8 MIN READ
Flamboyant Victorian architect, Watson Fothergill, had a wicked sense of humour.
Commissioned back in the day to create a stunning new HQ for the Nottingham and Notts Bank, he carved a cheeky monkey into the stone to subtly suggest that taking a mortgage was tantamount to having a monkey on your back. Only the eagle-eyed spotted it. Not the client.
I mention this because 2021’s residents of Fothergill House also have a great sense of humour. As well as some seriously hard-wired entrepreneurial business sense.
…a great sense of humour. As well as some seriously hard-wired entrepreneurial business sense.
These two points were brought into sharp focus when I recently caught up with the trio behind the award-winning digital marketing agency, Impression. Tom Craig (Co-Founder & MD), Aaron Dicks (Co-Founder & Performance Director) and Mikey Emery (Commercial Director) are the aforementioned trio. Chatting in their cool and expanding Nottingham loft style offices (they are also spearheading rapid growth in London), several things become quickly apparent.
These guys know their s**t. Simple as.
They know how to engage audiences and how to convert clicks into customers. They’ve been there, done that and all wear the T shirts to prove it. If you don’t believe it, I’m sure their analysts will drill down the data to underline the point.
They are also laser focussed on creating a business that doesn’t just answer their clients’ questions, it completely shapes their strategic digital thinking (so, frankly, they know the next set of questions to ask, and the ones after that).
So, where and when did this digi-journey start?
Like many cracking stories/urban myths, it began on a Leeds Uni Business School Society coach trip back from Amsterdam in 2010. Society President Tom bumped into fellow student and self-taught software developer Aaron. The two immediately hit it off. Unusually, they were not only both students, but hustling self-taught freelancers too – picking up invaluable experience wherever they could and helping fund their full-on student social life. Post-Uni, they were drawn to Nottingham’s regenerated Creative Quarter and, a few years down the line, both were ready to boldly leap into business ownership.
“It was the back end of 2012 and we could see a massive opportunity. We’d both worked with agencies around Leeds, London and across the UK. Some were wicked and we aspired to be like them, others were absolutely awful and, to be honest, we didn’t have any time for those. Whilst starting the business was a leap of faith, it was one which felt so right, for so many reasons.”
They knew they had the skillsets. They had the drive and ambition for sure. Their mindset was set. Work hard. Play hard. But, like pretty much every entrepreneur ever, they didn’t know how things would pan out. That’s part of the buzz though, right?
Their mindset was set. Work hard. Play hard. But, like pretty much every entrepreneur ever, they didn’t know how things would pan out.
The next milestone occurred halfway up an Alpine ski slope (you recognising a pattern here?). It was here that Aaron and Tom met Mikey. Bonding over après ski and black run camaraderie, it wasn’t long before Mikey became the ‘awkward third wheel’ as he puts it – joining to drive sales. Effectively, Mikey was to become the business glue.
Things went well; really well. They were a well-oiled machine. Business boomed. Headcount grew rapidly. Space ran out. So they moved to much larger ones. Competing against and consistently beating regional rivals, they’d reached another crossroads. The fledgling business journey was getting very interesting.
Mikey picks up the story:
“It’s a bit of a rarity, but the three of us are incredibly commercial. Pretty soon, we realised that the model we had needed to be tweaked. The web development projects were incredibly labour intensive and new players Itwere joining the market all the time. We knew we needed to define our niche. So we did. We’ve always been comfortable challenging ourselves, but we became more and more critical of every aspect. We made tough decisions and we were decisive. The result was that we doubled down on our marketing services and swiftly increased minimums. Achieved higher retainers. As sure as night follows day our accounts grew by 20+% YOY and 90% of our clients are now on recurring annual contracts.”
The agency had become much more focused, less full service. Now, every aspect orbits around the values of data-driven, results-first digital marketing. Integrated and intelligent marketing campaigns are created from a mouth-watering smorgasbord of digital marketing skillsets; SEO, Paid Media, Digital PR, Analytics and CRO.
This is where the creative alchemy really happens.
But don’t take my word for it. I’ll leave that to Impression’s industry peers. At the recent 2021 UK Agency Awards, Impression scooped a mind-blowing three major awards; Ecommerce, PPC and SEO Agency of the Year. The virtual trophy cabinet bulges further with B2C Campaign of the Year and Shopping Ads Campaign of the Year*, to name a few. Most sectors will claim theirs is the most highly competitive. Digital marketing is savagely so.
And, as the awards keep rolling in, so do the clients – every one of which has been an inbound approach. The breadth of the client roster is delicious: The FA, Topps Tiles, Cancer Research UK, Rutland Cycling, Vaillant, Marmalade car insurance and Clarins.
Co-Founder, Aaron puts his finger on why the business continues to flourish.
“Our DNA puts people front and centre. We won’t do anything unless we think we can absolutely smash it. Right from the get-go, we’ve been all over collaboration and having a good time as a team. Our people buy into our value set. Resourcing right now is a massive issue. There’s a massive shortage of digital skills. Yet we continue to attract some of the UK’s top talent. And, vitally, retain them.”
And how about the ‘C’ word? As you’d expect, the response to the pandemic was swift and decisive. Every one of their 100 or so clients was immediately contacted personally. Despite some revenues being cut, Impression put their money where their talent was. Preaching the proven mantra that if you switch off your marketing, gaining that ground back later would be like pushing water uphill, Impression offered not to invoice particularly hard-hit clients during the maelstrom. Then, when businesses got a grip on their own situations, things were
The result of this brave ‘in it together’ approach? Boom. Pre-pandemic Impression’s headcount was around 40. It’s now double that at 80 and heading north of 100 by early 2022. As they say, the data doesn’t lie.
And looking ahead? Tom picks this up with typical passion.
“The world is a very different place now. But our three business pillars for growth – Profit, People and Planet (they are awaiting B Corp status to land shortly) – have never been so vital. Our latest figures show a £5m+ business. Next year’s will show us hitting the £8m mark. We will continue to nail our UK operating system. Then perhaps we will develop this into the massive opportunities presented by international markets. One thing we know for sure is that however we evolve it will be based on our trusted values.”
As we wrap up our conversation, talk shifts to their upcoming day/night social for the whole team. It will be a celebration of all things Impression. Collaborative. Creative. Strategic. Social. And serious fun.
Leaving the offices into the warm afternoon sunshine, I think of a detail I meant to ask. Nevermind. I’ll search online. That’s the nirvana of quality data. And nobody does it better than these guys.
*UK Content Awards and UK Biddable Media Awards