AdNews Spotlight: a look at 31st:Second

Josh McDonnell
By Josh McDonnell | 18 May 2018

AdNews Spotlight shines a light on smaller or more unique agencies in the industry that are making a big impact and this first appeared in-print. See: AdNews May Edition: Demystifying social media, Glue Society, Digital OOH

This month’s agency is 31ST: Second. Launched nine years ago and headed up by directors Adele Te Wani, Vaughan Kerr and Rachael Egan, the impressive 12–strong team has worked across clients including Arnott’s, Sensodyne, Campbell’s, Jack Daniel’s and more. AdNews catches up with Kerr and the team to find out more.

AdNews: Why did you start this company?

VK: We launched in 2009, when below– the–line agencies were generally either promotional or experiential agencies. We could see the evolution and increased importance of the purchase journey discipline and knew that we could do things a little differently by creating an insights–led specialist agency.

What services do you offer and how has this changed since you launched?

The marketing landscape continues to change and evolve. Clients continue to take work in-house. Digital disruptors impact retailers. FMCG brands continue to be squeezed by retail customers.

In response, we’ve developed a full–service Purchase Experience (Px) capability, to ensure that 31ST is the trusted custodian of our client brand’s purchase journey. We’ve broadened our offering to develop channel–agnostic purchase journey solutions that deliver value via strategic planning; branding and packaging; channel–agnostic big ideas; digital and social; live brand experiences; and in–store visibility and display.

What’s your point of difference what makes your team unique?

Our full–service Px capability means that 31ST is the trusted custodian of our client brands’ purchase journey. Px allows us to leverage efficiencies via one point of contact; execute with excellence as the one team knows and understands our clients brand challenges; and seamlessly deliver campaign consistency across all phases and touch points.

As a collective, we’re a down–to–earth, curious and effective bunch of purchase journey marketing specialists.

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Who is your ideal client?

Without being super-cheesy, we’re genuinely lucky enough to have quite a few of these already.

We’d define our ideal client as that who treats us as a partner in their business — they take us along for the journey and share in their brand challenge/s; ‘own’ their projects — they’re engaged, involved and all over the detail, and expect the same from us.

They value our contribution to their business and appreciate that we are specialists within our field. They understand the ROI for engaging us, are happy to pay for our services, and they’re great fun to work with. Often, it’s the people within the brand that we are most motivated to work with and keen to push the boundaries with test and learns. The big ideas keep us juiced so we love clients that want to go there with us.

What’s the dream brief?

Regardless of the brand category/channel/sector, the scale and scope, or the potential award–worthiness of the idea, no question, the most fulfilling professional experiences are when we collaborate with our clients to help resolve their brands business challenge/s.

Clients that engage us in their business challenges, get our morning shower/driving to work mindspace — these are the ‘dream briefs’.

What has been the agency’s biggest challenge?

In a time of procurement–led, centralisation of global communications networks, we’re an independent small agency. We’ve lost a couple of big clients over the past couple of years as a result of decisions made out of New York (and not necessarily supported by our local clients). Whilst deflating at the time, we’ve worked through these challenges to ultimately become a better agency.

Our strategic and creative product is best–in–class, supported by an outstanding account service team. Oh, and that’s not just us beating our own chest, we continually hear this played back to us via participation in RFPs and from our clients.

Biggest highlight?

Winning our first pitch, a big multi-film summer campaign for 20th Century Fox. It was our first–ever pitch as an agency and we pitched against some of the bigger agencies and won. We knew at that point that our business plan and proposition stood up and we were away. We went on to work with 20th Century Fox for the next five–plus years. We’ve also been so fortunate to work with a truly great bunch of people throughout the journey — many of whom have been with us for over five years and are like family.

How do you view the competitive landscape?

Many of our shopper marketing agency competitors are finding it tough out there at present.

FMCG brands are under huge pressure/margin squeeze, which effects their advertising and promotion budgets. Clients take more work in– house. Mainstream creative agencies continue to leverage their up–stream client relationships to deliver big, integrated promotional activations (that were once the domain of agencies like us). Clean store policies in grocery and big box hardware/ pharmacy continue to reduce our campaign touchpoints/scope.

Notable ‘people and culture’ efforts made by the agency:

Our people are a key driver and central to our future success. Good people are hard to attract and super–important to keep. So we attract, motivate and retain the best talent with a bunch of employment/culture initiatives:

• Work life balance: We all need to zip out to pay the rego, take the morning off to go to the dentist, leave early to pick the kids up from school or even knock off early on a Friday to go to the beach.

• Bonus days off: We gift all staff their birthday and Christmas break.

• Random acts of kindness: We gift massages in recognition for the ‘overs’, give thank you gifts on staff 31ST anniversaries, and we often take staff out for impromptu Friday lunches at the pub.

• Knowledge: We invest a bunch on training, conferences, offsite and education.

• Share and celebrate: Led by our ‘culture club’, we celebrate the completion of big client projects, pitch wins, EOFY, Melbourne Cup, Christmas, and even get the kids and pets together for a family day once a year.

• Commitment to diversity: 31ST was founded by two female directors. And our ECD is female. To this day, we continue to hire on merit, with 75% of our employees being female.

What’s on the agenda for 2018?

We’re excited to be on the move. We’ve been based in Danks Street, Waterloo, since 2010 and are looking for a change of scenery (we have our eye on a funky Redfern terrace). New business and some epic campaigns — lots in the pipeline for the likes of Lion, Nestlé, and Panasonic.

Why is the 31ST the one to watch in 2018?

Recently we pitched and won three of the biggest shopper marketing pitches in the country for Lion, Nestlé and Brown–Forman. Each RFP pitched us against eight to 12 of our competitors in a forensic/exhaustive process. We won all three, with all clients citing our market–leading strategic and creative product as setting us apart from every other shopper marketing agency in Australia.

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