This year MercerBell’s CEO Nick Mercer joined an exclusive group of marketers when he was inducted into the ADMA Hall of Fame. Now the honour has sunk in, Nick reflects on the moments in his career that led up to one of the highest industry accolades.
Had life worked out differently, my hall of fame award could have been for designing ornamental lawns rather than data-driven marketing.
When I first arrived in Australia aged 26, I viewed it as an opportunity to do something completely different from my job in shipbroking in the UK, and my wife and I joked that I’d try and do something like landscape gardening, despite having no experience in that area.
As it turned out, I needed to find a job quickly and ended up in advertising sales. That’s where I quickly realised I’d rather be creating adverts than selling them, and became determined to get into an agency.
When I look back at the start, I was doing a marketing diploma at the TAFE while still working in my sales job, knocking on lots of different doors, and trying all kinds of stunts just to get noticed.
I was lucky enough to get a break, and from there it’s led to creating my own business and the ADMA Hall of Fame Award. To say I’m chuffed is an understatement.
The moments that made me
There’s a few main points in my career that really stand out as leading up to this award. Obviously setting up MercerBell with David Bell, our Executive Creative Director, was one seminal moment – it’s a story in itself, but Dave and I felt strongly there was a need for a specialist DM agency and took the decision to go it alone.
At first the two of us were working on one client from a small shared space in Paddington, but we never wavered in our belief and vision for how we wanted MercerBell to grow and develop.
Going back to the start, though, my first big break was getting my first agency job at K&D Bond Direct. I was 28, which was old for an account manager, but the Group Account Director Sheena O’Beirne saw something in me and when the Managing Director, Andrew Linklater, was approached to set up a direct marketing division in J Walter Thompson, he took Sheena and me with him.
That was my first experience of starting a business and it gave me the insight into how you launch an agency, and when I was then tapped on the shoulder to join M&C Saatchi that gave me a completely new viewpoint by joining a very entrepreneurial advertising agency with a direct marketing arm.
With MercerBell, our biggest moment was winning the Toyota business in 2005. Toyota actually didn’t know us – we were recommended by a key figure in the industry – but we won the pitch and showed that MercerBell, a fledgling, independent agency, had the ability to win a major client, who we’re still working with today. That was a huge catalyst for the business.
An unexpected evening
I actually had no idea on the night that I was getting the award from ADMA. Both David Bell and Julie Dormand, our Managing Director, knew, but it was a complete surprise for me.
When Jodie Sangster, ADMA’s CEO, started reading out the details of the winner, she joked that the recipient was English, which could have been half the people in the room. She then went onto say the winner had worked at JWT and M&C Saatchi, and I thought “Wow, I must know this person, as I’ve worked at JWT and M&C,” but couldn’t think who it could be.
Jodie then mentioned this person went onto lead M&C Saatchi before setting up his own agency in March 1999, and that’s when the penny dropped. I had 20 to 30 seconds to prepare a speech before getting up on stage, so I was quietly panicking, trying to get some thoughts together.
Ultimately, though, even though it’s a personal award, MercerBell works as a team. There’s no way I could have won the award on my own and it’s a reflection both of how I’ve developed as a leader, but also the clients and staff, past, present and future, that I’ve worked with.
We’re lucky that at MercerBell we have a lot of stability in the management of the business – for example, Julie Dormand and Paul Henderson, our Executive Operations Director have both been with us for 17 years.
That allows me to spend time developing the business, our positioning and our client list. To get into that position you’ve got to know how to lead and position the agency, win and keep clients, and find and keep great staff.
What’s next for MercerBell
Even with the Hall of Fame Award, there’s no resting on our laurels. Now we’re part of Publicis Communications, there’s a great opportunity to build on our position as a leading Customer Experience agency, as well as growing our Sydney and Melbourne offices. Who knows, we may even look to New Zealand.
At MercerBell, we’re lucky to have a great product, a great reputation and great people and can continue to grow the business, while evolving the expertise, skills and products that can keep fueling our growth. That’s what keeps me excited about my job.