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5 Minutes with… Konrad Spilva

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Isobar Australia & New Zealand CEO on why you need to get your hands dirty

5 Minutes with… Konrad Spilva

Konrad Spilva’s story is a testament to the power of getting stuck in and giving things a go. These days he’s the CEO of Isobar Australia and New Zealand, but when he founded his own agency Visual Jazz in 2001 there was no room for ivory tower-thinking and he found himself pitching in with every kind of role from account management to web development. Visual Jazz merged with Isobar in 2012 and now he’s spreading the agency’s platform-neutral brand commerce ethos across Australia and New Zealand. And that flexible and hands-on approach of his earlier years is paying off in his new role. LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Konrad to learn more.

LBB> You started out working in the marketing department at Ford – what was that experience like? 

KS> Have you ever been in a job where you’re looking at the clock on the wall every five minutes to see if the time is going any faster?  That’s what it was like… It was 1999/2000, Ford Australia was struggling financially, there were plenty of 30 year veterans biding their time in there and there was more energy in an old folk’s home. 

LBB> And what spurred you on to quit and start up your own shop, Visual Jazz?

KS> All of the above really. I’d studied marketing and didn’t realise I’d be in a role where I couldn’t be creative. That’s what I wanted and when one of my best mates, Brett White, suggested we start an agency together, I thought ‘why not? What have we got to lose?’ 

LBB> It’s been quite a journey – 15 years ago you started Visual Jazz and now you’re the CEO of Isobar Aus and NZ. Looking back, what have been the real highlights from that time?

KS> It’s funny, you never really stop to smell the roses too often but there’s been so many amazing work highlights, awesome people I’ve worked with and fantastic, supportive clients.  

Winning our first big account in 2002 was huge (Australian Defence Force), winning our second big one was even better (GM Holden in 2004), and each Agency of the Year win has been a really sweet reward for our team to share. 

LBB> And what advice do you wish you’d had when you started out?

KS> We were really trusting and pretty naïve so something like ‘make sure you do your due diligence, every time’.

LBB> Reading your bio, you had to learn a lot on the go and teach yourself various digital skills in the early days of Visual Jazz and you had to wear lots of different ‘hats’, from account management to web development to strategy… what was that learning curve like? And how do you think that hands on experience across lots of different roles and skills has informed the way you approach your current role?

KS> The learning curve was insane… but throwing ourselves into every challenge really helped.  We were learning, but so was the rest of the industry and having a marketing background (albeit of limited experience) really helped us move past some of our competitors who’d come purely from the multimedia industry (remember that term?). 

Hands on experience is key I think. It helps to ask the right questions and it means you don’t need five people in a client meeting to make sense of a potential opportunity. Plus, how can your team respect you if you have no actual idea about what they do?  

LBB> Isobar seem to be really pushing the brand commerce angle very strongly at the moment… what does that mean to you? And how has that ‘brand commerce’ focus changed the way you work as an agency?

KS> Brand commerce is an articulation of where we’ve been moving the agency’s focus over the last two years. Brands are looking to better connect with every customer touchpoint, across physical and digital spaces, to create better brand experiences. We’re already a very strong agency in the experience and service design space, and plan to complement this by adding to our existing e-commerce capability, bolstering our practices in CRM, data analytics and marketing automation services. 

LBB> What are the big challenges facing the Australian and New Zealand markets right now?

KS> As an agency, our biggest challenge is the digital talent shortage. We’re competing with other traditional and other digital agencies, large consultancies and our own clients for great talent.  


LBB> One really exciting project that came out of Isobar Australia recently was the VR experience for Chevrolet. What was the idea behind that and why do you think Oculus/VR was the best platform for Chevy in this case?

KS> When you test drive a 4WD vehicle, often in a busy inner city environment, you don’t get the full experience of taking it off road. Chevy Co-Drive is designed to give people a chance to experience a vehicles driving capacity without leaving the showroom. If you can’t drive to the mountains, Chevy Co-Driver will bring the mountains to you.

Oculus/VR has so much potential to create truly immersive experiences. The problem is that most of them to date have been pretty crappy 3D renders. We wanted to create a great a storyline, shoot it in full HD, render vehicle features over the top and give people a mind blowing experience to capture the excitement of the car. 

LBB> And what do you think of the potential that VR holds for brands more generally – is it a powerful tool or a bit overhyped?

KS> It really depends on the brand and what we’re trying to achieve. The impact can be exceptionally powerful if it’s relevant and produced well; otherwise it will do the brand more damage than good. There are also plentiful business opportunities for VR to be a disruptor and new business model – such as pay per view sports. 

LBB> Operating in the platform-neutral space that Isobar does, bringing together real and digital worlds must, I imagine, require you to really keep on top of new technologies and platforms without being wedded to any in particular… how do you find people with the balance of digital skills and flexible creative-mindedness? 

KS> It’s in our DNA really, across every department. We’ve always been that agency and embracing new technologies and platforms isn’t daunting to us. Having creatives and technologists in sync together is so important and we’ll always look to evolve and stay ahead of the game. 

LBB> Which other recent pieces of work coming out of Isobar Australia & New Zealand have really excited you recently?

KS> We’re working on some big design projects across our major clients and we’re excited to launch the new digital platform for Jetstar in the coming weeks. And there’s some exciting projects involving drones (but not in a campaign way), wearables for health and beacon experiences that are hush hush for now ;) 

LBB> Outside of work, what sort of things are you into? Where do you find inspiration?

KS> I love to travel. I spent about 14 months backpacking in 2010/11 and I could have kept going!  New adventures and experiences really inspire me but at home, I get my kicks out of playing golf, wakeboarding, playing/watching sports and being a hack on the guitar.


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Isobar UK, Wed, 27 May 2015 16:05:22 GMT