The Independents: JKR

Jkr was founded by Joe Jones, Andy Knowles and Ian Ritchie in London in 1990. In 2011, the agency opened its second studio in New York.

"By 2013 we knew that a studio in Asia was essential to our evolution into an international agency. When we first started out in Singapore, we rented two desks from BBH," said Emily Kousah who is currently managing director of the Singapore operations.

Soon after Jkr bagged its first pitch win for Australian lifestyle brand Sheridan. Here's how the agency grew its business in Singapore.

How did you put your first local team together?

Myself and my business partner Katie Ewer built the foundations. From there we got support from an account manager and started to build our creative team. This year one of jkr’s founding creatives John Ewles left London for Singapore, and is now at the creative controls for our Asia studio. His focus is building an ideas-focused creative team capable of delivering the same game-changing work that comes out of our London and NYC studios.

What was one of the toughest moments in running your agency?

Apart from the Nespresso machine that kept breaking down? The toughest thing is finding the right kind of new business. Good clients are hard to come by in any market. We look for opportunities to partner with like-minded people who value our expertise and give us space to help them to do the best for their brands.

Were you afraid of failing? How did you handle it?

Of course. We handle it like anyone would. We just keep on trying. Eventually the harder we try, the luckier we’ll get.

Pluses and minuses of being independent?

It’s mostly pluses. There are no hidden politics. We work with the original founders and collectively make decisions for the best of the business. We can focus on our clients and the work. It can be challenging having to do so much heavy lifting in terms of new business development. In a small agency, everyone has to roll their sleeves up and get involved in whatever comes along. But that’s not always a bad thing, either.

When you first started out, how did you market your agency? How did you get clients on board?

Having great work helps, but really it’s all about relationships. We reached out to old clients, friends, and even a few enemies.

What was your first experience in the branding world? How do you think that shaped you?

My first experience in the world of design and branding was during my school work experience when I worked at a small agency in the UK. I designed an advert for a local paper that got chosen by the client at the time - I then had to artwork it (all manually then - no computers) so created in pen and ink. I knew I wanted to work in the agency world but wasn't sure advertising was right for me. Design was something I did at school. My second week working I temped at a design agency and the rest is history.

What have you taken away from your years in the branding world and implemented in your current business?

Communication is the most important key to everything. If everyone feels part of the company then we build strong and happy teams. We come to work together and build together. Fail together and win together. If people don't all feel part of it then they are not likely to stay loyal and build with you.

What is the one thing start-ups need to remember in this market?

It takes time! Patience is key. Backing is helpful. People buy people so trust is paramount - that also takes time.

What is one piece of advice you’d give anyone wanting to make it out on their own?

Key advice would be to ensure you have some good connections and ideally a founding client!

Five year plan for the agency?

Build a fully operational team across all our disciplines. Grow our client base. Be the most sought after design agency in Singapore for best in class branding.

First client (in Singapore): Pacific Brands
Founding year: 1990
Founded by: Joe Jones, Andy Knowles and Ian Ritchie
Claim to fame (in Singapore): Bonds rebrand.
Clients worked on (from the Singapore office): Banyan Tree, Unilever, Pacific Brands, The Soup Spoon, Mount Sapola.