M&C Saatchi Abel’s Jason Harrison, Johanna McDowell from the Independent Search and Selection Company (IAS), and M&C Saatchi Abel’s Faheem Chaundry. Picture: Paul Elliot
M&C Saatchi Abel’s Jason Harrison, Johanna McDowell from the Independent Search and Selection Company (IAS), and M&C Saatchi Abel’s Faheem Chaundry. Picture: Paul Elliot

There were two entries this year that were both outstanding in this category: Joe Public and Chicken Licken, and M&C Saatchi Abel and Takealot; both on the face of it potential winners.

The relationship between M&C Saatchi Abel and Takealot is a compelling tale of a decade-long partnership that helped build Takealot from a business based in a storage garage to the Amazon of SA, generating close to R1bn in sales a month with an average year-on-year growth of 60% and a 32% increase in new buyers. Based on the principles of belief, honesty and trust, the relationship has grown Takealot into the largest e-tailer in SA.

“If there were a blueprint for M&C Saatchi Abel’s ideal client-agency relationship, the one we have with Takealot and its powerhouse CEO and founder, Kim Reid, would be it,” says the agency.

The success of the partnership relies in part on the brutally honest relationship between Reid and agency founder and CEO Mike Abel. M&C Saatchi Abel has been Takealot’s agency from the outset and has seen it through various iterations.

The agency believes its primary role has been to transform Takealot in the eyes of consumers from a nameless, faceless website into something more human; an entity that consumers would trust with their credit card details to deliver what they had ordered, on time.

However, for the agency to be able to execute effective campaigns and strategy for Takealot, it needed to really understand the client’s business – and to do that it needed to have an intimate understanding of the company’s inner workings; the stuff most businesses protect at all costs.

 “I don’t think we have a partnership in our company today that is as close as the M&C Saatchi Abel relationship,” says Reid. “We don’t expose our statistics to anybody else – but we do expose them to the agency, so that they understand each and every part of our business and so that, if something is changing, they get it.”

Through repetition and a consistent focus on what Reid calls the friction points – security and courier delivery, primarily – the work to humanise and reassure customers that online shopping is safe, easy and satisfying began to pay off. It’s been a collaborative process that takes both an attentive, hands-on, open-minded client and a focused, creative agency with business savvy to execute.

“It’s a very open, trusted relationship that has [been] built over time,” says Reid. “It takes a while for people to get and understand exactly what you’re trying to build. The nice thing about our relationship is that I can call them and say ‘I think this is s***, what were you guys thinking?’ or ‘This is great, let’s try and do more of it’. At the same time we’ve had pushback from the agency when they think we should be doing something differently.”

Reid adds: “We don’t just see them as purely as an ad agency. We go to them for exactly that, but I’ll often go to Mike with an issue on a business problem that we think needs creative input.”

Mutual respect and trust have also been a cornerstone of Joe Public’s partnership with Chicken Licken. “We trust them to know their business and they trust us to know ours – there is no micromanaging and approval by council when it comes to execution,” says the agency.

The partnership has clearly served both parties well. Chicken Licken has seen double-digit growth year on year in the four years that Joe Public has been handling the account, while the agency has won an array of creative awards for its work on the account.

The big take-out:

The relationship between M&C Saatchi Abel and Takealot involves a collaborative process that takes both an attentive, hands-on, open-minded client and a focused, creative agency with business savvy to execute.

Johanna McDowell, founder and CEO of the Independent Agency Search & Selection Company, the sponsor or this award, says that though Joe Public and Chicken Licken is a newer relationship than that of the winner – just over four years old – the partnership has resulted in some spectacular successes for both parties. “There is a sense of great mutual respect for each other and a drive for excellence.  It was a very well put-together entry answering all of the key points in a structured way,” she says, adding that they missed coming first by a “hair’s breadth”, in her view.

The partnership between M&C Saatchi Abel and Takealot is a fascinating story of success and hard work, trust and honesty, says McDowell. “Though the agency-client relationship is underpinned through a long-term friendship between the respective CEOs, that friendship would not have been enough for this business relationship to last for a decade without some seriously successful business results. Some lovely work along the way as well as exceptional bursts of growth for Takealot over the period as well as for the agency.  A very worthwhile winner.”

More than any other category, this one illustrated just how invested we become in brands as consumers and the extent to which they become part of our psyche. For their part, the jurors clearly illustrated that they were both practitioners in the industry and consumers, by sharing literal examples of how the respective partnerships had left an impression on them.

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