Immersion Marketing managing director Sarah Ramsay at the
company's Bond St headquarters. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Sarah Ramsay has some big dreams.
The determined Dunedin businesswoman sees no reason why her
company, Immersion Marketing, could not become one of the
''biggest players'' in the country.
Since she moved back to the city and launched Immersion in
2010, there had been ''fantastic'' growth and the business
was now advertising for an eighth staff member.
That growth did not happen by accident and was the result of
a lot of hard work and building profile, not just in Dunedin
but throughout the country. It had also been a lot of fun,
Born in Christchurch, Mrs Ramsay (32) moved to Dunedin when
she was 13 - and candidly admitted she was a ''bit of a
delinquent'' in her teenage years - and left when she was 17
for an eight-year stint in Sydney.
She initially went as a live-in nanny but gravitated towards
the hospitality industry, having ''banged on the door'' and
handed in her curriculum vitae at a restaurant called
Tetsuya's where she promptly got a job.
What she did not realise was it was a rather famous
restaurant - there was a three-month waiting list for a
table, rock star Jimmy Barnes came for lunch every week and
Bill Gates dined there during the Sydney Olympics.
It proved to be an ''amazing introduction'' to a completely
different world and she ended up going from reservations
co-ordinator to maitre d' and a functions role.
She started to get an interest in marketing and banking and
did a marketing course at TAFE - the equivalent of
polytechnic - then moved into a marketing assistant role at
the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
She learnt a lot, ended up doing a diploma of financial
markets, then later worked for a small boutique fund manager.
''I loved Sydney. It was all bright lights. It really taught
me a lot about organisations and how they work,'' she said.
On her return to New Zealand, she was based in Christchurch,
working as national marketing manager for the National
Property Trust in Christchurch, looking after five shopping
centres across the country.
It was an interesting time and she decided she wanted to
focus on marketing.
NPT was owned by St Laurence, which went into receivership
during the global financial crisis.
NPT's portfolio was reduced. She took voluntary redundancy
and moved back to Dunedin, where she decided to launch her
own business in 2010.
While it was a big step, Mrs Ramsay said if she was ever
going to do it, that was the time.
Her goal for her first year was if she could make the same
amount of money as she was being paid in her previous job,
then she would have done well.
She took the approach that she had to spend money to make
money and she knew if she was going to source work from
outside Otago, then she had to get herself outside the
She started ''flying everywhere'' and started being noticed.
''I could say from the start 'I am a national marketing
company', because I had clients in Auckland, Wellington and
Christchurch,'' she said.
Her first client in Dunedin was the midwinter carnival and it
was mostly pro bono. That year was the biggest crowd the
carnival had attracted and it got her name ''out there''.
Mrs Ramsay said she had always taken a very corporate
approach to how she worked. Her background in funds
management also meant she had a much clearer understanding of
When she started in business, someone told her that the
biggest problem she would have would be staff and she
believed that was a ''completely wrong attitude''.
She loved ''having built up a family'' at Immersion and she
believed that was a major part of the company's success.
''Everybody's been made to feel like this is our company, not
The biggest risk she had in business was having to lay off
staff and that was something she did not ever want to have to
Recently, Immersion embarked on a scholarship with the
University of Otago, committing to take a full-time intern
from the university every year.
If, after a year, they proved to be someone Immersion wanted
to join the team, the company paid their final year fees and
gave them a full-time three-year contract, starting as a
The first intern through the programme, Jes Lee, now a
marketing manager at Immersion, was one of six finalists in
rookie marketer of the year in TVNZ's recent marketing
Mrs Ramsay saw the internship as a strategic move for both
Immersion and Dunedin, helping to retain and grow talent in
When it came to clients, Immersion became involved at all
levels of their company, becoming part of their management
''They don't see any need to have an internal marketing
department. They really see us as their external marketing
department. It's a really good relationship.
''We're very strategic. We do operate just like you'd expect
a marketing manager to operate in a company,'' she said.
She was strict about sticking to fundamental skills and so
the business did marketing only and she had never brought
designers in-house or web developers.
While she was passionate about Dunedin, the company had never
been solely focused on the city for its work. She estimated
between 30% and 40% of turnover was from Dunedin, which meant
it was quite diversified.
The company had a particular niche in some areas, like
shopping centres and franchises - ''where our systems and
processes make us very good at it'' - and there was potential
for those systems to also be used in Australia.
Strategically, Mrs Ramsay got ''a big kick'' out of the
planning side and growing the business.
''If I didn't have that interest in it, we wouldn't have
survived. I'd get bored just being a marketer,'' she said.
She was full of praise for Dunedin, saying she would not have
been able to launch such a business anywhere else.
People had been very supportive and very free with their
time, as well as being accessible.
''It's really a city where everyone can have a go,'' she
Six months after starting Immersion, Mrs Ramsay started a
''Wednesday debrief'' gathering, meeting once a fortnight at
the Duke of Wellington pub.
Having been away for so long from the city, she did not know
many people and it was a way to meet people.
A list of six people had since grown to about 180 and
anywhere between 12 and 40 people could turn up.
Mrs Ramsay and her husband Alex, manager of United Engineers,
had met many of their friends there. The couple are building
an off-grid house between Brighton and Taieri Mouth.
''I love Dunedin. I couldn't imagine living anywhere else,''