Making every meeting count…

So there I was on a Saturday morning having my nails done in Chigwell, Essex. As per the usual, the conversation starts:

Manicurist: ‘OK, colour chosen. How are you and how’s work?”

Me: “All good thanks and very busy.”

Manicurist: “Oh that’s good.”

Me: ”It’s manic in the Sowerby agency at the moment – with a completely different landscape of work coming through.”

Manicurist replies “What kind of work?”

Me: “Well, we are running 4 different Marketing Campaigns for Essex County Council, we are designing and developing a few interesting websites, some new branding work and then of course I have my recruitment and search business.”

Manicurist: “Wow, makes my job sound quite boring.”

At that point I get into a conversation with the lady who was sitting next to me, also having her nails done.

Nail client: “Hi, I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation about Marketing and Branding.”

Me: “Hi. Yes I have run my own full service advertising and marketing agency for nearly 27 years. It’s called The Sowerby Group.”

Me: “What do you do for a living?”

Nail client: “I am the Marketing & Brand Manager for the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).”

Me: “No way! I have been the RIBA’s Senior Account Director for the last 17 years.”

Nail client: “Gosh, I don’t believe this. Here we are, having a chat whilst getting our nails done, and it turns out we have a client/agency relationship. Do you have a business card?”

Me: “Yes, I just happen to have one or two in my purse.” (using my cheeky grin face).

Nail client: “Could I have one please as I am sure we will be able to put some business your way.“

Me: “No problem, we have an internal creative design studio as well as a digital design team and we already work with RIBA’s HR Team.”

Nail client: “Great, I’ll be in touch soon. In the meantime shall we connect on LinkedIn?”

Me: “Absolutely! What a coincidence!”

Moral of the story is:

  • Wherever you are, always take your business cards with you (you never know when you might need one – even a curled up one at the bottom of your bag!)
  • Never have a conversation with your manicurist/hairdresser/barber and disrespect another organisation (you never know who you are sitting next to…)
  • If someone engages in conversation, ask them what they do, where they work and find some ground….as sure as hell I have a brand new contact within an organisation where my agency name is already known through the HR team, but to get an invite into other parts of the business is a dream.”

Ps. You couldn’t make it up!

An interview with Nicola on her 18th Anniversary

So, on the 6th December 2017, I celebrated my 18th anniversary with team Sowerby. When people ask me how long I’ve been with the company, you often see the shock on their faces when I say 18 years – after all, how many employees stay with a company for that long these days?

Why have you stayed with Sowerby for so long?

I love the fact that I honestly do not feel like I work for just one company. In my role here at Sowerby, I am very lucky to have the pleasure of working with many clients, across all industry sectors in the UK and internationally. I feel as much part of their team as I do my own and this really is a big USP for me. You could therefore say I like my clients…

What do you enjoy most about your role?

The variety. You really do not know what each day or month will bring. One day you could be mainly media buying and planning, the next you could be working on a totally new brand and all the marketing material that goes with it. It’s really great when you get to work on exciting projects where you can push the boundaries in terms of marketing and creativity.

What has been your most memorable social agency experience?

On a social front it has to be when RBI (Reed Business) took the Sowerby team to the Ice Bar in London. You could say after sampling the entire cocktail menu, it got pretty messy. Not one of us made the train home, we will just leave it there.

What’s been your most memorable project?

There have been quite a few. Taxi wraps for a search and selection company based in London, branding a real life sized concrete cow this year, risky ad campaigns for Solution Recruitment, project managing the naming and branding of two care organisations – CuroCare and Accedo Care and much more.

What is the most frustrating part of your role?

When you spend hours or even days on proposals, speculative work, negotiating ad campaigns and you don’t hear back from the client / prospective client. We go into so much detail in order to provide our clients with the right and relevant information. When you chase for an update or you don’t hear anything back it can be quite deflating. I really do believe honesty is the best policy so just a courtesy response is much appreciated by us agency people.

What’s in store for 2018?

We have a great team and believe that we are big enough to cope but also small enough to care. In 2018 we want to attract more new business, work with more clients and provide a whole variety of our extensive services from branding through to website design & development, SEO, advertising campaigns, design and print and more. In addition, it would be great to recruit and possibly take on a new apprentice.

From kitchen table, to stately home, to modern business park! Our 25-year history

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

Media Planning / Buying – the benefits of using Sowerby

Make us your creative choice for all your advertising needs and you will not be disappointed. Advertising is right up our street. We have years of experience in this arena. You may have heard the saying ‘not all advertising works’. We appreciate that and will not try to tell you any different. But what we will guarantee is that with our media buying skills and advertising/marketing expertise, we will come up with the right choice for you and your company.

Local, national, trade, international and online media, radio, recruitment, graduate, themed / campaign, TV, cinema, train, tube, outdoor, graduate – you name the advertising brief – we can help!

Registered agencies like Sowerby receive agency commission from the media – not you, the client. If you were to place your advertising direct with the media it would cost you exactly the same as if you were to book through us. But agencies can provide a lot more as part of their service and as part of the Sowerby experience, below are the extra services we will provide:

Free account management – your account will be handled by advertising experts. You will be given a ‘Sowerby team’ who will work solely on your account. The team will get to know you, your brand and your full requirements. We also operate a ‘no voicemail’ policy so there will always be someone you can talk to regarding your advertising account.

Free media advice – we have been buying media space for years and have the knowledge and expertise to know exactly where best to place your adverts. We also have access to a comprehensive media database in the UK and overseas which will free your time up in researching publications through the likes of Google!

Competitive copywriting of advertisements – if you place your ad bookings through Sowerby, we will prepare your copy at an extremely competitive cost. With a team of qualified copywriters on board, we know how to attract attention and capture your audience through creative copywriting – online and offline.

One invoice at the end of the month – outlining all of your transactions. This means less paperwork and less frustration for you when it comes to checking numerous invoices that land on your desk from all different publications.

Competitive design of advertisements – with an in-house studio team, we are well equipped to provide graphic design services to you at very competitive rates. Our team will work to guidelines if required or create ‘wow’ factor campaigns for you. This will give you the chance to see your advertisement in all its glory and upon approval, we will transmit the artwork directly to the press so that you don’t have to.

Negotiation – as we purchase media space on a daily basis, we are in a better position to negotiate rates with the media. This will then be passed back on to you, the client, making further savings. 

Offers/features and incentives – we are in constant contact with the media and receive regular offers, news on features and incentives. If we feel that one of these may be relevant to your business, we will provide the details.

Less sales calls – How many calls a day do you receive from the media? Wouldn’t you like to know that you could say “contact my agency Sowerby?” We will gladly handle the calls on your behalf.

Fast turnaround – we operate a fast turnaround policy.