GleeTalks: Chapter

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Welcome to GleeTalks: Your fix of industry tips, tricks and inspiration. We have been busy interviewing some of the industry’s leading experts, to gain an insight into some of Marketing and Digital’s secrets to success. In this session, we have Paul Ray (Creative Director) of Chapter – a creative brand and advertising agency who believe in Sharper and Better, not Bigger and Better. Their unique structure enables them to deliver strategic thinking and creative that answers any and all challenges that clients may face. So, what makes Chapter soo different? Find out below…

Sophie: Tell me about you and your career in marketing, and how you’ve got to where you are now as a Creative Director.

Paul: I took Advertising at Uni. A great course at the University of Gloucestershire. It was really hard to get a job at first – obviously, everyone on the whole course was directed to going down to London and doing that thing. But coming from London, I was never really that keen on doing it, just because it was a bit like going home. I ended up not working for a while, but my creative team and I had a great recruiter who got us our first job at RBH. The original job spec was for a Middleweight Creative Team. We were like, ‘Imagine if we got that? It’d be crazy,’ bearing in mind that we’d never had a creative job before. We got a job as a Junior Creative team!

Sophie: That’s amazing though, so your first job was in a creative team?

Paul: Yeah, we joined in 2005: pre-crash, there was a lot of money floating about. We had some really great Creative Directors; Ian Bradley and John Dean who came up from London. He was really good and we learnt a lot from him. Then the crash happened and we ended up working pretty autonomously I guess, just 3 teams who all looked after their own clients, had their own creative approval on work. We were only about 25 at the time, so it was quite a lot of responsibility. That was one of the reasons why we wanted to go away for a bit – we’d stopped learning and were just working for ourselves. Fortunately, RBH allowed us to go and work in London, and we went to the BMB agency, it was really great, but I think it just made us realise that we could have a better work-life balance back up here, so we came back to RBH and then finally moved to Chapter in 2012. 

Sophie: Do you each manage your own clients?

Paul: We work a bit differently here, we work in chapters. There are 3 different chapters and each one has 4 creatives and 4 account people of various different levels, so we’re all responsible for our own clients. Each team has a chapter head (the equivalent of an Account Director), creative heads, two designers and then three other accounts people. When we came here, we were the creative heads of the second chapter. Now there are 3 and we’re full – there can only ever be 30 people here, it was written into the shareholders agreement of the agency, as the guys never wanted it to be more than 30 people.

Sophie: Is there any particular reason for that?

Paul: Just because they had founded a previous agency and it got up to 130 people or something like that. People would be walking around, and they’d be like, ‘I don’t know who that person is, but we’re responsible for them.’ I think they just realised they couldn’t be close enough to clients and their work. So, along with Mike, they started Chapter, and there was just the three of them in this big church we’re in now, and they were like ‘yeah, this is much better…now we need to fill it’. That was about 10 years ago. Our whole ethos is built on closeness and understanding. Because we’re a smaller team and we all work on our own clients, it gives us the ability to understand our client’s problems better. When it comes to the massive agencies, with more than 150 people, clients don’t know who’s going to be working on their job from one day to the next. It's different here. We’ve got a situation now with a client who’s currently with a big agency and is experiencing that exact problem. We like to work intimatley with our clients - creatively it works really well because you know client’s problems first hand. If the guys take a phone call from a client you hear them on the phone, you feel their pain a little bit, you’re not just someone who’s in a department somewhere else where you just say ‘oh no, I don’t care, it’s your problem’.

Sophie: Because you do get that a lot in agencies where the client services teams and the creatives can kind of battle against each other, whereas if you’re really close-knit…

Paul: Yeah, we can’t really do that here, because you’ve got to sit next to that person for the rest of the day so you can’t kick off! That’s probably the biggest difference that we have, and one of the reasons why I came here originally, because it felt like they were doing something different. All the other agencies seemed to be a similar model. Coming here, everyone’s a bit nicer, I think.

Sophie: What do you think the benefits are for yourself and your clients for you being a Midlands-based agency?

Paul: It’s just a different outlook really, people are more excited about work and will work harder to make up for the fact that the opportunities don’t come around as often. From a client’s point of view, I think you get better quality work because people want to work on it. Without talking about London too much, we’d be down there and there would be people who hadn’t done an ad in the 2 years, and say it was because they hadn’t had the opportunity. We’d done loads of stuff within the 3 months we’d been there – I think you have to find the opportunities. From my experience, people around here will try harder for you and, in a lot of cases, are more well-rounded. You get people who are more well-rounded in terms of the work that they can do, in terms of creative and account management, because you need to be a little bit of a planner and you need to know a bit about strategy. If you’re a creative in London, you’re a creative and you’ll do the creative up to that point and then hand over to someone else. I guess that’s the solution that we provide. We have a lot of clients who have London agencies but come to us because it’s easier to get the work done here.

Sophie: You’ve worked in London and you’ve worked in the Midlands. You’re not a Midlander originally – so what draws you to work here and why do you prefer to work for a Midlands agency rather than a London agency?

Paul: I guess it is a lifestyle thing, more than anything. As you get older you do start to think of things differently – it’s nice that I can cycle to work and not get run over, or I can drive to work and not have to pay £6,000 for a season ticket! You might not be getting TV opportunities every week, but when they come along you know everyone’s going to work hard on it.

