What are you doing now?
I am the Founding Partner and Director of Neverland, a Brand Strategy & Creative Communications agency in Shoreditch, London. Basically we’re an advertising agency that creates the direction for brands as well as making adverts. We launched only 18 months ago, but already we are working with NBC News in New York, Campari Group in New York, Milan and Toronto, Jacobs coffee in Amsterdam and Heck sausages in North Yorkshire. If you remember seeing the Heck sausages advert on TV this summer, that was made by us. I am one of two partners who set the business up. I am responsible for brand strategy, which means setting the direction of brands, which consumers they target, how they target them, what the brand’s personality is, and how it should look. I also run the business side of things, looking after everything from how the office runs (ordering toilet roll and making tea), to managing the finances.
How did you get to where you are today?
After sixth form at Carleton High (I was one of the few years that did Sixth Form at the school), I went to Wakefield College to do a Foundation Course in Art & Design. Then I went to Lancaster University and did a degree in Design & Marketing. I left Uni and jumped around jobs for a bit because I just wanted to save money to go travelling. I was a mystery shopper for a car hire company (where I learned what good customer service looked like), I was a coffee vending machine salesman (where I learned loads about how to sell) and I worked in a telemarketing office (where I learned about how to sell over the phone). After a year, I didn’t go travelling, I actually ended up unemployed and back home in Pontefract. I applied for loads and loads of jobs, and after six months of unemployment and lots of rejection letters, I went to work for a tiny marketing agency in Henley-on-Thames near London. I was working in New Product Development, which is inventing new products for brands to launch. On my first ever project, I invented Milky Way Magic Stars. I was 23. I worked there for 2.5 years and then in 1996 I decided to start my own agency. I was 26. I ran that agency for 7 years. It was pretty successful and in 2003, I sold it to my business partner so that I could explore new challenges. The same year, I started a new agency called The Gild. I grew that agency for 13 years, eventually having over 40 staff, with offices in London and New York. But as the company got bigger and bigger, I found that I wasn’t doing any marketing, or creative work anymore. I was just being a CEO, growing the business, looking after the staff and making sure the computers kept working. It was successful, but it wasn’t making me happy. So in 2016, I made a very big decision to stop running the company. I closed the whole thing down and I started again in my loft with just 4 of my closest colleagues. I loved it and enjoyed getting back to actually doing the work, which is what made me happy. After two years of working in my loft, I was ready to start again and that’s when I launched Neverland.
What’s your biggest achievement to date?
My biggest work achievement is definitely creating agencies that have a reputation for being amazing places to work at. Places that have a fantastic culture, that treat everyone with respect, equality, decency and honesty – but importantly, places that make sure that every day is exciting and fun, where laughter and having a good time is everything. Places that people still feel like they belong to, even after they have left. There is nothing more important (in work life) than loving going to work every day, and for that, you need to work at a company that has a wonderful culture. Beyond the cultural side, there have been some amazing experiences, too many to mention, but definitely including designing the logo for Reading Festival and standing in front of the stage as The Prodigy played under my logo. Driving Route 66 in America in a vintage American car for 8 days for a photo shoot. Travelling to Mexico to explore tequila distilleries. Tasting chocolate for Cadbury’s. The most amazing achievements are definitely the experiences you have along the way, not the successes.
What advice would you give?
Follow your passion. Do something that makes you truly happy, excited and enlivened every day. You will work for a really big part of your life, so make sure you enjoy it. If you’re not happy, don’t be too frightened to jump ship and do something else. And learn from every step, every experience. I still remember the interview that I had for the coffee vending machine salesman job. I hated the job and I only stayed for two weeks, but what I learned in the interview stayed with me for years and years. And finally, make friends with everyone you meet. The network I have created by being kind and friendly to everyone I have ever met through work, has definitely been the thing that I has helped my success the most. You never know, when you meet someone new, how they might come to help you some time in the future. I stayed friends with someone I met in a meeting once and ten years later she became a client and gave me work. It’s always worth being friendly to everyone and staying in touch!