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Meet the Team: Happier humans at The Works

19 Apr, 2018

Meet the Team: Happier humans at The Works

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This was first published in the April issue of AdNews Magazine.

The past 12 months saw something of a domino effect when it came to independent agencies being bought by consultancy groups or companies outside of the traditional holding group model. First came The Monkeys and Accenture Interactive. Next up was The Works. It sold to technology company RXP for $33 million in August.

What piques most interest in agency acquisitions is the way the two organisations talk about the seamless merging of two disparate cultures. There’s often a great deal of scepticism about the reality.

Melbourne–based RXP CEO, Ross Fielding, is non–plussed. His company has bought eight small companies and absorbed them into its business in the past few years.

It might be a bit more culturally difficult for The Works people, but co–founder and creative partner, Damian Pincus, isn’t fazed either.

Pincus, a long–time advertising stalwart with nearly 30 years in the game, seems tired of traditional advertising. For him and his business partners, this is why the prospect of joining forces with RXP was appealing.

When he spoke to AdNews, he revealed the overwhelming response from The Works' staffers was “thank god they didn't sell to a multinational” showing the disdain they collectively feel for communications holding groups.

Part of the appeal was that Fielding is also the founder of RXP. With the shared view of a founder, they both have similar outlooks on what success means.

“We’ve got founders on both sides. We both started businesses so there's an entrepreneurial spirit that holds us together," Pincus said. "We both get excited about things and sometimes we just need to slow down a bit."

Damian Pincus and Ross Fielding

Damian Pincus and Ross Fielding

Fielding added: “We’ve prided ourselves on the idea of not being too arrogant or saying we’re perfect and any new acquisition has to fit into our way. We’ve always had the view that in every acquisition, if we don’t improve by picking up the better things from the new company then we’re going to fail.”

 An example of taking up the best things from The Works is the roll–out of a shared organisational positioning called 'Happier Humans' that draws on the creative agency’s strength in branding,

“It’s the positioning of our organisation as we move forward. It’s not something the core RXP team have come up with, but we knew we had to evolve [our culture] and I love the idea,” Fielding said.

In February, the company opened its Sydney ‘hub’, a shared, collaborative office space that is described as the “physical manifestation” of the two organisations coming together.

With collaboration spaces, boardroom, offices, an event space and a research and testing room, it provides a base in the city for both RXP and The Works teams to gather with suppliers, partners and clients, giving a new way of working for both organisations and a central point to deliver the ‘collaboration’ between creative and technology they talk about.

“RXP has a lot of experience buying companies and successfully integrating them into its business. They create an environment which is attractive to us [The Works] to be part of," Pincus said.

"One of the biggest challenges for us going through the acquisition together was how do we make sure we are culturally aligned, we fit together, our teams have chemistry and work together.

“The Sydney hub is a physical manifestation of what it looks like, and we also operate on one P&L so there’s no fight over who gets what, which is massively helpful.”

the-works3

 

The Works'/RXP Sydney hub

For Fielding, it’s all about better outcomes.

“The intention for us is to create a workspace where we can get together with our clients and our partners," he said. "We've always wanted to be this lean, agile, collaborative organisation that our clients can feel embedded in. It’s about getting better outcomes.”

RXP and The Works recognise that throwing out the cultures and principles that made each successful before they came together is not going to end in success.

Pincus said: “We don’t want to be the biggest agency in town. We’ve always wanted to have the best culture, do the best work, and get the best results for our clients. It’s got to be more about that than scale. I think our clients appreciate that and they don’t want us to turn into something that we weren’t before.”

The acquisition has also accelerated an expansion of The Works into Melbourne following several new joint business wins.

Not only is it evolving the shape of the agency through its integration with RXP, it’s building mini in–house agencies that focus on emerging disciplines and developing specific capabilities to be experts in that field.

The first example is On Message, the unit it launched in June 2016 to tap into the massive growth in the messenger app space. The next initiative will be an editorial studio. The new unit, called Daresay, will focus on digital and editorial content creation and amplification.

The Works isn’t the first to talk about bringing together creativity and tech, and it won't be the last.

