A DEPT at snapping up independents to bolster its full-stack approach to marketing

Global digital agency DEPT officially launched its Asia-Pacific operations in December last year, headed up by former Havas Group CEO Vishnu Mohan. Mumbrella's Andrew Banks sat down with Mohan and James Kane, CEO & founder at digital product company Two Bulls, to talk about their Australian partnership and further plans for DEPT's expansion.

DEPT unites expert agencies around the world to create brands, campaigns, experiences, digital products, and services. Despite being part of a larger agency, each sub-agency within it maintains its own identity by operating under its own name with the addition, ‘A part of DEPT’ – now it’s here in Australia.

In the Asia Pacific region, DEPT is following an acquisition-led growth approach to grow to 1,000 people and contribute 10% to global revenues by 2024. This will be complemented by a Singapore hub and a satellite team in Manila.

Founded in Amsterdam in 2015, DEPT has quickly grown across the globe, from 120 people in The Netherlands to more than 3,500 people in seventeen countries across five continents. In this period, DEPT’s revenue has grown by +1600% thanks to its work with brands such as Patagonia, ASOS, Bose, Google, Triumph Motorcycles and Nikon.


Mumbrella caught up with partner and chief growth officer Vishnu Mohan, as well as James Kane, founder and CEO, Two Bulls – which DEPT snapped up in September – to ask them about their partnership and what it means for the Australian market. Melbourne-based Two Bulls is a Webby and Victorian Export Award-winning digital product studio that specialises in solving complex challenges with simple digital solutions, bringing together innovative engineering, creative perspective and thoughtful design.


Why has DEPT launched here in the Australian market?

“An expansion to APAC was always on the cards as we aspire to be the world’s best digital agency,” Mohan says.

DEPT set its sights on the region at the start of the year with Mohan leading that growth and he plans to have DEPT APAC contribute 10-15% of global revenues within the next two to three years.

“Australia was an important pillar of the APAC strategy given its digital maturity and its ability to mirror DEPT’s global proposition and service offerings at a more accelerated pace than the rest of the region,” Mohan explains.

“Having an existing team of 30 already in Sydney working on eBay and Ancestry added to a very natural choice of Australia as the market to mark our entry.”

Do you think there is room in the market for another digital agency?
“There will always be room for one more, as long as the value proposition the newcomer brings is unique, relevant and addresses a gap in the market,” says Mohan.

“DEPT’s uniqueness is its 50:50 tech and marketing mix, both from business and talent perspectives.

“The ability to pioneer, provide a digital end-to-end experience and concurrently address the needs of the CIO and the CMO sets us apart from the holding groups, the SIs as well many of the digital native newcomers.”

“We are currently working with Jeff Koons to send art to the moon. The Australian market is ready for that kind of ambition and desperately needs the technology-forward and pioneering approach that DEPT is famous for,” adds Mohan.

What will the challenges be in launching into a contracting market with economic pressures?
DEPT don’t see it as a challenge at all, says Mohan, adding that economic stress creates disruption, it forces CIOs and CMOs to question their current approach.

“That’s the perfect time to get into a new market with a fresh perspective,” Mohan adds. “That’s why DEPT was so resilient during the two tough years of Covid, a period not only of strong organic growth but also a time of significant inorganic growth.”

He adds: “That said, we love the words ‘cautious optimism’ and we take that in our approach to navigating these times.”

Australia has seen a proliferation of local indies succeeding recently, why do you think your business can come in and succeed within that environment?
“We are an independent joining the tribe!” Mohan exclaims.

He says one of DEPT’s core values is to be big enough to cope and small enough to care. He says their differentiation around their unique value proposition of a 50:50 tech marketing split combined with what he says is a consistent record at doing pioneering work has always found resonance in every market and drawn clients to them.

“Clients have access to all the support they need, but their relationships with the team stay the way they are,” Mohan continues. “And as DEPT shareholders, not much changes for leadership. We recognise that most local entrepreneurs in this space get to a plateau at some stage and scale is inevitably a challenge for most. This works well for us as our growth strategy combines an organic expansion approach together with picking up some of these successful indies to become part of DEPT.”

Who are the main local brands/partners you are working with?
Mohan offers: “The government constitutes one of our major partners as well as iconic Australian brands across several industries. For instance, we supported the response of the Government of Victoria with our full-stack tech expertise all through the COVID-19 pandemic. We created The Wiggles app with our client Weyo, and worked on 28 by Sam Wood. But we also have long-lasting relationships with eBay Australia and Ancestry in order to bring great products and campaigns to life.”

“And it’s not just the big guns, we’re also very active in the startup and digital health space,” he adds.

“One example is a medical device called Smileyscope, a virtual reality experience that transports children from the doctor’s office to an underwater seascape during their procedure. Or Real-Time Agent and Release.me, both of them active in the property industry. With My CP Guide for example, we created an online resource about cerebral palsy which has been developed with a consortium of Australian organisations, led by Cerebral Palsy Australia.”

