Media agency veterans launch student-powered shop aimed at helping SMEs

February 2017, The Digital Cafe. From left to right Sarah Chin, Lucy Davy, Antony Young and Matt McNeil.

February 2017, The Digital Cafe. From left to right Sarah Chin, Lucy Davy, Antony Young and Matt McNeil.


Appeared in Stop Press NZ 9 February 2017

By Damien Venuto

Former Mindshare North America chief executive Antony Young and former OMD Wellington managing director Matt McNeil have co-founded a new business, dubbed The Digital Café.

Aimed at offering strategic digital expertise to small- to medium-size businesses, the new venture is specifically targeting organisations that might not have the budget to appoint an ad agency.

“There are 44,000 of these businesses out there and it’s a sector that doesn’t get a lot of love from agencies,” says Young.

He says the reason for this is because agencies are generally expensive to run and require a substantial amount of billings to make the work worthwhile—which in turn means that businesses with low (or sometimes non-existent) marketing budgets don’t get access to specialised skills in this space.

“We’re looking for clients who don’t have an agency or those that have perhaps had a bad experience with an agency in the past,” says Young.

“If we find [clients are] talking to or currently working with an agency, then we won’t approach them. How we see it, there are about a hundred odd agencies chasing the top three percent of New Zealand companies, and we have set up to work with the other 97 percent that they aren’t.”

Given the limited budgets the businesses often have, The Digital Café will be focusing on digital rather traditional media channels.

“Our strategy is to plan the unpaid media first. We start with leveraging just their owned media, and exploit their social channels first and foremost.”

Of course, this is something that clients could do themselves. Facebook and Google ads, for instance, are available to anyone with a credit card. However, Young says that SMEs often become too entangled in the day-to-day running of their businesses to think strategically about their digital marketing strategies.   

“Our experience is that eight out of ten SMEs are underperforming or sometimes not even employing social media.”

Young says that in most instances, The Digital Café team will only put traditional advertising on the last line of the media plan and only execute it if it’s completely necessary to the client.

To keep costs down further, The Digital Café will be working closely with third-year marketing and film students looking to gain work experience while completing their studies.

“We provide 15 hours per week work with the flexibility to drop into the office outside their lectures,” Young says.

What’s more is that students will be paid a fair wage for their services. 

“We hate this notion of unpaid or underpaid internships,” he says. “Everyone who works for us will earn $16 an hour for their services.”

Young says many marketing students are often forced into retail and fast-food jobs during university due to the lack of paid agency opportunities out there.

He says the opportunity to develop young marketers played a major role in his decision to return to the industry.

Young says that The Digital Café will be adding new students to the payroll as new clients come aboard.

“We will be looking to add one student for every three of four clients,” he says.

So far, The Digital Café is working with 12 clients, across food, B2B professional service, technology and property.

Young says that while it’s still early days, he hopes the business grows into something capable of contributing to the future of the industry. 

“Our success won’t be measured in billings or winning pitches, but by the number of graduates that we can help become tomorrow’s marketing leaders.”