How to take your agency to Oz: Navigate Digital on global expansion and organic growth

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Navigate Digital on global expansion and growth

The Drum Network caught up with Navigate Digital managing partner John Kimbell, and international account manager Matt Sheppard about agency life in Oz. Here is what they had to say…

The Drum Network: It’s your tenth birthday this year. Can you tell us about how the agency came into existence?

John Kimbell: The agency was formed after myself and Matt D’Alton left our roles at Universal McCann in 2007 and teamed up with some friends Grant Allaway and Julian Miall. The vision was to launch an independent digital media agency that could offer clients an alternative to big network agencies – offering huge amounts of industry experience but with more transparency, better management, better insight, better results and better costs without any of the red tape, politics and murky trading deals that exist in the big agency world. We stand by these principles today.

TDN: How has the agency grown over time?

JK: Organically. When we first launched we quickly hired our first employee (Sophie Paulin) who became an integral part of us successfully launching in the UK market. We remained a very compact team for two to three years after which point we moved offices and started to grow. As we became more established in the market our reputation grew and subsequently the size and type of client we worked with started to change. We invested sensibly and kept the operation very lean – ensuring the client/staff ratio was right. As soon as we needed extra resource we’d hire but it was done with the utmost care as we wanted to hire the right people at the right time.

We’re 10 in November this year and have been profitable every year since we started, which is something we’re very proud of. Our clients and employees are at the centre of everything we do and without their support over the last 10 years we wouldn’t be the agency we are today. Once clients start to work with us they really see the value we bring. We have worked with some clients for over six years now and that really is a reflection of the team here and how highly valued we are as a digital media agency by our clients.

We officially launched in Sydney just over a year ago – this was a strategic move as we looked to grow the agency and offer our services to a new market. We’re now a team of 15 and believe 2017 will be our most exciting so far as we look to win more awards, new business and grow our teams both in London and Sydney.

TDN: Why did you decide to expand out in Sydney? Was it an obvious move?

JK: The Australian digital ecosystem is growing rapidly and it was a territory we identified as one we would like to move into 10 years ago, when Sophie joined us. We looked at other possible 'hubs' in other countries but as they all seemed so saturated we felt we could really make a difference by bringing our experience and knowledge to Australia. We currently offer clients access to our affiliate marketing, biddable, social and media planning and buying services and given the time difference, it means we can offer clients round the clock account management.

TDN: What initial challenges did you face when you first set up Down Under?

MS: Launching an agency in Australia with no local reputation in the market was tough. We had to prove ourselves to those clients who took a bit of a leap of faith in working with us and demonstrate to the wider affiliate marketing industry that we actually know what we’re talking about. Winning awards certainly does that and we did so for our work with Sportitude (an Australian sports retailer) in September at Rakuten’s Golden Link Awards.

There are also the bureaucratic hurdles of incorporation and visas, which is a labour that we wouldn’t wish on anyone.

TDN: What is the agency scene like over in Oz? Is there a sense of collaboration?

JK: The expectation is that you do good work and get stuck in, balanced with a little fun. It’s a small tight-knit world in Australian agencyland and (more so than London) you’re never more than two or so degrees any from anyone in the industry. This makes for a friendly environment as you may well end up working with your former competitor.

We fostered collaboration through the IAB and the foundation of the Affiliate Marketing Steering Group. The industry worked together for the greater good and the document produced (The affiliate Marketing Handbook) was downloaded more than 600 times over Q4 2016. The IAB and other industry bodies are certainly influential in guiding the wider media industry on the right path.

TDN: Any other plans for expansion?

MS: Absolutely, we see the team growing significantly over the next two years as team Australia scales. We’ve learned a huge amount about working collaboratively between the UK and Australia and we see that as a competitive advantage for us as UK business look to us for guidance on their Australian activity and vice versa.

TDN: Where do you see the agency in three years’ time?

JK: Our ambition is to be regarded as the best independent agency in UK and Australia. If we can achieve that by 2020 then we’d be delighted

Navigate Digital is based in London and Sydney and works with clients such as Monarch, Palmer’s and Sportitude.

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