ManBrands Creative Director and Norman Connell Advertising Managing Director Trent Dyball started doing marketing at a time when there were still no emails and social media sites. Through the changing landscape of the industry he is in, Trent learned that keeping the creative fresh is what matters most. With over 20 years under his belt, Trent has an intensive creative and marketing experience that has got him to where he is right now in his business journey.
Trent looks back at the starting point of his career. While he did see himself in advertising, he never truly imagined himself to be in this position of owning a business. He rose from the ranks from being a casual employee to be fully employed, and now, taking the steering wheel and driving his agencies to greater heights.
“I started (working) in a company called Norman Connell Advertising when I was doing my professional year at university. Then I went back and completed my marketing degree. I came back after and worked casually for Norman Connell Advertising. It was quite a small business at that time. I got offered a full-time role. I grew that quite a bit with my then boss. Then we became partners after that and kept growing it. About eight years ago, I bought him out of the business, and he retired. In this episode, within the next 12 months, I launched ManBrands,” Trent recounted.
While he has retained the original agency, he finds ManBrands easier to oversee. He stated, “It was just going from a generalist agency to an agency that had a purpose. That was easy to explain to customers. And it worked. ManBrands worked well because they all know straight away what we do. So, it made the selling process to new customers a lot shorter and the story a lot easier to explain. I don't have to go and show them my whole portfolio at work. With the old agency, it was like everyone can be our client. Whereas when we launched ManBrands, it was quite easy to keep the focus on the client who is a good fit.”
Although he regards himself more as a marketer and creative, Trent seems to have an entrepreneurial spirit within him in the onset. During his younger days, he remembered going to the bay to get abalone, before it was declared illegal. “I sell it on the side of the road. My mother always thought I'd be a good salesman. I think she's right. That made much money, and I had a little fun,” he laughed as he brought back memories of his childhood.
His parents also have a bit of influence on his entrepreneurial upbringing. His father, who has worked as a general manager for a long time, has established a consulting business. While Trent has been leaning towards the creative side of the fence and his father was more of an administrative kind of business owner, Trent still has taken in fantastic work ethics from his dad. Loyalty seems to be inherent in the family. Trent has been with Norman Connell for 22 years while his dad worked in the same company for 25 years before he moved companies and founded a business. Meanwhile, his mom ran her own business being a beautician for 20 years.
It was early in his career when Trent already found his spot under the sun in the advertising world. Marketing seems to have attracted him like a magnet to metal. His love for the creative and his exposure to the music scene playing in a band also got him interested in the marketing field. His years in the agency has honed his skills of understanding what the target market wants and conveying the right message to the right people.
Despite working in the agency for a long time, running the business was a different ballgame altogether, Trent surmised. He had to learn more about the business when he purchased it outright. Before he became a partner, his role was more on being a counsellor and creative. When he took over the business, he had to know the other aspects that were not his specialty. Aside from learning the ropes from the former owner, who was his boss before, Trent also went to his father for advice when he acquired the business.
Learning how to run a company is one of the reasons why Trent joined EO Melbourne. For him, “the forum is like having five or six mentors that are all experiencing the same thing. I found that joining EO has been a fantastic experience as a business owner. You realise that there are all these other people out there with the same challenges as you. And they've also got solutions. It's quite interesting. In the forum, with the knowledge that seven people can bring to the table, they can work out a solution to any problem.” Trent appreciates the Accelerator Program as well as the access to learning events and remarkable people with amazing experiences. When his friend first introduced him to EO Melbourne, it didn’t even have to take a hard sell for him to agree to join because he already discerned the value of EO to his growth.
Some of the challenges he realised he had to surmount in running a business were managing the cost base and employee engagement. Budget-wise, they made a shift from something around 80% media and 20% creative spending to flipping it the other way around, putting more money on creatives.
Because the advertising and marketing scene has changed so much in a short span of time, Trent has to contend with the developments and make sure that he’s ahead of the curve with the innovations in his industry. A particular ordeal he has to face is keeping his creative output abreast along with the shifting times. “The challenge is making sure the creative is still fresh. You're not making a product. Every time you come up with a new campaign, you've got to come up with a new concept,” he explains.
