John Kilgour and Ian Ross • Melbourne

Communications agency HARDWIRE has seen a lot of change in its 25 plus years of operation, leveraging the endless march of technology to stay current.

There’s one thing, however, that founder John Kilgour insists will never change: HARDWIRE will always be a specialist small business.

John started the business about 27 years ago as a creative services advertising agency, working out of a terrace house in North Melbourne. He quickly found an opportunity in direct marketing.

“The connotations used to be that there was a lot of envelope stuffing,” he says. And there was, but as technology evolved, the business changed with it, and HARDWIRE found itself as an early adopter of digital marketing in Australia, with Ian Ross coming in to manage that arm of the operation.

Now based in Melbourne’s CBD, HARDWIRE employs a dozen people and is pushing the boundaries of digital marketing to embrace marketing automation.

Their client base over time has included telcos, multinational insurance and pharmaceutical companies and industry super funds. The ever-changing environment of digital makes for exciting, challenging work.

“When I first started in the industry digital was an afterthought, but that has completely changed.

Our strategies now involve a mix of physical and electronic media,” Ian says.

John made the conscious decision years ago that he didn’t want to grow the staff numbers any bigger than 30, as HARDWIRE has a good culture, good stable of clients and a high level of service, all of which deserves to be safeguarded.

“In working to stay ahead of the game, it was pretty obvious what not to do, in my mind. We changed with the times but kept the business model the same. Our clients have always had synergy with us, and even though we have big clients, we’ve always only handled the pieces of their work that made sense for us.”

“Places can work people hard and they get burnt out. We always try to not be that kind of place, and I’m happy to say we have low turnover.”

“But, you just can’t have every conceivable skill on the floor for anything that could come in the door, so contractors are part of the ride now. Equally, we don’t offshore any work either. It’s important to me to support the local developer community and to know that I can walk across the hall and talk to the person as soon as I need to.”

A lot of agencies send digital work offshore because it’s so cheap, so HARDWIRE needs to keep on its toes to provide value in other ways, such as offering a personalised and tailored service. While John and Ian have moved fleetly to keep the business evolving the soul of the place hasn’t changed, and that owes a lot to its size.

HARDWIRE has been involved in a number of activities with Small Business Victoria and the broader government and John says they’ve been a big help.

“I got involved originally because I wanted to give something back to the small business community, given my belief in small business and my support of it, but I got so much more out of it than I’d anticipated.”

Small Business Victoria provided mentoring opportunities, contacts and business opportunities.

“There’s always benefits to getting involved or mentoring others as a small business. Something good always comes back.”

The next big thing for HARDWIRE is marketing automation, which Ian describes as “having your marketing work for you while you’re asleep”. It involves artificial intelligence technology that can update and improve marketing communications to better reach audiences and take action to improve your campaign.

For HARDWIRE, it’s equally important to understand audiences as it is the technology they use.

“Upcoming Australian customers, millennials, have a totally different set of social values than baby boomers, so it’s important to understand their consumer habits to successfully communicate with them. The tactics of 20 years ago won’t work today.”

Despite the emerging opportunities made possible by modern computing and the internet,  we’ll still need human beings like John and Ian involved, because as they put it – you can’t communicate if you don’t understand people.

To find out more about Victorian and local government assistance that may be available to you, visit Business Victoria or call 13 22 15.