12 June 2017

Creative Talk With Thea Farrant Adam, Dave Clark Design Associates - Sydney

Thea Farrant Adam is taking the helm of the Sydney arm of the Australasian Digital and Design agency – Dave Clark Design Associates.  We talk about the friendly competition across the pond and what challenges and expectations are ahead for Thea and the team.


You have recently made the move from Auckland to Sydney – how has the transition been for you?


I don’t think its exaggerating to say it’s been the most intense four months of my life! It’s possible I slightly underestimated the sheer scale of relocating the family at the same time as starting a new office - likely in part due to irrepressible optimism or unflinching expectations that any task, no matter how large, should unfold seamlessly with enough planning. I’m pleased to report that despite a few curve-balls along the way we’re now up and running!


Any glaring differences you have come across so far?


I wish I could say the coffee isn’t as good, but it would be a lie! I think the biggest difference (outside of an exhaustive list of road-user experiences) is the sheer scale, and tangible sense of opportunity. Inevitably in the industry landscape there are significant differences, but I’m yet to hit anything I view as a negative.


Starting up an agency in a new territory isn’t easy – how are you tackling this?


To be fair we’ve had a running start. I started building our Sydney portfolio with one referral nearly four years ago – that one contact became more, then gradually we grew from one Sydney client to several. Until opening our Sydney office this year we’ve been looking after all our Sydney client-base remotely from Auckland and Melbourne, which meant a lot of travel back and forth. Finally being here on the ground is huge, but presents a whole new set of opportunities and challenges. A lot of research into the market and strategic business planning has gone in – optimism and a no.8 wire mentality will only get you so far!


Dave Clark Design Associates has an excellent reputation, and extensive experience across brand, print and digital – will the Sydney office be working heavily across all these territories also?


Absolutely – we truly do operate as a singular global entity, our strengths and our offer are consistent wherever in the world we’re working. We will always be design-led, but our growing specialist UX and full-spectrum digital and animation teams, plus our expertise in designing and delivering large-scale brand systems, including a specialist focus in B2B will serve us well in Sydney. Every market has its differences, so tailoring our offer slightly to meet demand will be inevitable, but having full access to our group resource pool and the support of our global leadership team makes delivering a seamless experience to our clients much easier (well, now that the internet’s working!).


What does a typical working day look like for you?


Rounding out month two there’s still many headless-chook moments in an average day! A lot of juggling, but I’m busy recruiting our core local staff and reluctantly cutting the apron-strings with my amazing Auckland-based team who’ve been an instrumental part in our successful launch in Sydney. There have been many hours building IKEA! Now that all necessities of life are in place my core focus is to continue to look after our existing client-base, and to get out there, spread the word and drive new business. I’m working on quite a bit of up-front strategy for some great new clients – it’s an exciting time.


As the agency grows, you will be growing the team, do you have a strategy in place for this?


Of course, but we have to maintain a degree of flexibility around the demands of the market. We’re very much all-hands-to-the-pump here in Sydney right now, so broad skill-bases and a willingness to get stuck-in have been critical factors in meeting our immediate needs. We’re lucky to be able to leverage our senior creative and specialist teams in Auckland and across the group, so we don’t need to rush – leaving me a bit more time up my sleeve to build my local senior team as we grow.


With a wealth of industry experience under your belt, what has been the most pivotal lesson(s) you have learnt?


I’m sure I’m not alone in having hurtled out of design school with wild ambitions and an evangelistic attitude… fast forward a few years, my debutant self would be mortified that two decades down the track I still consider myself to be actively learning. I feel so lucky to be part of an industry that’s evolving at such an exponential rate - personally I can’t always claim to be one step ahead of emerging technology but it’s incredible to have had a front-row seat in watching digital grow from being almost an add-on, to becoming an integral part of the creative landscape. It’s a privilege to be a part of that transformation.


How do you think branding in Sydney compares to the rest of the world?


With a vibrant design industry and so many corporate head-offices here, there’s no shortage of action in the brand-space, and amazing work is going on all around us. One thing’s for sure though, our industry never sits still – as design becomes increasingly commoditized and cost pressures are ever-present, it feels like it’s never been more important to champion the value of investment in robust and capable brand systems. Whatever channels you engage to take your brand to market, getting the foundations right will always be important, regardless of scale.


Do you find parity between New Zealand and Australian design?


With Sydney fast becoming a hub for Asia-Pac, at a commercial level there’s no tolerance for a step-change – aesthetic, processes and time-zones need to flow seamlessly from one to the next. I would hope that we always retain the creative culture and nuances that set us apart as two separate nations, but put us on the same team and we’re up there on the world stage!


Are you finding more clients using design agencies on a project by project basis, rather than committing to one particular agency?


It hasn’t really been our experience, but as an agency we have a strong preference for forging long-term partnerships with our clients and with a focus on the corporate end of the market we tend to work best with a handful of carefully chosen bigger clients. However, in today’s omni-channel environment, none of us can be everything to anyone, so inevitably we work as part of an agency matrix for most of our clients. Doing what you do best (i.e. being clear about your offer and sticking to your knitting) and a willingness to share the sandpit can take you a surprisingly long way.


Hopes for 2017?


Wow, such a big question. I’ve crammed so much into the first half of the year, but behind each achievement is a bigger goal – I’m perpetually reaching for the stars! Come Christmas, if I can look back on a busy local team with a thriving culture, and a variety of work from a growing base of local clients, I’ll be happy… and ready to crank into 5th gear for 2018!