A “redefinition of creativity” needs to happen in the advertising industry, Pincus said. “We’re still desperately clinging on to mainstream media, but I look at some of the stuff RXP has done for clients and it’s equally creative. The creativity in technology kind of gets overlooked a little bit.”

Since the acquisition they have won new business together and expanded the remit of projects with clients on both sides by either bringing more creative thinking to a tech project or vice versa.

There is always cynicism around acquisitions and the ability for two cultures to come together. Pincus said that comes from a lack of understanding from other agencies more than anything.

“Clients are adopting massive digital transformations in their business, they’re then struggling with finding the right people, the right partners and what platforms to execute," he explained. "I think people in our industry are struggling too, and I think they’re scared about what the future looks like.

“Australia’s a funny country. If people are a bit afraid of something, they start to pooh–pooh it, but our people and our clients get it.” 

The Works creative partner Paul Swann

What does your day–to–day role involve?paul-swann2
A typical day might start with interviewing potential talent for the creative team, then conversations about who’s working on what and how it’s all tracking. I try and dedicate the lion’s share of my time to working on the work, either developing, selling or crafting ideas. New business and internal product development have also become a major part of my role. In between all that, I can be found frantically absorbing as much information about our ever–changing industry in order to appear informed, and unsubscribing to email lists that I’m pretty sure I didn’t sign up for.

 What’s your proudest moment
at The Works?

My favourite attribute about The Works is the tenacity with which we pursue goals. An example of that is how a few years back we set out to become a leader in the customer experience space. In pursuit of that goal we retained existing staff and hired new ones, created a suite of tools and even developed a brand new division in On Message (to build chatbots). The culmination of all this was winning CX Agency of the Year at multiple shows, including AdNews’.

What does the future hold for advertising?
Successful brands will combine brilliant customer experiences with well–articulated and engaging positioning.

The Works head of digital solutions 

What does your day–to–day role involve?dave7
I manage a team of very talented designers, developers and producers. The day usually starts with a quick team meeting to check in on project status and to tackle any major issues while the coffee is kicking in. From there, it’s a mix of new business, project and client meetings. I work very closely with the strategic, creative and technology leads to ensure we propose and deliver the best possible solutions to fit our clients’ needs. I also spend a lot of time trying to keep up with ever–changing technology trends, to ensure that we can capitalise on latest developments.

What was your immediate thought when the RXP acquisition happened, and how has that changed?
Intrigue. I think it's pretty obvious that as an agency you need to adapt or risk becoming extinct. Joining RXP offered us the chance to work with new clients on a more diverse range of projects. It’s going really well. We are really starting to understand each other's strengths and weaknesses, and how to best add value for for our combined clients. We are working on a number of great opportunities together which is really exciting.

 What defines The Works?

I think it boils down to lack of ego and the ability to get stuff done. Everyone at The Works is here to deliver the best work possible. This becomes much easier when all the egos and politics are removed. Being an independent for so long has also allowed us to easily adapt and change the way we operate without all the layers of policy that sometimes exist in larger networks.

 How are the kind of projects you’re working on evolving since The Works and RXP came together?

Working closer with RXP has allowed us to supercharge and refine our CX offering. Working with the 10Collective practice, which RXP acquired a few years ago, in particular has allowed us to create a new CX tool kit that we can apply to all types of projects. RXP also has some great relationships with brilliant clients, so having the door opened is offering a lot of new opportunities.

What can The Works team learn from RXP?
RXP has a wealth of experience across its various practice groups. Being able to leverage their knowledge across data, innovation and lean agile delivery will be of huge benefit to The Works.

RXP group executive digital services Jared Hill

What does your day–to–day role involve?Jared Hill
RXP’s capability is internally grouped into six practices, based around our specialisations across the digital service spectrum. While a national practice director manages each practice specialisation and team, my role is bringing those practices together into cohesive, end–to–end capabilities, and taking that to market for enterprise digital projects. Consequently, I spend a fair amount of time supporting the sales team in larger opportunities, in addition to overall delivery oversight across the company. I am also responsible for working with our practices on which technology partners and industry trends we invest in, and how that aligns with our strategic road map.

What’s the most exciting/surprising thing about working closely with The Works and getting to know the advertising world?

