Small is beautiful. And effective.

Accessing top independent talent is the key to Round's growth
Round partnered with Holiday Films to promote RBC's golf sponsorship. The tournament announcer seen here is doing play-by-play commentary of a deal with a high-net-worth investor.

Round partnered with Holiday Films to promote RBC’s golf sponsorship. The tournament announcer seen here is doing play-by-play commentary of a deal with a high-net-worth investor.

As in any industry, advertising firms start small, get big and become acquisition targets. The founders sign a non-compete and are rewarded with a big payday. But being bought isn’t for everybody. Those who don’t care to report to the new owners often leave and start their own shops. And the cycle begins again: start small, get big, get bought, spawn spinoffs.

Toronto-based Round, launched in 2018 by Paul Riss and Mike Davidson, fits this narrative, but only up to a point. Rather than follow the conventional route of most ad start-ups — build overhead in the form of staff and office space as the business grows — Riss and Davidson are trying to keep things as lean as possible.

For BGC Canada, Round built a campaign around the notion that opportunity changes everything. Engaging portraits of club members connect with the audience through the eyes of the kids themselves.

For BGC Canada, Round built a campaign around the notion that opportunity changes everything. Engaging portraits of club members connect with the audience through the eyes of the kids themselves.

Their model is project-based and custom-built. Rather than hire full-time talent, teams are customized and assembled for each project. “We take the SWAT team approach,” says Davidson. “We assemble the best team for the problem we’re trying to solve, solve it and move on.”

Round teamed up with hockey superstar Connor McDavid to let Canadian car buyers know that Go Auto makes vehicle shopping and ownership fun, easy and affordable.

Round teamed up with hockey superstar Connor McDavid to let Canadian car buyers know that Go Auto makes vehicle shopping and ownership fun, easy and affordable.

While working at big agencies, they used to be able to pick whomever they wanted for a client’s business. But that all changed as New York got tougher on costs and brought in resource managers. All of a sudden it wasn’t about whom they wanted, but who was available. Top talent started leaving.

They knew there was senior, independent talent out there that could form teams far superior to what many agencies were bringing to the table. “We believe in this model,” asserts Davidson. “We’ve worked with over 150 independents who are among the best in North America. This is not something we could do if we had full-time headcount to feed because we’d have to give the same teams all the work, even though they may not always be the best choice for a particular problem.”

Round utilized the power of a visual pun to get across the message about PayBright’s Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) plans, which allow customers to pay partners including Wayfair and Endy in weekly or monthly instalments.

Round utilized the power of a visual pun to get across the message about PayBright’s Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) plans, which allow customers to pay partners including Wayfair and Endy in weekly or monthly instalments.

Regarding Round’s growth with this model, Davidson says, “If we add staff, it will be on the management side. We will not be hiring creative or strategic talent full time, but we’ll bring in junior partners to run different parts of the business.” In this way they can continue to offer customization with top talent while increasing revenue and capacity.

As with many similar organizations, Bermuda’s national newspaper The Royal Gazette was struggling to stay relevant. Round took the high road of “digging for the truth” to communicate journalistic integrity. The campaign included print, OOH and digital ads.

As with many similar organizations, Bermuda’s national newspaper The Royal Gazette was struggling to stay relevant. Round took the high road of “digging for the truth” to communicate journalistic integrity. The campaign included print, OOH and digital ads.

Round’s clients tend to be mid-sized companies that don’t necessarily have big marketing budgets and are challenged to access and attract top talent. Giving clients access to top talent regardless of budget is Round’s sweet spot. Clients including Go Auto, Harlequin, Boston Beer Company (makers of Samuel Adams beers) and BGC Canada are perfectly suited to Round’s offering.

Looking to connect with a new generation of readers, Round used a multicolored logo to capture the feeling women get from Harlequin books – an intangible experience that is different for every reader.

Looking to connect with a new generation of readers, Round used a multicolored logo to capture the feeling women get from Harlequin books – an intangible experience that is different for every reader.

“Harlequin’s a great example,” explains Riss. “It wasn’t getting top talent on its business. They picked us to help reposition them and be realistic about who they are.” Round followed through and built a campaign to attract younger readers with the tagline “that Harlequin feeling.” Harlequin’s internal creatives could then implement the new positioning across various design applications.

Round created an integrated campaign for Dallas tech start-up Nickson, which furnishes apartments for young professionals who move around the country for work but don’t want to drag all their chattels with them.

Round created an integrated campaign for Dallas tech start-up Nickson, which furnishes apartments for young professionals who move around the country for work but don’t want to drag all their chattels with them.

Payment processing start-up PayBright also benefited from Round’s approach. Says Riss, “They had all the infrastructure to run their business, but they didn’t have a great way to tell consumers what they were and why they should be interested. They had a small internal creative department, mostly digital designers. And that’s a perfect scenario for us. We worked on the strategy and the brand and then handed them a creative toolkit for their launch campaign.”

Though Round launched before the pandemic, the shift to remote working that resulted from lockdowns has worked well for the agency. It was not caught with excess overhead and was blessed with a much larger talent base from which to choose. With many firms forced to restructure, reduce overhead and unload talent, Round says its business has grown by 70% this year, and it seems perfectly positioned to take advantage of the new post-pandemic normal.

 

CONTACT:
Mike Davidson
Founding Partner
mike@weareround.com

The Indie List:

Welcome to the agency of now

Zulu Alpha Kilo: Colouring outside the lines

Arrivals+Departures: Seeing what others don’t see

Agnostic: Consumer-driven solutions win the room

Doug&Partners: The difference intellectual diversity makes

Target: Master storytellers

Rain: helping brave brands grow

Art & Science: Leading the transformation

G&G: A decade of rewards from risk

Labour: Rebranded agency puts innovative model to “work” for brands

Here Be Monsters: Helping brands navigate unchartered waters

m5: An agency beyond borders