Two-man coffee shop start-up to the fastest growing digital agency in SA

image007Formerly known as Gullan&Gullan Advertising, G&G Digital has officially revealed its new branding. The new look coincides with a move to new premises and marks an exciting new chapter in the agency’s story.

Founded eleven years ago by husband and wife team Michael and Desirée Gullan, what was once a start-up based at Seattle Coffee in Hyde Park, is now one of SA’s fastest growing digital agencies.

Managing Director of G&G Digital, Michael Gullan says, “Sitting at Seattle so many years ago, we flicked through magazines, picked out the brands that resonated with us and started cold-calling them. One of the first brands to take our call was Vespa.”

Vespa SA went on to become the founding client of the agency and remains a core client to this day. “And it’s been one hell of a ride,” says Michael.

The invisible team

The agency was first established as ‘Guerrilla Marketing’ and was focused on using guerrilla tactics to get brands publicity.

“Our intention was to target small to medium sized companies and give them the ability to have an impact substantially above their marketing spend – and that value remains at the core of what we do today as G&G Digital,” explains Michael.

When the Gullans rented their first office space, it consisted of just two offices. Michael and Desirée shared the one office while the other was left empty with a view to later expand.

For nine months the two of them made a point of walking in and greeting their imaginary staff while visualising the team they one day hoped to have. Jump forward to 2015 and G&G Digital now has 25 staff members and counting.

A digital awakening

Guerrilla Marketing grew slowly and steadily. “As we pitched on big multi-national brands we found we were being pigeon holed as an activations agency,” explains Michael. This led to the business being renamed ‘Gullan&Gullan Advertising’ to better represent its full-service positioning.

Gullan&Gullan Advertising then moved into a Cape Dutch style house in Highlands North, Johannesburg. While at 1 Hamlin Street, the business started to pick up more digital and social media clients. “Unilever, in particular, was ahead of the curve in investing in that space,” adds Michael. “Imperial Motors has also really ridden the curve with us as we’ve transformed as an agency.”

Michael and Desirée were increasingly enamoured with the new possibilities the digital medium presented. For Michael, it was the measurability that trumped all else. “On the other hand, Des loved the freedom it gave us to experiment creatively. It also spoke directly to her passion – crafting great content,” he says.

Massive growth spurt

With the decision made to move toward becoming a truly digital agency, the Gullans embarked on a focused business strategy and a concerted effort to find digital-only clients. Over two and a half years, they sought out highly skilled digital professionals, essentially re-staffing to create what would become G&G Digital.

Over that period, the agency increased turnover by over 300%. After the rapid growth it was time for another change. “We needed to find new premises that truly reflected who we are and where we are in our journey,” says Michael.

A new place to call home

G&G Digital has found its new home at Chaplin Corner in Illovo. The double-story office has been completely customised by interior designer, Tom Karpinsky, to create a unique and inspiring workspace.

“We were very clear on the kind of space we wanted to see G&G Digital grow in. It needed to be somewhere that could facilitate our culture of collaboration. And we wanted the look and feel to rival that of even the funkiest agencies out there,” explains Michael.

Ample meeting and breakaway rooms allow team members to get away from their desks and find environments conducive to their unique working styles – whether it’s on a hanging chair above an Astroturf or sunken into an oversized bean-bag.

The social component of the agency is also reflected in the design of the new office, with a canteen forming the heart of the space. “Having an uplifting workspace for our team is an invaluable investment,” says Mike, adding that he hopes clients will also want to ‘linger longer’.

Big dreams

According to Michael, it’s the calibre of work produced by the agency and its team members that have meant it now attracts major clients such as Premier FMCG, Nashua and Bayer Pharmaceuticals.

He says, “Last year was our first year of entering the digital awards circuit and we were already a finalist in the Bookmark Awards. That just speaks to our creative culture and commitment to doing great work. For us, it will always be about human experiences – technology is just the enabler.”

Looking ahead, the vision for G&G Digital is to become the largest independently owned digital agency in SA. “Being independent means we can keep taking chances. Scale will give us the financial wherewithal to employ the best talent and push the boundaries creatively,” explains Michael.

When asked what the key driver of the agency’s growth has been, he doesn’t hesitate to give all the credit to its people: “At the end of the day, our people are our business. It’s not me. It’s not Des. It’s not one single person. It’s all of us.”