It was 1992. The country was in recession. The whole team at our London ad agency was made redundant. So what was I to do? I had never managed people before. I had certainly never run a company before. But one thing I knew I could do was manage the 29 clients I had acquired over the previous 7 years. As an Account Manager, I was proud of the relationship I had built with them and they were friends of mine, as well as clients. My company car went back to BMW, so with my government statutory payout of just £1,000 I bought an old Ford Sierra (complete with oil leak) and decided to work from home. My family clubbed together and bought me an Amstrad computer. They were the best in those days! My spare bedroom was turned into an office which was fine for 9 months…until my baby boy came along. Sharing an office with a new-born was not ideal, but with only a two-up, two-down cottage in Epping, we had to put up with each other. In fact my son and I shared his bedroom for 4 years during the day, where the ‘office’ walls were adorned with images of the infamous Teletubbies!
By 1996, the business had grown and we had certainly outgrown our little cottage. With a fax machine on the landing outside our main bedroom door, and a four-drawer filing cabinet in the bathroom it was far from an ideal setting for a thriving advertising agency. So decisions had to be made. As we took on more clients and increased our service offering, we had to find some office space – quickly. From starting as a recruitment advertising agency, we very quickly became a full service agency offering media buying, national and international advertising campaigns, copywriting and, now with an in-house design studio, we no longer had to outsource our creative campaign work. My husband decided to bring his headhunting business into our new offices within a fabulous 17th Century country house set in 10 acres of glorious countryside. Both media and clients loved visiting Warlies Park House, Upshire in Essex where we ended up staying for 16.5 years. During that time we won lots of industry awards – Small Business of the Year two years running, Customer Service Awards, Advertising Campaign of the Year, a Spirit of Ingenuity Award and Essex Business Woman of the Year. It was not unusual to find ourselves making more space in the awards cabinet every year for about 10 years.
The beautiful grounds where we worked were ideal for outside entertainment. We put on two fabulous events – one celebrating 10 years in business, and again for 15 years. Both were held in a marquee in the grounds of Warlies Park House. Media, clients and other guests turned up in their black tie suits and gorgeous evening dresses. We organised a brilliant band, a casino and a three-course dinner with plenty of bubbly for everyone! Times were good. During our time at Warlies, we were burgled twice. Every piece of office and studio equipment was stolen. We managed to get everything ordered and installed, then three days later, the burglars came back and stole it all again.
And then another recession hit the industry. The word ‘digital’ was also being bandied around the industries too. To a certain extent we were ‘shielded’ from the online revolution because we worked with a number of construction and engineering clients and they would buy up advertising space like there was no tomorrow. Full pages, full colour, double-page spreads, captivating inserts in membership magazines and renewing annual media contracts was something that was the ‘norm’ in Sowerbyland. After the burglaries, our ideal countryside setting far away from civilisation (the nearest rail station was 10 miles away) didn’t hold the same appeal, so we decided to uproot our business and search for new premises. Most of the team were living in the Hertfordshire and Essex areas and after much searching to find the right kind of offices for our business –we found a suite of modern offices on Harlow Business Park. It was very far removed from our previous country house where our nearest neighbours were sheep and the odd cow mooing in the background. Our new offices had a real buzz about them, and we had lots of businesses to network with. We have now been at Greenway Business Centre for 6.5 years. Time has flown. Throughout that time we have worked in collaboration with both Harlow Chamber and Stansted Airport Chamber of Commerce to put on great Business Exhibitions that have truly gone from strength to strength. Our ‘Check-In at Stansted’ event is now in its 4th year and we are getting more and more recognition as THE place to get noticed within the fantastic venue that is Diamond Hangar, London Stansted Airport.
Our longstanding client – Ricoh UK, has been with the agency for 25 years. Other loyal clients who have been with us for around 10 years or more include Royal Institute of British Architects, British Heart Foundation, Solution Recruitment, Remtec Search and Selection, Lee Valley Regional Park Authority and of course we have our amazing client contacts who move on to other exciting roles and once again retain our services. Referral and recommendation is by far the most effective way we have constantly gained new business. Right now we are working on some exciting projects with some fabulous new clients and we also have some great incentives which we are offering to our media friends by way of recognising our 25 years in business.
So we have arrived at the present day. I have to say a massive thanks to our wonderful and loyal teams – past and present. That includes Nicola Wisbey, our Director of Marketing who started with us at just 17 years of age. She is now in her 18th year (over half of her life!). We also have Richard, our Director of Finance and Sylvia our Accounts Controller and Ian our Company Accountant who have collectively notched up around 50 years with us too. And then there’s me. Still enjoying the business and not quite ready to hang up my high heels just yet. Thank you to everyone who has been on the 25-year journey with us – our clients, over 3,000 media titles and our many suppliers.
By Sue Sowerby