Global Marketing
Management Consultants
Global Marketing
Management Consultants
mobile-logo
Global Marketing
Management Consultants
Top

Managing Marketing: Creativity, Purpose And Cheese

Managing Marketing: Creativity, Purpose And Cheese

Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Jane Burhop and James Crawley are Creative Directors and co-Founders of Common Ventures, a storytelling and digital communications company celebrating ten years in the industry. They share their experiences of starting a new agency and the lessons they have learned along the way. At the core of Common Ventures has been a philosophy of working with people who share common values (and a love of cheese) be it clients, colleagues or suppliers. Plus their desire to make a difference to their clients’ businesses by creating work that delivers the desired results.

You can listen to the podcast here:

Follow Managing Marketing on SoundcloudPodbean, Google Podcasts, TuneInStitcher, Spotify, Apple Podcast and Amazon Podcasts.

Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media, and advertising with industry thought leaders and practitioners.

Today, I’m sitting down with two very special guests who are co-founders and creative directors of the storytelling and digital communications company, Common Ventures. First, please welcome Jane Burhop. Welcome, Jane.

Jane:

Hi Darren. Thanks for having me.

Darren:

You’re welcome. And next, her colleague, James Crawley. Welcome, James.

James:

Hello, Darren. Thanks again.

Darren:

So, big year this year for Common Ventures, because it’s 10 years, a whole decade. How’s it feeling, Jane?

Jane:

A little bit surreal. We’ve got the fairy bread out and throwing a party. But yes, they say you get to like five years and you’ve made it and then you get to 10, and you kind of look around and you’re like, “Oh, what else can we do?”

Darren:

Exactly. Well, because James, they say that if a business survives three years, it’s got a good chance of surviving that. Have the past 10 years gone rapidly for you?

James:

I would say yes and no. Rapidly, in so many ways, and then it’s also been a huge slog as I’m sure would be for anyone starting a business. But I very much still feel we’re still kids, if you think about it, we’re only 10. So, we’re not even a teenager yet. So, I still feel like there’s plenty to do.

Darren:

Plenty of energy, plenty of enthusiasm. But like a lot of people come to me and go, “Well, I’m thinking of starting an agency” and I tell them, “Look around, it’s not like the world is short of advertising agencies.”

But what was it when you actually got together and started thinking about creating Common Ventures? What was it that really drove that, James?

James:

Well, you mentioned energy before, which is interesting. And Jane and I were a junior team at a big agency and that was great and lots of fun and we had a great time. And one of the really enlightening things about that is we got to see people 20, 30 years ahead in their careers all around us.

And for some of them — not all of them, definitely: but for some of them, I guess, maybe the pessimism had started to creep in and they were just there doing the job. And from our end, it didn’t look like there was a lot of passion for some of these people. So, our very, I guess, ignorant logic probably at that point, was that how can we engineer a situation in which we retain a passion for as long as possible?

So, it seemed like a good idea to … again, with no real idea what we were doing, just kind of give it a crack. I guess, fundamentally, when you’re selling ideas, you’re only as good as the passion that you have for the job. And if the pessimism creeps in and the passion wanes, then the ideas are going to suck.

So, how do we continue to not have ideas that suck, I guess, would be the way I’d sum that up.

Darren:

It’s interesting though, and Jane, I’d love to hear your perspective on this. But when people are in big agencies, creative people, especially strategic people, they sort of like the security of that. I mean, imagine stepping out into your own business, even with partners, there’s a little bit of sense of trepidation and a bit of fear. Does that add to the energy or does it drain the energy from your perspective?

Jane:

I think at the time, to be completely honest, ignorance was bliss. Yeah, as James was saying just before like we were seeing all these people kind of be really pessimistic and become tainted by an industry that we couldn’t believe we were lucky enough to work in. We’re like, hang on, we get to go to work every day and sit in a room and think of ideas.

And so, the jump from like that safety and the confines of a big global agency to doing our thing wasn’t that big because we’re like, “Oh, we’ll just do the same thing but with the four of us and get our own clients.” And then of course, when the reality of that set in, we were like, “Oh, we have to run a business,” which is very, very different to being a creative team and thinking of ideas and selling the dream to clients.

