Fifteen years on the marketing scene

Terry van Rhyn reflects on Ashgrove Marketing’s 15th anniversary on the Isle of Man and how creativity, simplicity, trust and challenge are vital to successful campaigns and client relationships

Sometimes it feels like a lifetime away – and at other times it feels like only yesterday – when we opened the doors to our first Ashgrove office in a tiny attic in Athol Street in 2007.

At the time, my brother and I had just bought Global Marketing, a division of the company I had previously worked for in the US. It was a significant financial investment and meant we were also opening offices in Minneapolis at the same time as in Douglas!

Initially we viewed the Isle of Man ad agency as a “backup” should the US business not succeed. I’m pleased to say that never came to pass: both businesses flourished and are celebrating fifteenth anniversaries this year.

I’m not generally keen on doing retrospectives on our work: looking back is not something that comes naturally to me as I prefer to be looking at the next project and the future. I think it’s probably in the nature of people in the creative industries to look forward and focus on new fresh ideas and to constantly evolve and challenge the status quo. The reason for this is probably due to our natural tendency to forever “tweak and fiddle” with things.

But, spurred on by the anniversaries, we started diving into our archives and it triggered something interesting. Looking back with a very critical eye, I soon discovered the common thread running throughout all our work.

Four magic components have remained constant over the years: firstly, visual impact to attract attention; secondly, a compelling and memorable message that will, thirdly, resonate with a specific audience and, lastly, make them do or feel something.

Underpinning all this is the quest for simplicity, something it is never easy to achieve due to the natural apprehension of most clients who resist the idea of distilling a complicated message into one single idea.

I’ve always maintained that any successful campaign is dependent on the amount of trust that exists between the agency and the client. The primary function of an ad agency is to function as an independent challenger that will hold up a mirror to the client and be able to deliver a brutally honest (but in a kind manner) opinion without the fear of retribution.

At the same time, the client has to trust the agency to guide them in how best to articulate the message and deliver it to a target audience for maximum results. More often than not, bravery is required to go down this mysterious rabbit hole with the agency.

As you will have heard me say many times, at our core we are storytellers. It is a distinctly human trait to remember a story rather than a list of facts or reasons why you should do business with a particular company.

But creating something unique, memorable, believable and different enough to cut through the clutter is not easy and sadly there is no magical recipe. You just have to keep going down those rabbit holes to find the answer that will make sense from all the chaos, complexities and difficulties always standing in the way of simplicity.

This work does not develop by itself and the most important factor in the success of any agency is definitely its people. It’s the delicate combination of individuality, diverse skill sets and personalities that is at the core of creativity. Plus, you need to be a tad “off-centre” to be able to survive this crazy world.

I have been privileged to work with some amazing and talented people over the past 15 years and I must express my sincere appreciation for those who have been along this rollercoaster ride with me, especially the inimitable Annie Macleod, our PR guru, who is celebrating 14 years with Ashgrove, and Leigh Windell, our creative genius, short on her heals.

They were later joined by Sarah Pitts, Ashgrove’s anchor and a wearer of many hats (including bundles of creativity) along with the remarkably talented Wendy Shimmin, our wordsmith and moral compass, who is never afraid to challenge what we and our clients are doing.

You see, it’s the combination of the individuals and the trust that exists between them that creates that little bit of magic you can’t define and the reason why we strive to deliver consistently exceptional work.

Although Ashgrove has itself evolved over the past 15 years, we have stayed true to our primary mission. Our clients have remained at the centre of our universe and although some were a more natural fit than others, I hope we’ve remained professional throughout.

The constant drive towards finding that unique and powerful idea that will help set our clients’ brands apart means it is often a lonely journey down that rabbit hole. This 5,475-day journey has certainly has had its ups and downs with a few exhilarating white-knuckle rides at times. But, looking back, I would not change one single second.