In an industry where a proliferation of start-up agencies is the norm, independent agencies that stand the test of time tend to stand out. That’s certainly the case for Blast Brand Catalysts, a hybrid brand agency that specialises in identity development, brand advancement and advertising.

The agency was established 13 years ago by Chris Primos and Angelo Beck, after both had spent time with large, well-established agencies. The founding partners were joined by two new shareholders earlier this year: Taryn Waldron, who joined the agency in 2003 and is now the operations director, and Hayden Hochfelden, who joined the agency in 2010 and has taken up the position of creative director.

Blast’s growth has been steadily organic, digging in with the client and entrenching their expertise as an integral value-add to their business. Now with matured structure, the agency is evolving to the next level. “We can always be improving our game,” insists Primos. The focus is on calibre rather than simply hiring more heads. Adds Beck, “It’s immediately obvious when someone absolutely loves what they do. There’s a level of energy, focus and enjoyment.

Hence, the affirmation of a ‘tightly talented’ team. Indeed, the agency’s quarterly update ‘NEXT’ is a tangible commitment to keep refining in competency and not just demonstrate their scope.

The culture is inclusive with flat, 
hands-on management. “Agencies of the future will not sustain the huge hierachies that replicate the corporate world,” notes Primos. “Creatives will be more businesslike. Suits will think more creatively. Accountability needs to be immediate and fluid. Clients want the decision maker, not the messenger.”

The agency’s creative output is rigorously consistent. “Although it’s easy to get lost in the creative process, we never intend to be the kind of agency that creates beautiful work that doesn’t sell,” reveals Beck.

“We monitor all our campaigns and sales promotions, as well as sales figures, to ensure that our work delivers on its mandate.” Blast sees itself as an extension of its clients’ marketing teams and has been fortunate that many of its clients – particularly those that are owner managed businesses – are happy to share sales targets and results.

Independently owned, Primos says that Blast would consider an international tie-up – but only for the right reasons. “We were approached several years ago but it just wasn’t the right time for us,” he reports. “However, if it benefits our clients, then we would always consider it, particularly as more of our clients grow their businesses into Africa.”

At a time when many agencies are battling with the evolution from a traditional agency to a ‘new’ agency, Blast has galvanised itself to make the leap. “Digital is an extension of the media environment,” asserts Beck.

The Blast team see the distinction between digital and above-the-line agencies falling away. “Where online used to be a technological add-on, lacking a strategic or creative mindset, it must potentially become the lead communication platform,” points out Waldron. “The big thing holding this back is broadband, especially mobile.”
While Blast has no desire to be known as a retail specialist, there is no getting away from the fact that it does understand the promotional dynamics of retail particularly well. Persistently bouyant sales figures attest to a prowess in this area. Although the physical store remains core to the experience and success of the brand, the agency has extended this into social media platforms. “We’ve taken heed of the appropriate use of online as a brand interaction and relationship building platform,” notes Hochfelden. “The value perception must be to enhance a lifestyle or a way of thinking, rather than simply smothering your customer with promotional offers. It’s about keeping the brand relevant.”

Another area of expertise, not surprisingly – is branding and brand development. “We’ve had significant successes with a number of large branding projects and
carrying these through to above-the-line 
communications,” says Primos. “The ability to sink our teeth into the client’s business strategy is very much part of our DNA and is critical to the marketing impact we have.”

Asked what the most significant challenges are to marketing communications, the team cites a fracturing media environment with a dilution of reach and footprint of most traditional channels. It is proving a challenge for strategists and media planners as they pick their way through the clutter.

Then there are the evolving demands on today’s adperson. Publishing is the new advertising. It calls for a multi-tasking approach that understands communication that isn’t just another 40-second TV spot or a double-page spread print execution.

Getting your campaign to the right eyeballs with appropriate frequency and retention. Then keeping that eyeball’s attention to the point of recall is even more interesting. Going for virality is not a strategic solution. “The cool thing,” shares Hochfelden, “is that it’s open season to find your way through the quagmire and hit on the next big idea. Clearly this requires a different type of creative approach; tech-savvy, integrated thinkers with open-ended possiblities to develop a campaign organically as it unfolds.”

Amongst all the business, does the agency find time to share a little pro bono love? “Absolutely,” says Beck. “It really creates positive energy in a business to dedicate some of your time and talent to something you believe in passionately.” Ever since opening their doors, Blast Brand Catalysts has been an ongoing creative support to the NSPCA.

There’s a pulpable energy in the Blast team. They are grounded, yet impatient to move up. Successfully achieved, but still very driven. They are most certainly on a trajectory, a course that is set permanently on ‘bigger and better’.