James Procter ‑ founder and creative director, One Small Step Collective (formerly executive creative director of TBWAHong Kong) gets quizzed by creative director of Rumble Studios Johnny Green.
1. How long have you been back in Australia and what prompted your return from Hong Kong?
I’ve been back for nine months after four years in Asia. It was time. We loved the travel and the lifestyle and made such good friends we stayed longer than planned but Melbourne is home. An opportunity came up to start my own business One Small Step Collective with a friend so I took it.
2. What were your first impressions upon your return of the market environment here?
Everything is different but nothing has changed. We’ve seen such an amazing change in business and consumers but our industry has really struggled to keep up. We wanted to provide an alternative solution. The market is tough just like it is everywhere but that just sharpens the industry and separates good from average. Anyone can make money when times are easy.
3. What skill sets have you developed overseas and how have you been able to apply them here?
Asia is about speed. The closer to China you are, the faster it gets. Competition is super fierce ‑ there is always someone that will do it quicker and cheaper. Sometimes our job was to educate clients on differences that weren’t obvious ‑ mostly on the quality of thought, insights and ideas ‑ also, the difference between cheap and good value.
Speed is a big asset to bring back. Not just being responsive but using ‘time’ and ‘speed to market’ as a competitive advantage. Knowledge of the modern Asian consumer is also a big asset. It’s hard to understand a market until you’ve lived there. My ability to think in different markets and landscapes has definitely been enhanced.
4. Was there an adjustment period and how have you acclimatised?
Yes, anyone that’s worked in Melbourne knows it can be a bit insular ‑ part of what makes it great. We know and love our city, but it’s also hard to break back in after years away. Still, I think watching the Cats play at the MCG killed any doubts.
5. Per capita, Australia is a relatively small pond. How did you find being a smaller fish OS?
There are Australians in every expat community around the world so you are never alone. One thing I found to be true was that the brand of the ‘Australian Expat’ is well liked and respected. I think it’s like sports – we pride ourselves on punching above our weight and people see us as the hardworking underdog.
6. Can you compare and contrast the characteristics of the industry over there and in Australia?
That notion of fixed hierarchy and ‘face’ was a bit difficult. It’s absurd for us to think someone is above us or should be deferred to simply because they occupy a higher peg on the totem pole. One of our greatest assets is our meritocracy ‑ the best idea wins. We learn it from birth and it is a big part of our social selves. We have a very egalitarian nature that can sometimes clash with some cultures overseas.
Australia does some of the best communication in the world. As an industry, we have clients and marketers who fully appreciate that innovation and risk drive business.