Claxon CEO Daniel Willis Reflects On An “Exceptionally Strong” Fy23 And Branching Out Into Creative AI

Article was originally published by Media Week on October 31, 2023

Claxon was established on the Gold Coast in 2017 and started as a performance media agency.

Since then, the agency has expanded its service offering to include full capability across media, creative, experience and data – all in-house.

The independent agency’s footprint now stretches to Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane offices.

Daniel Willis, chairman and CEO of Claxon, spoke to Mediaweek about the agency’s continued focus on growth and performance, their “exceptionally strong” performance over the last financial year, its focus on Creative AI and the outlook for the year ahead.

As both Chairman and CEO, Willis oversees the agency’s advisory board. He is responsible for the agency’s overall commercial output.

Among his focuses is driving geographical expansion through mergers and acquisitions in Australia, the US and the UK.

“I hope to have some significant news in this space in the coming months and suffice it to say, I’m excited about what the future looks like for Claxon,” he added.

Performance-focused offering and branching out into creative AI

Claxon’s unique offering focuses on performance and is fully integrated across media, creative, experience and data.

Willis said: “The fact that we’re genuinely full service under the one roof is pretty rare.”

“Many agencies say they’re full service, but when you look closer at their structures, you often find the ‘fully integrated’ capability is delivered through a web of partners, and there is nothing wrong with that model if it works for you.

“But for Claxon, holding full capability in-house combined with our performance DNA gives us a unique perspective and no restrictions around how we drive exceptional client outcomes,” he said.

Willis added that the agency’s drive into creative AI is a big focus for them and believes it sets them apart from other agencies.

“Our adoption and use of AI is a huge focus for us, and in addition to having already weaved AI into every fibre of the day-to-day running of the agency, we’ve heavily lent into AI creative and are now creating even more unbelievable pieces of work for brave clients.

“We’re using generative AI to allow brands to achieve so much more creatively with so much less. We’re just about to announce our new head of creative AI, so it’s an exciting time for us,” he revealed.

Growing a diverse client portfolio and its performance over the last financial year

Claxon boasts a diverse client list, including Binance and Dymocks Bookstores.

Willis said: “We’ve just turned six years old and have some great clients, both big and small, that have been with us from close to the beginning, such as Accor hotels and one of the country’s leading plastic and cosmetic surgeons.

The independent agency has had a string of success this year, winning new clients such as Chempro, ASPS and Polaris.

Looking at the agency’s performance over the last financial year, Willis described it as “exceptionally strong.”

“FY23 was our biggest YoY growth since we opened our doors. This was only possible because of our amazing team, which is undoubtedly the strongest ever.”

Willis also noted that the agency consciously moved away from the ‘more people is better’ ethos that he says often trips up many indies.

Instead, he said that Claxon leans into the ‘better people is better’ way of thinking, saying: “It is definitely working well for us, and we’re expecting similar YoY growth again this financial year.”

Learnings from the field to the boardroom

Before a career in media, Willis was a professional football player who began representing his hometown of Wellington, New Zealand, at nine.

“Football was all I ever wanted to do, and was six months away from landing in Crete, Greece, on a big contract when I suffered a career-ending knee injury at age 20,” he said.

Willis shared that he believes professional team sports and business are fundamentally the same.

“It’s firstly about having the right players in the right positions; it realises that the small things make the big differences, and a cohesive culture means you play and win as a team.

“Those things are the foundation of any successful company,” Willis added.

Being part of the IMAA and the outlook for Claxon in the year ahead

Claxon has been part of the IMAA since the industry body’s early days and applauded CEO Sam Buchanan and his team’s work in championing the Indies in the market.

Willis said: “Whether Sam’s negotiating with data partners or the Government on our behalf, the IMAA has given all indies a powerful voice where previously there was none.”

Looking ahead, Willis shared that international geographic expansion into the UK and the US is the agency’s primary focus.

“This will either come from organic growth or M&A, or most likely a combination of both.”

Another key driver for Claxon is the raising of awareness and consideration of the Claxon brand within the key Australian markets. He said: “We are investing heavily in marketing our business and the skills and capabilities of our team.”

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