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Ian McIntosh is the co-founder of Evolved, a leading UK performance marketing agency in Newcastle Upon Tyne. Sinead Hall is Head of People at Evolved. This episode is all about people, marketing, growing businesses and our exciting new partnership.
In this christmas special episode we discuss:
- The amazing story of how Evolved went from 2 people to 60 in just 8 years
- Why you need to trust your team and encourage them to take risks
- Importance of allowing people to learn from their mistakes
- Sinead starting her position as Head of People at the start of Covid
- Developing an elite high performance culture
- Why Evolved implemented the 4 day working week and the results from this
- Hustle culture and burnout
- Eximo x Evolved exciting partnership
- Evolved awards for marketing and culture
- Learning from mistakes in our careers
Ian has worked in search marketing for 15 years and is the co-founder of Evolved & Upshift. Evolved are now a leading UK performance marketing agency, employing 60 people with headquarters in Newcastle Upon Tyne.
Sinead Hall, Head of People at Evolved Search (circa 3 years). Leading on all things people and culture to deliver “the” employer of choice environment within the UK. My role focuses on everything from making sure people take holidays all the way through to coaching and supporting them into their C-suite seat. Evolveds values and culture are the most important aspect when it comes to delivering on our strategy. Without fantastic people in the right roles we wouldn’t achieve the results for our clients that we do. I genuinely believe that if you do right by your people they will do right by your business and that’s why I make sure we put our people first.
Find Sinead on LinkedIn
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Andi Jarvis, Eximo Marketing.
Eyup and welcome to the strategy sessions. My name is Andi Jarvis and I am the host of the show. This
is the Christmas special. It’s been recording on Christmas jumper day. You won’t be able to see that if
you’re watching the video, because we’re not using the video today. But you would see two out of three of
those on the show wearing Christmas jumpers. The one who isn’t wearing a Christmas jumper, you can
find out about shortly when we embarrass you and tell you who it is. So why is it a Christmas special?
Well, it’s December, obviously, and we’re going to talk about people, we’re going to talk about marketing,
we’re going to talk about growing businesses, but first we’re going to talk about Evolved as well. So let’s
get straight into that. I’m joined today by Shanid Hall and Ian McIntosh from Evolved in Newcastle, as
you’re about to hear when they start talking. So, Shanid, hello, how are you doing? Tell us about what you
do at Evolved.
Hi, I’m hanging on. I’m very poorly, so apologies for my voice to start. I am the people person and I’m
hoping that I make the people’s lives a little bit easier. That is, in a nutshell, what I do. I set the policies
and the procedures for Evolved, but generally just support people day to day in their roles and direct the
people’s strategy here.
Brilliant. And the other person with us is not wearing a Christmas jumper because he’s heartless.
How have I been the only person in the office not to realise that it’s Christmas jumper?
There might be one of those screwed type bosses, aren’t you?
Yeah, absolutely not. But I see why it comes across like that. Yes, I’m in. Co founder. CEO evolved. What
do I do? I ask myself this on a regular basis. There’s multiple rules, but largely ensure that the company
meets its commercial objectives, is how I would sum it up.
Right, so you might be thinking, we’ve got people and we’ve got chief exec with a very commercial type
role. What the hell’s this got to do with marketing? It’s the strategy sessions podcast after all. Andi but if
you come back to Eximo Marketing, where I’ve run the show, the mission statement that we have here is
strategy times people equals performance. So you can have the greatest marketing strategy in the world,
but if you don’t have the people to bring it to life and you don’t do the right things with those people, it’s
not going to happen. And the final word in that of that equation is performance. Performance for most
companies is about hitting targets and objectives. I mean, we can talk about saving the world, we can talk
about doing great things and many companies can and do have mission and purpose, but at the end of
the day, you’ve got to sell something to generate the money to allow you to do those things. So
unashamedly about people today unashamedly, about performance and targets and metrics. But as you’ll
find out in a moment when Ian tells you a little bit about his background, we might even talk a little bit
about marketing, too, especially search marketing.
So, Ian, tell us this story of Evolved. Because it’s quite the story.
The story of Evolved. Okay, so I should probably give you a little bit of context to my background briefly,
and then I’ll get into Evolved. My entire working career, probably even started during universities, was
search related. So I’ve been involved in SEO from 2005. Midway Savings were black and white, pretty
much. It was fairly early days, and I was, you know, making websites. I was earning, you know, affiliate
cash, basically. It was apparently more than my, my job at the time, which got me into SEO. And I went
from that position to working at multiple agencies again on the SEO side, and then to 2014, when myself
and my brother in law, who also had a very similar kind of background agency side, a bit more on the
PPC side, we decided that if we put our heads together, we could probably do something in the space.
There was a lot of frustration around how campaigns are being run. It was still a little bit of a shady world
back then that’s a grey hat, black hat type link film we found very frustrating. So this might sound a little
bit arrogant, but we genuinely thought that we could run better campaigns than the majority of campaigns
that we were seeing at the time.
So we thought, why not? We haven’t really got that much to lose. We put two and a half thousand pounds
in each, which was basically enough to get a very basic website put live, and some basic marketing
material, no clients to rely on. We couldn’t pay salaries for the first twelve months, so we were starting
from as close to nothing as you can get, and we’ve grown it over those eight years to where it is now,
which is we were at 55, 60 people, 5 million pound revenue this year, and we’re in a pretty good spot.
So the question I want to ask, when you roll back to those early days, and you said it was a basic website
and some marketing material, my brain is going, what marketing material did you do? Flyers? Did you do
banistans? You talk to BTC, what did you do?
No, what we did was we produced some insight led competitor reports. So we chose some sectors that
we could kind of lean on, previous experience working for other agencies where we had some insight,
and we would just send the reports out to the chief exec who might have been ahead of search role, head
of Digital marketing, digital Marketing director, those kind of rules. And we set it up in a way that we could
do this very cheaply and en masse. So we had a really good process behind the scenes. We had guys
that we outsourced the work to that would do the data collection, we would then print the reports off, like
physically send them out. And we had my bedroom was full of just stacks of air, four envelopes. And we
would be sending hundreds of these out, knowing that this is just a numbers game, but it was costing us
57 pence or something per envelope. It wasn’t expensive at all.
