stage?
Nothing is as hard as the first stage, but you go from a period of incredibly quick growth and there comes a time when you’ve got to stop behaving 90% of the time like an entrepreneur and 10% of the time as a business owner, to 90% of the time as a business owner and 10% as an entrepreneur, and that happens over time.
There’s this old adage that ‘founders are flounders’. So the real key for me of entrepreneurs is to be able to traverse that initial stage and develop the skills required so the business becomes more robust and more mature. Now if you are able to do that, then you are rounded and often, as you know, entrepreneurs fail their first time or two; and that’s healthy but I think that’s why. It’s simply because they continue to act as an entrepreneur all the time instead of recognising the consolidation part.
What’s ‘acting like an entrepreneur’? What do they do?
Chasing opportunities. You’re probably not as nailed down and process-driven as you should be. And just basically approaching everything with incredible unbridled optimism. You’ve got to at some point, as tough as it sounds, put that hat on which is being not pessimistic but understanding risks. To continue with this metaphor, you need to be able to change from one to the other.
When did you get your first accountant?
Probably after about two years. For the first couple of years you’re looking after every cent and I used to actually have two personalities. I would ring clients as Glen Condie and then I used to ring clients, call myself Peter Hokie, and ring their accounts department to ask for money. And Peter Hokie had his own business title and his own email because it was too humiliating for the director of the company to ring up and be pounding on the door for money.
You must have had some offers to buy you out. I mean there’s so much consolidation and acquisition going on in your industry.
Yeah, I mean when the big guys started talking to us the multiple was five. Now last time they talked to us it was getting around eight or nine, and we have had a lot of offers.
We’re a very profitable business and they can make me a wealthy man and probably not have to work again, however I adore what I do. And there would be an enormous premium on giving up the best job in the world. I don’t want to give it up.
It doesn’t matter how good your car is if you don’t get to drive.