Launching Bastion Retail to fill a gap in the market

This article was first published in The Australian by Lilly Vitorovich here.

Australia’s biggest privately owned communications agency, Bastion Collective, is expanding into the competitive retail market.

Bastion’s local chief executive, Jack Watts, says it is looking to fill a gap in the market, noting that many agency and brand-run campaigns “don’t actually transfer to the last three feet of the retail environment … both in bricks and mortar and e-commerce”.

“You can run the world’s greatest campaign but then get ambushed at the point of sale by someone running a better price or promotion or more appealing packaging,” Mr Watts told The Australian during an interview.

Despite tough conditions across the Australian retail market, Mr Watt said there was “still a lot of growth” in the market, including bricks-and-mortar retailers and online. The sector, which consists of 180,000 bricks-and-mortar retailers, represented 4.1 per cent of GDP and 10.7 per cent of the nation’s employment, Mr Watts said.

Bastion Retail, headed by former WPP executive Marcus Millgate, will work with clients on retail marketing such as shopper marketing, trade promotion, packaging and design, and so-called “retail transformation”, which is the physical space design of retail stores. There will also be a retail-technology component, involving beacons, voice and sonic branding and mobile loyalty.

“The retail business will ensure we take our clients on a journey from data to creative to campaign management, across every applicable channel, all the way through to the retail environment, which for them is obviously where they sell their products,” he said.

Bastion’s existing offering consists of research and insights, creative and digital, corporate and consumer communications, sponsorship and events, government relations and data and analytics, with about 200 staff. Its clients, include tech giant Microsoft, fashion retailer Ferrari, cosmetics giant L’Oreal and Deakin University.

Mr Watts said the establishment of Bastion Retail was “one of the last big missing links for us to be able to help our clients grow their businesses”.

Another missing link is media planning and buying, but it’s not something the company is “looking at in the short-term”, he said.

Bastion was founded by Mr Watts’s brother, Fergus Watts, in 2009 after he retired from AFL following an injury. Their father and former St Kilda Football Club CEO Jim Watts, backed the business. The family elder still “works pretty closely on the finances” at Bastion, Mr Watts says.

Most of the business is still owned by the Watts family, however, each of about 10 division heads holds a stake in the company under its owner-operator model. There are about 15 Bastion shareholders in total.

With Jack based in Sydney, managing director Fergus recently moved to Los Angeles to help grow the business, which offers digital and PR services. The pair’s uncle, Dax Cornelius, runs the LA business, which consists of about 30 staff.

Bastion Retail’s new boss Millgate, who used to work at WPP’s shopper agency Geometry Globalx, came on board in February after short stints at Art + Sound and Shopitize. He has worked across Australia, Asia, the US and Britain.

Bastion has booked strong revenue growth over the past few years, up about 32 per cent for the 2019 financial year from a year earlier, Mr Watts said. He declined to disclose profit figures.

Mr Watts ruled out a sale or listing of the business, adding that they were “on a mission to create the great Australian agency”, in the footsteps of Clemenger, Singleton, Mitchell and Mojo.

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