01 May 2008

What the ?!?! happened to ?Whatif!

Global brand innovation agency ?WhatIf! has closed down its Australian operations.

According to a press release, UK based ?What If! commenced operations in Australia in 2001 and had a team of 25 in its Sydney offices. The office was closed on 31 March.

The business had an impressive client list that included businesses as diverse as ABN AMRO, Babcock and Brown, Bluescope Steel, Unilever and Westpac.

In October 2007 the company appointed Nudie founder Tim Pethick to head up the Australian arm. Pethick was contacted for comment on this post and his comment is found below.

In a case of a near Soviet-style disappearance, the details of the Sydney operation are no longer found on the UK based website.


Tall Tim said...

Hi Stephen, not really a "near Soviet-style disappearance", the closure was announced and reported on. We shut the ?! Sydney office on 31 March.
The Australian business had not been profitable for some time. Any solution to that problem was likely to involve some form of investment - even if it was just investment in new or different people - and the sad fat of the matter is that investment was likely to proivde a better return in markets outside Australia.

?! has a thriving and rapdly growing business in other markets such as China and the US. In those places clients beat a path to the ?! door. In OZ, we beat a path to client's doors and when we got to them we often found clents wanted a $250K solution but were only prepared to pay $50K for it.

This is not purely a client issue (although I think big businesses in Australia are less willing and able to think about and invest in customer-centric innovation) but is also because we (?! in particualar, but the industry generally) have been really oor at selling the "value" of innovation rather than the "cost".

My insight from the experience is that it is small business (dare I say entrepreneurial start-up small business) which will continue to drive the innovation agenda in this country.


Thanks Tim for commenting on this. I agree with what you say about Australian businesses, particularly corporates, wanting Rolls Royces when they will only pay for Holdens with regards to ideas and innovation. That's been certainly my experience. It's a problem that I believe is a combination of market immaturity and a general lack of understanding and, in some cases, education at senior levels of business.