Sophie: Following on from that, what big campaigns have Chapter been working on over the last 12 months or so?

Paul: We do a lot of work for Halfords, which is one of our biggest accounts. From our point of view, it helps that we’re just down the road from them. We’re currently launching their scooter range. We also do a lot of B2B work that the public will probably never see, but is important for those clients. We do a lot of work for Nissan. I guess where we see a lot of our growth coming from is from the fintech sector. We’ve carved out a niche for being specialists in helping start-up finance businesses get funding and brand themselves. The biggest one would be Crowdcube who are massive now, I think they’ve got about half a million subscribers. From there, we’ve got loads of other finance work – these are companies that people haven’t heard of, but will hear of in the coming years, like Wise AlphaFlenderand Squarebook. Whitworths is one of our other big ones. Earlier this year we created a TV ad for them with Aardman. It’s a broad range, we don’t specialise in digital or print or TV, we’re media neutral. If we don’t know how to do it, then we’ll find a way, or someone who can.

Sophie: When you need to get someone else to do it, do you go outside to other agencies to help you out or do you get freelancers in to support you?

Paul: It depends on what it is, really. Because we’re part of The Mission there are other agencies in the group who we can call upon. Mongoose are a specialist Sales Promotion agency that we use sometimes. There are a couple of digital ones that we use…we don’t do PR, so if we were to do PR we’d use a Mission agency for that. We work with external research specialists. And then the rest of it mainly comes from freelance resources that we’ve worked with before or people we know. 99% of our new business comes from people that we’ve worked with before that have moved to other places. Fortunately, we very rarely pitch for work.

Sophie: In light of the fact that you’ve got a different set up to every other agency, how do you find hiring talent in terms of making sure you’ve got the right people to come in?

Paul: Because we are relatively small, it’s so important to get the right person, because they’ll be 1/30thof the agency and if they’re not the right fit it really shows. We tend to use our network of contacts as our first port of call, see if anyone knows anyone who they’ve worked with before. After that is probably when we’d speak to recruiters, who have a wider reach. The Mission have an HR function that we can go to for recruitment, so that’s quite helpful. It’s just a mixture of that really, and maybe if two of those sources throw up the same person then they’re probably worth seeing.

Sophie: What key aspects do you look for when making new hires?

Paul: It’d be different depending on who you speak to. But we do have a… I won’t use the c-word, but we have a no c-word policy! So that is the main thing, we’d rather take someone on who’s a good person and polish them up, than find someone who’s really good at their job but is a bit of a wally. Recently, we were interviewing and the final two were fairly similar in terms of ability, and it did come down to ‘will this person fit in?’. Effectively, we’re working in 3 small creative departments of 4 people, so it really comes down to how we get on with them in the interview more than anything else. We know we can teach people all the stuff that we need to, but if they’re not the right fit you can’t really do much about that.

Sophie: What’s the culture like at Chapter?

Paul: We have a whole ethos about being Sharper and Better, not bigger and better. Again, that comes back to knowing our clients really well and us working in small teams. Generally, people finish on time… it doesn’t matter what time they get in and when they leave, as long as the work gets done. That just makes for a nicer place to work I think. Going back to us all sitting together, there is a really good team spirit – not only as an agency, but as individual teams as well. There is a little bit of competition, but you also feel really responsible for each other and that’s the main difference. In places I’ve worked before you feel responsible for the creative department and not necessarily the agency, but here you feel responsible for the whole thing. Because it’s small you’re close to everything, you’re close to the numbers and the figures. Every quarter we’ll do a presentation and show where we are, where we need to be and what we’ve got to do together. 

Sophie: That would usually just be the client services guys.

Paul: Yeah exactly, that would usually just be someone in another room somewhere who you would never meet unless you were getting sacked or something like that. You notice if someone’s not happy, you can tell because you see them every minute of every day, so I think we’re really close as a team.

Sophie: I think you can kind of tell that from the fact that you’ve been here for as long as you have, I know that’s kind of the case with a lot of people here.

Paul: I think so, yeah, we do have quite a good retention rate, there are a lot of people who’ve been here a long time. We have a scheme where if you’ve been here 5 years you get a 6-week paid sabbatical. Which is really good, I think it’s probably a victim of its own success in that we’re now getting to the point where loads of people have been here 5 years.

Sophie: It’s quite rare for an agency to have that much retention. I do find generally in-house that agency people like to jump around, it’s really impressive what you’ve done.

Paul: When people leave, it is a big thing. We try to make sure people leave in a nice way because you become 1/30thof the business.

Sophie: Is there anything else that readers might like to know about Chapter and what you provide?

Paul: What we like to think is that we provide a London agency mentality but in a Midlands setting. We’ve got a lot of people who have worked in big agencies so a lot of us have worked in good places, and we try to bring that sort of thinking here. The main way we work, and what seems to work well from a client point of view, is that we will always put strategic thinking at the heart of the creative work. So, we’ll never just do an ad or a logo design; we’ll do serious thinking around what the right approach is, why it’s the right approach, and then show the work. It sounds simple, but a lot of people don’t do it. We’re a creative and strategic agency, and we solve problems – whether that’s an advertising brief, a marketing conundrum or a product development project.