So, yes, it was a very steep learning curve, but I think at that time, we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves in for.

Darren:

Look, I think that’s fantastic because a lot of people are inclined to … the fear will stop them actually taking that jump. But do you think it’s actually improved your sort of abilities as a creative person, having to understand business as well, James?

James:

Absolutely. I mean, constraints are one of the best things to drive lateral thinking or ideas or whatever you want to call it. The worst brief is an open one, as I’m sure many people would agree. And being a small business and being a startup agency 10 years ago with no idea what we were doing, constraints are all you have. So, you tend to think of some pretty good stuff, I think. So, yeah, it’s really energizing.

Darren:

It’s like that … what’s that saying? “Necessity is the mother of invention.” That when you start a new business, it’s amazing how creative you can become because you lack all of those heavy-lifting resources, isn’t it?

James:

And ignorance as well. And not to be overstated, but Trey Parker and Matt Stone, two very funny …  the South Park guys amongst other things.

I remember reading an interview with them and not that I’m at all comparing myself to them because they’re amazing, but they would never have done South Park now knowing what they know, but they’re so glad that they did.

The same thing, I’m not sure I would do this again, knowing what I know, but I’m so glad that we did because of what we learned and now where we are. But to do it again now would be — and maybe that’s why, again, the ignorance thing being so early on is perfect, and the perfect time for that to happen in our circumstance anyway.

Darren:

So, energy, enthusiasm, skill, and talent overcame the sort of obstacles that have been on the path over the last 10 years.

Jane:

Pretty much, yeah, I think so. And what we’ve also tried to do is make sure that there’s longevity in that and that we haven’t burnt out, and we haven’t tried to, I guess, bite off more than we could chew.

We’ve definitely looked at it from a strategic lens, like how can we make the good bits about the company and the people we work with and our clients, how can we harness that and continue to do that without becoming I don’t know, sour and …

James:

What did you say the other day? We’re here for a good time and a long time, longevity. And I think that is a smarter business decision. I’m not saying it’s the right thing for everyone. I mean, you see places that are massive overnight and that’s awesome.

But for us, growing it in a way where we could continue to retain the passion that we had for it when we were just teenagers basically trying to figure out that we could actually get paid to think of things. That’s far more valuable than anything for us.

Darren:

It’s interesting when you start your own business and this is from my personal experience, is that you can go into it two ways. Lots of people start a business and you say, “Well, why did you start the business?” “To make money.” When in actual fact, you realize that there’s a much bigger opportunity there to create something that’s meaningful beyond just another advertising agency.

What was the sort of thinking and was it from the early days? Because I know I don’t think I really had a very clear articulation of our reason for being our purpose, you might say, until about five years in. It really took that long of operating to get there. But for Common Ventures, what’s the thinking behind that?

Jane:

Yeah, and I think there have been so many iterations of that as well, but defining the purpose-

Darren:

So, it’s a work in progress, Jane?

Jane:

Always, but the purpose is always lots of different things to different businesses. And I think we were very mindful of not labelling ourselves as a purpose-driven agency or a social impact agency because it didn’t feel core to kind of how we wanted to work and the clients, we wanted a bit more diversity.

But we have found that what does give us purpose is finding people who our values are aligned with, whether that’s clients or company partners or the team, and finding out interesting ways to solve their problems.

Darren:

Excellent. And from your perspective, James, what’s purpose mean today for Common Ventures?

James:

Purpose today, for us again, it’s finding people who we have mutual respect for. And I’m not sure if that is a cop-out of an answer, but is genuinely what drives the decision from if we will accept a pitch or pick someone that’s going to join our team.

If there isn’t that fundamental, I guess, mutual respect and value alignment, it just doesn’t work and it doesn’t feel right. And I’ve been struggling to articulate what that is, I think, for the last several years, but it’s in there somewhere.

I’ll give you maybe one example of (you’d be interested in this) a pitch we were in about a year ago. And the pitch went quite well. And at the end, it was question time and one of the guys who was on the board asked a question; so, okay, we’re gearing up for a very sort of deep question here into the industry or whatever.

