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How to create an agency of galactic proportions

Vancouver, July 4th, 2018

Chris Breikss granted TIA an exclusive interview on the merger of Drive Digital and 6S Marketing. Both agencies have been working successfully for a number of years. Drive Digital was founded in 2012 and had a team of over 30 people. 6S Marketing is a veteran agency founded back in 2000, employing over 60 people. Their offices expand from New York to Toronto and Vancouver.

With plans to create a mega-agency capable of dealing with everything digital – including artificial intelligence – Chris gave us the inside track in the deal to form Major Tom.

Why did you merge 6S Marketing and Drive Digital to form one super agency called Major Tom?

It wasn’t our plan at first. In fact, we didn’t plan to rename either. At the Google Partner Summit Conference in New York in September 2017, the keynote speaker Avinash Kaushik said that all of our current digital agency strategists’ jobs would be replaced by machine learning in the next 3-5 years. This prediction hit me like a ton of bricks.

We came back and said, “We need to change everything.” Nine months later, Major Tom was born. You could say that Avinash impregnated us with the idea that we needed to change.

With the name Major Tom, there is an obvious David Bowie reference to the song Space Oddity. What’s the connection?

Yes, there is a connection, but not a direct one. We hired the branding agency Frank Strategy to manage our rebrand and then our renaming. One of our partners, Lauren Pybus, is a major space nerd and has a number of amazing sacred geometry tattoos. She was digging the space theme and we were going down a time and space path as it related to our overall design and strategy philosophy.

You won’t see a bunch of spaceships and rocket men in our brand but you will see the occasional subtle reference and slight nod to Mr. Bowie’s famed character of the same name.
A lot of the other names we considered, sounded like rock band names that would be at Coachella. “The Intermission” was our distant second choice.

How did you get the domain name MajorTom.com?

We had to purchase the domain from it’s long time owner who is a huge David Bowie fan. He owned the domain for the last 20 years and it was his own personal site. It took us more than three months to track him down and it was a long courtship.

What new services are you offering?

By combining the tactical and analytical services of 6S Marketing with the creative elements of Drive Digital we are now a full service digital agency. We now do everything related to digital, from strategy, creative, design and media to data modeling. For some projects, we are now using machine learning and AI to dynamically create and launch advertising faster than the human brain can imagine them. However, the robots are not taking over art and design (yet) and we have invested deeply in our creative team.

As a full service digital agency, what does that mean?

Major Tom is the next iteration of digital marketing, custom-built to combine the top-level strategy you’d find at a consultancy with the implementation and technological capabilities you’d find at a leading agency. We look forward to being able to provide our clients with more value than ever as an even fuller service agency.

For example, a project may require an initial digital strategy, then website design, then a full scale digital marketing campaign integrated with TV, radio, and print. We can do all of that. We are a digital agency first, that now offers traditional media services too which is the opposite of how most full service agencies evolved. The others typically started with a traditional offering then tried to learn digital. We started with digital and then hired people who came up through the traditional world.

What don’t you do in-house?

Having an in-house photo and video studio would be nice but likely a number of years off. We would like to get to a point that we can strategize, create and produce all our client’s content under one roof but we need to rely on partners for today for this. We are also not a branding agency (yet) but prefer to manage the whole strategy and will bring in branding partners under our umbrella so that the project is still wholistic and lead by Major Tom.

Have you implemented new technology or systems?

We have implemented Mavenlink as a project management solution. This allows us to maximize impact for our clients across a staff of highly disciplined strategists, whos’ time is managed efficiently and by level of expertise required. We are using HubSpot now for automation and CRM and have moved off of Salesforce.

We are also in the process of implementing Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) across the agency. Our agency is steadily growing and with the recent merge of leadership between Drive Digital and 6S Marketing into Major Tom, we required a framework for defining what’s important, who owns it, and exactly what success looks like.

How many staff will Major Tom have?

We currently have 72 full-time salaried staff across our 3 offices; in Toronto, New York, and Vancouver. Vancouver is our headquarters and two-thirds of our staff are located there. We also work with more than a dozen contractors.

What are the growth plans?

We have the capacity to double in size over the next 3 years but we don’t want to grow for the sake of growing. We want to expand our creative team as well as add more data scientists to the mix.

Who are the owners/partners?

There are two founding partners, John Blown and Chris Breikss, who have been involved with both agencies since their inception. There were different partner groups at each agency and now combined there are a total of 7 partners.

● Lyn Bryan Managing Partner
● Miles Sellyn, Partner, VP Strategy and Creative
● Raelene Thomas, Partner, VP Operations
● Lisa Eaton, Partner, VP Client Services
● Lauren Pybus, Partner, VP Business Development West
● Chris Breikss, Founding Partner
● John Blown, Founding Partner

How has the leadership changed?

The leadership has changed drastically and a number of people have been promoted and many other have moved laterally. We didn’t need two accounting departments and two marketing departments so there was a big shuffle to the organizational chart. The founding partners are still involved every day but are working on agency growth and have promoted the younger partners to more senior leadership roles. They recognize that they need to get out of the way and foster an environment that embraces change and evolution.

Other major moves of note include the following.
● Sydney Hake, Group Director, Web Development
● Mitchell Fawcett, VP Partnerships & Social
● Darren Maher, Director, Creative

What clients are you working with?

This is always a tough question as we don’t have permission from all of our clients to discuss our current work. Also, we work with clients big and small and have hundreds of projects that we are working on vs. a few big brands. That being said COBS Bread, The Little Potato Company, Criteo, Cirque du Soleil, Pirelli, Swiss Water, 7-Eleven, Expedia Cruiseshipcenters, Air France, and KLM are all referenceable clients.

How many clients do you have?

We have 250+ current active projects with 130+ on retainer. This is different than most agencies our size and we anticipate growth will come partly from expanding our relationships with our existing customers and evolving with them as their businesses grow.

What’s your revenue?

We are on track to do $10m CAD ($7.70m USD) in revenue next year and are experiencing double-digit growth every year.

What’s an ideal client look like?

Our ideal clients are digital enthusiasts who understand the importance of taking the time to develop a strategy that considers the whole marketing landscape, not just on a tactic by tactic level. It’s important that our clients allow us to look under the hood, educate us on their business, and explore solutions with an appetite to test and evolve with us.

What’s next?

On July 9th, we are heading back to the Google Partner Forum (formerly Partner Summit) which started this whole agency refocus and rebrand nine months ago. We will be announcing our machine learning and artificial intelligence related services and how we are using robots to design ads at a massive scale. We will also be launching a case study and video prior to the event highlighting our work with Zolo Realty.

Thanks Chris!

By Geny Caloisi.
genyc@topinteractiveagencies.com

Learn more about Major Tom

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