My achievements over the past year represent the culmination of six years of hard work at theEword. I have overseen the growth of the agency to its largest ever headcount, brought in a wealth of new talent to diversify our service offering and managed strategic restructuring that has allowed the agency to stay ahead of the organic online marketing curve. The financial results reflect this – the agency has just enjoyed its most profitable ever quarter (May to July 2014) and is on course to have a record year of trading.
I’m a passionate ambassador for the brand and Manchester’s digital scene, and have spoken at events, including the Salford Media Festival at BBC North and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ Northern Conference, as well as appearing at seminars for RBS, NatWest, Manchester Metropolitan University, the Manchester Law Society and many more. In addition, I’ve spearheaded theEword’s own Light A Fire series of events, designed to inspire the local business, creative and media community.
I joined theEword in 2008 as a content producer before working my way up to managing director. Under my leadership, theEword has grown both in terms of the number of clients on our books, but also in headcount, turnover and profit. To be entrusted as managing director of such a promising business at the age of 29 is testament in itself to my hard work and dedication to growing theEword and, in turn, Manchester’s digital reputation
What is theEword?
theEword is a digital agency that specialises in using content marketing to positively influence buying behaviour and drive measurable business results.
We work with brands whose products and services are not bought on impulse, informing our work with data and insight into how humans think, feel and act.
What’s theEword’s proudest achievement?
Our pride comes not just from building a profitable, successful business and working with some of the UK’s best loved brands, such as Warburtons, Madame Tussauds, Atkins and The Blackpool Tower, but through creating an engaging company culture which is focused on the wellbeing and engagement of team members. The attention we pay to employee engagement, progression planning and reward is central to our low staff turnover and high morale.
What do you see as the pitfalls when running a creative enterprise?
The biggest pitfall for creative businesses is a failure to progress. If you don’t stay up to date with the latest techniques and practices, you start to lose relevance in clients’ eyes and also the creative people within the business become less engaged. That’s why we have people dedicated to staying up-to-date in their area of expertise and sharing their knowledge periodically with colleagues to ensure the agency constantly evolves in line with best practice.
Creativity seems like a big part of your value proposition. How do you keep a creative workforce engaged and happy?
We know that when people are happy and motivated, they are capable of doing their best work. Our approach is based on creating an environment in which people feel comfortable, engaged and part of a family. We have a fully stocked kitchen, with loads of free food and drink for staff. We also get cooked breakfasts delivered to the office and pay for regular free lunches for our teams. The team lunches are very popular, not least because they enable bonding and relaxation time away from the office. We have regular prize giveaways and competitions and generally try to make it a nice place to work. As one staff member said in our feedback survey “It’s like working with friends rather than just colleagues.”
We know that professional development is very important to people too, as well as the fun stuff. So we have team leaders in every department who put together progression plans for all of their team members and plot out how their roles, responsibilities and pay are going to progress over the coming months and years. This progression is managed and facilitated daily but also via regular one-to-one reviews and feedback sessions. Our main focus is on making sure people don’t feel like they are ‘stuck in a rut’ or doing the same role at the same level for too long. We always look internally for promotions before recruiting in senior people and the constant focus on pushing people to the next level keeps them engaged and gives them a clear vision of where they are going next.
At the heart of most progressive growth plans is talent, making it the new premium in business. How important is talent for you and how do you go about attracting talent to work for you?
Talent is hugely important because we are only as good as the people in our teams. We put a lot of work, as detailed above, into being known as a good place to work and the referral scheme we have (where staff are rewarded for recommending friends to come and work for us) is the simplest example of our reputation making recruitment easier. Beyond that, we advertise via social media channels such as Twitter and put out content on YouTube and Vine which gives people a direct view of what it is like working at theEword. We are always proactively recruiting, meeting talented people and keeping them in mind for future roles. We would never go out and poach other people’s staff but just by having a good talent network and maintaining our reputation and visibility we generate lots of applications from people every time we advertise jobs, and sometimes speculative enquiries even when we don’t have roles available. Our recruitment philosophy is not based on spending loads of money to agencies to fill our roles but on creating a long-term reputation as an employer that makes people want to work for us.
I read today that Britain will need to create an additional 745,000 digital skilled workers in order to meet the rising employer demand for digital skills and innovation. How important is a digital strategy and digital knowledge for businesses?
It’s only important if there is a demand or reason for digital engagement among the audience – ie a business’s customers or clients. Some businesses and industries do not have digitally engaged customers. There is no point having a website, or a Twitter feed, or anything else digital just for the sake of it. But, increasingly, digital channels are a key discovery path for customers connecting with businesses. And there are certain roles, particularly those involved in the building of websites, production of content or the running of paid media campaigns, that are growing in demand. Young people coming out of school, college or university with these kinds of skills will be in demand moving forward, as brands will increasingly look to digital channels as a way of engaging their customers.
How many people work for theEword?
Do you find it challenging to implement HR activities when you are busy chasing business?
Fortunately we have built a solid management infrastructure so that the responsibility is shared. We have a business development director who focuses on bringing new business in and an operations director (under who all our team managers work) who focuses on client handling and employee engagement/HR. This means I can focus on the strategic side of the business and get involved only as necessary in sales or HR situations. We are also fortunate in that several of our clients over the years, particularly in the legal sector, have provided employment law advice as a service, so by working with them for so many years I have naturally built up an understanding of HR best practice and know who to turn to when I need support.
What makes you optimistic?
Planning. When the future is uncertain is hard to feel either positive or negative about it. But when you spend the time to create a strategic plan for your people, service and financials you get a really clear vision of how things are going to work out and, when you know that everything in the plan – however ambitious – is achievable because of the groundwork you’ve done, it can only create a feeling of optimism.