And the two questions you asked were, what brings you to tears and who believes most in you?

Darren:

Oh, wow.

James:

Which was completely shocking. This was mid-COVID. This was maybe 18 months ago actually. And it brought up all of this stuff and everyone went around the room, we’re all sobbing by the end of it. We’re all talking about how the world’s falling apart and what that means, and what brings us to tears.

And it was such a refreshing and great procurement “process” to go through because it just actually got us to understand how each other worked. And that is the sort of thing that really kind of makes me want to come back day and day again when you can actually figure out who those people are and try and find a way to work with them.

Darren:

On that basis, you must have a very interesting recruitment process to get to understand how people fit in. So, James clearly pointed to you then, so handball. No, but I’m interested because we are hearing a lot from the industry, and especially the big networks are all going “Well, we’re committed to diversity” and I’m worried or a little cynical that it’s a tick-boxing exercise.

So, how would you go about, and how do you go about recruiting people? How do you find these people and how do you validate that there’s actually that alignment and connection? Because it can be very hard, everyone’s on their best behaviour.

Jane:

And it is really interesting like obviously, lots of people are recruiting at the moment. And we get this feedback all the time, we’ve got it over the past few years, is everyone will always be like, “Oh, your job ad was really creative or like it made me laugh or it had this like tone of voice in it.” Because we write them in a creative way to talk to people like they’re humans, not like a job ad.

And I’m always gobsmacked because for creative agencies, how are you being like this, these are your skills? Why is it you can not type in emojis or add a bit more fun to it?

James:

For instance, our letter of (and this is all Jane’s idea) is a Letter of Offal. I mean, and why not? And for no real reason other than that, I mean, Jane and I started working together at uni because we had a similar sense of humour. And that’s the sort of people we want to be around, and it’s not really done by design. It’s just kind of how it spills out.

Jane:

You have to let us know your preferred cheese so that on your first day, we can give you a lump of Brie or Cheddar or d’Affinois if you’re a bit fancy.

Darren:

And what happens if they’re lactose intolerant?

James:

We have had this problem.

Jane:

They get an oat.

Darren:

That could be very shitty in all sorts of ways.

Jane:

Harden the pan.

Darren:

It’s interesting, I often think that HR and recruitment, go to those sort of weasel words to actually hide the true meaning of the job that they’re offering. Because who’s going to apply for the job that says, yes, it’s 40 hours a week, but we’ll expect you to work 60 with no extra pay?

And you’ll be told what to do and you’ll have to keep time sheets, and so on and so forth. Because if it was actually a true description of the job, you probably wouldn’t get anyone applying for it.

Jane:

Very true. But the team that we have worked with over the past and what we’ve found, is even more so than our clients, is if we have people that our values aligned or have that same passion and aren’t bogged down in the pessimism of the industry like they tend to stick around and you can form much like better relationships, and they enjoy the work and the creative output’s so much stronger. And you’re working with them for like three to four years, as opposed to like one to two. And it just makes going to work a lot more enjoyable as well because you like the people you work with.

Darren:

Well, James, isn’t there a danger though, of building a bubble? It’s like you end up with a whole lot of people that are just like you?

James:

A great point, Darren. I mean, I don’t think having a similar sense of humour necessarily means you get the same sort of people. Like there is definitely … and that’s just my way of articulating what really has been Jane’s brainchild really as far as how we do the recruitment process. But finding alignment on a similar sense of humour can be incredibly diverse, and it can transcend everything. I mean, humour can, I think in many ways.

Darren:

Depends on the humour, of course.

James:

It depends on the humour.

Darren:

If it’s culturally based or racially based or gender-based

Jane:

Then it doesn’t go down so well.

Darren:

You’re just going to alienate everyone that’s at the butt of your joke, really.

James:

That is a good point-

Jane:

We’re talking about quick wit here, Darren.

James:

We’re talking about cheese jokes, I think. But I guess it’s energy really. It’s a very crystal term, isn’t it? But it is energy as opposed to a set of rules. I guess it’s a … I don’t know what else you can call it.

