Advertising has its fair share of famous familial connections — Charles and Maurice, for instance. But, in the days of easy international travel and the constant one-in, one-out of Aussies, poms and Americans in advertising, it might be surprising to see siblings working at the same agency.
Lead image L-R: Joe & Tom Frazer as children.
But at Half Dome, that’s exactly what we have. The agency’s co-founders Joe and Tom Frazer serve as the head of growth and managing director, respectively.
Now, to be clear, we’re not celebrating nepotism here at B&T. We’re just shining a light on the potentially tense Sunday dinner conversations when budgets aren’t met and clients aren’t happy.
Here is the Frazer brothers’ take on founding and running their own agency.
B&T: As co-founders how did you start the business?
We started the business with our best mate Will Harms. It was fairly organic and we were super lucky that a lot of the risk was taken out of it, with the business being cash flow positive from day one on the back of a couple of key foundation partners.
Were other family members involved or supportive?
Over the journey, our families have been a massive support for us, and have contributed in their own way. Jock Frazer (our dad) was our original copywriter – catching any spelling or grammar mistakes in pitch documents. Kate Frazer (our sister) ran our Mental Health First Aid training and even did a stint in a learning and development role at Half Dome for a period. On Will’s side, Michael (his dad) is even more involved, having a seat on the Board and working closely with the business from day one. It is a real family affair!
Is your family bond a competitive advantage?
100 per cent, I think it is a real point of difference in the sense that there is a finality about the strength of relationships and a deep understanding of strengths and weaknesses that goes beyond a couple of years of working together. There’s insight you simply can’t pick up from a colleague that you can from a family member and often we can find ourselves in lockstep without having to even align on things. Especially through COVID years and navigating the move back toward in-office hours, this was a huge leg up.
Does the culture of the agency reflect your family values or personality?
There are aspects of Half Dome that are a reflection of the founders, and the values we hold, for sure. I think that entrepreneurial spirit and desire to colour outside the lines and ‘Blow Things Up’ was the impetus for starting Half Dome initially and is the essence of what has always made Half Dome special. This is the ‘secret sauce’ we spend our lives trying to codify as we scale.
Do clients respond to family values?
100 per cent! Our business model isn’t to have 500 clients. It is to have 20-30 brands who share a challenger mindset and want to work with a like-minded partner to push the boat out. In this way, our clients and Half Dome have largely become a reflection of one another.
One other thing we have been militant on as we have gone through this journey is regularly reviewing these partnerships to ensure we are only pitching for, and working with clients who are hard on the work (we love that) but soft on the people.
We are willing to engage in adult conversations with a partner about what success looks like and then willing to work bloody hard to bring that to life.
Does it help you recruit and retain great talent?
I don’t necessarily think the brotherly element changes our recruiting capability as much as the impact of having founders who also work in roles in the business. I will be the first one to say that sometimes it is an odd dynamic for our staff to see an owner playing a specific role. It creates some grey areas, and it means we all probably step outside the lanes to try and get things done at times.
Certain types of people love that environment, and like tackling challenges at face value to deliver the best outcome. Where we have seen less success, and something we are increasingly open with individuals about before they start at Half Dome, is that people who find comfort in hierarchy and staying in their lane – may not see as much success in our fast-paced agency.
When you get home or attend a family event do you have a no-work talk rule?
We used to!
But honestly, I think we are at the stage of our lives where everyone’s work life and home life are bleeding together – often our family are interested in what is going on, so we have relaxed that one!
Any fun stories at family Christmas that impact your work life?
Fun fact about the Frazers, we actually do a themed Christmas every year, so whoever is hosting nominates a country – then we look to recreate the ambience, and food from that region for all of Christmas Day. Over the years this has become an arms race – at our most recent Christmas Day, we had a 12-course Mexican Fiesta with paired drinks for each course.
In summary, this just impacts what type of liquor Tom is sporting a hangover from on the 27th.
What, if any, negatives does the family connection bring? Can it create any tension in the workplace?
I don’t necessarily think the family element is tough for Tom or I per se, but I do think it can be hard for people who work around family dynamics to navigate them at times. On the whole, I think the positives outweigh the challenges for sure!