– by Craig Wilson (with excerpts from recent Fairfax column)
Sticky turns 10 today. It has been a decade since I purchased a small regional advertising agency and embarked on a journey that has a had more twists and turns than I ever expected.
The day I took over I actually had very little agency experience (I came from a radio and small business ownership background) and didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. That was probably a good thing. Sometimes, as they say, ignorance is bliss, and so I blissfully set out to win clients and create advertising campaigns that I hoped would help them grow.
Our first big win was a division of Caltex. We couldn’t believe it. I proceeded to write a jingle (I’d never written one before) and script and direct a TV campaign (another first) that would run in regional NSW for several years. It also turned out to be quite a success for the client who experienced increased sales and market share despite drought conditions. Sure, the campaign looks a bit dated and hokey today, but it was created for a specific market on a relatively small budget and it worked.
Other adventures and misadventures followed including the creation of several sideline businesses with varying degrees of success, but which taught us a lot along the way.
One of the most significant moments for the agency was when my friend Gavin Heaton encouraged me to start blogging and join Twitter. This led to the creation of the Mediahunter blog and Twitter handle which basically changed the direction of the agency. We quickly learned that blogging and great content, coupled with an active social media presence could gain the sort of attention and engagement that advertising was finding increasingly difficult. It also introduced us to search engine optimisation as we suddenly found our posts were regularly turning up on the first page of Google for numerous searches.
We turned the agency website into a blog, one of the first in Australia to do so, and this encouraged us to start sharing more ideas and information. On Twitter we were engaging with a geographically broader audience than we had ever expected and before we knew it enquiries started coming from outside of the Hunter Region. We started to dream that Sticky could be more than a regional agency focusing on clients only in the Newcastle area.
By this time we had also realised that the marketing world was changing rapidly and traditional media was becoming less influential as inbound marketing became a viable strategy. We decided to lead the charge and focus on digital at the expense of traditional media. It was considered a “brave” (in other words, crazy) move by many at the time, but we felt we had found our niche and our chance to make a real impact.
And it worked!!
We have successfully helped Australian companies launch in the USA, attracted clients from USA and Europe and been involved in world-first initiatives that are truly inspiring. Most satisfying has been helping our clients grow and being able to measure that success.
What started out as a creative agency working with traditional media in the local region is now a digital-only agency with clients around the world. That wasn’t the plan but became a reality as digital platforms evolved that allowed people to connect and transact globally with increasing ease.
Anniversaries like this tend to be cause for reflection and I can’t help but consider how much has changed in the last decade and how different Sticky is now compared to 2005. I am sure we are not alone in experiencing a significant altering of course as the last decade has been tumultuous for businesses around the globe with new technology and global communication disrupting and transforming the business landscape.
I honestly believe that the disruption we have all experienced has changed the way most of us need to do business in the future. Whole paradigms have changed and new lessons must be learned in order to be successful, especially for regionally based businesses.
3 LESSONS LEARNED FROM 10 YEARS OF STICKY
You Need to Find a Niche
The days of the full service business are over. You see it in all areas of business. In the age of the smartphone app as a business, you can’t afford to have a broad noncompetitive offering.
We started out as a full service agency but quickly realised that such a broad offering actually limited our potential to just servicing the Hunter Region. The more we narrowed our focus and offerings, the more successful we became, winning increasingly larger clients nationally and internationally. We couldn’t have done that offering “full service”.
Narrowing your focus also means you have the potential to become excellent at your core offering rather than just good at a range of activities. I strongly believe that excellence in a niche is the future of business.
Work Isn’t a Place
Ten years ago the office was still the main focus of a business. Remote working existed but most of us still operated with the bulk of the talent under one roof. A more globalised economy and more efficient (and free) communication options have blown that concept apart.
Instead of renting a large office space to house more staff as a company grows it is now possible to have a team spread around the world working more efficiently.
Sticky now has a small focused team here in our Newcastle office and another 10 people helping us in Newcastle, Sydney, Perth, Brisbane, Canada & USA. These people are all experts at their niche service and help us deliver higher quality work more rapidly than we could have done previously.
In an increasingly mobile and freelanced economy your next team member might be thousands of kilometers away.
You Need to Put Your Head in the Cloud
Just ten years ago the cost of starting and maintaining a business was considerably higher than it is today. The big change has been the explosion of cost-effective cloud based applications and SaaS (software as a service).
Now data storage, CRM systems, accounting and payroll applications, and nearly any other business solution you require exist in an easy-to-access, pay-by-the-month cloud based application. It means that an idea today can literally be a business tomorrow with minimal overhead.
Best of all, these cloud based applications mean that small businesses like mine can lower costs and invest in more productive talent that is customer-focused rather than bogged down in administration.
The last 10 years has been quite a ride. We’ve learned a lot, made some mistakes and had some fun along the way. Thanks to everyone, clients, staff, friends, supporters and suppliers who have been part of the Sticky journey. Today we will celebrate and tomorrow the next chapter begins. It promises to be just as exciting.