Darren:

Well, it really goes to philosophy, doesn’t it? The sort of philosophy or beliefs of the person: what do they take seriously? What are they willing to laugh at?

James:

Yeah, and I think the people that … I mean, jump in here, Jane, if you disagree. But I think that the people that have been attracted to us in our business are people that are willing to laugh at themselves and not take themselves all that seriously. I mean, definitely, we’re on that end of the spectrum, I hope, and I think plenty of the people that work with us are too.

Jane:

But yeah, that is sometimes how we refer to it. Like we have the ability to take the work seriously, but not ourselves. But that, of course, comes with respect like what you were saying: diversity and culture. We’re not going to make people the butt of the joke in the office.

Darren:

And that’s the sad part, isn’t it? If you’ve worked in big agencies and the culture becomes very much the culture of the senior team. the leadership of the agency actually sets the culture. And I wonder sometimes because you hear the industry saying, “Oh, the fun’s gone out of advertising.” I’m wondering if the fun’s gone out of the leadership.

Jane:

Ask us in 10 years.

Darren:

Good answer.

James:

If our plan works out though, right, Jane? And the longevity thing is going to work, then yeah, hopefully, we can keep it. That’s the plan because I think it makes business sense too, because as Jane mentioned before, things like retention longer, less recruiting; things like our client relationships, lots of them have been eight, nine years, which for us seems good.

You tell me, you’d know better Darren, but I think there’s a real rigour and sense to thinking about it long-term, as opposed to as much as possible, as soon as possible.

Jane:

Instant gratification, I think, rubs off pretty quickly.

Darren:

You want the payoff now. So, does this same approach apply to clients? How do you source out a client that you want to work with or that comes to you? Because I can imagine that you get clients coming in saying, “We want you to pitch for our business.” What’s the sort of thinking process that you would go through to assess whether this is something that you want to do?

Jane, another handball there.

James:

It’s alright. No, no, no. I just don’t want to cut you off, it’s your project. I was going to start talking about your project.

Darren:

To use an AFL term, you just took the handball.

James:

We’re Victorian, we get that one.

Jane:

The first example.

James:

Yeah.

Jane:

Yeah, it’s a mix of the people and the chemistry, I think, in the room, and we are finding more recently, a lot of clients are changing the procurement process. So, it’s not a long 70-page document within-

Darren:

The RFP.

Jane:

Yes, yes. The request for tender, what a dream they are. And it is becoming workshop sessions or tissue sessions where you get a sense of how people think and how people communicate and how they interact.

But for us, it’s more like making sure that the end result of the problems that we’re solving or the work or the companies that we’re working with are solving real problems that kind of challenge the team.

So, more recently, we’re working with the Australian government on an anti-gambling register, which may not have the bells and whistles of a Ladbroke campaign or those big kinds of shiny gambling campaigns.

But it means there are much more interesting problems to solve, harder problems to solve. And at the end of the day, you’re kind of helping people that may be at risk of problem gambling rather than tempting people to follow their vices.

Darren:

So, on that basis, would there be certain categories of advertising that you wouldn’t do?

Jane:

Definitely, yeah.

Darren:

So, there’s a moral judgment because most advertisers are legal, they’re legal to sell their products even though it’s not necessarily good for society or good for the individuals. And there’s an ethical question as well because if they came to you to do a campaign that you know or felt wasn’t justified, how do you go about that?

James:

Well, it’s just a really hard question, I guess, what I’m getting at. It’s a really hard line in the sand to draw because every business does have a purpose. I guess, the question is, does our team believe similarly in that purpose and what it’s going to do.

As you say, they’re all legal. There’s nothing wrong with them operating from a legal standpoint, but do we believe that it’s something fluffy, like good, and that’s really hard to quantify and figure out. So, it is on a case-by-case basis, but the client team and the people that we will be working with is a great yardstick for making that decision.

So, if it was a neutral, someone that maybe doesn’t cause harm, but doesn’t necessarily cause good, is it something we would work on? And the decision may be lies in the people that we would be working with.

