1. Founding partner of Adpower, regional Australia’s largest mainstream creative advertising agency

  2. Media buying arm, Mediapower added in 2003

  3. Online division added in 2004

  4. Satellite offices on the Gold Coast and in Sydney

  5. Over $4.5 Million in creative fees FY 06/07

  6. Media billings $2.5+ million in FY 06/07

  7. Over 70 regional, national and international awards

It began as a partnership between myself (aged 22), my father, a staff of 5 and 3 clients - a developer, a pub and a shopping centre. I wrote every piece of creative for the agency, art-directed and produced the electronic work and supervised a studio of 2 designers.

Cairns grew. We grew, and after 4 hard years we had a staff of 8 and were making a small profit.

Winning the account for the Reef Hotel Casino from a multinational Sydney agency, and then Cairns Central from a large Brisbane agency in 1996 gave us the basis for a good business. The addition of Pacific Toyota, Australia’s largest Toyota dealership in 1998 made the agency profitable.

Tragically, my father passed away in early 1998 aged 53. Losing a father, mentor and business partner all in one was a great shock, but I had a responsibility to my staff to manage the transition and keep the business going.

I approached a client I admired, and offered him a partnership. He jumped at the chance, and the two of us spent the next 7 years building the shop into a medium enterprise.

I looked after the strategic and creative output of the company while he watched the finances and ensured the client facing aspects of the business were exceptional. We would jump into each other’s chairs often enough and, of course, we made all the big decisions together.

We set up new offices intended to last for years, then knuckled down. The next largest agency was over 2000 kilometres away and we didn’t have too much in the way of role models, mentors or industry bodies to turn to for guidance. We set up the systems we needed to make the agency efficient and scaleable, including our own software for job trafficking and operations.

The agency continued to win accounts and gained a reputation for inexpensive but original communications in regional areas.

Our knack for shopping centre marketing and creative was noticed by Stockland’s retail division late in 2002. We completed some work for their Cairns shopping centre and their national marketing manager was considering centralising the marketing and advertising for their 10-12 shopping centres at the time.

We presented a plan, spent some time with their marketing managers and were appointed to the national Stockland account in 2003.

The offices we thought would last for years were overflowing, so we moved again. Coinciding with the move, we started Mediapower, a media buying agency under the directorship of Gary Cutler, previously the General Manager of Channel 10 in Cairns. Mediapower was a 50/50 partnership between Adpower and Gary.

Stockland’s portfolio of shopping centres increased from 12 to 18, then to 30. We had quite a few other clients, and were winning more but as Stockland grew the agency tripled in size and there was little we could do to offset the risk of having such a large single client.

There was no other account of Stockland’s size in the Cairns, Townsville, Mackay or Rockhampton marketplaces. We opened a Gold Coast office to get closer to some south east Queensland accounts. We had some minor success but not too much came from it.

In early 2005 my business partner was feeling the long days and sleepless nights. With a second child on the way, it was hard to commit to the gruelling work schedule we shared. I bought back his share of the company and continued as sole owner and managing director. It was 7 great years and we parted ways friends.

Moving from partner and creative director to sole owner and managing director was the greatest learning curve of my career. While I was already familiar with balance sheets, P&L’s  and managing cash flow, I had to relinquish the role that gave me so much joy (creative) while tackling all the tricky tasks that stumped the staff. Settling disagreements between senior or junior staff, major client meetings, crisis management, leading pitches, setting company direction with little feedback or mentoring - all were incredible learning opportunities.

There’s an analogy  I like to use about running a company - it’s like an airplane. It’s never really 100% on course. It takes constant gentle corrections to keep it from going too far off course. Be too slow or too heavy handed with these corrections and you could be very quickly somewhere you don’t want to be.

From 2005 the agency continued to thrive with Stockland which by this time had 40 shopping centres. We had fine tuned a system that enabled every centre to brief us and receive custom creative for their specific area and demographics. So rather than being a single national account, it operated like one national and 40 regional accounts/clients. Our full time staff list grew to 29 and we were processing over 4500 creative jobs per annum.

The agency did some really worthwhile things during that time. The “Briefless” art exhibitions we ran in 05 and 06 were great moments of creativity, unity and altruism. We were still dominating the local creative awards and picking up the occasional national and international gong as well. The team was humming, and we were all very close.

Because of the effort required to recruit and relocate quality people to Cairns, I introduced all sorts of people focussed strategies including telecommuting, subsidised parking, free home broadband, generous maternity options, gym memberships, job sharing, agency sailing days, masseuses and all other types of incentives and perks that helped us retain and engage people.

It was also at this time I saw the potential of online, digital, social networking, always on location aware devices and the implications for “old school” agencies and clients that relied on traditional media. The real threat was still a few years away, but I was passionate about these new technologies. We already had an interactive division with well over 70 clients, but it was really just a web design business and not a true digital division. I knew that to compete in the future, the agency would need to completely reinvent itself. The trouble was, our clients weren’t as convinced that online/digital space was for them, so there was no real impetus to break the agency down to zero and build it up again in readiness for the paradigm shift that was coming.

Our reliance on a single large account also concerned me, but there was no real way to offset that without opening an office in Brisbane or Sydney. Sure we had a satellite office in Sydney, but that was really just to place an account manager close to Stockland, not a genuine opportunity to pitch for new business. I was also concerned about this new thing called the “sub prime loan” issue that was starting to emerge in the US and I had a very bearish outlook for the medium term.

It was a hard decision, but it was then I decided the only way to truly reinvent was to see the current phase of business through to its natural conclusion, wind things down, let the digital disruption begin and then build something completely new from scratch.

The Stockland account wasn’t going to last forever. It was large enough to be attractive to Sydney agencies and we’d been through one full contract term and a renewal.

There are exceptions, but 5 years is the average time an agency and a client enjoy each other’s company before one of them loses that lovin’ feeling. A change in senior management at Stockland signaled the beginning of this process, so I sat down with staff and had a chat.

When the news came that we were being asked to repitch for the account with 8 months left to run on the contract, as a team, we declined.

This gave me ample time to prepare staff and help them find alternative employment. By the time we handed over to the new agency, everyone had found jobs, or returned interstate (we’d attracted quite a few staff from NSW, WA and Victoria). With a leaving party every few days, the atmosphere wasn’t as grim as you would think, but it was definitely the end of an era. Some of the greatest things I learned about running a company came from this time.

The remainder of the agency’s clients still would support a team of 5. That team shifted over with the accounts to Mediapower which became a full service agency and Gary cutler continued on with that as sole owner. Mediapower continues today in Cairns.

I packed up what was left of the office equipment along with 70 creative awards. Now I had the chance to explore all the new technologies and business models I wanted. It was also time to take a well earned break.

And it was then, after 15 years, just as I thought it was time to depart on a kitesurfing tour of Australia’s east coast, I received a phone call from some prawn fishermen. And thus began the next phase of Adpower - hand crafted campaigns with special expertise in seafood.