This week I spoke with Content Marketing Agency, The River Group's CEO about the power of gratitude, taking risks and the importance of building relationships with clients...
What made you want to work in the publishing industry?
I started my career in marketing at Procter & Gamble (P&G). I enjoyed the marketing aspect of it, but I found the FMCG side quite restrictive and a little bit sexist, if I’m really honest. So, I left and went to join a small contract publisher as Business Development Director and I discovered that I enjoyed working on the other side of the fence, as an agency, rather than as a client, which I’d been for six years.
After three years I left and set up my own company; it wasn’t as much about being my own boss as it was about magazines. In those days, about twenty-five years ago, in 1994, magazines were still very much a growing medium. I think they still are in certain vertical sectors, but there is a slow decline in general. I find creative people inspiring, and I really enjoyed working with clients.
Can you chart your journey from when you started out to your current position?
I got a degree in English, which doesn’t really qualify you for anything other than being a librarian. I then went to P&G for sales and marketing for six years. I left and went to a small contract publisher called Publishing Team for about three and a half years, where I met an Editor who became my business partner, and we set up River.
We grew quite rapidly, and we subsequently sold the company, bits of it and then all of it four and a half years ago. Then I bought it back in December 2017.
I’ve never had one hundred per cent of the business before, I’ve always had a proportion of it, like 50 per cent of it, 25 per cent, 30 per cent, but now I’ve got 100 per cent.
I’ve had it back for nearly a year and a half, I’ve set up a share scheme, so the senior managers now have shares, which has never happened before. I think we’re now the biggest independent Content Marketing Agency in the UK and we’re still growing.
Do you have a go-to work outfit?
Gosh no, my work a day outfit is jeans, with either a shirt or a t-shirt. If I’ve got a client meeting, it’ll be a smarter version of that or a dress. Usually a dress.
What’s the most unusual situation you’ve found yourself in because of your job?
I did a pitch once where we used slide carousels and the carousel had a technical fault. It started going the wrong way and all the slides started whizzing out, and the Chief Executive – who is still the Chief Executive of one of the companies we work with – and the client were catching them from the air.
What would people be surprised to know about your job?
How much client contact I have even though I’m CEO. To produce great content we really need to understand both the commercial and marketing objectives of the brands we work with. I’m often still strategic lead with long standing River client accounts.
Walk me through your typical day.
River is in its 25th year, so we are trying to raise £25,000 for charity, which means that myself and the majority of the rest of the team are doing a variety of challenges. We’ve had cake sales and beauty sales, skydiving, and are hiking the three peaks. I’m cycling 125 miles in a day from The Midlands to Wales in July, so a typical day for me is to get up and go out on my bicycle, which is my most hated possession, for six miles in the morning.
Once I’m done with that, I get ready for work, drive to the station with River’s dog, as he comes to work with me. When I get to work it’s a combination of meetings, conference calls; we have a lot of international clients, so we do a lot of Zoom video calls. On a typical three days out of five I will have a client lunch and at least two nights a week I meet clients for dinner, so I spend a lot of my personal time with clients.
River are really good in that we tend to keep clients for a long time; so, we’ve worked with Holland & Barrett for 24 years, Superdrug for 17 years, Weight Watchers for 13 years, Co-Op for 12 years, and invariably you become, there’s obviously a line, but you do become quite friendly with some of your clients. It’s great for business development, as when they move, quite often they take you with them. I work with people I like. River are picky about new business and work with organisations and individuals that they like and respect. We wouldn’t work with a brand whose values we didn’t respect.
How has being a member of the PPA helped you/added value to your brand?
Though I’ve got history with CMA, having been one of the founding members, River are a bit different in content marketing terms and we have been for 15 years, because we publish paid for magazines on the newsstand in the UK and overseas.
If you didn’t have to sleep, how would you use the remaining hours in the day?
I’m a terrible sleeper, it’s a hereditary thing, so I only get about four or five hours sleep a night. I read books and watch TV when I wake up. If I had a 24-hour day I would probably get really fit and try and do long distance challenges. I used to do marathons in my twenties!
I’d also do a bit more charity work, at the moment I’m only a trustee of one charity, because it’s been so busy, and I’ve got other businesses too; a skincare beauty company that we’re just about to launch as well as property company.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Fizzy Haribo! I had a very posh country wedding and my very posh country wedding planner was very concerned that next to the “made on the stomachs of virgins” chocolate truffles, I was having big jars of Haribo and bottles of limoncello. She wasn’t very impressed.
Whose phone number do you wish you had?
What’s the worst piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
When I set up River, my mum said to me, “Why are you leaving a very safe job at Procter & Gamble? Don’t do it”.
What/where is your happy place?
At home with my kids.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I’m quite religious; Catholic. My kids both went to catholic school, but because I swear a lot and drink a lot people don’t think about it. I find a lot in my faith, and I love being spiritual.
My favourite book is The Secret and it’s about gratitude to the universe, like if you want to be rich, give your money away. It really does work.
What would be in your Room 101?
I’d put poverty in there. It annoys me that you can walk past homeless people and others just ignore them. I really respect The Big Issue as an organisation.
Introvert or extrovert?
Optimist or pessimist?
Film or television? What are you binge-watching at the moment?
Film – I love horror and pick ’n’ mix at the cinema.
Sweet or savoury?
Morning person or night owl?
Tea or coffee?
Tea. I drink about fifteen mugs a day.
Emojis – cool or cringey? Which emoji do you use the most?
Cool – the heart emoji.