Perth agency and ACA member Rare has been a finalist or runner-up for the Agency of the Year title at the WA Campaign Brief Awards for most of its 16-year existence. The agency was runner-up last year, but this year was Rare’s time to be added to the prestigious roll of honour. We chatted with Co-founder and Managing Director Callum Mackenzie about Rare’s secrets to success.

It almost goes without saying that 2020 was an incredibly tough year for our industry, but Rare was among those agencies that dealt with the challenges better than others. What strategies did you implement when it became obvious COVID was going to have serious repercussions for advertising?

I’d say that being an independent agency was actually a great advantage for us in that we were able to make our own decisions on the ground. We’re obviously surrounded by amazing multinational businesses and this is in no way a criticism but we didn’t have to follow any edicts made in London or New York. So we had complete freedom to think through the situation, listen to the market and react, adapt and make decisions as we wanted. We’ve also been able to push the boundaries in terms of our financial decisions. Of course it helped being a strong business financially, but we still had to push the limits in terms of staff KPIs, looking at our workflow and so on. And I think we adapted very well.

So when it came to clients, what were the main things that they came to you with, the key questions they asked you?

I think you have to go back to when we started in 2005, our founding value was not to let people down, meaning our friends, our colleagues and of course our clients. And that’s kind of been all the way throughout history, so when COVID happened. we just went to our clients straightaway to ask ‘what do you need us to do?’. Where clients said ‘we’re cutting advertising’ we just went with it. And again, I think being an independent we didn’t have to go through a long process of saying ‘oh well we need 90 days notice’, we simply said ‘yeah, bang, we’re with you, let’s do it immediately. Our client relationships are excellent and we knew that as soon as they could, they’d return. And they have. We were also lucky as there were other clients with a wave of work going through with the confidence to keep going so we continued to deliver. 

Rare now has a staff of 45 people – how much has staff culture contributed to your success?

Hugely! We treat everyone at Rare like a family and it’s a very strong culture. We take our responsibility towards their own families and commitments very seriously, and we communicate openly and fairly with all our people. So when we’ve gone through big challenges like COVID we share the situation with our staff. I think if you communicate as openly as we do then your people trust you and give you everything they’ve got. So yes, communication, teamwork and commitment to each other are all incredibly important. 

Can you single out any particular highlight of the past year that you think contributed to your Campaign Brief accolade?

In terms of the year. without a doubt it would be our work for the WA Department of Premier and Cabinet work [on COVID]. I think it would be one of the most important ongoing campaigns that we’ve ever done, and our creative team had so much to do with that. The Department to their credit insisted that instead of using animated ads we should use real people to really connect with the community and get the messaging across effectively through authenticity. That was the brief and it was our job to make it happen and I’m pleased to say we did. If you look at the suite of work that we’ve done from the very beginning, which was a first responders campaign. All of the material in that was real people in real scenarios. It was extraordinary that when we were shooting at the beach, onlookers were actually cheering the real people we were using. I also said we need a brand, and we need a brand that when people see it, they’ll connect with the COVID communications, and [the state government]  agreed for us to do that. And we came up with a line and, you won’t believe me, but it was ‘We’re all in this together’. And then literally the next night you had Channel Seven, were saying it. And so we created an identity that rolled out in various forms. We were really worried the government wouldn’t go for it and they said ‘no, that’s it. We want that’. The authenticity of the messaging was nothing political. It was just about the people of Western Australia, and that’s probably why it’s rolled on for so long. I think it’s the proudest thing for us

Looking forward, what are you most excited about ?

We’ve had a very big 18 months, but from our point of view with Perth being a small market, you tend to go through a period where you get a year or so of growth, and then you might flatline because the clients just aren’t out there and unfortunately so many of the major the tier one clients’ money goes east to Sydney or Melbourne. So ,what we’ve really got to do I think is solidify and go back to what we do, which is looking after our clients, working our wonder which is one of our core values, thinking about them, joining forces with them as they have their highs and lows, and we’re just gonna get back to our knitting and really focus on what we do best.