The crew at The Works are very down to earth. Having worked with agencies before, it can certainly be a clash of cultures, but we haven’t experienced that at all. It bodes well for making sure we can leverage the synergies between the teams into the future.

 How are the kind of projects you’re working on evolving since The Works and RXP came together?

Right now there are two obvious areas: marketing attribution and conversational/chatbot projects. On marketing attribution, this really is the fusion of The Works’ thought leadership on marketing planning, segmentation and execution, combined with the deep data expertise in RXP’s Insight practice, which houses our data scientists, modellers and visualisation experts.

The Works created On Message over 18 months ago. There is significant demand for this within RXP’s existing customer.

The Works people and culture Jasmine Lansdell

What does your day–to–day role involve?jasmine
My role is to attract, retain and develop amazing talent, and maintain and evolve our unique culture. This involves understanding who our people are and reflecting their desires and needs through our environment, benefits and opportunities. I also drive our employer brand and people strategy, and ensure that this feeds through everything we do internally and externally.

What defines The Works?
The spirit of our people defines who we are. We have a unique culture where everyone truly feels part of the business. A genuine care for people and a want for everyone to succeed creates a real emotional connection where our people feel a responsibility to make great work and have each other’s backs. We’ve just come off the back of three extremely hectic months and the passion, dedication and support we’ve seen from our people has been amazing. This is what makes our culture — the unity of our people in challenging times.

 What’s the most exciting thing about being part of RXP?

The potential for growth. RXP’s capabilities allow us to work on innovative digital projects we wouldn’t have had the scale to do previously. It also allows us to do what we do best, which is ideas. For our people, being part of RXP allows us to have a pool of talent we wouldn’t have had access to before and provides a wider range of training opportunities and areas for career progression.

What does the future hold for advertising?
The future is about continuing to learn and being interested in new and emerging technology. Skill sets are shifting to becoming truly multidisciplinary so to keep up with the evolution we need to keep our people in tune with those changes. I also believe we’ll see more of a rise in permanent freelancers as more of our work becomes project–based and we need to scale our teams up and down to cope with the demand, which will make the need for strong culture even more important.

RXP Operate national practice director Sara Cruise

What does your day–to–day role involve?sara
I am responsible for the delivery of managed services and cloud infrastructure across RXP. I also have a strong focus on development of associate/
graduate consultants, working with my management team to ensure training and development of their technical and soft skills. A lot of my day is working with our teams and customers on how to improve efficiencies within our processes and theirs. Customer retention is extremely important and the model we deliver allows our customer’s platforms to evolve as their business does.

 What has surprised you most about getting to know The Works and the advertising world?

It’s just how digital they are. The advanced capabilities and experience they have in the chatbot world is impressive, and prior to the acquisition I hadn’t considered the advertising world to be so hands–on in that space.

Where are the biggest opportunities to bring creativity and technology together?
Collaborating with The Works is opening the door to new and exciting ways of working. As our clients continue to evolve they’re looking to us to deliver more than just technology solutions. The Works’ creativity and approach combined with our technology know–how and experience is an exciting proposition.

RXP Develop national salesforce practice lead Hassan Khan

What does your day–to–day role involve?1
Salesforce is a transformational platform, but without proper strategy and vision you end up playing into the traditional habits of IT implementations where users are given a solution which is cumbersome to use. I ensure we correlate platform best practices with an intuitive UX/UI so the solution promotes ease of use without conflicting with the business goals we are trying to deliver. I am a firm believer of Leonardo da Vinci’s quote: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. 

What were your immediate thoughts on the acquisition?
I have worked with different digital agencies in the past and usually my engineering mind doesn’t function well with the trendy and creative designs I see coming from a digital agency. I found there was always a big gap between the designs shown to customers and what could actually be delivered. I was excited, yet a little nervous, but when you see the work they produce you realise how different they are from other digital agencies.

What’s the best thing about working closely with The Works and getting to know adland?
The Works not only understand all the cool stuff about branding, advertising and customer behaviour, but are also very well–versed on the technology side, which makes it much easier for us deliver the visions our customers want.

Also listen to RXP and The Works on our podcast last year: