Management at Dynamo took a long hard look at their business model and once the review was complete they came up with a new plan, as Michael Cullen reports
To use an old cliché, every crisis is an opportunity. It would certainly seem that way for Dynamo, the branding agency that recently invested in reshaping its business model by installing a new management team and adding multi-disciplinary talent to broaden the offer to clients and deliver end-to-end creative, right from brand inception to custom-made communications.
Last September, Dynamo founder and MD Jamie Helly handed over the reins to Róisín Ní Ráighne, who was head of planning. Helly became chairman and continues to oversee the bigger picture as a client partner and creative firestarter. Former ICAN boss Siobhan Lavery joined the agency management team as head of communications, bringing valued expertise and digital know-how.
Ní Ráighne says the changes were part of a natural evolution for the agency. As with any brand development, they started with the audience. They spoke at length with clients and posed some awkward questions, like what do they really need from Dynamo? How could they better serve them as a creative partner? What needs did they have that were not being met by their agency roster?
Flair with a commercial lens: Dynamo’s ambition is simple – to create beautiful, compelling and effective work. They aim to get results by strengthening clients. “We’re straight-talking and fun to work with problem solvers,” Ní Ráighne says. “We build long-term relationships – to know us is to love us, and once you become a client, we go above and beyond for you and your brand.” Ní Ráighne (centre) is pictured with Jamie Helly and Siobhan Lavery.
“We’ve always been a strategic brand agency,” Ní Ráighne said, “and that has been our sweet spot. Clients would often want us to go further and develop their communications strategy and creative. In a nutshell, their requirements were pigeon-holed into branding, digital, communications and so on. It’s a model that doesn’t always work – brands don’t exist in vacuums, nor do consumers.”
So they decided to bolster their offer, broaden their skillset and change how they worked. Key to reshaping the skillsets was the integration of communications strategy. They now start with the client’s end goal in mind both from a brand strategy and communications campaign point of view, ensuring the work is fit for purpose, results-oriented and consumer focused from the word go.
Ní Ráighne says most agencies in Ireland deliver a brand and hand over guidelines which are not always fit for purpose because where the brand ‘lives’ or communicates has been ignored. So the next agency – particularly a digital outfit – which is hired has to start again and often recreate assets to make them usable for the different channels. It causes headaches and unnecessary client costs.
She says Dynamo has always been ambitious and looked to some of the top branding shops in the UK as benchmarks. With over 1,000 brand specialists on the UK mainland, only the really innovative ones win out, so keeping an eye out for what happens over the pond helped inspire new thinking and set strategic goals: building a model clients want and that makes sense (and cents).
“We know that this is both a model that our clients want and one that works,” Ní Ráighne said. “We’ve always been motivated by our clients’ success – it’s our north star – so it’s exciting to be able to deliver more and go further on the creative journey with them.” Dynamo will soon appoint a top UK-based global agency founder – but mum’s the word for now.
Ní Ráighne reckons that reshaping the business model has a halo effect on team energy, sparking new wonder and a real sense of shared ambition. As a business stimulus and for generating creative energy, nothing works better than positive change. “Dynamo’s team is delivering outstanding work, particularly at a time when we’re all working apart,” she added with her usual mojo.
When asked about the effects of the dreaded ‘C’ word, Ní Ráighne is surprisingly upbeat. While they were deeply concerned this time last year that the industry would be drastically affected by the impact of the pandemic, like everyone else, they had to adapt within a short period of time. They set up the IT and logistics for full-scale remote working and it has paid handsome dividends.
The esprit de corps and morale among staff has been great. She says that one positive to come out of all the upset and disruption caused by Covid-19 in the past year is that Ireland has moved on in its understanding of how flexible working structures can benefit businesses as a whole. It helps reflect how the traditional creative agency model has been so slow to evolve.
“Sitting down and having the conversation with our clients really gave us an insight into the aches and stresses they are feeling on a daily basis,” she said. “Ultimately, our duty of care to our clients is to help them achieve their commercial goals. By retooling our offer it has allowed us to amp up our commitment to deliver creatively for them in whatever channel is best suited.
“It’s not rocket science,” she insists, “it’s really just about listening and reshaping. Simply changing and standing still isn’t an option. You can’t simply evolve your model and sit back and relax. Every single aspect of our business – from internal processes, to our client needs, to the work that we deliver – needs to be constantly monitored so that we can stay ahead and keep the momentum.”
Helly co-founded Dynamo with Bernie Sexton in 1992. He later bought Sexton out and then took on two new partners, Brian Williams and Brian Nolan. In 2004, Williams and Nolan left to pursue other interests and Helly again assumed full ownership. Located at first in “an incubation centre” in Sandymount, Dynamo then moved on to its present home on Ormond Quay, near Capel Street.
When Helly first thought of launching an agency back in 1992, he sought a name which could say a lot to marketers but was short and sweet. Like some of his counterparts across-Channel – agencies like Tomato and Klinical – he believed a one-word name would work best in trying to target potential clients. He finally went with Dynamo as it conjured up an image of fire in the belly.
Helly’s first encounter with graphic design was back in the 1970s when he dabbled in album sleeves. He would copy sleeves of David Bowie albums. He thought to himself, if only he could get paid for doing work like that wouldn’t life be a joy? It gets back to having fire in the belly. A good brand designer must be fully immersed in what they do, almost bordering on the obsessive.
“It’s a complete commitment,” he says, “and you breathe it. Everything you watch, even if it’s a crappy ad, you absorb.” As a teacher of design, Helly found some students were just threading water and they did not show any real hunger. He compares it to someone playing the drums. It is easy to do it just okay and get away with it. He also sees branding as part of a long-term strategy.
He shoots down any accusations from ad agencies that design is project-led, rather than a serious brand-building exercise. For years, there was a belief that designers needed to get back in their box as far as some ad agencies were concerned. Helly believes that a lot of top brand agencies develop wiser strategies than adland and a conflict arose when ad agencies tried to take on design jobs.
Agency pivots to respond better: Dynamo’s team worked to reshape the business into a multi-skilled, responsive agency where strategic communications and customer insight work. Agency services extend across brand strategy, research and insights, innovation and new brand creation, to name generation, identity and packaging design, digital marketing and advertising communications. Pictured are directors Conor Wynne and Aisling Walsh.
Dynamo’s new team worked together to reshape the business into a multi-skilled, responsive agency where strategic communications and customer insight work right from the start. Agency services now extend from brand strategy, research and insights, innovation and new brand creation, to name generation, identity and packaging design, digital marketing and advertising communications.
The client portfolio includes DAA (Dublin Airport, ARI and DAA International), Goffs, Glanbia, Heineken, Green Isle Foods, Mark Anthony Brands International, Bazooka Candy, Lambay Whiskey and XL Retail. Last year, Dynamo became the brand design agency of record for Fáilte Ireland and added Cora Systems, Proximo Spirits and Chevron College.
“I’m hugely passionate about branding,” Ní Ráighne says, “and have big ambitions for Dynamo – we all do – and want to ensure that the next chapter is as successful as the previous 28 years.” Her other senior colleagues include deputy MD Conor Wynne, creative director Aisling Walsh, director of communications Siobhan Lavery and finance director Rosemary Higgins.
“We start with the end in mind,” she adds, “building effective brands that are fit for purpose, customer-centric and boldly creative.” For now, Dynamo is living up to its name and taking the challenge of 2021 and the pandemic with gusto. After all, working hard for the agency’s clients, striving for brilliance, making a few bob along the way and loving every minute of it is what it is all about.
What more can anyone ask?
For more on the Dynamo agency, go to https://www.dynamo.ie/