As joint CEO of GRID Worldwide, Adam Byars believes so strongly in the agency’s ethos of ‘Make It Mean Something’ that this golden thread doesn’t just run through the business – it permeates everything the agency does with its clients and partners.
Adam Byars, joint-CEO of GRID Worldwide, is not a creative. In fact, he’s so literal when it comes to concepts and creative ideas that within GRID’s walls, ‘the Adam test’ is used to determine whether a concept hits the mark, or if consumers just won’t get it because the creatives have been a bit too existential.
So, how does someone with no creative background or talent come to spearhead South Africa’s most awarded creative agency? And more importantly, how does he add value in a through-the-line agency that arguably has one of the best creative teams in the world?
One of GRID’s most unique success factors is that the business has seven partners, two of whom perform the roles of Joint-CEO. It’s an unusual set-up that brings an incredibly diverse set of skills and viewpoints into the business.
Within this environment, Byars’ ultimate goal is to always be asking what quintessential client service looks like, and how to help brands have meaning and purpose in the world.
Here are the top three areas that Adam – and GRID – are focusing on to achieve extraordinary results for the brands they work with.
1. Embrace multi-disciplined experiences (and people)
Byars was never an academic at school. Instead, he loved sports, and it was through sports that he learnt discipline and commitment, pushing hard when everyone else was out partying.
After school he went into modelling and was fortunate enough to travel the world, an experience that taught him two things: first, the value of opening yourself up to different ideas and cultures, and second, the importance of a brand.
“I’ve threaded all of these things together, including the love from my family and the freedom to travel and learn,” he says. “We are all made up of different ideas and experiences. This makes us who we are, but it’s also what we should be tapping into as businesses.
Byars’ reasoning is simple. “We are building a global company with local relevance, and for me that means we have to look out of category.
“Our competitors are the tech companies that are creating bigger ideas than we are. We’ve looked at Silicon Valley and the tech industry as inspiration in how to drive a 21st century culture. We’re investing in innovations and new products.
“If we want to be different, more agile and relevant for our clients and their businesses, and if we want to move beyond what other agencies are doing, why would I look to my own industry to find that? We need to look beyond what we’re doing now, and that takes an open collective of diverse skills and viewpoints, where everyone has the opportunity to contribute their ideas.”
2. Put culture before comms
This is a specific GRID framework that runs through everything the business does, both internally and for its clients. “This is how we’ve built GRID’s through-the-line model,” says Byars.
“Culture before comms is the narrative we use to locate an organisation in culture. We need to understand what is happening in the world and what is relevant to different communities. This insights-driven process then feeds into strategy and ideation, drawing on both local and global trends.”
GRID’s motivations are clear: in a world where brands across different industries and verticals are in competition, it’s GRID’s role to raise a brand and elevate it so that it’s relevant in people’s lives.
3. Make it mean something
This is at the heart of everything GRID does and stands for, and pulls together the diverse people that make up GRID as well as an understanding of global culture.
“In everything we do, we ask one simple question,” says Byars. “How does this idea solve a cultural tension in the world today?
“If an idea solves a cultural tension, then you’re a purpose-led brand, which allows you to become relevant in specific target markets, particularly amongst millennials and Gen Z.”
Byars is so serious about GRID’s overarching philosophy of #makeitmeansomething that he’d love the business to be called The Make it Mean Something Company, powered by GRID Worldwide.
“Creating brands that have purpose and meaning is how you create value,” he says. “This philosophy keeps us honest in every brief, every day in what we do. We’ve evolved from a specialist design agency into a through-the-line specialist brand agency. We love working with brands that have lost meaning and direction, that’s our sweet spot, but overall, we spend all our time creating meaning.”
GRID’s formula has evolved from creative design into what it takes to meaningfully impact lives. “We call them hygiene factors, and they’re how a brand shows up on the day – the logo, the identity, the colours, those types of things. But none of that is important unless the brand is relevant and means something in today’s world.
“For many years we’ve looked at design, but we haven’t looked through it. We’ve evolved into a through-the-line agency because we realised that to make an impact, we had to combine our super-power, which is creative design, with how a brand lives across multiple touchpoints, beginning with its purpose and meaning.”
Nadine Todd is a business content writer and content strategist and former editor of Entrepreneur magazine. Follow her on Twitter @nadine_todd
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