Darren:

So, you rely on the sort of collective wisdom of the team as to whether that’s something … which Jane, goes back to your point, which is about building long-term retained relationships with the team because people want to work on things that they’re passionate about.

Jane:

Most definitely, we have found that not only can they be honest with us and be like, “Oh, like I’m uncomfortable about this” or “I don’t want to work on this” and we’d support that and respect that — it allows us better relationships with the clients as well, where we can ask those really honest questions and be like, “Is this something you’re comfortable with us exploring?”

Darren:

Yeah, it’s interesting, because last century when I was a copywriter, I was lucky enough to go to the Caxton’s which they probably haven’t had for, I don’t know, how long. But Ray Black gave a speech at the Caxton’s about the ethical responsibility of being a creative person. Because we often forget … earlier you talked about getting paid to come up with ideas.

But we have to remember that those ideas, their purpose is to actually persuade people to change their behaviours and that there’s a responsibility that goes with that. That it’s the Peter Parker principle: with great power comes great responsibility. Do you ever feel that?

Jane:

Oh, I think definitely. Definitely, of course. And you can’t not. And especially when we first started working together as a team and we were selling a dark-coloured soft drink to teenagers and working with big budgets, and there is a tiny voice inside of your head is like, “Oh, I don’t know if this is a good idea, trying to sell two-litre bottles of soft drink.”

Darren:

Sugar.

Jane:

Yeah, sugar and God knows what else to someone who isn’t of the advertising age, but we’re going to use 3D rendered cartoons, and then you’re like, “Oooh …”

James:

Well, and I think fundamentally everyone, or most people, I would say, at some point, ask themselves if they want to be part of a problem or a solution. And I was having a chat with someone on a film set recently who’d been in the industry for 40 years and had done many, many car advertisements and sports, betting ads his whole career.

And he got 40 years through it and he woke up one morning and just said I’ve just realized I’m part of the problem. And I don’t want to be spending my time, which the most time I spend on anything is my job. And I want to be putting that towards something I feel good about. And that’s so overly simplistic, I know, but you got to ask yourself that at some point. And for us, I think we just asked it quite quickly.

So, yeah, I mean, a recent thing we worked on was the election campaign. So, we worked with an independent candidate in a seat that had been held by one party for 66 out of 72 years. And we created a campaign that she’s won the seat for, which is amazing and brilliant and such a great way to see the work that you do actually spit out a result in a way that you don’t usually see.

So, you’re absolutely right. In the speech that you heard, we do have a responsibility, I think, and I’m not saying that’s what everyone has to do or should do. But I think that if you’re not spending your time doing something that you believe is worthwhile, then why are you doing it in the first place?

Darren:

For the money, of course.

James:

But the money will come, Darren, the money comes.

Darren:

No, no, no, but that’s usually the cry, isn’t it? Why did they do it? For the money. Even when tobacco was on the nose — legal to sell, but there were all these rules and yet there were still agencies taking on tobacco clients, knowing that part of the job was to push the boundaries to get around the legislation. And yet people were making decisions to work on that. So, it is a personal choice.

James:

It’s a personal choice though, isn’t it? I’m not going to say that it’s bad if people work on them. I mean, that’s their decision and that’s their choice. I mean, I’m sure there’s stuff that we work on that people would say … we work on a lot of alcohol clients and we continue to do that. Is that the right thing to do at the moment? We feel like it’s okay. Is it maybe long-term? I don’t know, that might change.

Jane:

And especially like with some of our alcohol clients during COVID, when their sales went up and they became really successful due to people drinking at home.

Darren:

I heard it was self-medicating because they had to suddenly find out how hard it is to be a teacher by having to teach their children at home. In fact, I saw a couple of memes going around that said they’re surprised that teachers aren’t more alcoholic.

Jane:

True, yes.

Darren:

But look, the only reason I bring this up, James, is earlier when we’re talking about the purpose of Common Ventures, you said that it’s about doing … well, you didn’t say doing good, you said-

James:

No, I didn’t say …

Darren:

No, you said it’s hard to define.