Sorry. If you just imagine for a moment, if you listening to this podcast, the look of absolute horror on
Shannon’s face. Then when he said, my bedroom was just full of stacks of pause for a moment, doing a
strange thing with his hand. And there was just this moment of, where is this story going? And are we
going? So, direct mail, which even in the market in 2014, was a dirty word, but I love it. I love direct mail.
It worked really well and it was an incredibly exciting time, because when you’ve got no money to receive
one lead in a month, it’s a massive deal. And you will then throw everything at that one lead to slowly get
the ball rolling. So it was really exciting. I still remember we got lots of stories from that period of time, but
I remember that very first lead and converting it and then realising, okay, now we can scale this up and
now we can do more, and all the rest.
I had a guy on the show, Pep Leia, on the show a couple of episodes ago, and he’s boasted America, but
had a really simple thought process. He’s like, scaling from a couple of people to ten people is really
easy. I actually disagree with that. But he said it’s really easy to get to ten people, but that’s where a lot of
companies stop because they can’t break through that point. Now you’ve gone from two of you in a
bedroom, effectively sending out bits of direct mail, doing a lot of the shoeleather stuff. You sell to 55, 60
people. A swanky office in the middle of the tune, I must say. Very swanky. I’ve been inside it. It’s lovely.
And what were the kind of stages within that growth that took you from two to 1010 to 2020 to 44,
whatever things that stand out.
Yeah, there are lots of different stages. I mean, the key ones, I’d say about two to 1015 people. So
obviously, starting off, you are doing everything from sales, marketing, admin, the actual campaigns
themselves, client communication. I’m going to client services team to lean on so you’re wearing multiple
hats every day. And then, obviously with time, you’re then starting to distribute these hats to the members
of the team. And even when we were at least 15 people, I think myself and Dave, the other co founder,
were still quite heavily involved in the running of the campaign, because obviously we started with no
money, which meant that we couldn’t easily go out and hire really senior people. It would be very difficult
for us, so it would be difficult for us to attract those people because we are a little bit of a nobody, no
reputation, no employer brand whatsoever. So we were generally looking at midway to juniors, which
meant that we then have to act as the senior on the account. And it wasn’t until I would say we got to
maybe 25, 30 people that we really started to be able to hire, like things like heads of department.
You were looking at people who were more kind of heavyweight in the industry. So today that was the
early stages. We were doing everything mid stage is when you’re starting to give kind of more leadership
roles within the company, starting to establish a little bit of a senior leadership team. Maybe it’s one or two
roles in there myself, and they have then taken more of a strategic view on account we might still be
attending review meetings, that kind of thing. And then almost to whisk forward to where we are now. I
would say the last year or two has been entirely about the senior leadership team, building that out,
making sure they’ve got the right kind of mentorship, skill sets, training, which has then allowed us to take
a step right back from the day to day, which is where we are now. And we might still get involved in the
odd client meeting here or there, where we’ve got a historic relationship. We do still attend this, but can
the business function and continue to grow without our involvement day to day, then? Yes, sir.
There’s a big personal challenge in that as well, isn’t there? In going from having a hand on the rudder at
all times and knowing every client by name, every member of staff by name, being the SEO head, being
the finance guy, being whatever, to now having a team and looking around at 60 people and going what’s
he called again? And not knowing everyone’s birthday and all that, and then being involved in different
things. It’s a challenge, isn’t it, to reinvent yourself as well, not just the business?
Absolutely. And I think this is the one thing I probably struggled the most on, because I am by nature a
complete control freak. So I need to know everything about everything, whether it’s an individual on the
team, whether it’s a client campaign. The more information I’m armed with, the more comfortable I feel.
As you start to step back, that obviously becomes less and less and you’re relying on others and their
decision making. And that puts you often in an uncomfortable situation. And then you’re in a situation
where you can’t or you don’t want to probe too much because that might suggest that you don’t trust the
team or the decisions that are being made. But at the same time, you’ve got this thing in the back of your
head which is saying, yeah, but you really need to get to the bottom of this because what if it’s a bigger
issue? Or do you need to be involved? So that stepping back, it’s required a certain kind of mindset
change, which I still don’t think I’ve fully got to grips with, to be honest.
But I’m trying hard, I’m just going to jump in because it is exactly what Ian’s talking about, is as a
leadership team, we are also trying to do that now we’re established with the rest of the team. So one of
our values is trust. And we, as Dave and Ian have stepped away, we have really, I guess, supported them
to trust us and we’re now really struggling because we’re now having to push a lot on are the wider
teams. We can do the leadership stuff and it is about that, allowing people to learn from their failures. And
I feel like that is something that we are trying to establish more and more with the team. We really had it
back when and I joined and it’s something we talk about at the minute, openly with the team, that the
culture has changed and we’ve lost that intelligent failure a little bit. People don’t take as many risks and
that’s something as Ian and Dave have stepped away, they’ve had to try and trust the senior leadership
team that we will make mistakes, but we’ll rectify them in the right way. And as a senior leadership team
now, we’re trying to change our culture slightly because we’ve kind of got off in the wrong direction.
We’ve been not as trusted as we should have been. We’ve not let people fail, we haven’t taken as many
risks and we’re trying to push that back on people and say, take the risks, take the reins. And that has
been really challenging for not just Ian and Dave, but us as a senior leadership team as well.
