Behind the doors of… Octagon

Behind the doors of… Octagon


As a sports and entertainment marketing agency, Octagon can’t help but have fun. Lucy Clark finds out how combining passions with day jobs yields results

If there’s one thing Australia is passionate about, it’s sport. Imagine combining that passion with your day job. That’s what the Octagon guys do.

Connecting passionate Aussies and dedicated brands with high-flying sports personalities, as well as running events and looking after athletes’ and celebrities’ marketing, are Octagon’s strengths. They certainly get the fun stuff.

Founded as a sports marketing agency in the States 30 years ago, Octagon has come a long way. The agency, now owned by the Interpublic Group, has a network of offices across Australia and South East Asia. Sean Nicholls, managing director of Octagon in SE Asia, Australia and New Zealand, outlines: “The business has evolved significantly. It’s come from a strong heritage of sport – primarily tennis and golf – in the early ‘80s.

The founders of the business were at the forefront of sports marketing.

“But we are now a business that does a lot more than manage and market athletes. We work pretty heavily in the music and entertainment business, and the events business. One of our strengths is the fact that we have a consolidated knowledge bank that we continually look to for interaction and collaboration between the businesses.”

The work

From TV shows and live events, to ad campaigns and athlete marketing, Octagon’s remit is broad. Highlights of the agency’s work in Australia include the Australia’s Greatest Athlete TV show, which was sponsored by Rexona and ran for three series from 2009. Octagon is also behind the annual Swisse Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge,

XXXX Gold’s ‘XXXX Island’, the Breath of Life music festival, the Australia Targa Championship and ANZ’s work with former tennis pro Ivan Lendl.

Globally, Octagon runs the Mastercard Priceless Cities platform, with the local agency running Priceless Sydney. In Australia, Octagon works with Mark Webber, former pro basketball player Andrew Gaze, cricket legend Allan Border and Wallaby James O’Connor. Globally, the agency represents the likes of Michael Phelps, Anna Kournikova and Piers Morgan.

But keeping its own stable of managed talent separate from the brands it works with is important,  explains Ben Hartman, general manager of athletes and personalities: “We work with a very select number of athletes and personalities and most of the brands we do consultancy work with have never used the talent that we represent.

“Matching brands with talent is about identifying what we’re trying to achieve. Are we trying to redefine, or shift, perception?

“You cannot make any brand fit with any personality – although people do. The reality is that an ambassador is a way to communicate with the consumer about something they are passionate about. If you select the wrong personality, you will miss the point of the campaign.”

Nicholls adds: “We would never put our talent into a situation where we effectively expect them to act. It’s one of my great pet hates. Athletes are not actors, and they are much more comfortable when they can be themselves – and it ends up being something a lot more productive and effective.”

Hartman also observes that the global market for brands is becoming more localised. “The path we are going down now is that brands are working more regionally,” he explains. “They are finding they need to understand markets on a much broader scale, especially from a talent perspective.

“We’re working with brands to understand how they can get value from working with talent. A few years ago, brands were spending money because they wanted to slap someone famous on the back and get some free tickets to the football. Now, they are understanding it’s a good investment and can justify their spending.”

Octagon has its own claim to fame. The agency was partly responsible for the creation of male singing group Il Divo. Nicholls explains: “Il Divo was created by Peter Rudge, from our business in London, who is good mates with Simon Cowell. They felt there was a gap in the market for a good looking group of men who sang classical music.”

The philosophy

Octagon has a three-word mantra: Passion, Engagement, Results.

“Passion and engagement is at the heart of what we do,” says strategy director Adam Hodge. “First is sport. Right behind that is music and entertainment. Nothing makes a consumer’s heart beat faster.”

In order to achieve measured ROI in passion and engagement, Octagon puts a lot of effort into research and analytics. “We did a big piece of research in 2005, called Passion Drives Research, which showed us the impact of being more analytical,” recalls Nicholls. “Research and analytics is now an important part of the business.”

He adds: “We talk about being a business that does not have a revolving door mentality. We look to build long-term relationships with clients, and pride ourselves on this.”

Octagon has worked with BMW in North America for 21 years, and Mastercard has been the agency’s client for seven years.

“It’s about the journey,” says Rob Vercoe, general manager of marketing. “With XXXX for example, it started with us inventing beach cricket and continued on a journey with them to understand the target market.”

“We are passionate about what we do,” concludes Nicholls, who has been with Octagon for 23 years. “It’s about people who are passionate, innovative, dynamic and part of a team. We build a culture of team here and that comes before all else.”

The vision

Collaboration and innovation are Octagon’s priorities for 2013.

“For us, it’s about continuing to do things together and work collaboratively between our divisions,” says Nicholls. “It’s about strengthening ur overall offering by being better at creating links and using our extended knowledge bank. We have a broad, diversified business that allows us to understand a very broad marketplace.

“The biggest challenge is to stay ahead of the curve. We have to anticipate trends and get ahead, and remain innovative, new, fresh and original. If we don’t do that, someone else will.”

There’s one major event that Octagon is looking forward to being involved in this year – the British and Irish Lions Tour. The agency is working with two – unnamed – brands on their involvement in the tour.

It’s shaping up to be an action-packed year.

The history

1983: Octagon was established in Georgetown, Washington DC.

1985: Octagon Australia was established, in Melbourne.

Andrew Gaze signed as a client in Octagon’s athletes and personalities division. He is still a client today.

1996: Sydney office opened.

1997: IPG acquired Octagon globally and expanded into 23 countries.

2000: Octagon delivered Sydney Olympics Campaigns for Holden, IBM and AMP.