Who are you looking to partner with soon?
Mohan says Digital Marketing sits at the top of the list of DEPT client’s needs in the region, “so we’ll likely be looking in that space.”

“We can’t talk specifics for obvious reasons, but we have been meeting several companies from different areas and have been impressed by a few of them,” Mohan tells Mumbrella. “The way they have kept pace with the new technologies and have shown remarkable growth and healthy bottom lines has been very encouraging. We’re getting to know them better, and will take our time in deciding the best for us from a culture and capability integration and strengthening perspective.”

For you personally, Vishnu, is there something that you have brought over from Havas to this role? If so, what and why?
Mohan is clear: “The experience of building a network as its number 1 employee through organic development, greenfield setups and multiple acquisitions has given me tremendous exposure to regional diversity be it culture, talent or work.

“The understanding and appreciation of diversity is a great asset when you set out to pick the best from the market in the pursuit of establishing a global best agency within the region,” he says.

Mohan adds: “Specific to Australia, I have had the privilege of setting up the media operation from scratch and seeing through its growth all these years which just makes it easy from the word go.”

What is the business investing in the most, is it mainly tech?
Mohan says DEPT believes in combining tech and marketing in order to help businesses stay ahead: “So both our organic and inorganic investments will be across tech and marketing capabilities, just as we have done in the rest of the world.”

He adds: “Besides that, we keep on investing in Ada by DEPT, our proprietary martech platform that helps both our clients and teams across the globe in terms of performance marketing, creative, data and media optimisation.”

And concludes: “Finally, we are planning to launch WEB3/DEPT later this month, to help our clients experiment with blockchain technology, build immersive experiences in the metaverse and deliver multi-layer strategies for launching NFTs.”

DEPT launched WEB3/DEPT in December to support the fastest-growing segment of its business. The 300-person team, which has been responsible for 5% of DEPT’s revenue this year, will help clients experiment with blockchain technology, build immersive experiences in the metaverse and deliver multi-layer strategies for launching NFTs.

The team has worked on over 60 Web3-focused projects, including industry firsts and award-winning work for brands like H&M, Tomorrowland, SPIN, Eurovision, Sprite (together with Marvel) and Dubai World Expo, as well as Web3 natives including HAPE, Circle, Dequency, Yuga Labs and Merit Circle.

DEPT®’s Web3 experience is grounded in a heavy tech focus and dates back to 2015 when it helped build the first-ever crypto bank with Circle.

Can you compare the Australian market to the others you’ve worked in? Any similarities or differences?
“Australia ranks right up there when it comes to digital maturity as an economy and that’s manifested in the digital agencies that exist in the market as enablers,” Mohan explains.

He says the quality of talents and work sits at par with many of its other markets and the same holds true for clients’ receptivity to innovation.

“Australia punches well above its weight when it comes to breakthrough and disruptive work as is visible through the global recognition that Australia receives at an international award show,” he says.

“It’s also apparent in our recent partnership with Thailand-based T&B Media to build a $100MM R&D centre from our offices in Melbourne. It’s a massive commitment in an emerging space and one we’re really excited to be a part of. We have also seen a lot of emphasis on work relating to social impacts as well as DEI initiatives coming from agencies in the market which is fabulous for us as we take pride in being a B Corp agency.”

What’s the company’s next strategic move and where do you see the business a year from now?
Locally DEPT is aiming to get to a full offering across the digital journey sooner rather than later.

“A combination of organic growth combined with new teams that bring value and scale to our presence should do the trick,” says Mohan.

“We are in several conversations in Australia and the rest of the region but not bound by any clock.

“A year from now, it would be good to have close to 10% of global business coming from APAC with Australia accounting for half of it.”

James, what does Two Bulls need from DEPT and what does it offer DEPT?
“Over the last 13 years, Two Bulls established itself as Australia’s premier digital product studio. So we know we can build solutions to clients’ needs,” Two Bulls’ James Kane says. “What was needed though, was a robust creative and growth offering in order to fully service our clients.

“That’s what DEPT brings. As Two Bulls/DEPT, we can build this Creative and Growth function to match our existing digital capabilities in Australia and combine all of this with deep technology experience.

“On a day-to-day basis, this means that clients have access to integrated teams where various creative, tech and data specialisms work together.

“As part of the DEPT leadership team, we will make sure that happy clients, our entrepreneurial spirit and our great culture stay at the forefront of DEPT in Australia.

“As we’re partnered to execute a vision based around that simple premise: let’s build the world’s best digital agency in Australia.”

When it comes to acquisitions – what are your priorities right now?
“We are not looking to put dots on the map, we’re aspiring to be the world’s best digital agency,” Mohan explains.

“First and foremost, that requires us to listen to the market, talk to our clients and find teams that make us stronger from a capability perspective, adding to the pioneering work that sets us apart.

“The bar has been set high by the companies that have become part of DEPT in the last 36 months, and we intend to continue enlisting the a-game for our clients.

“Australia holds immense potential for us across the group’s core practice areas of experience, engineering, creative and growth.

And this means, we are not on a clock to get there and will take our time. Stay tuned,” says Mohan.


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