Half Dome wins Petstock, backs full service push to double footprint, billings – plots US expansion
Melbourne hot shop Half Dome aims to go beyond full service media and into full service marketing, double its client roster, execute a US expansion, increase headcount by circa 60 per cent and either acquire or build out SEO and CRO capability over the next 12 months – all while the market goes into pitch overload. Managing Partner Tom Frazer is backing his people to deliver, but along with every other agency, needs more, fast.
What you need to know:
- Half Dome expanding to the US with key client.
- Targeting 100 per cent growth rate in 2022 via "full service marketing" push beyond media services, and acquiring or building new capability, with SEO and CRO priorities, per co-founder Tom Frazer.
- Giving staff total flexibility over when and where they work in bid to recruit and retain amid record industry churn and vacancy rates.
- Two new business wins in 2022 with a third awaiting final paperwork.
- Frazer predicts "frantic" pitching across market for first half.
All bets are on
Melbourne media agency Half Dome kicked off 2022 with two new accounts officially announced and another in the bag. By the end of the year, the plan is to double its existing size by delivering broader services to digital clients while wooing both new brands – and the talent to deliver.
Meanwhile, the firm is set to roll the dice on a US expansion to support the international ambitions of one of its key clients. Though the agency cannot yet divulge the brand, it is planning to open an office in either Dallas or New York mid-year, staffed by a blend of Australian and US talent.
Locally, the firm has just won the digital media account for pet supplies firm Petstock after picking up ASX-listed Mighty Craft in January.
Founded by brothers Tom and Joe Frazer plus Will Harms, the firm now numbers more than 35 staff. This week former Spark Foundry investment boss Paul Wilkinson joined the business as its first Head of Commercial and Half Dome will announce another former holdco senior exec in the next couple of weeks.
Managing Partner and GM Tom Frazer said the firm will continue hiring in a bid to drive growth – while protecting current staff in a market facing rampant wage inflation and chronic labour shortages.
Given double-digit vacancy rates and record churn across Australia’s media agency sector, Frazer thinks attracting and keeping high caliber people will decide the agency winners and losers in 2022 – and the success or failure of the brands they serve.
Ultimately, we’re trying to create ‘flexible flexibility’. So if the bonus is really important to you, have the bonus. If you want to do an altMBA run by Seth Godin in the US, you can do that too. It will be up to you to pick your own path and I think that is the future, because blanket rules won’t work.
Work where you like, side hustle
Half Dome is going “flex first”, telling staff they can work “wherever and whenever they want”, and is even working up schemes to mentor and help employees with their side hustles. But Frazer accepts money will always be a key motivator, and every agency in Australia is feeling upward pressure.
“If you take it to one extreme, staff could only work 25 hours a week – if they are getting everything done and doing a great job – and use the other day and a half to work on side projects or focus on mental wellbeing, whatever they want,” said Frazer. “At the other end, you have people like me who want to show up in the officer every day – I like the buzz, and obviously I own the business.
“But where we are headed is the concept that we don’t want to tell you what makes you happy. We want you to tell us what will make you happy, and we want you to do that, whatever it is.”
Frazer hopes that mantra will help Half Dome attract more quality people in the coming months. He’s aiming to take domestic headcount to 50-55 people by the year-end while also working to refine a bonus scheme introduced last year, in a bid to keep everyone happy – a work in progress, Frazer admits.
“Ultimately, we’re trying to create ‘flexible flexibility’. So if the bonus is really important to you, have the bonus. If you want to do an altMBA run by Seth Godin in the US, you can do that too. It will be up to you to pick your own path and I think that is the future, because we’re all motivated by different things, so blanket rules won’t work.”
We were close to acquiring a pretty large Sydney-based CRO business that unfortunately fell through towards the end of last year... There's a fair bit on our plate before we consider another acquisition. That said, we're always open to conversations with good people and good businesses.
Full service sweep
If Half Dome’s people-powered approach pays off, the growth will follow, says Frazer, much of which he hopes to derive from existing clients by providing services beyond digital media, such as SEO, CRO (conversion rate optimisation) and other digital capabilities not yet in-house – but likely to be acquired or built out over the course of 2022.
The challenge with acquisition is that those actively looking to be bought are not necessarily in their prime, while those at the top of their game are in high demand, making good deals harder to land. Nevertheless, Half Dome eyes both organic and inorganic growth.
“We were close to acquiring a pretty large Sydney-based CRO business that unfortunately fell through towards the end of last year,” said Frazer. “But we think the opportunity is not just in being a full service media agency, but as a full service marketing agency – providing value outside of media.
“Our vision is to make media smarter, make media work harder, and to do that, having CRO – or your website journey – work alongside your media journey makes sense for the customer,” he added.
“There’s a fair bit on our plate before we consider another acquisition. That said, we're always open to having conversations with good people and good businesses.
“So growth will come from a number of different areas. The biggest growth will be via the US, there will be organic growth with our current client set, building out that offline function, building new products – with either SEO or CRO next cab off the rank – and we will be pitching for new business.”
Frazer is reluctant to put a number on Half Dome’s billings. He thinks it represents a blinkered metric for an agency aiming to go beyond media. "That's not the way we talk about growth," he said. But it’s currently beyond $100m and if 2022 works out as planned, the firm could book north of $200m, with pitches now coming thick and fast.
“The next three to six months are going to be frantic [across the market],” said Frazer, as brands seek to shake-up agency arrangements after weathering Covid.
“Hopefully it will normalise by mid-year," he added, just in time for Half Dome's US offensive.
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