When I look back at my career, there’s a couple of really key moments where I learned quite a lot and
only one of those is from a successful thing. All of them are from when I’ve fucked something up and
wanting the ground to open up and swallow me. And there is that sort of safe failure bit where you have to
let people feel that mistake and understand it and then I evaluate it and go, right, okay, what is the
problem with that? So what I want to talk about, I’m going to come back and ask you later on to tell us
about a mistake you’ve made in your career. We’ll do that later on so you can have a little think about one
because it’s great to talk about them. But Shannon, tell us, first of all, a little bit about your background
and what you did before and then when did you join Evolve and what does it look like?
So I started out in a family business. I worked for my dad and his partner for nine years. I had children
really young and I didn’t really focus on my career as such. Didn’t a business apprenticeship, didn’t really
know where I wanted to go. Kind of fell into AHR, I feel like a lot of people fall in ah, wanted to go out on
my own and be established and have my own career as my children. Kind of got to about three and four
and I went into oil and gas. Really random. Don’t even know how I ended up there, but lots and lots of
people problems in oil and gas. And then I moved from oil and gas to End Clothing, which was completely
different. Again. Started the HR team there with a couple of the girls, all early in kind of the advisory roles.
And we by the time I left, I think the team was about, about at nine. Had a director of people, was just
going in a completely different direction to where I wanted my career to go. A lot of employee relations,
disciplinaries and grievances. A lot of the sad side of HR, I guess.
And I was managing the market and the tech team. So the tech team was based in London, the
marketing team was based in Newcastle and I really enjoyed it, but it wasn’t challenging anymore. This
role came up with Evolved and it sounded really creative. A lot of employer brand stuff to get into
employee voice, listening to people and really creating an employer of choice in the UK. So that was the
opportunity for me. And obviously, luckily enough, I was paired with Ian and we kind of hit it off straight
away and didn’t need a second interview and really, really shocked. Got a call straight away that
afternoon. They want to offer you the role. And it was in the beginning of 2020 and I actually joined
Evolved. So at the day that I left End was about 506:00 on the Friday that Boris shut the country down.
And we were panicking. We had a warehouse. We were doing things to make sure everyone was safe
and I was like, I need to get home. I don’t work here anymore and have a new job on Monday and my
children and husband are at home and I need to make sure they’re safe.
So I joined Evolved. Completely remote. Met Ian on the Monday morning, sat as far away as we could in
the office. Sat down with my new laptop and Ian just chopped all of this stuff at it and was like 31st month,
tell us how you’re going to react to it.
I was happy as Larry at this point. I thought, thank God I’m not the one that has to deal with all this. Here
we go. It’s going to be a roller coaster.
And Ian, believe it or not, was still planning on going skiing and did the next day as well. So this was like
Boris shut the country down, shut all the schools down and everything on the Friday. This was the
Monday. Ian went skiing on Tuesday. Very optimistic.
It’s a very difficult thinking back to that time. I mean, now we’re a couple of years away from that. There’s
a lot of things that look like stupid ideas and stupid things that we did. And sometimes we went too far
and locked down. Sometimes we didn’t go far enough, quick enough. But thinking about there was just a
whole pile of confusion going on back then. Just this whole mess of stuff that nobody could work out. So
having to start a new job in a new company as the people person that everyone’s looking at, I mean, that
almost sounds to me like the worst of all worlds. Or was it the best of all worlds? Because there was so
much chaos, everything you could do is going to bring light to it.
The biggest struggle for me is I’d been planning for a good couple of months before I joined, what I was
going to achieve when I joined. And that plan, this was going to be my first strategic role where I owned
the strategy and could create this fantastic place to work for people. And all of a sudden, I was dealing
with people over Zoom, which I’d worked with Slack before I’d worked with Zoom. I’d been in the techie
environment, but it was different because I couldn’t build the relationships that I wanted to build. If anyone
had a double. So we had two Louises. So I struggled with, well, which one is which? And how do I build a
rapport with each of them? And it was just, I guess, finding my foot and within evolved and understanding
the culture virtually was really, really difficult, especially when I hadn’t been exposed to the digital world as
such. It’s a very different beast in terms of how digital companies look after their people. And I’d worked
for some great companies that looked after people before, but this was just, you know, I would question
things with Ian, Dave or Tom, and they’d be like, just do it.
If it’s for the greater good, just do it. And that for me, was it was really refreshing. But at times it was
almost like I couldn’t really do what I wanted with people because I wasn’t in the same place as them. And
that was the difficult part.
It’s amazing how with all the world famous and amazing strategists that have written books and research
papers on strategy, that probably the most quoted person on strategy in the world is Mike Tyson, which is
everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. And it sounds like that’s what you mentioned.
You had a plan and then covered punched the plan in the mouth and everything had to go from there,
right? So you picked yourself up and you got through to it, but not so much. What have you learned over
time or maybe over your career then in terms of developing high performing teams and high performing
people? Because evolved are still performing and still evolving but still award winning and doing great
things over and over and over again, that’s a really difficult thing to do. So what are the things that you’ve
both been involved in setting up and doing that helps to set that high performing bar while still allowing
failure but keep it going constantly because that is really, really difficult.
I think the biggest thing for me from joining was just I had a great sense of who we were and what I
wanted to come in and do was do, you know, culture audits and align our values to mission and vision
and that was really, really difficult. We did it, we did it within the first year and it was something I was very
keen to push on with because we almost had this sense that everyone knew how we worked. We didn’t
have the policies or the red tape, but everyone kind of got it. And for me, it was just, as we grow, if we
want to keep that, we have to set what that is and set that expectation. And we did. We did value
sessions, and we aligned them, and we got them on our induction, and it was all shiny and new to people,
but it was still very much just who evolved was. But for me the biggest, I guess learning in my career is
and I don’t think unless you’re a people professional, you feel that they make such an impact. I know you
and Dave and Tom do and a lot of other digital agencies do, but just setting the values and who you are
and really giving people alignment to what you do if you don’t people just work autonomously in the wrong
directions and I think we are good at that.
When we do lose our way, people do now claw back to well, actually, if we stick to the values, we can’t go
Poultry strategy for breakfast. That was Peter Drucker, wasn’t it, who said that?
