I was brought up in Banbury, Oxfordshire and while I had a thoroughly good time as soon as I went to University (of Warwick) my eyes were opened to the world of opportunities that lie ahead. Meeting people from a wide spectrum of backgrounds inspired me to think that I too could make something in the world. I also did a degree in psychology and again I believe this has helped me to develop a finely tuned sense of what makes people tick - something that is crucial in running any business.
After leaving University in 1986 I ended up getting a job in media sales for a publishing company. And while most of my friends turned their noses up, I had a fantastic time. Selling. Cold-calling, closing deals to complete strangers - these were skills that would stay with me to this day.
That said I soon managed to persuade the powers that be that I would make a good candidate for a trainee journalist and so off I went. Fast forward five or so years and I had then set up my own agency Square One with a friend and fellow journalist Peter Dean. We then spent the next 12 years building up that business to turning over more than £7m per annum and selling it to Seven in 2007.
I guess I honed my entrepreneurial instincts when I was at sixth form college running coaches to nightclubs. I loved it. It combined two of my favourite things: making money and going out to nightclubs. I organised all the deals to get discounts to get into the club that night, dealing with the coach company and the driver(s) for the night and my mate who worked in a record shop sold all the tickets to our friends. It was one hell of s business. We all had a great time, cheap/free entry, no one drove and I paid my way through sixth form (at least I had plenty of spending money).
We had been successfully growing Square One from 2000 onwards but knew that ultimately we wanted to be acquired so we could be party of a bigger agency - not only to realise a capital gain but also to give us more security and access to bigger clients and budgets. In hindsight it was an inspired move. The timing was impeccable and as part of Seven with supportive shareholders like the Guardan Media Group I was made CEO of the newly merged company and given the freedom to invest in people and resources to transition the business from a magazine publisher to one of the most dynamic multi platform content marketing agencies in the UK and Europe.
Seven is a content marketing agency. We create content for a variety of clients including Sainsbury’s, Weight Watchers, Experian, Grant Thornton, Fujitsu, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants and brands like Tetley Tea, Spitfire Beer and a host of others.
Based in Clerkenwell (the centre of creative London) Seven employs 150 brilliant people (editors, designers, strategists, planners, content producers, sales teams, account managers who actually all like eachother and get on with it. I love going to work every day.
From my perspective building and maintaining relationships is all I do. Whether it’s my team or my clients it’s only about relationships for me. I make sure that I spend time with all my clients on a one to one basis so I get to know them and they know me. As for the team here at Seven I make sure I have a coffee with every new start in the business so I can tell them about the business, my story and theirs. I know everyone who works for me and as the business gets bigger it gets even more important that we keep it personal. We are a people business.
Seven is an editorial business. Across the company we have more than 2000 years experience of creating content for brands. It is literally all we do. Our heritage is magazine publishing but over the past five years we have transitioned the business to be genuinely multi-platform. We still publish magazines (including Sainsbury’s Magazine which still sells around 250,000 copies every month at £1.80 per copy) but now we produce around 150 videos a year, manage millions of relationships on social media channels, build and run websites, deliver email campaigns and generate more than £10m in commercial revenues for our clients on the platforms we create.
Content marketing is one of the most exciting and dynamic agency disciplines around. In recent years the way that brands engage with their customers has been totally transformed. The explosive growth of digital and social channels has meant that brands can no longer rely on advertising alone to sell their products. The consumer is in charge. They expect (actually demand) that they can research brands online, check them out on Facebook, see what their friends and peers say about them before they buy. The most successful brands are those that have cracked content. This trend is not going to go away, it’s just going to get bigger. We reckon that content marketing is going to be a £100 billion pound industry over the next few years.
Smart brands recognise that they need great content to connect with their customers. At Seven we not only create amazing on brand content we also make sure it performs. The first question we ask is what is the client trying to achieve. What are the measurements and KPIs that we need to meet. It’s not enough to just create brilliant content – we have to make sure it is effectively distributed so people can discover it and ensure it is optimized so we keep learning what is working and just as importantly what isn’t.
We are very excited about the future. As client investment in content marketing continues to grow Seven is perfectly positioned as the market leader to take a disproportionate share of the increased spend. I see our UK revenues doubling over the next three years alongside a significant growth in international business. We already have a JV with a Portuguese agency, Plot Content, and have an alliance with another German content marketing agency C3 and are looking at building a network of international agency partners to fuel this growth.