Why has Medialab adopted a partnership approach to customer relations and how has the agency delivered on its promise to “give priority to its employees”? In this interview with Mediatel News, Marcus Orme answers these questions and moreYou co-founded Medialab with a team of two others 15 years ago, why did you decide to found an agency, and has its goal or ambition changed since then?
My two co-founders and I made a management buyout 15 years ago, but I actually started working as an employee over 20 years ago. I built the business under our then owners, who encouraged entrepreneurship a lot and nurtured an existing work ethic that “what you put in, you get out”.
The main drivers of starting our own agency were first of all the pleasure, and second, the knowledge that we could develop what we had built; improve it if we maintain our “people first” approach.
Our ambitions have grown with the company, but the basis for achieving these goals remains the same; no miracle solution but a mentality of long-term partner with customers, surrounded by people who share our values. We have grown into a team of over 80 people, but being independent and doing the right thing was and still is at the heart of Medialab’s approach.
We never stop looking for a better way to do things. This is why the creation of a learning culture and the desire to surpass ourselves and our partners have always been at the center of our plans.
The founders are all still very involved in the day-to-day running of the business, and although our roles have changed over these 15 years, we still have the same passion and enthusiasm as when we were launched. It has been an exciting journey and we look forward to the next part of our growth journey.
How difficult has it been to maintain the culture of the agency from home during the Covid-19 crisis and the nationwide lockdown, and why?
2020 brought out the best in my team and that makes me incredibly proud. They have adapted and responded to unprecedented circumstances – the result of a long established culture at Medialab. Maintaining this has been a mix of new ‘ways of working’ initiatives and the commitment, support and hard work of the team. This has been essential in helping us stay together and stay motivated and ambitious while still feeling supported.
Communication was the key. Since March, each team has a daily call at 9 a.m. and we’ve had daily briefings for all companies to make sure everyone is kept up to date with what’s going on, and also to share different people’s lockdown experiences. We hosted our virtual Friday ‘MediaTed’ sessions – sharing company performance, campaign reviews or inviting speakers, and focused on training and development, making the most of the opportunities offered by the ‘IPA.
We also made full use of Workplace to keep social interaction alive; sharing ideas around drills, cooking recipes, craft ideas, things to watch, and hosting FIFA quiz nights and tournaments.
The challenge has been the little things; impromptu conversations and updates that you don’t intend to have in the office, laughter and camaraderie of having people around you physically and ideas that are shared at your desk. This is why I maintain that even though remote working is here to stay to a certain extent, we will always return to the office because it is what we have built over the years that has allowed us to thrive in 2020.
As we enter the second national lockdown, we are very aware of the acute duty of care we continue to have in these darker winter months. Strong, positive and consistent behaviors have developed within Medialab as we have developed and diversified our talent, customer and capability base.
Medialab claims to put its people first, but that’s easier said than done, especially in such a difficult year as this. How do you ensure that you continue to make this claim a reality?
Honesty and openness is the first thing I would say; Being upfront with colleagues and sharing company progress, good and bad, is essential for the team to feel empowered to make change and influence our performance. Sharing the rationale for tough decisions encourages them to reciprocate by sharing their thoughts on how we can be better.
Recognizing the importance of creating time to recharge your batteries during the day and to focus on your own work has been crucial. We have an internal embargo on emails from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and on weekends to make sure we disconnect and make time for ourselves and our families.
We are also aware of “zoom fatigue” so have a 12-2 “no video call / meeting” rule. This allows time for lunch, exercise and focus on work to be taken, which contributes to productivity and motivation and has a positive impact on mental well-being. We also provide financial support to the team to improve their work from home setup if needed.
Our people make us who we are, so we take our duty of care very seriously. Health and well-being have been part of my priorities for several years; we have a long-established employee assistance program as well as team memberships for mental health applications.
Our company-wide mentoring program also makes a personal difference for mentees and mentors, alongside the support many of our colleagues receive through external mentoring programs.
“Innovation has always been the key to the success of our business” – can you expand on this? What does real innovation look like for agencies?
Part of it goes back to the entrepreneurial approach that was instilled in me; take ownership of an idea and use it. If it’s going well, expand it. If not, learn from it.
The real innovation is being curious and open-minded, not always believing that just because something is working right now, you should always do it like that. Demanding customers also fuel innovation on both sides.
We regularly share our knowledge from the different books we’ve read, podcasts we’ve listened to, webinars we’ve watched or new vendors / vendors we’ve met and this communication of learning allows us to innovate.
As a data marketing partnership, we improve the marketing performance of our client partners by turning data into valuable information. True innovation for us is best exemplified by the development of Apollo, our proprietary data platform, which has led to transformative results for our customers.
Apollo enables us to organize and query marketing campaign data, predict results, and deliver actionable insights to our partner clients. It has been a game-changer for us and our partners and sets us apart from our competition. We are a data marketing partnership, not a media agency and we pride ourselves on this differentiation.
The past eight months have shown what real innovation is. The extraordinary market conditions encouraged, if not forced, innovative conversations that may have seemed unthinkable before. Customers were faced with unique conditions and this made it necessary to think differently to adapt to the new standard.
For our charitable partners, we’ve created virtual fundraising platforms to replace long-standing physical events, helped run vital emergency campaigns to raise awareness and generate donations, and helped build new partnerships such as this one. between Alzheimer’s Research UK, YouTube and Jay Flynn MBE and his record TheVirtualPubQuiz which generated £ 300,000 in life-changing donations through four unique celebrity quiz takeovers.
We have also developed a Covid-19 ‘market tracking’ report that is sent to customers on a monthly basis, giving them live feedback on changing consumer trends and behaviors in the wake of the pandemic.
Covid-19 has encouraged us to be braver and make decisions faster and I have no doubts that we will take this attitude with us when we come out on the other side of the pandemic.
You said that Medialab’s partnership approach is one of the main reasons you have such lasting customer relationships. What does a partnership approach mean and why does it work so well for you?
It means working with your client partners, not for them. It also means not being afraid to challenge each other.
We are not afraid to back down sometimes. As long as we are committed to doing the right thing for our partners, they value our honest and dedicated approach. This relationship doesn’t happen overnight – it has to be earned and it boils down to hard work, performance and innovation.
The same approach applies to our media owner partners. There are no broader agree, share or volume commitments, so our planners spend our clients’ budgets as if they were their own and this has been fundamental to how we operate . This open and collaborative way of working brings confidence and credibility.
A partner-led approach thrives on providing excellent service and results for our clients – this is the key to long-term success. Talking to customers on a daily basis highlighted why this works well for us; we worked together to navigate an uncertain climate and made some tough but courageous decisions that worked, and when they didn’t, we identified why and made sure to do better next time.
We have strong, long-standing relationships with our clients because we have their best interests at heart. The fact that most of our business comes from referrals is a testament to our belief in strong and trusting relationships – we believe that the success of our clients is the success of Medialab.
What is your greatest hope for the future of the media and advertising industry?
In the short term, I hope that the entire industry rebounds in 2021 and that we will see more stability and certainty. The pandemic has brought a lot of positives and it is important that we keep them to move forward.
I believe we will see an industry more comfortable with flexible working methods. The industry has had more conversations about wellness, mental health, diversity and inclusion over the past few months and in the long term, I hope this continues to be a priority.
We are nothing without our employees, so attracting and retaining great talent should be a key priority. We must strive to use this difficult period in history as a springboard to effect more positive and longer-term changes.