Yeah, he’s probably right, absolutely right. And I mean the high performance culture stuff, I’m not saying
we’ve got all the answers, this is something that we are working on. But it does go back to what Gentle
said. You’ve got a team who are all on the same page with regards to what really matters, which is the
values and everything else just feeds off that. The culture side. It’s a really interesting time to be speaking
about culture. It evolved because we just did our big annual meeting, was it a couple of months ago now
and I spoke to the agency for about an hour about culture and how I think we need to have a bit of a
direction change. So just for context, I think this would be quite interesting to anybody listening. We put
out an anonymous survey to the entire agency and we asked everybody to score between zero and ten.
How good they felt the culture was. It evolved and the average score we got back was 8.1. So very high.
Everyone seemed to be really happy with the culture. There was the odd outlier here and there, but
nearly six give us I wasn’t reading into that.
The score that I gave the culture was a four out of ten. And that is because I think there’s a massive
difference between a happy culture and a top performing, high performance culture. And I think one is a
prerequisite to the other. But I didn’t feel, despite everything that’s been achieved, and we’ve done very
well, I still feel like there’s a way to go to really be like an elite high performance culture. And I think that’s
what we’re now focused on trying to drive forward.
The link between sport and business, I think, is hugely overplayed. And I say this is a massive sports fan.
When I’m not working, I’m watching sport. That’s generally the two things I do with my life. But I think the
link between sport and business is overplayed, driven often by retiring sportsmen and women who,
because they love getting paid, to come and tell people how to do it. But the one thing that is useful is that
sport has a really quick feedback loop and a very public feedback loop. So success and failure is acted
out on screen weekly for a lot of sports. If you’re in a Premier League football or a rugby team or
something like that, you’re playing weekly or twice a week and there’s a really quick way for people to
see, is this a high performing culture that’s leading to success or failure? So you get a really quick night if
you’re pitching for business and it’s a six month window. I’ve worked with some companies who have a
sales cycle, which is 18 months to two years, right. You don’t get that every four days performance cycle
about how you perform it.
So sports stars do have a real great insight into small changes because they’re getting really quick
feedback on whether that works. That’s quite a long intro into saying, I do occasionally listen to either ex
sports stars talking about what they’ve learned and how it’s helped them in business afterwards. And
there was something there about Sam Burgess, who’s the ex England Rugby League captain, went to
Australia, became the world’s best player over there in a place where they don’t really recognise English
players as any good, came back to play rugby, union for England and also really great players,
succeeded in every metric of the game. And the one thing he said was he said he liked his teammates,
he loved them and he was mates with most of them, he said. But the one thing he realised when they lost
the grand final one year was, I’m not here to be liked, we’re here to win this trophy and not winning the
trophy was a failure. That’s what we set out to do and we came second. Not by much, but we came
second, so we failed. The whole season, therefore becomes a failure. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done,
We need to stop being best mates and start being critical, positively critical with each other. But how do
we improve that culture? How do we change that direction? So it seems like you listened to the same
Sam Burgess interview as well to get that insight.
That’s exactly I mean, I think I spoke about healthy conflict for about ten minutes, didn’t it? And the fact
that what really underpins that performance culture is psychological safety within the team. So anybody
can say anything to anybody, regardless of role, team, personality, all the rest of it. And then what really
underpins psychological safety is trust between everybody, so they know that they’ll be listened to, they’ll
be respected. People might disagree with you. That’s always going to happen. But nobody should ever be
afraid to challenge anybody on anything, whether it’s being accountable to results, deadlines, processes
not being stuck to because I was hearing stories where there would be a meeting taking place, but
somebody was afraid to speak up in the meeting because they didn’t feel like they’d be listened to. And
it’s that kind of thing which might sound small but spread across a large number of people, actually it’s
quite significant and it points to a cultural problem.
So how do you bed that change in? And is that what you and Shannon have been working on since that
meeting and said, okay, we know what this is? What does that actually mean in Practise?
Yeah, and it’s a large project for the people team at the minute and it’s something it’s not going to change
overnight, it is going to continue to change as we add new people into the team. I think the biggest thing
that we have to say that the team, when we were talking about culture is we know it’s not where we want
it to be anymore. We are taking accountability for that too, COVID although we like to blame it, we don’t
like to blame it. We’ve got hybrid people, we’ve never had those before. We’re building relationships with
new people that don’t have the history of the team and trust us when we say we’re doing this for the
greater good. So there’s a lot that we’re going to have to do and it’s not going to happen overnight. It does
align with our values and who we are, but we need to take a new direction if we want to keep all of this
good stuff, all of the perks, all of the social time that we have together, all of the relationships, the
involved committee and everything we do extra for people come. With us on this journey.
And the truth is, not everybody will. We have people who’ve been with us a very, very long time and they
just get involved to get who everybody is, to get what we want to create. You don’t have to show them the
strategy because they’ve been here from day one. But we also have people like me who haven’t been
here from day one and just get it from having the relationships internally that we need to have to
understand who evolved is and where evolves going. And it is going to probably take about two years to
get us to that high performance culture. It’s not going to happen overnight.
And that’s okay as well if people leave, isn’t it? If they don’t like the culture anymore, because culture is
changing places and some people like the first one, they don’t like the second one, other people, and vice
versa. And that’s okay, that happens. That not everyone who starts the journey with you finishes it with
you as long as you treat them with the values that you have of trust and respect and everything else
along the way.
And we’ve lost people during four day work. As an example, we brought four day work weekend. We had
two people who said, yeah, look on the face of it, it looks great, but it just doesn’t fit my life. One person
needed a lot of structure. They said they struggled with not being online at 09:00 in the morning and
having someone tell them exactly what they needed to do every day. And the autonomy was it was just
too much for them. They needed more structure, so they left. They wanted a nine to five where someone,
you know, micromanaged them and told them how to do their job. They openly said that through an
accident of you. And we had another person who said, it’s just not for me. I have this great family and I
want to balance my hours across five days. We do a 32 hours work week. I’m happy with that, but I’m
having a cram in more, albeit an hour extra a day. It didn’t suit their lifestyles, so they left. And that’s fair
enough. It’s not going to suit everyone, but it’s about making it fit for those and having a conversation with
people initially to be like, well, how can we make it fit?
