In 2019, when I made the decision to buy the company back from WPP it was fundamentally driven by a determination to unlock the value we had created in Stanley St right back from when we opened for business in December, 1991. We realized that if we were to ‘hold up against larger and better funded competitors we would need to gain total control over every aspect of our delivery. We had long determined that to be competitive we needed to be both big and integrated and only by controlling every aspect of our offer could we deliver against those two pillars.
Some say that one of the benefits of ownership is the ability to make faster decisions. The key to being in a position to make fast decisions is based on a detailed understanding of every aspect of the financials of the company from P&L to balance sheets and cash flow. Having a strong finance platform is crucial. But by far the most important element of rapid decision making is about having a clearly defined vision; knowing what you want to achieve and how to go about achieving it.
Take for example our renewed focus on Stanley St’s creative product. It’s so tempting these days to react to all the barking dogs and there are plenty but it is our view that clients come to us because of our creative product, first and foremost. We made a number of decisions necessary to significantly improve our ability to produce strong work across our diverse client base, starting with the appointment of Brad Collett.
“At Stanley St ‘creativity isn’t relegated to one area of the business – ideas truly come from everywhere”Brad Collett, Stanley St’s Executive Creative Director.
Within a few short months following the decision to re-commit to our creative product we had completely re-shaped our creative department as evidenced by the quality of the work coming out of Stanley St already in 2022. A fast decision yes, but an on-strategy decision; definitely.
Andrew Reinholds, Head of Media, recalls being newly into his role when Partington asked “What do you need to really add value to our clients?” Six more people bringing deeper specialism and actionability. “Ok, do it.”
“Just like that. No formal business case. No sign-off from head office. Nothing but trust in my judgement and experience and this is what brought me here”, says Reinholds. “Like most of our senior team who have navigated the bureaucracy of holding companies, I joined Stanley St because the freedom and accountability to make decisions quickly for our team and our clients’ benefit is irresistible.”
When we spend, we expect revenue in return. That’s just how it is. And our leaders know that.
But the buyback was not just about making Stanley St stronger, nor was it our specific intention to necessarily bring a New Zealand-centric lens to our work. The buyout unlocked an enormous range of business opportunities in the form of a number of startups that would eventually become Waitapu Group.
‘Through the buyback we had the freedom to create the collective of The Waitapu Group – Stanley St, Culture, Rutherford, Tātou, School Road Publishing, Hyper and more recently, Wisely, with two more to come in the 1st quarter of 2022”, says Siobhan Burke, CEO. “We set out to establish a modern marketing engine for our clients and in doing so, we’ve been able to add world-class leading specialist skills to Stanley St’s capabilities.
“We have always tried to looked ahead as we face ongoing competitive pressures”, says Burke. “For example, we recognised our clients would be grappling with unique challenges as our country began to ask some deep questions of itself. We created Tātou because Tikanga or Māori culture is now New Zealand culture, and suddenly your brand’s past is just as important as its future, not only to your customers but your staff too.
Stanley St is an extraordinary, diverse mix of talent, 120 creative people who every day come together focused on one thing – good people, a good vibe…wanting to do good things together. . . sorry, that’s actually three things!
But most importantly, our independence means we are accountable only to each other and our clients. That is what truly sets us apart.”
Written by Greg Partington
Owner, Waitapu Group