Original Forever: Mick Blore and Craig van Straaten

Original Forever: Mick Blore and Craig van Straaten


In 2011, two old friends, Mick Blore and Craig van Straaten pooled their skills and resources to launch an ad agency with a difference — one that focused on solving problems rather than making ads. The company started life as a consultancy to other ad and design agencies before becoming an official business in its own right in March 2012.

A killer team

Blore had spent the previous 18 years in corporate advertising and communications, having run many of the country’s big agency groups including The Jupiter Drawing Room in Johannesburg, Saatchi & Saatchi (South Africa & Africa) and Y&R Brands. He is one of South Africa’s most awarded strategic creatives.

Van Straaten had spent 17 years in top agencies in Johannesburg and London and headed up the Design Department of The Jupiter Drawing Room (Jhb). He launched his own agency, Squiggle, which he ran for eight successful years, building an impressive client base before merging with Original Forever to complete a dynamic partnership.

Inspired thinking

“Our key product is creative strategy,” says Blore. “It’s a combination of communications strategy and the big creative ideas that bring that strategy to life in the market place. We found that for years, every time a client was presented with a strategy, they immediately wanted to know how that strategy translated into big ideas. We often heard the phrase ‘Okay, now how do we implement that?’ By combining the two processes, our clients get a full package that can be immediately actioned by their agency, or by us if they choose. It saves a lot of time, red tape and has been extremely well received by marketers and business people alike.”

A new kind of attitude

Original Forever has no expensive back-offices to pay for and charges fairly and appropriately for its services. It’s an approach that also makes the team faster and more adaptable than competitors.

But being different comes with challenges. While clients are always looking for something new, they are also accustomed to the usual. “We have had to sometimes explain and even demonstrate how a different attitude and a different approach can make a big difference,” says Van Straaten. “Our inspiration and intent is to truly be an ideas generation company. The world doesn’t need another ad agency.”

Blore adds that experience has taught him that people only really buy two things: People buy people (relationships) and people buy big ideas (innovation, entrepreneurship).

“In our previous roles, we dealt with clients who wanted the result that an agency produces, but none who wanted to go through the process to get it. We combine the strategic, creative ideas and production processes into one seamless delivery, saving our clients time, red tape and often money.”

Key lessons

Blore and Van Straaten believe in growing slowly and steadily with their own money and retaining all shares, rather than selling out. “There are few genuine and honest people out there who share your values: Find them and work with them,” says Van Straaten.

“Remain true to your craft and what you know, focus on delivery excellence rather than be distracted by ‘quick money’. Work for passion and have fun and the money will follow. Invest in your clients and they will do the same with you.”

On a more practical level, Blore suggests making lists of what you want to achieve every day, ticking the items off and always moving forwards.

He adds that having your own business carries a whole different set of stresses than having a job, but if you stay true to your course, it will be worth it. “You will succeed only because you have failed over and over. Keep at it, never give up, and stand up every time you are knocked down.”

Staying out of debt, watching the bottom line grow

Small business owners like the founders of Original Forever should always prioritise money management. Whether your business is a sole proprietorship or has a staff of one hundred, a standardised process provides the entrepreneur with a clear understanding of how, when and where money is coming in — allowing them to maintain control over this critical aspect of the company.

The process should always be focussed on ways of streamlining accounts receivables to improve cash flow.

From the start the founders of Original Forever financed the company with their own cash and chose to grow it slowly rather than take on any debt or sell a part of the company, despite some tempting offers. “This is more than just a company for us,” says Blore. “We want to work together as friends, choose our clients carefully, have fun with them and make a difference. You can’t do that with overseers involved.”

Van Straaten says that he and Blore have been fortunate because their different way of thinking was well received and, right from the start, growth has been steady and strong. “The size of our clients and projects has been increasing too and within a year, we are already winning pitches against very large, well-established agencies. We are having fun and that’s more important to us than explosive growth.”

Vital stats

Players: Mick Blore and Craig van Straaten

Company: Original Forever

Launched: 2011

Contact: +27 (0)11 463 8376

Monique Verduyn
Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.