The first thing you notice about NinaMorris and Angel Jones of morrisjones&co is their energy. The atmospherecrackles with the electricity of it. When I visit their swanky offices inWestcliff, Johannesburg, Morris is late after being held up in a previousmeeting and explodes into the room, talking at a mile a minute and introducingherself in-between. Jones contributes at various points in the conversation asthey explain the story of their success. It’s one that involves big nameclients like kulula.com, Wimpy, Virgin Mobile, Southern Sun, McCarthy, KWV andDiscovery, to name but a few.
Jones, who’d been working at M&CSaatchi in London, visited South Africa in 2000 on a scouting mission to find aprospective partner for a local M&C Saatchi operation. At that point,Morris, who’d been working at Leo Burnett, was itching to make a move. “We metover coffee and just clicked. The universe conspired and the planets collidedand within a week we were flying to Londonand within two we were opening an ad agency,” she recalls.“Many people told me I was being overlyambitious to think I was going to find a business partner in somebody I didn’tknow at all,” adds Jones, “but I knew the instant Nina said that if we weregoing to do it, she didn’t want to start in a garage and save funds and buildthe thing up, and that she wanted the smartest address in town, the chemistrywas perfect and she was right.”
Following the ‘go huge or go home’philosophy, the pair used the funding from their parent company to openupmarket offices in the heart of Sandton. “They were tiny but they gave theright impression – and perception is reality in this industry. We knew thatbrains and talent aren’t enough – you need to look the part as well,” saysMorris. “So we opened with an awesome office space and no clients, but wereckoned it was more of a risk not to take a risk,” adds Jones.The risk paid off, as she relates: “Our bigbreak came after six months when Comair approached us to pitch for a new budgetairline they were proposing to call Comair Lite. We were up against four other agencies and in our pitch we suggested they callit kulula.com – derived from the Zulu word for ‘easy’. It was a generic enoughname to allow us to apply it to other brand extensions that we had in mind –cars, beds etc,” she explains. “It also allowed us to communicate the bookingchannel in the name because we didn’t have enough money to do another campaigneducating customers about how and where to book,” Morris adds. Together, theydesigned everything from what the aeroplanes would look like to seat coverfabrics and uniforms.
The break came at a time of enormouspressure from head office in London,who were feeling the pinch as their biggest client, British Airways, cut budgetspending overnight following 9/11. “M&C Saatchi wanted to pull our fundingbut we fought and fought and kept it together, got more and more clients andthen eventually bought them out 18 months after starting. That’s howmorrisjones&co was born,” relates Morris. “We were delighted because itmeant we went from each owning 10% of all the blood and sweat we were puttingin, to owning 50% each. From there, the business just took off. Within a monthwe won Wimpy and Sun International,” Jones adds.That said, there were challenges along theway. When asked what the biggest one was, they both answer at the same time:Cash flow. “It’s the hardest thing entrepreneurs face but if you can manage itwell you will succeed. If you can’t, you will go down. And there were timeswhen we had to personally fund the business. But no matter how difficult it gotwe had a hunger and passion and a commitment to succeed. There was never anyquestion in our minds that we wouldn’t make it. We’ve taken risks but they’vebeen calculated ones – and we’ve certainly had a mixture of both luck andmagic,” says Morris. It’s a magic that has lead to big-name clients,vertigo-inducing success and a range of awards, the most recent of which is anomination for the Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur Awards. Affirmationindeed, but they’ve earned it.
Contact: +27 11 486 1284; www.morrisjones.co.za