Not everybody has to do it this way and just shown that degree of flexibility as well.
The four day work week is you’re not part of the national trial. You were there before this, but there’s a
little bit of noise. It’s fair to say that not every business owner is a fan of the four day work week. And
there’s some interesting discussions going on there. You’ve obviously got perspective of you went for it.
And I know you talk through the process of getting there because it wasn’t just you woke up one morning
and went we’re doing a four day work week now.
Yeah, I think this is a really simple one from my perspective. For anybody that runs or owns a business,
there’s very few policies that you could bring into a company that could improve people’s, wellbeing,
improve productivity, have a general fantastic halo effect around everybody’s lives and their friends and
family. And it’s got a lot of research to back up this as being a positive thing. And that was a lot of
research when we implemented it. Since then there’s been additional trials and whatnot, which is all
saying exactly the same thing. So my question would be, given that there’s all of this research and the
upside is huge, what does it say about the business leaders who are not prepared to take that risk?
Because to me the risk is fairly minimal. You could run it as a trial. There’s lots of ways to mitigate risk.
And to be honest, we’ve had to go through a bit of a learning process as we’ve implemented it, so nobody
would expect it to be perfect from day one. But given the upside, I would question the mindset of the
people running the companies, how forward thinking they are, all the rest of it, because there’s evidence
not it’s a matter of opinion anymore.
I think we live in a country where evidence and opinions are often confused as the same thing. They are
not. But you only have to look at sort of seismic political events of the last decade brings it where you may
find that the emotional, slightly irrational approach of just saying the same thing over and over again
because it’s what you believe when it crashes into the facts of the situation. Emotion tends to win that
debate. The opinion tends to outweigh the fact we are unfortunately a bit of a stupid species. Sadly, for all
our success, we are a bit daft that way.
Sorry, go on.
I was going to say I think it’s underpinned a little bit by this kind of hard work type hustle culture where if
you’re deemed or seen externally as working less or not doing a 60 hours week and working weekends
that somehow you are providing less or being less productive or you don’t deserve success, which is
absolutely nobody. Any reasonable intelligence would consider that to be a fair opinion. Shannon would
tell you myself, Dave and Tom, well, prior to lockdown, it would be rare that we would be in the office
before 10:00. Very rare. It was a joke. We normally came in for about half ten. We were not first in the
office last night. We were the complete opposite. We were normally last in the office, first out.
I’m an early morning person and I’d be sending Tom emails. We’ll talk about with the fact we’ve worked
together. I’ll be emailing Tom at like 08:00 a.m. I’m an early starter. And he was like, why does no one
ever get back to you if all of them, because nobody’s there.
When I first joined, this was one of the biggest things that I struggled with, because I put a meeting in with
Tom for like, ten, and Tom would be nowhere to be seen at 10:00 in the morning, but that was just the
culture. But then it’s everyone’s preference and that’s the thing. Like, some people are online late, so
what I was just going to jump in with before is I struggle in my HR head with the mindset of people who
don’t think it’s possible to make the work lives of others better. So I’ve spoken to loads of people since
we’ve done the trial or move to permanent who are just like, you know, well, we have a call centre, we
have a warehouse, it just doesn’t fit. It does fit. Make it fit, make your rotors fit, alternate your hours. Like,
if you want to genuinely make the lives of your people better, wear the red tape, remove the red tape and
make their lives better because people will work harder for you. Work better, work smarter. I mean, one of
the I do have some staff prepared because I think, honestly, 40, which is what we like, all controversial,
but we have the evidence now because we we’ve done it for so long, but it’s just so frustrating when you
speak to people who are like, we just can’t implement it, or we can do it for the office staff, but we can’t do
it for the warehouse, or we can do it for the whoever, but we can’t do for customer services.
And I’m like, yes, you can. Just 100% of our team feel that it’s improved their lives. We’ve surveyed all the
way through this. I mean, we’ve been doing it permanently now for a year. We did a trial from August to
March and then from March onwards it’s been permanent. So it’s massively impacted our people in a
positive way, but from an impact on clients. We work actually more spread out now, so we have people
who are really starters, but we also have people who start later, but finish later as well. So the capacity for
clients is more. We obviously looked at our billable hours and the amount of time that we spent on billable
work was higher during the four day trial compared to the exact same month the year prior. And that
wasn’t a growth appliance thing, that was comparing it to the same set of clients and the billable app
because people are focusing their time more on client work, they’re prioritising their diaries, then they’re
going to people and having the conversations quickly with them rather than ten emails. They’re just more
productive. It just works because I’m in it, I know it works and I know it would work anywhere else at work,
but for me, it’s around the dedication of business owners and senior leadership teams to their people.
If they want to create better environments for their people. They can. And for me, it’s a mindset thing, as
Ian just said.
Yeah. And just to build on that shiny, you mentioned the productivity element, which is obviously a
massive one, but outside of that, the attraction of new stuff and the CVS we get through, and the retention
of the team. At a time when you’ve got a massive shortage of skill set in our sector, you’ve got salary
inflation going through the roof. I kind of feel like a lot of agencies have problems around. On the people
side, we’re almost immune to that, which means that we can focus on other elements and we haven’t got
this big thing hanging over us.
