DADA: Oli Norman

Oli Norman on shaking up marketing, PR and events - with impressive results


Wouldn’t you use the tube more if you could be entertained on your journey by a comedian, a dancer or even an acrobat? Oli Norman, who had the idea of a festival on the Glasgow subway network, certainly thought so.

More than 250 performers lured around 100,000 people to the two-day festival in Scotland, designed to increase the use of the network and promote Glasgow’s attractions, while sponsorship revenue made it a lucrative event. But, unlike your typical marketing company, which waits for opportunities to come to them, DADA approached the subway network with the idea and teamed up in a joint venture.

“We create ideas and take them to people we think will work with them,” explains Norman. “We own our own intellectual property and go about building our own value.”

It flies in the face of traditional marketing, but he’s clearly onto something. After just one year, the new ‘ventures’ division has turned over £1m by itself, and this figure looks set to rise to £2.5m next year. DADA’s total turnover, which has been doubling year on year, will be around £3.5m this year.

Set up in 2003, self-funded and profitable in its first few months, DADA has added new branches that complement and support each other. The ventures arm was the latest addition to the events, PR and advertising and design divisions. Working solely with consumer-facing brands, DADA is retained by the likes of Hilton, Domino’s and Whyte and Mackay.

Part of the firm’s success is built on its willingness to move with the times. “The face of marketing has changed beyond recognition,” says Norman. “It’s going down two quite new routes: experiential and online. Rather than putting adverts on TV, it’s all about getting your brand directly in front of someone, but also engaging with them online.”

Something else that sets DADA apart and could soon see revenues soar is its blossoming online division. Essentially a consumer database, it provides a ready-made guest list for the events DADA runs for its clients. The concept is being piloted in Scotland and already has around 100,000 members, who are profiled, segmented and then invited to events based on their interests, whether gigs, art gallery or bar launches. It’s proving to be a phenomenal success. “We’ve broken all sorts of sales records for our clients,” says Norman, who is planning a roll-out across the UK, then globally.

Norman’s also shaking up the PR world. “A good PR is someone who understands a story,” says the multi-talented Scot, a former lawyer who has also turned his hand to freelance journalism, scooping a front-page news piece alleging that Prince Edward’s production company, Ardent, faked a TV show. And DADA certainly knows how to create a media frenzy. A recent PR stunt launching a new Hilton bar in Glasgow’s West End, involved “naked art”. It got 500 pieces of media coverage – and quadrupled the venue’s turnover.

“We love coming up with amazing ideas that no one else does,” Norman grins.

Company details Company: DADA Launched: 2003 Founder: Oli Norman Website: www.dada.co.uk

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