Business · interviews · Sunday Times

How I Made It: Jane Asscher, co-founder of 23red

THE rapid rise of Jane Asscher and Sean Kinmont in London’s adland left them wanting more. The friends had joined the Tequila agency in 1990, and in 10 years became chief executive and creative director respectively. But the moment had come to start their own venture.

“It was frustrating being part of a big group,” said Asscher. “We felt clients and brands needed a more holistic approach to advertising than the industry was offering at the time.”

Spotting a gap in the market for a so-called integrated creative agency, Asscher and Kinmont left their jobs and set up 23red in October 2000. It combines advertising, sponsorship, design, digital marketing and brand identity to help clients such as Bacardi and the Bluewater shopping centre to attract customers.

The business, based in King’s Cross, central London, recorded sales of £3.3m in the year to September 2013 and expects an increase to £4.5m this year.

Kinmont, 49, the creative director, named the agency after a winning bet on 23 red in a game of roulette in Las Vegas. Asscher wasn’t convinced at first: “I was worried clients would think we would gamble with their money. But it’s certainly memorable and has worked for us.”

The agency has led Bacardi’s responsible drinking campaign Champions Drink Responsibly (CDR) since 2008. It uses the power of celebrity to encourage drinkers to understand their limits. Ambassadors have included Rafael Nadal, the tennis champion who has won 14 grand slam singles titles.

CDR reaches a worldwide audience of 45m and has 1m ‘likes’ on Facebook. “Social media are critical to reaching young people,” said Asscher. “The champions have their own fan bases that we can work with.”

Her firm is also the creative brains behind public sector campaigns such as Stoptober, which challenges smokers to cut the habit for 28 days during October, and Be Food Smart, part of Change4Life, the government’s first social marketing campaign to tackle obesity in Britain. The schemes are designed around 23red’s marketing model “Do. Feel. Think.”

“We really believe you can get people to change their behaviour, and the way they think or feel about brands, by encouraging them to do something,” said Asscher, who is chairwoman and chief executive.

This includes her 45 staff, each entitled to a “cultural allowance” of £20 a month. “It inspires them to go out and experience culture, find interesting ideas and bring them back into the business,” she said.

Asscher, 50, was born in London and grew up in Cardiff with her younger sister Sophie. Her father, Sir William Asscher, who died in July, was a doctor and principal of St George’s Hospital Medical School from 1988 to 1996.

“My father was inspirational. He survived the concentration camps in the Second World War,” she said. “His ethos of hard work and never giving up has kept me going.” Her mother, Jennifer Lloyd, was also a doctor but “I was never going to be a medic”, Asscher said. “I spent time in hospitals with mum and dad but I couldn’t stand the smell.”

Asscher attended Radyr Comprehensive School in Cardiff. In 1980 she won a scholarship to study the international baccalaureate at the United World College of the Atlantic in Llantwit Major, Glamorgan. She graduated from Oxford in 1985 with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics before applying to a graduate recruitment scheme at the ad agency Ogilvy and Mather in London.

She rose to senior account executive before leaving to join Waldron Allen Henry & Thompson Advertising as an account manager in 1988. She moved to Tequila London in April 1990, rising to chief executive in 1999.

Asscher and Kinmont sold their shares in the agency in September 2000 and put £100,000 each into founding 23red. They rented their first office in Carnaby Street. “It was a shabby end-of-lease place but the location was perfect,” she said.

They are equal majority shareholders, with a small percentage divided among senior management. The third founder, Adam Wylie, left 23red in 2010 to set up the Formula One sponsorship firm Vivacity.

That year the new coalition government froze its £540m a year advertising budget and cut marketing expenditure by 50%. “This forced us to balance the private and public sectors, so we were able to focus on changing audience behaviour, which we have become very good at,” said Asscher.

The firm’s ability to adapt has helped it to grow. “There are a few dinosaurs in the industry still doing 30-second TV advertising, but I’ve found that to stay relevant to clients we have to evolve and change.”

Asscher lives in Chiswick, west London, with her husband Steve Barrett, 54, a property developer. They have three children Lucy, 20, Sasha, 18, and Dan, 11.

Her advice to entrepreneurs is: “Have a vision and understand what you are aiming for but make sure you continue to revisit it. And stay nimble and relevant.”

Link to article in the Sunday Times

PDF – Jane Asscher of 23red

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