Clear Blue Day is an online marketing firm that now has enough runs on the board to give founder Peter Bray real momentum. By JOHN COOK.
By John Cook
For six months after founding his online digital marketing firm Clear Blue Day in 2001, Peter Bray (right) did not have a client. About six years later, the firm has come through the hard times and learnt some valuable lessons.
The agency has been so successful, it has enjoyed three consecutive years of 100% annual revenue and profit growth. Revenue was more than $2 million in 2005-06 and for 2006-07. Predicted revenues for 2007-08 are more than $4 million.
Clear Blue Day creates online interactive marketing campaigns for clients, which include Coca-Cola, Guinness, Bundaberg Rum and Johnnie Walker. It won two categories in this year’s Australian Interactive Media Industry Association awards for work it did for electrical goods company Pioneer.
But perhaps Bray’s most noticeable work was a campaign Clear Blue Day ran for the movie Fast Food Nation last year. He registered the domain name www.makeupyourmind.com.au, which was similar to a site used to promote McDonald’s. People who logged on to the site registered by Bray were redirected to a site promoting Fast Food Nation. The site received more than 100,000 unique users. Bray descibes his campaign as simple and obvious, but effective.
Much of the agency’s growth has been through word-of-mouth referrals from clients. Bray says Clear Blue Day has yet to make many pitches for work. “We are applying old marketing principles, but doing it online. ‘Viral marketing’ is word-of-mouth advertising, which has been around for a long time.”
It has not always been easy. Bray, 33, says his first three years were a struggle, but a time that brought with it something of a silver lining. “It was scarey. It was the worst possible time to start an agency in our industry [which suffered the ‘tech wreck’ in 2001]. But you learn to run a lean operation at an early stage and to have a really good level of service because you don’t have many clients. And it gave us a chance get our infrastructure right as well.”
That infrastructure includes an intranet site that Bray says makes the work it undertakes for clients totally transparent. Clients can log on to the site and see exactly what work is being done on their account. “What we want to do is demystify what we are doing for clients,” Bray says.
“Other agencies sometimes try to portray the internet as some sort of magic box, which it really is not. We want clients to have a greater understanding of what we do. So if we say something is going to take eight hours to do, clients will understand just why it will take eight hours.”
That sort of level of service means the agency is yet to lose a client, Bray says. It means the agency can increase its fees, which is helped by a strategy of helping to meet clients’ key performance indicators instead of just providing one campaign and moving on to another client. “We are a digital agency, but we are really in the business of helping other people’s business through online marketing.”
Bray started his career at Ozemail a decade ago, before moving to help found a secure internet site for children, kidz.net. After that he was appointed managing director of another online advertising agency, Guava Interactive. He took a creative director and technician from that company and formed Clear Blue Day.
Bray has expansion plans for the agency, having opened a Melbourne office six months ago. He says he may investigate opening another in Asia. He has also had offers for the company, from both private equity interests and larger advertising agencies.
All the offers have been from overseas, but Bray is not selling for now. “If it was good for our clients and we could offer them move services, then I’d look at it. But we have such a strong company culture it would be hard to change.”
- If you struggle at first to get clients, use the time to get your systems and back-office operations right.
- Be transparent. If your clients completely understand what you are doing for them, they are more likely to stick by you.
- Carefully consider sale offers. Don’t rush to sell; if you created your business do you really want to lose creative control?
See the stories of other Hot Innovators in our Growth Resources section.