Someone will probably email in and tell me I’ve got the wrong person for this. But I think it was Henry
Ford who said, there is a better way, find it. And I find it so strange, like I find it weird that people are
wedded to a five day week as the only way of doing it. It’s a Victorian construct. Right. The Victorians
invented a five day working week. Initially, it was sort of six days out, but as the Industrial Revolution
moved on, the Sabbath was always sacrosanct and nobody really worked on a Sunday. But as that sort
of became really nailed down as a Victorian concept, but it used to be half day Wednesday and you’d
work Saturday morning. So it was still the five day working week, I think sheffield Wednesday. I called
Sheffield Wednesday because they played on Wednesdays during the half day factory closing. So this
Victorian construct, which has, over time, evolved in itself in that. Can you think of anyone or anywhere
that does half day Wednesday closing now? I remember banks used to shut half day Wednesday’s post
offices, and then I could take my passport as a kid down, so I could take my money out on a Saturday
morning, because they’re open then.
So that five day working week has evolved to sort of five over seven for lots of industries and lots of
people. But the fact that no one looks at us and goes, we’re not means of production, studying a wool mill
in Bradford, looming and spinning things anymore. Right. We’re doing things with our heads, not with our
hands. In lots of industries, surely we can use our heads to make things better.
Yeah. And I think it was Henry Ford. So Henry Ford was one of the first people to go from six days to five
days. But I’m sure I remember hearing that one of his motivations was because he actually wanted
people to be able to travel more than where they needed the car. So he actually whatever.
Henry Ford realised that some of the people who most want to buy the vehicles that he was producing
were the people who worked in his factories and by standards of his day, paid quite highly and sort of
made better of it by shipping more units out the door. Because he pretty much invented production lines
as well, didn’t he? But paid people well and gave them time to travel so that they could get in the car and
travel to places in Revelation.
I think a massive part of this as well is, as you say, that the five day work week was built in an age where
a lot of the time one parent worked as well. So in families there was a person who stayed home, took
care of children, grandparents, the home, the lifestyle. Whereas now we have a lot of stay at home dads.
We have dads who do childcare, we have mums who do childcare. It’s a very different world. And I think
all of the added stresses and pressures of life in this day and age to have that we call it Life admin day,
because to have that extra one day where you can focus on getting the shopping in or getting the house
pulled together, walking the dog. Focus in on your own well being and mental health. It just screams
volumes for who you work for and what they actually think about you as a person. I mean, I could talk
about the four day work week.
Yeah, no, I think it’s it’s a really positive move. Now I at Exim a week. Well, I say we don’t have a four day
working week. IFA works four days, I work five days and I am not in the excuse mode. But when when
you there’s two people and I am as sort of Ian was in 2014, I’m doing a little bit of all sorts. I’m finance, I’m
admin and this and that and the other and managing client days. But I use the phrase, as I have done for
years, that I manage my energy, not my time. So if I decide as I do this, I’m just having the day off or I’m
stopping working at 01:00 p.m. Doesn’t affect as long as I’ve done the things I need to do for clients. So I
don’t have a shut this day, but I manage my energy very closely because there’s no point burning out and
then not being able to do any work. Right. Pointless.
Yeah, just a good example of that. Like, who can seriously say that when we used to sit in an office five
days a week come Friday, 12:00, it was in a case of pub. And then you would go back to work, pretend to
do work for like three or 4 hours and then you might have a few beers after work. The whole thing was a
joke, but nobody would just accept it for what it was. And you’d play this little game.
They used to be in the early days of I think it was lastminute.com. So rolling back to early days of the
internet, I remember scrolling for a holiday during work on a Friday afternoon. They knew the game that
people were playing and there was a button at the top of their site. I think it was Quick, the boss is
coming. And if you clicked it, it just pushed a spreadsheet across the whole screen so it looked like you
were just putting data into an Excel spreadsheet. Work has never been this place where everyone is
100% active from 09:00 a.m. Monday morning through to 05:00 p.m. Friday afternoon. Is it? We manage
peaks and troughs through that.
Yeah. There’s been loads of research into this. Like, the average number of productive hours per week is
ridiculously. Much lower than what anybody would think. It’s something like twelve to 15 hours.
In a good week. Shannon? Sorry, you’re going to say no.
And I was just going to say it’s about how you feel as well. I’ve been in HR the majority of my career, but
I’ve worked in roles where I have been frightened to pick my phone up to cheque if my kids are okay at
school or can I just have a quick toilet break? And it’s about being treating people like adults and not for
what they churn out. It’s genuinely about outcomes and what people achieve. I don’t care how many
hours someone focuses on something for, as long as they deliver on what they need to deliver. If their
mental wellbeing has taken a hit because of work, then that’s not right. And that obviously we are people
faith and we do push that message. And I think the good ones, that a lot of people, let’s face it, in the
digital world, they come from other agencies and they come to us and they have stories. They may leave
us and have stories, but genuinely they come and they’re like, this happened. And you hear of these even
other workplaces, and if people feel like they’re respected, they’re trusted and they’re well looked after,
you’ll get that respect and trust back.
Yeah, absolutely. So you’ve built this agency, 60 people. Ish you’re working on the culture to make sure
all the internal stuff is right. And you’ve made some changes recently to how the agency structured
externally in terms of the performance side of things. So you want to talk to him about the new brands
that have appeared and then we’ll talk about a partnership that you’ve struck up with Adobe, Plucky little
Agency, belfast and Liverpool.
Yeah, of course. When we started the agency, we didn’t have this current plan that I’ll talk about in a
second in mind. This has kind of been the result of historic work. So the story here is, in our second year
of business, we won Best SEO campaign at the UK Search Awards and it was for an automotive client
and it was a fantastic case study. The results were just off the charts. We effectively helped to build what
is now the UK’s largest car leasing company through organic search. As a result of that piece of work. We
then started to get a lot of inquiries from the automotive sector, which has led us to working with multiple
manufacturers, retail dealership groups, other companies in the leasing space. And that over time has
resulted in the automotive element being a pretty significant chunk of the agency’s revenue. And we kind
of we had two options at this point. We started discussing whether we lean into that more and we doubled
down on the automotive experience or because that comes with risk like what we’ve seen with the
semiconductor issues and the wires that going. Cars have been a shortage there that hasn’t not gone
effect on that sector.
