With Christmas just around the corner, this is the time of year when many agencies begin to wind down for the party season. But one digital marketing agency has no intention of putting up its feet to enjoy a warm mince pie and a glass of sherry as the year draws to a chilly end, because big plans are afoot for the year ahead.
Although Glasgow digital marketing company Dog Digital is still a relatively new name on the scene, the individuals behind the agency – created in April 2005 through the merger of Limone Media and MMI – have been pioneers on the Scottish digital marketing industry since the mid-Nineties. However, 2006 promises even more as joint managing director Gerry McCusker and his fellow board directors Graham McClurkin, Alex Wilson and David Hamilton prepare to expand the business – dramatically.
The initial driver of this growth strategy was the merger and creation of Dog Digital in April. Dog now employs 20 people along with a pool of five freelancers and plans to hire more. But that is by no means going to be the extent of Dog’s growth plans for the year ahead.
Perhaps the most significant signing the agency has made (ever), came in the form of newly appointed chairman Drew Thomson. Born in Glasgow, but based in London, Thomson was appointed following a six-month ‘getting to know you’ period during which McCusker and his fellow directors spoke to five potential candidates, all of whom could bring an added dimension to the agency’s expansion plans.
To say Thomson has experience of working with growth companies would be a sure winner at the ‘Understatement of the Year Awards’. His CV is impressive to say the least. With a background in finance, he joined British Airways shortly after its privatisation. Following what he refers to as a number of “lucky breaks” he became part of the team responsible for developing new products and played an integral part in BA’s £550m investment in its business travel product, including the revolutionary flat beds in business class. After just four years, he became business manager, global sales and marketing.
He then went to launch an internet company for BA, but with the dotcom crash imminent, Thomson was offered the opportunity to turn the struggling Air Miles business around. He jumped at that challenge. When he arrived at Air Miles it was losing £20m a year. When he left four years later it was making £20m profit. It was during this period Thomson had formed a relationship with MMI, which he had brought on board to help develop an e-commerce platform for the business. Thomson finally left BA after a deal to buy the Air Miles business fell through. So, Thomson was looking for his next challenge.
So, what attracted him to become chairman of a relatively small digital consultancy in Glasgow?
“I am passionate about getting involved in high growth businesses,” he says. “This is clearly a sector that is going through the roof, so it ticked all the right boxes for me. It is high growth, it is consumer-focused and the other people involved are passionate about growing this business quickly. This is an of the moment opportunity. If you are going to be in digital marketing then you want to be in it now. I am passionate about this company and what it can achieve.”
With regards to Thomson’s appointment, McCusker says: “We didn’t want someone with grey hair for the sake of having grey hair. We wanted someone who had business acumen, an understanding of what we were trying to do and somebody who has real experience of helping companies. We knew Drew from working with him at Air Miles and we had a strong relationship with him. He also knew our business pretty well.”
So, with Thomson on hand to give expert advice on raising finance in the city and with a contact book that would outsell the Guinness Book of World Records if it were published to the business community, is the growth strategy to swallow up a raft of other smaller digital agencies?
Thomson says: “If you look at the clients Dog now has, whether it is a Britannic Asset Management, SMG or Adobe, these are clients who are looking for a broader range of products in order to satisfy their growing needs for digital marketing. You can either do that organically or you can look at people who can bring that skill set to your company to continue to satisfy your current clients and build new clients.
“We are right in the middle of putting together a strategic document which is looking at the very question of whether we are at the point were we need to bolt-on, merge or buy an agency or can we continue to grow organically. This needs to happen quickly and then we will be able to clearly articulate what the next three years are going to look like for Dog Digital. We are not fixed on any given direction yet.”
So, looking to the future, where does McCusker want Dog Digital to be in three years’ time?
“I think Dog Digital is a respected brand at the moment, but I want to see that respect grow even further,” he says. “Having Drew on board brings a lot to this business. Having him involved at board level also gives us, as directors of the company, added confidence that we are heading the right direction for the company and our clients.’
With Thomson on board, one thing is for certain, Dog Digital will grow because Thomson will not tolerate standing still. “In a year’s time the business will have evolved significantly either organically, through merger or acquisition or we will have bolted on another business in order to take advantage of the growth in this sector,” he says. “In three years time, a lot of that will depend on personal circumstances, but my desire is that we will have one of the UK’s leading niche digital marketing agencies. This will not be an agency that will be competing with a Glue or AKQA or doing a British Airways or Royal Bank of Scotland website because there are already big companies that do those deals, but this will be a niche operator that is outstandingly creative and technically brilliant at what it does. That might mean that a big company wants to come and buy it. It might mean that we want to go and buy a big company. It is my job to make sure they make the right decisions over the next one, two, three years, so that they are a fit and healthy business. If you’re a fit and healthy business then you have choices and you can make your own choices.”