2012 was a year of growth and change for The White Agency. Jessica Kennedy stepped inside the digital shop to find out what 2013 has in store.
The White Agency has enjoyed a relatively small profile – but in 2013 that is set to change. After a year of growth (roughly 25%) and winning a number of clients, including BlueScope Steel, Panasonic and Lion, the 10-year-old agency feels ready to come out from under the radar.
White has already made headlines this year when founder Craig Galvin left to join News Limited as digital strategy director.
Losing a founder always poses a risk to an agency’s foundations – but not at White, where all due diligence was paid to ensure Galvin’s exit was not the end.
For two years before his departure Galvin took a back seat as executive director, handing the day-to-day reigns over to co-owner Miles Joyce.
The fact the agency’s founder was poached to join a leading publishing is a feather in White’s cap, as well as the fact that in 2007 Australia’s largest marketing and communications group STW bought a 49% stake. STW’s stake has since increased, leaving Galvin and Joyce with roughly 5% each.
But White still operates autonomously. “We absolutely get left to our own devices,” says Joyce. “But what we do is get to look into Australia’s largest communication group and sit around a table with all these really smart people.”
As digital has gone from strength to strength, so has The White Agency.
“Digital has grown up in the time that White’s been in existence and I think White’s grown up with it,” says the agency’s creative director, Mike Barry.
“Back in 2007 it was very much a campaign-focused, banner website, design and build type of agency with email and the beginnings of CRM,” adds Sandy Park, the agency’s managing director.
Now the agency’s aim is to solve business challenges through digital, with a combination of creativity, technology and strategic thinking.
“We really feel that without technology we’re missing a key part of the wheel,” explains Park.
“You have got to be able to ensure that you understand the platforms and select the right technology. But then you need the strategy and the ideas to really drive that marketing point – we are really focused on delivering that.”
The agency has jumped on the integration not disruption bandwagon and is relishing advertising’s new direction.
While White has matured alongside digital, marketers have struggled. As a result, one of White’s key concerns is educating its clients.
“We need to help them build their comfort in the digital space and build their expertise so that they can make informed decisions,” Barry says.
“We’ve gone up the food chain, I would say,” reflects Joyce.
When Commonwealth Bank first hired White in 2006, it was to transform its website. But White’s responsibilities quickly grew. “Over the years, we have helped to reinvent their online customer experience – far beyond the website,” explains one of the agency’s newest recruits, Brendan Fearn.
“Providing strategic thought leadership, we have achieved triumphs together,” says Fearn, head of marketing. “The drive for customer service and technology firsts has been the lifeblood of the relationship with CommBank.”
White’s best known, and most awarded piece of work, is the Property Guide App.
Throughout the changes White has endured there is one core factor that remains untouched: its brand. “From day one, it’s been a family operation and the culture’s always been important,” says Joyce.
To articulate White’s brand the team came up with what it calls the “five truths”, an acronym of ‘white’: Why, hi, I, try and eye.
“‘Why’ is about identifying what the real problem we’re trying to solve is,” Barry explains. “‘Hi’ is really about how we do things. We say ‘Hi’ and ‘Thank you’. Then we have ‘I’, which is the idea that everyone at White is White’s point of difference. ‘Try’ is about innovation and the fact it doesn’t just happen. Then ‘Eye’ is just about the eye for detail.”
White takes its culture and people seriously. So much so that the agency has its own recruiter who is constantly pipelining future staff. “It means we have the same talent manager mapping the agency. They understand the machinations of the business and are building relationships with the best people for when we to need to hire,” Sarah Salkild, director of people and culture, enthuses.
The ‘sexy’ ad industry is known to offer equally sexy benefits and perks but Salkild firmly believes more is needed to attract and retain top notch staff. So while the agency does offer half-days in summer and sleep-ins on Mondays in winter, Salkild’s focus is on professional development.
White also contradicts Adland’s infamously high churn rate. The agency’s ranks are full of staff, including Park, Barry, Salkild and Joyce, who have been there six-years plus.
When growth occurs rapidly it tests the mettle of even the strongest agency and at White its growing pains materialised as a lack of space. To house White’s 120-strong team, the agency will move to a new office in Kent Street this year.
“From my point of view, the challenge is how to retain that culture the more you grow,” Joyce says.
2013 for White is all about bedding down its new clients and boosting the agency’s profile. Adland, you best get set for a lot of White noise.
– With two people and one desk, The White Agency is born in Rozelle, Sydney.
– Within 12 months of launch, The White Agency opens a second office in Melbourne.
– Mike Barry, our current Creative Director, starts at The White Agency.
– Commonwealth Bank appoints The White Agency to redevelop cba.com.au, Australia’s largest consumer banking website.
– Miles Joyce is appointed CEO. In July, STW takes a 49% stake to bolster their digital capabilities.
– Sandy Park promoted to Managing Director across both the Sydney and Melbourne offices.
– Andrew Davenport is lured to take up the Client Services Director role from the UK.
– The agency grows to over 100 people.
The White Agency designs the Property Guide app for Commonwealth Bank, winning a string of awards including:
- Cannes Silver Lion ‚Äê Best use of mobile
- Midas Awards ‚Äê Best use of medium (Gold) and Products and Services ‚Äê Digital and Interactive in the banking category (Gold)
- ADMA ‚Äê Effectiveness in Lending and Credit (Bronze); ‘Apps and New Development’ (Silver) and ‘Mobile’ (Silver)
- W3 Awards ‚Äê ‘Financial Services’ (Gold) and ‘Finance’ (Silver)
- Amber Award
- IAB Award ‚Äê Best Brand Destination’ and Rich Media and Digital Video’
- AIMIA Award ‚Äê ‘Best of Best’; ‘Best Mobile Marketing’ (Winner) and ‘Best Financial Service’ (Winner)
– The White Agency has one of its most successful years to date, winning the Lion, BlueScope Steel and Panasonic accounts.
– Brian Dargan is appointed as Strategic Director and Lucas Challamel as Technical Director.
– Founding partner Craig Galvin departs to explore new challenges.
– The White Agency prepares to move to a new office at 1 Kent Street in July.