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Clockwork Media, Scrum And The Agile Business

With an eye to becoming the biggest communications agency in the country, Nic Simmonds and Tom Manners from Clockwork Media believe success lies in six simple steps.

Monique Verduyn



Clockwork Media

Vital Stats

  • Company: Clockwork Media
  • Player: Nic Simmonds (left) and Tom Manners
  • Launched: 2013
  • Contact: +27 (0)11 463 0366,
  • Visit:

When tech journos and long-time friends Tom Manners and Nic Simmonds had enough of writing, they registered a communications business and ran it from a bedroom, with Nintendo as their first social media client.

Two years later, Clockwork Media has stylish premises in Bryanston and employs more than 20 people, thanks to Manners’ sales talent and Simmonds’ operations ability. Here’s how they are doing it.

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1. Use different personalities to the business’s advantage

“Tom is intense and aggressive, while I am calmer and more calculating,” says Simmonds. “We balance each other and complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. If I were like Tom, we would be networking and selling like mad, with no follow-through. If he was like me, we would be all infrastructure with no sales.”

2. Turnaround time is a big differentiator

When Manners saw an email in his inbox from the new low-cost airline FlyAfrica, he made contact immediately. Five minutes later he was on the road, and within a couple of hours he had a signed contract. “You have to be quick and responsive in today’s world,” he says.

Simmonds agrees. “Everyone in the business knows that you respond to a client’s email quickly, even if it’s just to tell them that the report they have asked for will be on its way later. Responsiveness builds trust. That means when things go awry, as they are sometimes bound to, your client will be that much more forgiving.”

3. Create good-looking documents

The partners agree that they probably lost a bit of business in the early days because of shoddy documents. “Before we had a design team we used to create documents manually,” says Simmonds.

“Now, every proposal, every presentation is designed. Presentation is everything. Clients are cautious at the start of a relationship. Give them a so-so document and the potential for losing them increases exponentially.”

4. Pick your clients carefully

Initially, Clockwork Media took on anything and everything, but then they learnt. “Be selective,” says Manners.

“If a client spends less than the figure we have in mind for a communications campaign, it generally means they don’t take it seriously. That situation sets everyone up for failure, so it’s better to walk away.”

5. Be adaptable

Spend time on understanding your clients’ needs and you’ll be better able to play a proactive role in their business. “Some brands want awareness, others want lead generation,” says Manners.

“Rarely can you have the two together. We make sure that we carefully consider what the client wants, and then build our offering to meet that need, with a willingness to keep on adapting it as we go along.”

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6. Processes are the backbone of a business

With no business experience between them, Simmonds and Manners learnt quickly that things fall apart without processes. “Not having an agency background meant we could create our own processes,” says Manners.

Simmonds recounts how he spotted a book, Scrum, on agile methodology in an airport. “I bought it, read it a few times, made notes and ran workshops with our team. It’s now the backbone of the business.

As our team has grown, we’ve had to move into executive roles. We’re no longer account managers. Applying a methodology that is about agility and constant improvement has made sense for the business. With Scrum, you are always making incremental enhancements. No-one can operate on auto-pilot with such a methodology in place. Scrum exposes problems quickly, so you can immediately remove them.”

Simmonds notes that while there was some initial resistance to Scrum, most staff adapted quickly. “The plus side is that those who were resistant to change – and the high level of transparency that Scrum enables – have moved on. We now have a team who want to work hard and excel. Emotionally and professionally, everyone is much happier because A players like to be on the same team.”

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+.

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