The tale begins back in the 1980s when Terry van Rhyn started a small design studio in Cape Town, which he later formed into Smith, Knox & van Rhyn. In 1993, Terry and his partners sold the agency to Young & Rubicam and, one day shortly afterwards, while recruiting for the developing business, he found a wooden crate of rather bizarre objects sitting on his desk.

The crate contained a number of seemingly random tradesmen’s items such as ropes, spark plugs and spanners with a carved and ornate wooden horse packed carefully in the centre. It had been sent by aspiring young marketer Ruben Rens, fresh out of Law School and originally destined to become an attorney but who had fallen in love with the world of advertising.

Intrigued, Terry arranged a meeting, Ruben got the job and so began a collaborative working relationship that has spanned 25 years, three continents and has seen them individually forge further successful independent agencies of their own before coming back together to pool their prodigious collective experience at Ashgrove.

For Terry, it’s always been about branding and finding the story behind the business that will elevate it from the everyday to the outstanding. From his early days working on lavish TV commercials with big budget liquor brands such as Cinzano, Moet et Chandon and Bailey’s Irish Cream to his 10-year spell in the US working with Remington and Dupont (still clients today), and more recently in the Isle of Man with a wide range of consumer and B2B brands including some of the biggest names in financial services, he has always challenged the status quo to get to the essential truth of a business.

“Ultimately our job as marketing people is to find creative solutions to our client’s problems. We are best positioned to look at their business or brand from an external perspective and then ask the tough questions,” he says. “Sometimes this can be uncomfortable but it’s by holding up a mirror that we can help businesses find out where their weak spots are – and where opportunities lie. We can then apply our knowledge of the complex behaviours of consumers and our creative talents to develop the brand identity and the compelling communications that will appeal to its tribe of followers.”

While nothing pleases Terry more than the opportunity to uncover and tell a persuasive and unique brand story, it’s the digital transformation of marketing that has captured Ruben’s imagination and he was one of the first to dive headfirst into the digital world in the early 1990s.

By 2000, he had founded his own full service digital agency Orro, working with blue chip clients such as Diners Club International for whom he managed the entire online programme. Combining brand strategy and his comprehensive marketing experience with in-depth technical expertise, Orro harnessed the power of online communications and consumer data to provide digital solutions to a range of clients from sectors as diverse as petrochemicals to sports equipment to asset management. One of his all-time favourite clients was Harley Davidson South Africa – as an outdoor sports and motor enthusiast, Ruben has a collection of vintage vehicles including a 1947 Harley Davidson that is still in regular use.

“Digital has truly transformed the way we communicate today and the campaigns we launch now have so many more facets than those of the past,” says Ruben. “But it’s key to keep applying the marketing lens to everything we do so – we need to make technology work for us efficiently and effectively, not be a slave to it just because it is there. Digital is a world of discovery but you still need to know where you’re heading!”

Now back working together again with a crack team of creative designers, brand strategists, PR practitioners and digital wizards at Ashgrove, Terry and Ruben are still weaving their magic with brands across the world and using their own experience of as business owners to benefit others.

“The buzz never fades,” says Terry. “We really get to know our clients and when you care as much as them about their business, it’s a thrill to help take them to another level.”

Oh, and Terry still has the wooden horse!

Talk to Terry: [email protected]

Talk to Ruben: [email protected]

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