As Splendid’s strategic offering goes from strength-to-strength, we asked Mel Johnstone, our Strategy Director, about the road to here, and what the future looks like.
Can you share your journey with Splendid to date?
About four years ago, Splendid’s business was really all about supporting Microsoft partners with their go-to-market campaign strategies and execution. At the time I had my own strategic marketing consultancy, and Splendid’s former Strategy Director, Emily Grunseit (who I’d met in a former role at Ogilvy), asked if I would be interested in supporting them with their overflow. The work came so thick and fast, that this ‘overflow’ soon turned into what was basically a full-time contract gig. I remember at one point I had seven strategies on my to-do list. It was intense.
What I quickly found was that I was learning again and working with a great team, with really nice clients (technology clients really are the nicest clients!) so when Emily left to build up her family business, Tim and I discussed me closing my own shop and joining Splendid full time. I really didn’t hesitate as I knew we’d only scratched the surface of what we could do.
How have the projects that you work on evolved?
Over the last few years, we have significantly evolved the scale and nature of the work we do for a range of tech clients, which now include Microsoft, Fujitsu, Aruba, HP and Dicker Data.
In 2018 we won the Microsoft direct-to-customer business working directly with their commercial marketing team, and this proved to be a game-changer. It opened a whole new world of not only continuing to support partners, but also building programs of work to support all areas of the business. This meant creating strategies anchored around the customer which connected different workloads across the Microsoft business including cloud, productivity and business applications. It also meant building a bridge across different touchpoints for the customer, like digital, account service, sales, and of course partners. It’s a complex beast that we have successfully stitched together and we’ve seen some great results for the work we have done to date across local council, education and health and in enabling enterprise and SMBs with the tools and capabilities they need to enable a modern flexible workplace.
So, is the focus still on GTM strategies?
This still makes up a large part of what we do, but it’s definitely shifted from one-off campaign strategies to more programs of work. This starts with an in-depth strategic piece that unpacks context, audience, the USPs around what we are offering, what we can teach our audience, and how we can support them with their goals and things they care about. We then create a ‘crawl, walk, run’ roll-out plan with robust pillars that are common across all phases. This also enables clients to easily pivot messages and offers to keep pace as our audience needs and context changes. This was put to the test this year with our Microsoft education work, where we pivoted our narrative three times in about six weeks as the situation changed so fast with the COVID pandemic. Without this strategic pre-work, we would have no doubt been scrambling to keep ahead of the conversation.
Our CMO offering is also organically growing. Most recently we’ve created corporate sustainability focused strategies that are helping to localise global narrative. We’re also helping our vendors to transition from physical to virtual events, as well as partnering with one particular vendor to offer their tier 1 client an employee engagement program to support their cloud transformation effort.
In addition to this, we are doing a lot of work across Asian markets and we are also exploring options across the UK. There’s never a dull moment!
What does the strategic team look like today?
We have a core strategic team, and then other strategic people within the business who we pull in for specific projects and input.
Our core team includes Jess Littlewood, our Senior Strategist, who I worked with years ago at MercerBell. She’s based in the UK, so she is driving our European opportunities as well as leading a lot of projects in Australia. Isabella Baird, a recent graduate, has also just joined us. She is playing a huge support role with desk research and is shadowing me on most jobs so she can quickly learn the Splendid way.
We also have Eamonn O'Hanlon, our Data Scientist, and Lotte Olesen Jeffs, our Program Manager, who play a vital role in building our forecasting and reporting models in PowerBI so we can help our clients to track results and optimise programs of work over time.
Tim Sands, our Managing Director, and Jennifer Greatrex, our Client Services Director, are also highly strategic, so we always have a few rounds of internal discussions to integrate broader perspectives before we present our strategies back to our clients.
What are the key things you want the team to focus on?
Quality of thinking and output is my #1. I expect the team to immerse themselves in every project. This means identifying and exploring the different parts that could contribute to our solution. It involves tackling each job with a strong sense of curiosity - listening, learning and gathering all the information they need and then taking the time to piece the puzzle together in a way that solves both commercial goals and customer needs.
We are also hugely client-centric in everything we do. We want our clients to feel like they are our only client and to be confident that we are as invested in driving the outcome as they are.
What were three things in your career that you felt were defining moments when you look back now?
If I had to choose three, they would be:
- Starting my career as a telemarketer at Cellarmaster Wines (in the early 90s) and being on the front line of good and bad customer feedback. This has stuck with me, and my team always has the customer or audience front of mind in everything we do.
- Again, at Cellarmasters, once I moved into the marketing department, I learnt the art of financial forecasting to give weight to my strategic perspective. We had a culture where we could get significant investment, often millions of dollars, if we could develop a robust hypothesis on what we believed the commercial value to the business could be. If we could sell it into our then Managing Director, Terry Davis (who later became the CEO of Coca Cola Amatil Australia) who was basically a human calculator, the initiative won support and unlocked funding investment. Financial forecasting, reporting and regular analysis is something we encourage with all our clients today so we can optimise programs of work over time.
- Starting my own strategic marketing consultancy back in 2002 (which I had for 16 years before joining Splendid) and as a one-woman-band getting the opportunity to work intimately with owners, C-suite and marketing directors to make a measurable difference to their businesses. My experience spanned most industries across both enterprise and SMB. This inside knowledge is hugely valuable today for our technology vendors who focus on solving problems for these industries and segments.
What keeps you at Splendid?
Most importantly, we have such a great, supportive, smart, and fun team. Tim Sands, our Managing Director, and I think very similarly. He’s sharp and can quickly pinpoint the one thing missing from a strategy, and has an uncanny ability to take it up a notch. I can also speak my mind with him – we are known for our professional ‘fights’, which we both appreciate, as they help ensure we always land in a better and more interesting place!
I’m also engaged by the work we do, the success we enjoy, and how our business constantly evolves. Every new opportunity takes me out of my comfort zone which means I am always learning, which I live for.
Also, earlier this year, Tim and our co-owner Mark Ryan invited me to take a share in the business. I was fully invested before, but this of course takes things up a level. I’m really excited about the work we’re doing, and where we’ll go from here.