When freelance creatives Megan Willson,
Graham Hopkins and Elton Hesketh got together in 2005 to form 360 Degrees Production House, their intention was to grow. “We started the company because we realised that we were doing a lot of the big-picture strategic thinking for other companies, and it made sense to set up a company to do it for ourselves. But we never just wanted to be three people doing this – our vision was to build a sustainable business,” says Willson.
Five years down the line, that vision has been realised. From three staff and six events a month in the first year, 360 Degrees has grown to 22 permanent and 20 associate staff members and does on average over 400 events a month. It lists Absa, General Motors, Liberty Properties, Nedbank Capital and Anglo Platinum among its clients and has a string of awards to its name. The latest is the Topco 2010 Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award, which recognises the role Willson, as CEO, has played in leading 360 Degrees to success. The company manages large scale events, exhibitions, industrial theatre productions, branding solutions, promotions and design.
The power of partnerships
For every entrepreneurial company the growth path to such success is different, but the story of 360 Degrees features some winning elements from which other start-ups could learn.
When asked to list the company’s success factors, Willson’s first item is partnerships. “There are many horror stories of partnerships in business, and people will give you countless reasons why going into partnership with other people is a bad idea. But there can be no doubt that a great deal of our success is down to the equal partnership between our company’s founders,” she says.
One of the reasons the partnership works so well is that they invested a great deal of time at the outset clearly defining parameters and boundaries. “With a ten-year age gap between each of us and different skills sets, none of us replicated any of the other partners – while we all come from a creative background, we each bring something unique to the company,” says Willson.
Selecting the right relationships
The second success factor on her list is relationships. “We know we do our best work when we understand the client’s business, how important the project is to their business imperatives and what their anxieties and concerns are, all of which is facilitated by a close relationship with them,” says Willson.
For a business forging a growth path in the early stages, it’s very tempting to take on any work that comes along, but doing so is often a mistake. “There have been times when we have walked away from business because we felt there was no relationship or connection with the client, or because they didn’t demonstrate the willingness to engage in the process, something that’s so important to a project’s success,” she adds. “We don’t have thousands of accounts, but the ones we have are the ones we want and through them we are able to produce great work.”
In 2000, for example, the company won the General Motors’ Supplier Award, an award that, as Willson explains, typically goes to companies whose products and services are more specific to the core motor industry business.
Landing big-name clients
It’s notoriously difficult for SMEs to get their foot in the door of large corporates, but 360 Degrees has managed this admirably. Willson puts this down to perseverance and targeted pitches. “We kept our eyes open for opportunities and never gave up. Procurement processes take a long time, so if someone told us they were only looking to update their supplier list in six months, we’d ask for the vendor application forms and then make sure we called them back in six months’ time. If you persevere, the payback is big,” she says.
She and her team also made it their business to learn about corporate hierarchical structures and who it was best to target in each prospective company. “Research it, do your homework, find out who it’s best to speak to and bear in mind that this might not be the procurement department. Very often, the procurement department is there as gatekeeper and if you only try to go through them, you won’t get anywhere,” she advises.
In the years ahead, Willson wants to see the business consolidated before turning its attention to new geographical markets. “In time we want to take South African eventing to the rest of the world, but for now we’re focusing on doing what we do best and developing our signature style further,” she concludes.
360 Degrees Production House
Player: Megan Willson
Contact: + 27 11 782 1663