We talked to Morley MacDougall on how Brandish Agency crafts creative businesses, and this is what he had to say.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Brandish Agency?
Morley MacDougall: We’ve been in business for just over five years now. I was a Graphic Designer by trade and had worked in brand development but came to marketing a bit later in my career. That’s where I met my business partners, Lee Waltham, and Derek Elliott. Working in agencies, we understood that there were problems with how our industry addressed and worked with clients and how clients addressed their audience. The more we worked together, the more we started to understand the gaps and opportunities for an agency to approach things differently. For the most part, everything is very transactional and tactical with marketing agencies, and nobody was pleased with the relationship. Agencies tend to be put in a box, and for a good reason. They’re trying to sell hours and clients are reasonably trying to protect themselves against being upsold services that aren’t adding to their business’s equity or the bottom line of their P&L. So we got rid of the billable hour and chose to focus on strategies that would have a sustainable impact for our clients; developing more valuable and meaningful relationships with their customers through positioning and long term customer engagement. That was our conceit when we started, and it’s worked out well for us.
How does Brandish Agency innovate?
Morley MacDougall: We’re an entrepreneurial agency. We have to be; it’s what our clients expect from us when dealing with their business. We’ve developed an innovation discipline within Brandish that focuses on investment and new ventures. We’re very good at providing ROI for our clients, and so it made sense for us to utilize our capabilities for our initiatives and diversify our revenue streams. We’re a company that focuses on growth through analysis and strategic thinking, which we have baked into our culture and who we hire and work with. It helps to work with people who have an innovation mindset. We’ve also made essential hires in Product and Operations to ensure we can capitalize on new opportunities and scale our services as new opportunities arise.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Morley MacDougall: As far as agencies go, I think we were better positioned than most to deal with a situation like Covid. We saw a lot of agencies take a hit. Especially ones that relied on advertising commissions. As a strategic partner, our clients turned to us to help them navigate through the crisis. It was a simple extension of what we already do from a consultancy perspective; ‘What’s happening and how do you adjust and best leverage and adapt to the changes in your marketplace.’ This is where we start with most clients. Some clients needed to manage their budgets and reign things in a bit, but others have increased their spending with us as they look to take advantage of opportunities that have presented themselves.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Morley MacDougall: Thankfully, we haven’t had to let any of our team members go due to Covid. We were looking at a larger footprint for our business before the pandemic, and we’ve put those decisions on hold for now. We have learned some good lessons on what it takes to run our business from an operational perspective with a distributed workforce. That will impact how we move forward and how we seek talent and expand our team. The big choice for us was not to slow down or contract. We’ve used this time to prepare and invest in growth.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Brandish Agency in the future?
Morley MacDougall: As one of two managing partners, having a stable relationship with my counterpart, Lee Waltham, reduces a lot of my stress. We head up different disciplines in the agency, but ultimately we make critical agency decisions together. Having a stable relationship with someone you ultimately trust and respect who you can refine your ideas with is a force multiplier. It helps you sleep easier when you know you’ve been rigorous with your decision making. Brandish is definitely on a growth trajectory. We’ve made key investments in areas that will expand service offerings and see us entering geographically into different markets. We are, by design, projecting a more national profile for the agency. Lee and I have always been in day-to-day work in some way. Projecting forward, we will be more focused on talent and investment for the agency and our spin-off companies.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Morley MacDougall: We don’t have a lot of direct competitors, and that’s by design. Our goal is to define a new category of service and champion that approach. For us, that’s a ‘consulting agency.’ We help make significant strategic decisions like a consultancy, but unlike a consultancy, we don’t just drop off our recommendations and wish you well. We stick around and help you develop those capabilities. Indirectly there’s a plethora of ad and marketing agencies and consultancies out there, but it’s hard to draw any straight comparisons. There’s a crossover, but the focus and outcomes can be quite different. Our plan to stay in the game is the same plan we used to get into the game. Make a new and better game that doesn’t try and game the other players. Make a game that brings and adds more value than the other games.
Your final thoughts?
Morley MacDougall: We’re very excited and optimistic about 2021. It’s a cultural and service touchstone of the agency to seek the opportunity in any given situation. Covid has forced us to become better operators, and in many ways, it has expedited our growth plans. We have a deep set start-up mindset, and we never want to lose sight of that, but we have found opportunities to mature our business over the past year and create an even stronger foundation to move forward with.
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