A story was told to me shortly after I arrived in Fiji almost seven years ago:
A man was walking down the beach when he saw a fisherman carrying two buckets of crabs walking in the opposite direction. One of the buckets had a lid on it, the other had no lid.
The man said to the fisherman, "Why does only one of those buckets have a top? Won't the crabs escape the other one?"
The fisherman said "No. The bucket with the top are the international crabs while the bucket with no top are Fijian crabs. The Fijian crabs will try to climb out but will be pulled back down by the other ones left behind."
Although I remember chuckling when I first heard this story, I didn't truly get it. I had to spend a number of years here before it really made sense.
Trying to do stuff differently has been a part of Oceanic's business model wherever possible. I'm not intending to put either myself or the company up on a pedestal here with that statement though. I just believe that in order to grow a business, differentiating yourself from others and continuing to move is important. "Others" in this case refers to other agencies, yes, but also other companies that may or may not be in the same industry. For example, my two years working at Connect taught me a lot about the impact of alienating customers. Oceanic's support processes are driven, in part, by what I felt was an absence of decent support procedures at Connect. Oceanic commits to responding to customer requests within one day or usually, within a few hours. This works very well for us and has enabled us to build and maintain relationships with customers and that translates into recurring and long term revenue. [BTW, my comments on Connect are not aimed at the general staff but instead come from the absence of a customer-centric focus and understanding elsewhere in that company.]
In other client-related issues, Oceanic has used online services like Basecamp for project management ever since the company began. Our project management process, our billing, our bug tracking, our support ticketing, our measurement and traffic reporting, etc...pretty much everything is online and available to our clients. For the most part, I think this is something clients enjoy working with since it makes their lives easier. I'm also a fan of measurement for obvious reason; it lets us confirm that things are working or not working. When we introduced "offline" marketing services to our clients, we continued to build on these capabilities knowing that it was again a differentiator for our company. I am convinced these collaborative communication elements are important to our ongoing success.
An old Japanese proverb refers to the danger of still water versus running water. The latter remains fresh and continues to be replenished while still water becomes stagnant, stale and smells. There are few metaphors more appropriate insofar as business is concerned, especially in Fiji.
Consider Oceanic’s history/movements during the past 3+ years:
- Oceanic began as a web development shop, almost exclusively.
- We built up our client services, capabilities and creativity and then moved into traditional advertising and marketing services (print, tv, radio, ambient, etc..)
- We explored new advertising/communication technologies and introduced Ceelite to Fiji, an energy-efficient and cost-effective lighting solution.
- We created new marketing channels with partners we felt had something special (i.e.; on-board advertising with Bligh Water Shipping)
- We saw an absence of a specific market research methodology that we felt would work here so we’re exploring the introduction of research services to our list of offerings beginning with the intelligence we recently completed for MaiTV.
Not all of these business moves have been wildly successful. Ceelite, in particular, has not sold as well as we would have liked due to a contracting economy and the perceived cost of the product. However, it is a cost-effective and proven item so we continue to explore the right formula to get it more traction locally.
Interestingly, the reaction from some of our competition has essentially been to just try and pull us back down into the bucket, regardless of the fact that some of these new services offer them and their clients clear benefits. Using Ceelite as one example, some agencies appear to feel that by introducing it to their clients, Oceanic would benefit and that is something they can't comfortably swallow. This takes place even as the product itself would reflect well on their own creative designs.
In the case of market research, Oceanic has just recently seen a managing director of one of Suva’s most established creative agencies irresponsibly try to argue that our market research was no good because Oceanic didn’t have “...adequate experience in research to be conducting and compiling this kind of study.” The statement is a fair one if he actually enquired about what our experience and/or methodology actually was. That wasn't part of the conversation, though. This person took a swipe at us simply because we were a competitor and he wanted to pull us back down into the bucket with him. This feels a bit too common in Fiji’s media industry (especially the agency environment where competition is pretty fierce).
For the record, Oceanic’s expansion into a market intelligence offering was led by a research expert with over 14 years of direct behavioural research experience. He was supported by a team of surveyors and analysts, all with a number of years under their belt. Oceanic does not roll stuff out half-assed...what would be the point in that? This is not to say that everything works perfectly. We always run into challenges that we need to work around. That’s business.
On a related note, the same creative agency who took this swipe at Oceanic made a public announcement over a year ago about their pending entry into e-marketing and web-based development. Where are they with that now? Nowhere. The announcement was vaporware.
I think we deserve credit for keeping stuff moving, introducing new offerings and trying to grow our capabilities. My entire team works hard for those things.
I believe in the development of Fiji’s communication industry. I like to see companies who do new things. Oceanic has recently been partnering with Pasifika Communications on project work because we see some clear advantages to working together, even though we are also direct competitors. I am very supportive of the development of other companies in our industry, too. The team at Underdawg, for example, are a very talented production shop. The team at 57Creative are doing great things themselves and blazing new trails with publishing and design. Although we haven’t worked with them, I’m envious of the new equipment the group at NiuWaveMedia have for video production and I expect to see it raise the bar in the country. Shiri and his team at Art&Soul have been doing some nice branding work. There are many other examples of other companies doing good stuff around. If those firms are doing work better than my company, then I think it's going to be important to push ourselves more.
I have no idea if the business decisions we make at Oceanic will have longevity. All I can do is try to make them work and avoid becoming stagnant water. Our ability to move into new areas, explore whether something is actually there and then try to grow our business with it should be considered a strength not a weakness. Even if Oceanic came crashing down and burned itself to the ground, I’d still be convinced the model is sound.
I am competitive in business and I know that Oceanic takes some heat because of it. I think we count the country’s largest companies as clients not because we’re competitive but because we offer solutions that actually work for them. Do they work 100% of the time? Nope. We enter into every project with the hope and expectation they will, though.
I'm just not a fan of the crabs that try and pull others down.