Behind the doors of… Octagon

Behind the doors of… Octagon
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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.

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