James:

Well, that’s it. I’m struggling right now, Darren. And that’s why I think, I mean, putting a label on what is good and there are plenty of accreditation systems that do this. It’s just never felt right to me because surely, it’s in the detail, surely, it’s in the grey area. And it’s also completely personal what you believe is good and what you want to exert your energy on adding to, so I don’t think I can define it.

Darren:

Sorry, when you say accreditation, you mean like getting B-Corp certification and things like that?

James:

Exactly, yeah. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them. I think they’re great and they allow you to ask yourself some very important questions, but I mean, what do you think about B-Corp, Darren?

Darren:

Well, we have on our register, we ask agencies if they’re B-Corp certified, because it becomes a shorthand way for clients to then get insights into the sort of philosophy and the ethical behaviour of the agency.

Now, there are so few agencies (it’s increasing) — but there are so few agencies that have actually become B-Corp certified, a handful that we know of. And all of the reports are, it is a rigorous process. It’s a really tough, time-consuming and thorough process.

Does it help them? Well, they’ve done it for a reason. Whether that’s a commercial reason or personal reason or a philosophical reason, they’ve done it for a reason. So, we think it’s important to report on that.

I’m just interested because you’ve created a business, it’s clearly about getting together with like-minded people and having fun while you’re being serious about your client’s work. I’m just wondering, well, what are the upsides and the downsides for you of that?

James:

Yeah, great question. I mean, there is a price to it, for sure, and there are a lot of perks. I think on the perk side, as we’ve already sort of spoken about, I think the longevity of the business for us is a clear one there. And the retention of the team is also good for the business.

The price though … and we’ve definitely seen this, is — and it’s a double-edged sword of passion. So, if we are trying to build something that we can retain a passion for over a long time, it means that for a lot of the clients or projects that we’ll work on, there’ll be a lot of indebted passion in that process. And all the team will be incredibly invested in it, which is great, and it means the ideas are great.

But it also means to be frank, that there’s potentially more friction and more pushback from us to maybe a client that just wants to get something done sometimes. And we are there, you know-

Jane:

A hundred miles an hour.

James:

A hundred miles just trying to like fight everything for what we believe will be a better outcome for them, because it’s something we really want to succeed. But it’s been to the detriment of the relationship quite a few times, I think. And that’s definitely a price.

I think it’s a price we’re willing to pay because again, it allows us to retain the passion and that’s good. But I don’t think necessarily it’s always the best way to foster a really great relationship, to be frank.

Darren:

And Jane, what about you? What have you seen as the benefits, perks, and price?

Jane:

Yeah, I definitely think at times we’ve cared too much. Like what James was saying, that’s the price we’ve paid. So, with the-

Darren:

So, passion?

Jane:

Yes.

Darren:

Your passion and commitment to doing a great job.

Jane:

Has sometimes blindsided us into doing what’s best for the client in their eyes or what’s asked of us as an agency because we’re going so gung-ho at like trying to solve the problem on our end and potentially not listening as much as we should have, or taking them on the journey as to the reasoning behind our thinking.

And it’s been a real shame because we’ve lost like some of our favourite clients or some of those relationships that we’ve held for several years. And so, that opportunity to do good or make an impact is cut short because of this relentless kind of … and it may be an expectation that we put on ourselves because we just want to see the best possible outcome, but that’s definitely something that we are super mindful of going into that relationships moving forward, having learned from those past mistakes.

Darren:

Well, we have one of our rules, which is the “no ass-hole” rule. We won’t work with ass holes, we won’t work for ass holes, and we won’t work with ass holes. Now, how you define that is up to you. But like you, it’s a similar thing because ultimately, there’s a belief and a passion for the industry and the power of the industry.

But what you don’t want to be doing is wasting your time with people that really just want you to do what they ask you to, rather than give them the best solution. Is that a similar philosophy that’s happening here?

Jane:

Yeah, I think so. And I think sometimes, it’s really hard because there has to be that mutual trust between agency and client. And at the end of the day, they’re paying us a substantial amount of money to do the work. So, if there isn’t that trust, it’s like, well, you’re also wasting your money because you’re either hand-holding us or telling us what to do or we are just executing. We’re not actually adding value with rigorous strategic and creative thinking.

