Dale thrives in complex advertising arena | Fin24
 
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Dale thrives in complex advertising arena

Dec 02 2014 17:12

Durban - Durban-based advertising agency The Hardy Boys (THB) are celebrating their 20th year in the business.

Founder and CEO Dale Tomlinson describes his journey as an entrepreneur.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

After studying fine arts at the Natal Technikon I started my career off as a designer working in studios in London, San Francisco and South Africa.

After several years spent gaining experience in the industry, I plucked up the courage to launch my own design business in Durban: The Hardy Boys (THB).

From what started as humble beginnings, I am proud of what we have achieved to date and I’m excited about what the future holds now that we have joined forces with the world’s biggest international communication group: WPP.

Currently I am focussing on expanding The Hardy Boys further into Africa and I am also responsible for the WPP Group-Unilever relationship for Southern Africa, which means that I report directly to their London office.

Share a few business highlights that have stuck with you over the last 20 years.

There have been many highlights over the past 20 years, but this last year actually stands out as particularly significant when it comes to receiving recognition for our clients. We landed five Loerie Awards and one Craft Award for various campaigns.

On top of that we received a bronze medal at the 55th annual Clio Awards in New York (the only SA agency to win an award this year) and two silver awards at the ADdvan Awards in Nigeria.

Other highlights in past years, were when THB received two Diageo Marketing Brilliance Awards & Global Best Innovation Agency Award for the launch of the Diageo Snapp brand into Kenya and Nigeria.

I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved over the years and especially to be at the helm of an agency that is 90 employees strong at the moment.

Our exco team is very strong with the likes of Alan Bell and Geoff Paton leading from the front, but overall we have some truly excellent people on board that are helping to grow us into one of South Africa’s and Africa’s top agencies.

A personal highlight for me was also being the only African to speak at Cannes to an audience of 3 000 at the Cannes Lions Awards in 2013.

Discuss some of the challenges you have faced in growing your agency.

The economic climate around the world does impact our industry and, although South Africa wasn’t hit as hard as many other countries, our industry was still influenced. During times of recession when companies and consumers alike are tightening their belts and cutting down on spending it can be a challenge to be nimble in a constantly evolving environment.
 
What is extremely demanding about the industry, beyond the deadlines, is that every idea and execution is a once off, there are no economies of scale. Practically, this means that for our teams, this relentless drive to continually innovate and come up with fresh solutions and new ways of engaging consumers is what it’s all about.

Having said that, we love the energy, the frenetic challenges and the variety of brands we work with.

Another challenge lies in the hiring and retaining of quality talent. The key ingredient for standing out from the crowd and enjoying solid growth is great people. Central to retaining talent is the physical environment that people work in.

A creative environment that does not constantly evolve would seem to indicate a level of stagnation, as the space you work in can either stimulate creativity or stifle it. It is imperative to maintain a vibrant energy to keep the team engaged and doing their best work, but finding new ways to engage people over the long term can prove to be challenging.

I have also seen the South African and African ad industry morph from strong traditional media through the advent of TV to the power of social media platforms, activations and more.

The craft of advertising has consequently become more complex, more technological - in other words, more competitive and more restless.

This means that in-depth critical analysis of the full spectrum of media and consumer touch points as well as the market the brand is entering need to be conducted. This can be a mammoth task to say the least.

What are the challenges and opportunities that advertising and doing business in other parts of Africa present?

I would say having the correct insight and local knowledge to market a specific product to a specific market. This can be a challenge, but is vital to the success of the brand. Great work built on poor insight is more damaging than beneficial.

Take detergents for example – in some markets a washing machine is appropriate, in another market the same product may be used in a basin to soak laundry, in another a paste applied to stains – get the application wrong, and all you do is display your ignorance.

What advice would you give to aspiring people in the industry to succeed creatively and on a business level?

You have to work hard at staying relevant. This business requires you to constantly communicate with consumers and facilitate an intimate and ongoing conversation.

You need to be out on the streets engaging with consumers and understanding their daily challenges and desires.

I would also advise doing intensive research into emerging trends and human behaviour as well as joining forces with other industry players where necessary to produce the best work possible.

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