Our mission is to deliver value for brands via people’s experiences

Dom Robertson, Managing Director at RPM

Dom started at RPM as a Brand Communicator, prior to which he was in commercial property. 15 years on, he’s Managing Director and a member of the Marketing Society, the MAA and the ISP. Dom has led the agency through the transition from 65 people to over 180, by diversifying output, growing integrated capabilities, increasing RPM’s global footprint and being single minded about its proposition. Dom is the key to establishing and maintaining relationships with clients and industry bodies, setting and delivering targets that drive RPM forward and managing the senior management team to ensure the agency always produces the best in class work.

Describe the make up of RPM’s business.

Historically, we’re known as an Experiential agency and that’s still at our core - our mission is very much to deliver value for brands via people’s experiences - but actually our competencies have changed. We have three core competencies now.  We’ve added Shopper and Innovation to our Experiential foundation, and these two new areas make up over 30% of our revenues, and slightly more of our profit. It’s been a huge evolution for the agency, the connected tissue is still how people experience a brand. It’s been 7 years of significant investment and development, as out and out experiential was not going to suit what we needed to do as an agency.

 While shopper was a natural extension of our core business, in truth the need really arose from a client requirement, with the realisation that to do it well you had to be really, seriously good at it. So we knew we needed to invest in people and training and we did just that. It’s been a challenging but rewarding journey.

 How do you manage to maintain such great client loyalty in a sector not known for its long term relationships?

I’ve never seen any difference between personal and client relationships. It’s those ‘Three C’s’ of a happy marriage: Celebration, Communication, Commitment. There has to be trust, there has to be respect, and it’s about being interested and interesting whilst delivering great work on top of that. I do believe you can do better work when working closer together for a longer period of time. Long term relationships I think produce much better work, with the big caveat that you have to try bloody hard all day every day. There isn’t an easy street. And I know there’s plenty of pitfalls around complacency and over-familiarity, but as in life, we always have to keep things fresh and active. And then on the flip side of that, if it starts to go wrong then you just have to have a grown up conversation about it. One of our values is ‘(Walk) Run toward the fire’, so spot it if it’s getting wrong because there’s nothing worse than a death of a thousand cuts.

How does your agency keep ahead of the trends when it comes to new thinking and new ideas?

An agency like ours usually gets all the global trends from places like PSFK, Cantor, Mintel and Future Lab. And we rely a lot on our strategy team without a doubt, but the most important source is the people in the agency.

We are 180 deeply passionate, interested and interesting people here, and there’s a lovely expression we have: ’There’s no milk without grazing’.

So we expect people to be out there, absorbing, bringing fresh ideas and perspectives (stuff) into the agency. And we also rely on workshops. We don’t have a linear process, so we get the right people, or the different people into workshops right at the start of concept creation, and while they aren’t always the answer, they often work really well. We also bring other industry experts in, for example if it’s something like a music festival we’ll bring a promoter in to the mix. All in all, we just have a lot of brilliant people here who just need to get interested.     

What processes have you put in place to develop innovation?

Well, about 6-7 years ago we had a massive growth spurt - we rose to about 220 people. But arguably we are entrepreneurs, and a key area around entrepreneurs is agility. And we suddenly began to feel a bit stuck in processes. At that point we had a 26-stage process and I just thought ‘How did that happen?’. We wanted to ignite some passion points again, so we invested both financially as well as time in a couple of businesses. We invested in a beer company, a cycling company, a tea company and a few others with the purpose of getting that energy back into the agency. We housed some of them here, although the beer was brewed in Somerset, and what we really wanted to do was nurture them and help them grow. Our creatives had a brilliant time, even in their own time. 

In the process of helping them, which took many different guises from giving them more insight into their target audience to providing some financial rigor and advice we learnt a huge amount, probably the biggest learning is these guys get stuff done, they are untethered by process.We looked at how they operate, e.g. with agility, senior people in the room making decisions quickly and we soon realised we should take these principles to our clients and look at helping them break down the classic barriers to innovation and suddenly our approach to innovation was born. Our process is rapid, it gets to conception creation quickly and we have tangible outputs in a matter of weeks not months.

How do you maintain quality of recruitment/attraction?

Two things we try to focus on is culture and work. I was at a talk about 3 or 4 years ago and this speaker said ‘My mandate is that the time my employees spend here will be the greatest time of their careers’. And we’ve been really inspired by that. And once you unpick that you’ll find it’s a lot about culture. People have to know that they can succeed in an environment that’s not political, and we’ve established a really strong family culture. We’re huge believers in homegrown talent, and we know we have to invest heavily in training which has been our biggest investment of the last 24 months. And never underestimate the work. We’re really fortunate we have the startups and we have the Diageo’s, HEINEKEN’S and Sky’s. It’s very varied which is exciting but also challenging because of the individuals and the skillsets required. 

Culture by nature is quite intangible, but your work can almost speak for itself. But getting the right people is tricky, and I find interviewing a nightmare still. You just cannot know if a person is right until they’re in the business.

How has your business model evolved over the years?

We will always stay true to our mission, as that is the bedrock rpm is built on, we now have three core competencies, experience first platforms, enhanced shopper experience and experienced defined brands. Operationally over the last 7 years we have invested significantly through hires and training especially around our shopper competency, we have integrated digital and social into the whole business and thanks to our early investments and learning from our start ups we now have a fantastic approach to innovation. Commercially we took what felt like a big decision however its so obvious in hindsight, we focused on margins not revenues, taking this approach puts a whole different mindset across the business, from internal decisions to deciding on what type of work we want to win and arguably as importantly what type of work we don’t want to work on.  

 We all know clients are demanding more and more strategic input, creative excellence and flawless execution all of which has to be done at pace and cost effectively and we will have to continue to exceed clients expectations while creating a brilliant environment and not forgetting to enjoy ourselves. We view this as a constant journey.

What does the future hold RPM?

More profitable growth, keep evolving while staying true to our mission, continue to build our mix of work, focusing on our three core competencies, growing our global footprint, building our shopper reputation while never forgetting that recruiting and retaining the best people and doing brilliant work will ultimately drive our success and of course keep smiling.


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