And that then becomes another moral issue because it’s like, well, if you want someone to just execute or maybe the in-house creative team is better for you if they want that end-to-end control and aren’t looking for recommendations or a different sort of the point of view.

So yeah, I definitely think that yes, it’s a balance and it’s about finding the right people to work with similar attitudes and similar wants and needs.

Darren:

But I get from the conversation Jane, that the real upside for you is that the same approach is creating quite a strong-knit team of people to work with.

Jane:

Yeah, yeah. So, that’s definitely the best even when it comes to clients. So, James and I were talking about this earlier and we’ve worked with a tourism board for seven years and it’s got to the point now where we can be like, “Do you still want to work with us? Like are we still giving you guys new and interesting thoughts” because we know that they branded really well, we’re quite ingrained like in the knowledge of their strategy and things like that.

And so, there’s that concern that we’ve potentially become too comfortable. But because there’s that long trust between our internal team and our clients and partners, we can ask those really honest, open questions.

James:

And get an honest answer. And I mean, luckily, that was a good answer in that particular example, which is great. So, it does go both ways.

Darren:

It’s interesting that you say about getting too comfortable because there’s a lot of focus in the industry on making sure you have a good relationship with your clients. And yet, a lot of the measures that are then put in place about being a good relationship are more about the client being satisfied with the day-to-day … like, “Oh yeah, they’re nice people and they do a good job.”

And it’s all these sorts of service delivery type metrics. Whereas, I’ve always felt that the best relationships are the ones built on common respect and trust that allows … well, actually, not headbutting so much.

Jane:

Argue-butting.

James:

Arguments, though. Arguments though, I think, for sure.

Darren:

Well, I say I love the idea of the oyster. A little bit of sand gets into the oyster and irritates the crap out of it. So, what does it make? What does an oyster make when it’s irritated? It makes pearls.

Jane:

Delicious.

Darren:

It makes pearls. And so, I see that as a great metaphor for the types … if you’re talking about good relationships, good relationships should be the ones that make pearls. But they make pearls out of irritation.

James:

Yeah. And-

Darren:

Not out of just sitting there or agreeing with each other all the time.

James:

Exactly. I mean, it’s challenging each other, isn’t it? I mean, it’s like any good relationship, be it a personal relationship or a client with an agency: if you can’t tell someone your opinion that might not be the same as theirs, and you can both argue that in a way that’s constructive, you’re not really getting anywhere. You’re just doing what each other is telling each other to do. It’s not a great way to get value out of an agency, really, if it’s a creative one, I don’t think. What do you think?

Darren:

No, no, I agree with you.

Jane:

Very definitive.

James:

There you go. Too definitive? Oh no.

Darren:

Well, it seems like you have a lot of fun. I imagine if there’s anyone that’s listening to this, looking for a fun agency to work with, they should be calling you, shouldn’t they?

James:

I mean, if they’d like to Darren, we’d love to hear from them. But look, I mean, in all honesty, of course, it’s not all fun, it’s incredibly hard work most of the time, but you can still … I think you can do that and still retain a cheese joke or two every now and then.

Darren:

What is it with you and …

Jane:

Lactose-

James:

Yeah, my cheese, come on.

Jane:

Cheese has got quite a few mentions.

Darren:

Next, you’ll be doing the cheese shop sketch from Monty Python.

James:

Oh, God.

Jane:

Sign us up.

Darren:

Alright. So, for the future for Common Ventures, what do you see? You talked about longevity: what’s your goal? What would success look like let’s say over the next 5 years or 10 years?

Jane:

Oh, good question. I think we are now at that point where we are really looking to do all the things we’ve spoken about today. So, retain that creative integrity and longevity of the team and our client partnerships. But we are really looking to grow and expand and look at how we can … we are still quite a small agency in the scheme of things and quite a small independent.

But I think to be able to work on juicier problems and work with bigger clients, there is a real need to kind of hit that ‘grow’ button, which we were in a great position to do a couple of years ago then COVID and things like that.

