The Sell: Ikon brings the fight back

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 21 October 2015
Pat Crowley, James Sawyer, Rob Martin–Murphy

Ikon is in a different place than it was two years ago. Back in 2009, Ikon was at the top of its game. Named AdNews Agency of the Year, it remains the only media agency to win the accolade, and had been named media agency of the year two years in a row. Fast forward five years, and it was a very different story. There’s no hiding from the fact the agency has gone through a shocker few years, but it’s dusted itself off and is standing tall once more.

There’s a new management team in place, new clients on board, and a whole new approach. In May, the decision was made to merge fellow STW agency Moon with Ikon, to create a full–service “content agency” spanning media, digital and creative. The move, Sydney managing partner Pat Crowley says, was 12 months in the making, but bringing media and creative together is something that had been on his mind since 1999 when Ikon first started.

“It wasn’t the knee–jerk reaction people think it was,” Crowley says. “You don’t make decisions like that overnight.”

So while the last two years have been difficult, did Ikon need the catalyst of a crisis to arrive at this point? It seems so. “We don’t need to talk about the past. Things happen in every business, in every category, but the really positive thing is that we’re now in a territory we’re all really passionate about and it’s right for clients,” he says.

“The path to get here was difficult, but we’re in a spot now that’s amazing, and we know we’re going to go again. I think adversity creates change, so I guess you’d say yes.

“Not many companies change the way they operate when they’re at the top of their game, do they? It brings the fight back and sometimes the fight is better than the victory, if that makes any sense. That’s when you build relationships, and camaraderie and teams having fun together.

This article first appeared in AdNews in-print. Click here to subscribe to the AdNews magazine or read the iPad edition here.


The fun will deliver for clients.” Head of strategy, John Halpin, formerly of Naked, and Rob Martin–Murphy, Ikon’s ECD, formerly of Moon, both started out in full-service, so it’s a place they’re comfortable.

“I think the industry and where we’re at demands more collaboration in a truer sense than back in the full-service days when I started,” Martin-Murphy says.

“How much were you really round the table working? Probably not as much as we are now.”

So, what is the new Ikon?

“It’s a simple philosophy. Be interesting and interested.

We continue to break conventions and challenge the status quo – that’s what makes us iconoclasts – that’s what makes us Ikon”, the voiceover on the sizzle reel says. Interested and interesting are key to the kind of behaviour and culture Ikon wants to cultivate.

“We were going around in circles thinking how do we need to behave?” Halpin explains. “There’s too much noise for anyone to think they can just go out and buy attention, so you have to be interesting if people are going to take notice, but you can’t really be interesting unless you understand what people are interested in.”

It also harks back to what Ikon was founded on 16 years ago. “Iconoclastic has been what we’ve always done. That’s what the business is still completely rooted in and we are reminding ourselves of that daily,” Crowley reveals.

In a quick potted history of Ikon, 2013 was a turning point. Then-CEO Dan Johns exited after 10 years with the agency amid speculation about disagreements between Johns and Simon White over Ikon’s future. White had recently been
installed as parent group STW’s chairman.

Within hours, it transpired that up to nine more in senior management would follow. Departures included national digital director, Ellie Rogers, now at Facebook, people and culture director, Leonie Kerley, and data analytics director, Bevan Davies. Pat Crowley took on the role of CEO in the interim, and a month later James Greet was brought on board as CEO to steady the ship.

A year later, Crowley left to join Match Media, after 12 years at Ikon. He returned to Ikon after just three months to help the agency fight to retain Commonwealth Bank, its founding client and the account Crowley had led for five years. Soon after, Greet’s 18–month stint came to a close, and Crowley, who had been intrinsic to the Commonwealth Bank business at Ikon, worked his magic and ‘the bank’ as he lovingly refers to it, stayed put, much to the surprise of many outsiders who thought the relationship was sure to end, in turn signalling the end of Ikon.

After two long years, and very little interaction with the trade media, it’s a clearly nervous Crowley who invited AdNews in to see the new face Ikon is presenting to the market and to new and prospective clients, but there’s also a confidence in what Ikon is bringing to bear.

It’s a vision of Ikon that has one foot firmly in the heritage that made the agency great to start with alongside a complete reworking of what it does. Ikon bills $440 million nationally, from six regional offices. It has 180 staff, with 100 of those in Sydney. 

There’s two ways to look at it, positive or negative. Whichever way, Ikon has been reinvigorated. And to the detractors who say Ikon can’t comeback from the battle it’s had over the last two years, Crowley’s riposte is short.

“It’s working.” And that’s all he needs.

This article first appeared in AdNews in-print. Click here to subscribe to the AdNews magazine or read the iPad edition here.

Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop me a line at

Sign up to the AdNews newsletter, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for breaking stories and campaigns throughout the day. Need a job? Visit

Read more about these related brands, agencies and people

comments powered by Disqus