Nonetheless, others perceive his line of work as a walk in the park. Trent narrated one episode with a tire dealer who said that being an advertising agent must be easy. He countered by illustrating his work, “Imagine that all the tires in your warehouse had no tread pattern on them. Every tire you sold, you have to have a different tread pattern that you could never go back and repeat one.” He was referring to the creativity in advertising, and the tire dealer realised it was a hard thing to do. “Media and access to consumers have just become extremely fragmented. Social visuals have a massive impact on it. It’s a cool change because you could be more targeted. But it has changed the industry,” he pointed out.
Most people also regard being a business owner as an easy position because they assume that the owner reports to no one. “I think that everyone thinks you have no boss. But you have multiple bosses because they're all your clients. And they all think that they're your only client. That's probably the biggest bias. I think everybody out there thinks it must be amazing having no boss, but (in reality) there are 80 bosses,” the creative business owner revealed.
With so many clients, it is a hurdle to keep the balance, especially that he finds the marketing teams to be planning less. “Managing the peaks and troughs is the hardest at the moment,” Trent underscored. “The digital and social media are not that new, but the marketing managers, you have to take them on a journey,” he added.
Due to the demands of his job, working long hours is another struggle for him. He has to manage his schedule well so that he can devote time to his family, especially to his two young kids, who are now seven and five. Trent shares, “I decided to start work early and try to get home for dinner every night. I’m just trying to get home and see them every day. That's what I’m trying to do at the moment. Just flow through family and work. I think this work-life balance thing is a bit of a unicorn. It's more of wherever you're at, you've got to go with it. When you've got some extra time, spend it with the family. I think if you aim for work-life balance, you're probably going to be disappointed for your whole life. It's just dealing with what you've got at the moment and trying to make sure that you use your time the best between work and family.”
Hanging out with his kids is one thing he enjoys doing outside of work. Aside from that, his interest lies in working on cars and riding motorbikes. That makes him both the target market and the creative person behind ManBrands because they also deal with brands in the automotive industry. Moreover, he manages an amateur motorsports team, which consists of four to five drivers.
Being a leader, whether as a team manager or as a business owner, Trent makes sure that he takes his members with him on the ride. In his agency, he shares with his staff the goals of the company and builds a business culture that encourages creativity. As he moves the business forward, he steers his people towards a more exciting future. “If we start to focus on what we're good at, then the next 10 years would be fantastic,” he quipped. Trent disclosed that if you pour your efforts on what you’re good at and do what you love to do, work wouldn’t feel like work. He adds that if one’s passion and capabilities can bring in the cash, then it is even better.
When asked what he has identified in himself that he’s good at, Trent cited understanding a problem and providing a solution as among his strengths. “I'm good at the problem-solving stuff, which is a lot of the marketing (work). It’s understanding your target market and working out on how to engage in the best, then taking the marketing team on that journey.”
Given that, he looks at the rest of his journey and still sees himself directing ManBrands in the succeeding years. “I could still imagine being in the business in 10 years. ManBrands is fun for me to work. We get to work with some clients and some brands that I truly enjoy. It's quite fun working with brands that you've known for your whole life that are iconic in the industries you like to work,” he enthusiastically remarked.
Regardless of the technological advancements in marketing, the creative is always the main attraction, Trent maintains. “I think the secret is to make sure that you've still got the best creative. Then you just put it on where the eyeballs are. It's not that difficult to find where the eyeballs are as long as the creatives are on point. If you lose your creative edge, that's when it's going to be a problem.”
To keep his creative pulse beating, Trent consumes a lot of different media. He exposes himself to a wide variety of stimuli that can enhance his creativity. That meant going to an art gallery or picking ideas from areas that are completely outside his field. These ideas, he believes, are malleable enough that he can play around with it. “You never know where the next bit of inspiration is going to come. So, you always got to have your eyes on it,” the ManBrands chief imparts.