UNDER THE RADAR/Johnny Davis, Imagine:WHEN JONNY Davis was studying for a masters in marketing and entrepreneurship in the University of Ulster, he got involved in promotions as a way of earning a few bob. He liked the business, but was not impressed with the way it was run.
"I just thought I can do it better, to be honest," he says. "It was just down to simple things. We were never really brought in properly to any companies we worked with or briefed properly or trained up. We would be given uniforms that were totally the wrong size."
So, spotting a niche for a really creative Irish agency that could offer a new form of marketing for a new type of young, hip consumer, he decided to set up his own business. His marketing agency, Imagine, was set up in 2005 when he was just 23 years old.
But there was always a strain of business running through his veins. His sister Rebecca has set up her own jewellery boutique and online business, his mother Mary is chief executive of Special Olympics Ireland, while dad Julian is a director of PR agency Fleishman-Hillard.
In fact, Davis spent a year working with the PR outfit before heading North to study for his masters. "I was interested in experiential marketing and really got into it when I was in college, the live marketing, bringing campaigns to life and engaging people on the street, plus staging events," he says.
Using his own funding, he started off with a PC in his bedroom.
He quickly built a young team around him, including Niamh Kellett as business development director, and started building up a client base that now includes 3, Kelloggs, O2, Postbank, Lucozade and 11890.
Targeting the affluent, brand-conscious 18 to 25-year-old market, the company uses a variety of non-traditional and alternative methods to get its message across, including guerrilla tactics, on-street promotion, sampling, street teams, alternative internet marketing, publicity stunts and flyer distribution.
"The biggest investment for me was time, to put the dedication in," says Davis.
"If we had a campaign that was running in Athlone, I went there to make sure it was done properly."
Key to its success, says Davis, is its 2,000-strong "brand army" - what he says are fully-trained brand ambassadors throughout Ireland on the company's books ready to bring his clients' marketing message to the streets.
Mostly students, there can be hundreds of these brand ambassadors promoting his clients' brands in any given week, Davis says.
"We set out the jobs coming up over the next few weeks and months and the brand ambassadors apply for them and we bring them in and brief them through the campaign."
That can include everything from drinks promotions in bars to launching a new product such as a recent Bluetooth campaign at the Leinster Football Final for new banking service Postbank.
"We had Bluetooth hubs and uploaded on to those was a message from Postbank and a picture and an opportunity to win a prize. Our brand ambassadors went out with the packs on and branded uniforms and they engaged and interacted with the public. They encouraged people to turn on their phones where they could download a gift that is given by Bluetooth."
Such digital marketing and marketing promotions are now increasingly complementing traditional methods such as handing out flyers, says Davis.
"First and foremost everybody has a phone. It is also permission-based. If you have your Bluetooth switched on as you walk past, you choose to accept a message or you can say no. It is not being forced upon you. Even if you do accept it, you can delete it afterwards, so it is non-intrusive."
The company also provides what Davis calls "live" marketing events - everything from roadshows to publicity stunts.
At the moment, Davis's teams are bringing a roadshow to sports clubs around the country for Lucozade where amateur athletes can measure their performances against top sports people such as Damian Duff, Ronan O'Gara and Colin Cooper.
"In a sense it is creating an experience," says Davis. "We speak with our clients and discuss how best we can get across their brand by engaging with people. It can be an event or a roadshow. There is not one specific way in which we say you can do it. We try to pick something that is relevant to the brand."
It seems to be working for Imagine. It currently employs nine people and, due to expansion, the company is moving to new premises in a few weeks.