So, I think, yeah, the focus for the next 10 years is not only to keep doing what we are doing and retaining all those things we’ve spoken about: whether it’s fun or just really rigorous creative thinking, but seek out bigger problems and bigger opportunities with a variety of interesting clients.

Darren:

Sounds good. James, do you have anything to add to that?

James:

I mean, I’d agree obviously with what Jane’s saying. I mean, growth is great, and new problems are awesome. The other thing I would probably add is — and it’s something that’s thrown around a bit with creative agencies, but the side project thing.

Darren:

The hustle.

James:

The hustle, and being able to, again, work in a place where you can do that. So, for instance, at the moment, making a film, is great. And I work somewhere that will support me to do that, fantastic. And that can be, I think part of that growth for all of it. And obviously, not just for myself, but for everyone.

Darren:

Yeah, it’s interesting because a lot of agencies, when I talk to them say, “Oh yeah, we want to grow.” And I go, “But at what cost?” And I think that’s a really important thing that you need to keep in mind. The number of times that we’ve seen agencies with really strong cultures, and they have really strong cultures because the founders have defined the culture.

But then, they’ve gone for growth at any cost. And one, the big client who suddenly is dominating the agency and sucking up everyone’s time and suddenly, you are having to employ people quickly. Not because they’re the right people, but just because you need someone to do the job. And then you turn around one day and you look at the agency and you go, “Oh my God, we’ve become just like everyone else.”

Jane:

Everyone’s sad, sitting at their desk, eating their stale sandwiches.

Darren:

Well, so that’s what I’d say to you, is that growth is important because it’s part of moving forward, but it always has to be considered at what cost are you willing to pay for that growth, and how do you manage it so that it actually becomes positive growth rather than just financial growth.

James:

Yeah. And sustainable growth, as I guess that’s what you’re getting at. If it’s not sustainable, then it’s short-term. So, yeah, I mean I would always prefer… I don’t want to speak for Jane, but I would always prefer doing things slower with more consideration and doing it right. And being able to keep things like our staff and not burning everyone out.

That would be for me, totally, the way forward. And maybe that doesn’t sound ambitious enough, I’m not sure. But for me, it just feels right.

Darren:

Well, to have staff that have been with you for almost as long as you’ve existed, is an amazing achievement in this industry that aren’t equity partners, by the way. Because that’s called the golden handcuff.

Jane:

But even like to the point around growth, it doesn’t have to be monetary and it doesn’t have to be people. It could just be the growth of more diverse clients. Growth sometimes gets wrapped up and gets a bad wrap that it’s just linked to the bottom line.

But yeah, you raise a very good point. It’s something that we are super mindful of, that we started off as a strategic and creative agency at our heart, and we want to make sure that that doesn’t get lost at the cost of growth.

Darren:

Chasing growth.

Jane:

Yes.

Darren:

Look, thank you for your time today. It’s been great catching up with both of you. Is there anything that you want to add before we finish up?

James:

Cheese? No.

Darren:

What is your favourite cheese? James?

James:

Oh, just a straight Chedder man, to be honest, Darren. Nothing fancy. Love me a good Cheddar. Yeah, no, it’s alright, we’ll play this out.

Darren:

And Jane, what’s your favourite cheese?

Jane:

Goats cheese.

Darren:

Goats cheese, whichever.

Jane:

Marinated in a jar from a town called Meredith, which is just-

Darren:

Oh yeah, very nice.

Jane:

30 minutes away from where I grew up. So, if you haven’t had it, anyone out there, you can get it at your local supermarket and it’s delicious.

Darren:

Excellent. Good to hear.

Jane:

What about you, Darren?

Darren:

Oh, I’m a straight Brie, I love a Brie. A good Brie under fresh bread, is perfect.

James:

Fantastic.

Jane:

I love the cheese deviation.

Darren:

Well, thanks again.

James:

Thanks, Darren. Appreciate it.

Jane:

Thank you.

Want more articles like this? Subscribe to our newsletter:



    Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

    We're Listening

    Have something to say about this article?
    Share it with us on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn

    Tweet
    Share
    Share
    Buffer
    Pin