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Tie a yellow ribbon

Jul 14 2011 00:00 Tony Koenderman

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Andy Rice’s disengagement from Yellowwood Future Architects – 14 years after he founded the Yellowwood half – has proved the trigger for a radical re-examination of the consultancy’s business model and a repositioning for continued growth. The process has three drivers:

* A formal alignment with Hall & Partners, a London-based insight and research boutique armed with management tools such as Engager, a methodology to assess how well a brand engages with customers.

* A thrust into the African hinterland, where six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are located.

* Positioning for the technological revolution. “We’re revitalising our offering,” says CEO Kay Nash. “Social media and customer-led branding require new approaches, new thinking and new tools.”

Founded in 1997, Yellowwood merged with Nash’s Cape-based Future Architects in 2005, building a reputation as one of the most respected communications consultancies in the country, virtually defining the genre in South African terms. Rice proved adept at building a profile as a public speaker, radio personality and strategist, which had spinoff benefits for the company but also carried the danger his personal brand was stronger than the company’s.

That remained true even as Rice’s operational involvement with Yellowwood has declined since 2008, when a majority stake was sold to TBWA Worldwide. Revenue had quadrupled in four years and it sought a global platform. Crucially, the deal also provided an exit strategy for Rice and a growth strategy for Nash.

Nash has staffed up for the new challenges and has been joined at the top by group MD David Blyth, recently back from the Everstone Group in Britain. Rice stays on as non-executive chairman.

“We’ve recruited highly experienced people as well as seriously disruptive young blood to shake the tree and reinvent it,” Nash says. “We’re now teed up to grow aggressively and respond to changing customer behaviour and client needs. ”

Reminiscent of Johnnie Walker whisky, “Our plan is to walk far, walk tall and walk sure.” 
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