From a Skype conversation to an international experiential agency, The Projects has come a long way since its inception in 2008. And it’s not even close to stopping yet, as Lucy Clark finds out
Dreamed up during a Skype chat five years ago, it has taken a lot of daring moves, plenty of trust and the odd bit of good luck to get The Projects to where it is today.
Now an international agency with offices in Australia and the States – and ambitions that reach much further – partners Si Philby, Jack Bedwani and Carrie Barker (not forgetting fourth partner, Hank, the office dog) are as passionate about experiential as they were on day one.
“One of the strengths of experiential is that it builds a real engagement between consumer and brand,” says Barker. “Consumers are not going to forget the brand behind the experience.”
And Bedwani adds: “Technology can do amazing things, but often it’s the really simple things that are the most attractive to the consumer.”
The Projects was conceived soon after a Skype catch-up between friends and former business associates Philby and Bedwani.
Philby recalls: “We decided there was an opportunity to create an agency from Jack’s event background and my creative background. We thought there was a unique offering in taking a strategic approach and offering experiential.”
Setting up in Sydney at the height of the global financial crisis and with no founding clients, the agency lived up to its ‘daring’ value from the start.
“When we opened, it was at the beginning of the GFC,” says Bedwani. “But it worked to our advantage – people were looking for efficiencies.”
Barker, who had worked with Philby at Emap, joined as a partner in 2009. Six months after relocating from the UK to be managing director of Emap Australia, Barker found herself overseeing her company’s sale to ACP. She joined Pacific Magazines as sales director for a year, before being offered a role back in her native UK. “Two weeks before I was due to move back, Si asked me to come on board,” she remembers.
The Projects opened an office in Los Angeles in 2012. It now has a team of 12 in Sydney, six in the US and a network of freelance teams it works with.
The agency’s Influencer program was also launched in 2012, enabling brands to engage with influential individuals to win brand advocacy.
Bedwani explains: “It’s taken off to a point where we feel we have a serious offering. In the past two years, experiential was the buzz word, but now everyone is talking about influencers.”
Earlier this month, The Projects had its busiest week since setting up, with seven events in seven days. There were events for Fairfax to launch its compact newspaper editions, the launch of TV’s The Biggest Loser’s initiative, The Promise, a stunt that saw nine abseilers cling to the side of ING Direct’s HQ in Sydney to launch the firm’s new brand values – ‘bold and different’, and a dinner for luxury home d√©cor brand Waterford Interiors.
But things haven’t always been so busy. It took The Projects two months to sign its first client, Absolut Vodka. EA Games and EMI Music followed.
The first activation for Absolut was Ten Summer Sundays, held at Bondi’s Swiss Grand Hotel and featuring A-list celebs. “The idea was to give Bondi something it had never had – a European-style beach club,” explains Bedwani.
Soon after Barker joined, the client list expanded to include ING Direct, Westfield and Audi. The agency now has about 15 regular clients it produces multiple annual activations for. But a lot of The Projects’ work is on a project-by-project basis for less regular clients. Having just signed Samsung Australia as a big win to kick off 2013, the list is forever growing.
So what has been their favourite project? Bedwani cites StyleStream, for Westfield, as a stand-out project. It was a consumer-generated live runway show, designed to drive more traffic to Westfield’s website. Consumers could create looks from a virtual closet and the best were created for the Westfield Sydney runway in the real world. More than 10,000 looks were created and there were 35,000 Facebook likes and shares.
Bedwani says: “It was my favourite because the idea was conceived in this room. We had no idea how we would do it, but we knew we could.”
The Projects works to the notion of ‘Ideas, execute, amplify’. But its values sum it up: Daring, professional, fun, creative, dynamic, flexible.
Philby suggests: “We are a bit like a dysfunctional family. Everyone plays a role, but there isn’t a hierarchical tiered structure.”
And Barker adds: “We are passionate about putting on great events and having fun. That’s the nature of experiential – it’s exciting and different.”
But that doesn’t come without its challenges. As Philby explains: “The challenges for us are how to manage growth and retain our culture, and how quickly to grow. We’ve opened offices in Sydney and LA within four years, and there are now conversations around Hong Kong and London. Staying focused on what we’re good at is also a challenge. We get a lot of PR briefs, but we’re not a PR agency. It’s the same for digital.”
Into 2013 and beyond, the partners are confident in experiential’s potential.
Barker says: “Experiential is growing, but it’s still a small part of the marketing mix, alongside traditional above-the-line media. I think it will grow at a faster pace in the next few years, as more companies experiment with it and find they can increase engagement and build relationships, as well as generate sales.”
And The Projects has big global plans. “This year we plan to continue our growth in Australia and America,” explains Barker. “In America we’re focusing on winning more national business, and in Australia it’s about making sure we’re keeping our current client base happy whilst also acquiring new business.”