So we don’t want to be too exposed to a sector or we continue being a bit more of a broad proposition. As
a search marketing agency. We recently took the decision to double down and we’ve launched a sub
brand, which is a performance marketing agency aimed at the automotive sector that is taking the people
within the team who have worked on multiple automotive accounts, effectively putting them to one side
and starting afresh and with the view of attracting more clients in that space. In the background to that
second kind of highest revenue sector is probably the Home and Garden space. So we’ve started
Evolved home. So Upshift is the automotive brand. Evolved. Home is the home and garden space. So it’s
a similar kind of plan. It’s kind of in the incubation stage, whereas Upshift is very much that is getting the
marketing budget, that is getting the big push, all the rest of it. But with time, Upshift will be very well
established and then Home and Garden comes through and then we are thinking of a third sector as well.
So it’ll be a transition period. But what it will do is it will allow us to attract people into the agency who
have a genuine interest in the automotive space, which we might struggle to attract that kind of talent.
Now, I want to ask you a branding question. And I know as an SEO fan who came through, probably
branding is one of those words where you just got to put your head in your hands and go, okay, so from a
brand management point of view, you’ve got the evolved group of the evolved parent brand. You’ve got a
sub brand, evolved home, which also uses the evolved name. But then your other sub brand, the
automotive one, doesn’t use the evolved name. So you’ve kind of gone halfway into a house of brands,
but halfway into a branded house. What was the thinking behind that?
Yeah, it’s a really good question and there was a lot of discussion behind the scenes, as you can imagine,
before we take this decision. I think I couldn’t imagine how many hours, maybe it’s more dozens and
dozens of hours. And we had a lot of disagreement along the way. And ultimately I think what drew of it
was for this to be a powerful, unique proposition that didn’t just look like a marketing ploy, because whilst
it has the marketing benefits, you know, this was actually going to impact everything we did. Like I said,
the team, for example, it had to stand on its own two legs. It had to be its own thing. And obviously, that
was getting the bulk of the marketing budget. The evolved room wasn’t quite there, so we couldn’t it would
have been very high risk to try and launch two subbrands at the same time. We had to prove the concept
with one brand to begin with, and then we could look at rolling that out. So I think that was primarily we
didn’t want it to look like a gimmicky, like just something that looks good on paper and actually, behind the
scenes, it just continues as paranormal.
Yeah, okay. No, it was an interesting discussion, which I love, talking brands at various points. It’s all
good that way.
There’s nothing to say that we’ve got it right, by the way, at this point. I mean, this only launched quite
recently, a couple of months ago, so time will tell.
There’s probably brand strategists listening who hate me for saying this, but I genuinely I do think
sometimes it’s overthought. I don’t care what the brand is, it’s what you do with it from the day that the
artwork arrives, that’s what matters. I say this over and over again, nobody sensible would listen to their
brand agency. Come and pitch the word Virgin as a name for a company. Nobody you’re looking and got,
lads, get out the door, will you? But look at Virgin as a company. Airlines, banks, it’s been in fizzy, drinks,
trains. It works because of what you do afterwards, not what you do up to the point where you sign it off
and everyone strokes a beard and look at the presentation go, wow, that’s wonderful. What you do next,
Yeah. And the other thing is, nobody has all the answers to begin with when you go through this process.
We were quite fortunate.
I would disagree. I would say you’re just talking to the wrong people. I have multiple everything.
Well, to be fair, there were some case studies of other agencies who had kind of created a niche brand in
certain sectors that we did lean on quite heavily when we were doing our research as evidence of this
working. But even that’s a flawed process because you rarely hear of the ones that didn’t work. So you
have to be a little bit careful.
We will come back to the stuff that didn’t work. In the next, I’m going to ask you both about a big cockup
or a mistake you got involved in at work. So we’ll come back to that. But before we do, I also want to talk
about one of the other things that you’re looking at as you are now, what’s your new job is it lord and
Master have Evolved or something like that, or CEO, sorry, I got it wrong. But it is partnerships and
expansions and things like that which brings us to a conversation about Eximo and Evolved, who now, as
we announced relatively recently, working a little bit closer together, a little bit closer together, we have a
partnership together. I’ll let you carry on talking about that a little bit before I weigh in and talk about
Yeah, no, I mean, there’s a lot of overlap between the kind of work that we do from a strategic point of
view and the kind of clients we have and also elements and skill set within the business that we might be
missing or fairly weak on that you actually have. And you help us out on multiple things, whether it’s
working with speakers, whether it’s casting your set of eyes over different strategic decisions that are
being made and vice versa. I think we plug a bit of a gap with some of the challenges you’re facing. We
get on well. There’s a good relationship between the teams. We had done pieces of work over the years
together, so we knew that as two different entities we could work well together. So it just kind of made
sense to crystallise that a little bit more and get something formal in place and see how it goes.
Absolutely. I think that the key thing for me with this was that when we’d work together before, there’s a
value alignment. The way you approach clients, staff, whether it’s social or even critiquing work that we’ve
done together always felt like a positive experience. When you are right, nobody gets anything right
perfectly the first time. And there were bits as we were working together that needed to be pushed back
and improved and sent back and challenged with you as well. And that always felt like a really supportive
place and a supportive process. So as we push in at Eximo to do more with manufacturers who are
looking to get into direct to consumers, you can see straight away one of the big gaps that I have as a
small consultancy here is we can talk all day about helping companies get their products in front of
customers, but if we don’t actually help them get it in front of customers, they’re not going to sell anything.
Which means you need performance, marketing skill generally, as well as many other things. But being
able to work with Evolve to plug that gap, but also being able to then parachute into parachute.
And it sounds like some sort of hero of work, which is not what I’m doing, but coming into work. With your
team on some of your clients and just providing a bit of outside perspective and a slightly different view is
hopefully beneficial for you as well. But certainly really beneficial for me.