Octagon acquired Targa Tasmania and opened its Hobart office.

2006: MasterCard became a client (and is still with Octagon).

Octagon developed beach cricket for new client Lion, which ran for three years.

2007: Octagon put a Speights Pub on the back of a container ship and sent it to thirsty Kiwis in London.

2009: ‘Australia’s Greatest Athlete’ was developed and launched with Rexona. This was the first of three annual TV series.

Mark Webber signed as a client.

2012:  The music and entertainment division was added as Octagon’s fourth business pillar, and the agency acquired Breath of Life Music Festival.

Octagon bought an island for XXXX Gold and kicked off three years of consumer promotions.

2013: Octagon is celebrating its 30th anniversary and the hiring of its 50th Australian staff member.

Please login with linkedin to comment

Latest News

SAP Acquires Experience Management Player Qualtrics In Multi-Billion Dollar Deal
  • Technology

SAP Acquires Experience Management Player Qualtrics In Multi-Billion Dollar Deal

Enterprise software giant SAP has has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire experience management software provider Qualtrics. Under the terms of the agreement, SAP will acquire all outstanding shares of Qualtrics for US$8 billion in cash. The purchase price includes unvested employee incentive compensation and cash on the balance sheet at close. Subject to […]

Why You Should Invest In A Healthy Team
  • Opinion

Why You Should Invest In A Healthy Team

Dr Ron Ehrlich (pictured below) delivers keynotes and wellness workshops and is the author of A Life Less Stressed; the 5 Pillars Of Health & Wellness. In this guest post, the goodly Doctor says investing into employee health typically returns on the bottomline too… A business focused on the health of its team, is a business people […]

Tuesday TV Wrap: Bride & Prejudice Puts The Ring On Seven’s Ratings Finger
  • Media

Tuesday TV Wrap: Bride & Prejudice Puts The Ring On Seven’s Ratings Finger

A strong showing from Bride & Prejudice – the most watched entertainment show of last night – and the always strong news/Today Tonight has handed Seven a convincing Tuesday night win. Seven took off with 31.8 per cent of last night’s eyeballs, Nine had 25.6 per cent and the ABC and 10 tied for third with 17 […]

Staff Made Redundant By JWT Melbourne To Explore Other Opportunities Within WPP
  • Advertising

Staff Made Redundant By JWT Melbourne To Explore Other Opportunities Within WPP

J. Walter Thompson Melbourne has confirmed a small number of staff have left the agency following a review of client demand against its resources. In a statement to B&T, the WPP-owned creative agency said: “Client needs of the agency have evolved, and while in response we’ve made several new hires across CRM/CX, social, design and […]

Remarkable Marketers: Meet Adobe’s Clare Cahill
  • Marketing
  • Partner Content

Remarkable Marketers: Meet Adobe’s Clare Cahill

There are some pretty remarkable people in our industry, each offering their own unique perspective to adland. While we spend so much time learning about our peers’ career highlights, B&T thought it high-time to dig a little deeper, and find out what makes the shining stars of our industry tick and, at times, tock. So, for the […]

Partner Content

by Carat

Conceptual image with word Disloyalty being changed into Loyalty. With retro filter or instagram effect.
  • Marketing
  • Opinion

How To Stop Customers From Breaking Up With You

In this guest post, Fjord’s Bronywn van der Merwe (pictured below) identifies eight ways for brands to keep customers coming back for more. Once upon a time, winning over a customer’s loyalty was simple. You made the sale, you gave them perfectly adequate customer service, and customers stuck with you. The difficulty and uncertainty of […]


by B&T Magazine

B&T Magazine Unveils New Homepage
  • Media Unveils New Homepage

Australia’s leading national news website today unveiled a new homepage. As the gateway to Australia’s largest news website, the homepage delivers 135 million page impressions per month. The redevelopment of the homepage has been designed to evolve the brand into the next decade with plans to roll out continued updates across the […]

Study: Startup Mentality Defined By Culture More Than Age Or Size
  • Marketing
  • Media

Study: Startup Mentality Defined By Culture More Than Age Or Size

The lines between startups and corporates should no longer be defined by organisation size, but by the kind of culture they foster, a panel of top marketers have agreed. Some of Sydney’s top marketers – including Guzman y Gomez CMO Lara Thom, Outdoria CEO Nick Baker, Menulog’s head of marketing Tasman Page and Facebook ANZ’s […]

Cupcakes on a cake stand with sparklers
  • Media

The New Daily Turns Five

Online news site, The New Daily, the brainchild of industry super fund boss Garry Weaven and former Age and Herald Sun editor Bruce Guthrie, turns five this week. It boasts a monthly Google audience of more than two million and close to 500,000 daily subscribers. It’s impressive climb up the Nielsen news site rankings – from outside […]

Nielsen: Aussies Aged 50-Plus Spent Most Time Online With News
  • Media

Nielsen: Aussies Aged 50-Plus Spent Most Time Online With News

Nielsen Digital Content Ratings monthly-tagged data for October 2018 revealed that more than half (52 per cent) of the total time spent online consuming news-related content during October 2018 was by Australians aged 50 plus. Desktop was the device of choice for Australians accessing news stories online, contributing to close to half (49 per cent) […]

Haystac Shakes Up National Leadership Team
  • Marketing

Haystac Shakes Up National Leadership Team

Haystac, part of the BWM Dentsu Group, has announced three key changes to its national leadership team as the agency evolves to service the needs of major national and global brand clients. Haylie Marchant moves into a new national role as head of strategy at Haystac. Formerly the general manager of Haystac Brisbane, Marchant will drive Haystac’s new business […]