When Reuben and Melissa Woods started Woods Agency in their spare bedroom in Papamoa Beach back in 2004, they only had one regular client, bedroom furniture company Design Mobel. Fourteen years on, their client list spans the length of New Zealand and into the Pacific Islands. We chat with Reuben about how they built an agency that focuses on developing regional companies into world-class brands.
Why Mount Maunganui?
I’m from Gisborne originally and Melissa’s from Auckland, and I was working in agencies up there and in London. When Woods Agency started, we’d just got back from overseas and we realised there was nothing set up in the regions that was trying to compete on a national level. Our focus has never been on small local businesses – we want to work with medium to large businesses who have a national and international presence.
I’ve had people turn up and think it’ll be cruise-y working in the Bay of Plenty – but that’s not what life is like at Woods. It’s just as much hard work, if not harder. We’re trying to be as good as any other world-class agency regardless of where they are, it just so happens that we’re in the Mount.
What is it like being based in the Bay of Plenty? What opportunities do you have that you wouldn’t have elsewhere?
There is a competitive advantage where we are that is often seen as a disadvantage by outsiders, but it really isn’t. I’m big on changing that perception. It’s not just about the lifestyle here – that’s important and it’s good to have, but that’s the bonus more than anything.
I also believe that one big advantage we have is summed up in one word – collaboration. The Bay of Plenty is extremely innovative. We have developed a really strong culture of innovation here and I really think this comes down to the way we all collaborate as businesses.
There has also been a big exodus from Auckland in the last couple of years and people say that it must be great for us because we have the opportunity to hire new talent and get really great people. But we’ve always had really great people. As far as I’m concerned, you don’t retire out in the regions – if you work for us, your career’s just starting.
You can get opportunities here that you can’t get anywhere else. Something that is not 100 percent unique to us but a big focus of what we do is we are very hands-on with our clients. And it’s not just the directors working on big brand projects, it’s a whole team effort so juniors get the experience while a senior team member drives it through. We have to upskill too, we don’t just sit still. We’re around the country and overseas, partnering internationally and understanding what’s going on from a global perspective.
How has Woods Agency grown since being founded in 2004?
It’s grown a lot every year, apart from during the recession. We lost a couple of big clients then and we learnt a lot of things about how to run the company. At the time, we had all our eggs in one basket with not enough clients, and now we spread our risk out.
In the last 18 months we’ve doubled in size, mainly because our strategy and creative make real economic return for our clients. Our creative is driven by actual consumer insight and executed to the highest standard possible across a fully integrated marketing approach.
We’ve invested heavily in growing our client services, brand and marketing strategy team to further extend our strategic offering for our clients. We could see our potential and pushed forward. It takes cash to grow and we took the risk in growing without the extra clients, in the goal that they would come – and they have.
What gives you an edge when pitching to clients?
Our culture is a big part of our success and it’s defined by ‘keeping it real’. We’re down to earth, approachable and we want to do the best work we can. We believe in partnering with our clients to grow long-term sustainable results. We have a really robust process for how we work with clients and that’s definitely a big part of the pitch.
It’s appealing to clients that we’re outside of Auckland. We can provide the same level of service as Auckland agencies, but we’re more accessible. We work throughout the regions of New Zealand in Christchurch, Queenstown, Wanaka, Timaru, Hamilton, Hawke’s Bay, Rotorua, Taupo, Gisborne and of course Tauranga.
We do take work in the cities, but by default we tend to work in the regions, and there’s so many opportunities there. We position ourselves as working with regional businesses and making them world-class. Every business needs a niche and that’s what we’ve crafted.
How do you work with your clients?
It depends on the client. Some of our most important work is actually internal. We’ve worked with Generation Homes for 12 years now and we’re very hands-on with them. We’ve recently helped them define and establish a strong company culture as part of building a brand is making sure that every touchpoint along the customer journey is first class.
When we worked with Croucher Brewery in Rotorua, it was about unpacking the story behind the brand – and connecting that to customer insights, which inspired the phrase ‘the taste of discovery from the home of adventure’. The brand personality built upon this position, with an unashamedly adventurous tone throughout all communications.
WildCape Manuka Honey in Gisborne is a great example of how our intimate knowledge of the region was used to align the brand with a premium positioning that tells an authentic story while appealing to an international market.
We recently worked with Canopy Tours in Rotorua. Through our partnership we were able to help them rise above the clutter of ‘zipline adventures’ to focus on their true point of difference – the one thousand-year- old forest and ‘feel good’ conservation story.
Has it got easier to run a regional agency since you started 14 years ago?
Digital disruption has made it easier for everyone to reach a wider global audience. We are no different than any other agency that has embraced this change and use it to build the brands we are working with. Digital is a major focus for us and big part of what we do, but we also understand that it’s not the only way to communicate with your customer. We take an integrated approach focussing on the customer experience and use whatever media necessary to achieve our clients’ objectives.
You’ve got to be open to change and we’ve made sure we’re never against it, we welcome it. We don’t know everything but I make a point of making sure we’re upskilling and bringing people onto our team who have core strengths where we have gaps.
The world has changed and we have embraced it. If you don’t, you’re not going to survive. We don’t have a top down structure, we encourage our entire team to bring their knowledge and ideas to the table. If we refused to evolve we’d produce stale work and that just doesn’t work.
Reuben Woods (021 418 860)
WOODS partners with clients to develop effective brands, using design thinking,
creative and marketing strategies to continually innovate, diversify and connect with customers.