Yeah, definitely. Another things that we’ve not touched upon, things like events. You are well known in the
speaker space. It’s an area that we want to get into, start running our own events, and when we looked at
that, we were all on the same page. There’s nobody better that we can think of. Whether we’d worked
with you in the past or not, you were kind of the person that we would want involved in this.
I love the sound of my own voice, which is why I ended up podcast. There we are. The partnership has
been we announced it fairly recently, and generally speaking, in really simple terms, I’ll be working with
some of evolved clients whenever they need a little bit of outside thinking. And as we go forward and start
working with companies that want to take products to market, you’ll be meeting involved on the other side
of that and working with their teams who know what they’re doing right. The client roster, which is on their
website, we don’t need to talk about it, but I’ve gone have a look at the website, some of the case studies,
some of the awards she made, a number of awards won in the last couple of years. Is it in the thousands
yet or how many is it?
I mean, the people won early there, just saying, yeah, awards for culture. We’ve done really well in the
last year. I mean, awards in general, driven lockdown as a business, marketing awards, absolutely
You said people awards and you’re underplaying it, as I think you always do, but great places to work.
Where did you land with that Best.
Workplace woman in the UK?
Well, I mean, that’s a hell of a brag to downplay a little bit there. So, look, number one there, and I think
overall you were in the top.
So we got number eleven. It was very bitter sweet. It was based on last year’s numbers, so they kind of
work a year beyond the awards that were winning now based on this year’s cycle. So they basically
survey our whole team. This is nothing me, Ian, Dave, Tom, Haley, none of the directors or senior
leadership team actually have an input on this. So they survey the whole team and then all of the
numbers for the year are generated based on what the team have said we’re doing and how they feel. So
last year we were ranked eleven, but that was on the small category, the Best Workplace for Women,
number one that was ranked on this year’s scores. So that was in the medium category. So we were up
against some fairly large businesses. I think Sage was on there for their UK branch and some other large
digital agencies as well. We were number two for Tech, best Workplace in Tech as well. And then we
applied and didn’t think we’d get anywhere. We were shortlisted for three CIPD awards and we won the
Excellence in SMA, people Practise as well, so we were up against mental health matters and.
Some large other agencies as well, so really, really over the Moon Doors. But it’s not accolades, we don’t
want to rack them up. It’s genuinely like a lot of the results for great places to work, which is why we do it.
They come from out, it comes from the people, it comes from what genuinely what people feel about us.
And I’m constantly saying to people, like, get a review on Glass Door for us, because that’s where people
want to go, they want to understand. A lot of companies, not necessarily digital agencies, have some
fantastic perks and some fantastic benefits. But sometimes when you’re in a role, it has to be right for
you. And the culture isn’t always right when you move into it or not. Everything is as it seems. We sound
fantastic on paper and it’s really hard to say to people who don’t or haven’t worked in this environment
before that we genuinely do give people the time for training, the time for charity, the social time. People
are like, yeah, but I’ve heard that before and haven’t really resonated when I’ve been in the workplace
and we need people to get that out for us and we’re getting there with Glassdoor.
But, yeah, it’s about asking our people to just tell people how it truly is and that speaks volumes over any
other award that we could get. Really.
Yeah. Alongside that, they got the People Awards, which great and some really brilliant numbers. Some
people get snooty about awards and it’s only from the people who went to and look. It is there are
problems with awards, undoubtedly, but there are external recognition of things that are going on,
whether it’s the EU search awards, UK search awards, or some of the marketing awards you got in for all
the great places to work and CIPD awards, it’s external recognition of the things that you are doing. So
while they are not the means, they are a great end to get to. So congratulations on that. A lot of work
goes into that. I don’t mean filling the form in to that point where people to win those. As we start to wrap
up, I’ve got two questions I’m going to come to you first, let’s talk about something that you got wrong.
Let’s just have a laugh. It’s coming up to Christmas, let’s find out something you did that went wrong. How
did you learn from it?
Many things in HR, specifically, you have to be very careful who you trust in this environment. I can talk to
anyone, I can tell everyone, and this is one of the things that I love about working. Out of all, I could go
and talk to an exec about what the SLT plans are and what we’re thinking, because if it doesn’t happen,
they know we’re trying and that’s we don’t have a hierarchy working here. Everybody has a level and they
understand from a competency perspective where they’re working to but in terms of who you can talk to,
you can trust anyone, you can bounce ideas off anyone, which is brilliant, especially in some of the I’m a
small we have a small team, a small people team. But the biggest thing for me, I guess, across my
career, was in previous roles, talking to the wrong people, not speaking to the right stakeholders,
bouncing ideas off people that didn’t really matter and not get an investment, I guess, in where I needed
it. And also being really critical of myself when I’ve made a typo or a confidentiality error. When it comes
to math letters or disciplinaries, that kind of thing, I’ve made many of those errors.
Well, if it’s any help, when it comes to that, I once sent a mailer out when I worked at Durham County
Cricket Club to about 80,000 people, maybe 85,000 people, and just to do a couple of cheques before we
sent it, I had to sort all the data just to make sure I got it right. So I sorted it all. There was a couple of
things we had to cheque, like we’d got the chairman right and various bits and bobs before we sent it. So I
checked all that, sent it off and off we went. What I’d actually done is sort just the last name column, not
the whole spreadsheet. So 80, 85,000, whatever it was, went out and everyone’s last name was wrong on
the database. So all that happened was after that, the phone lit up in the box office and they were like, oh,
we’re going to be selling loads of tickets. But it was like, no. Hi. My name is Andi Jarvis. You’ve sent me
this thing to Andi Mackintosh. Have you got my details right? No, we have, sorry. Okay. Phone Rings
Again hello. My name is Jeanette Hall. You’ve sent me this thing for Shannon Jarvis.
Three weeks, nonstop phone calls we had, so Bobby Robson’s piercing up at one point. He’s a friend of
the cricket club, but anytime she can get his name right.
Salary, adding the wrong salary to someone’s letter or the wrong name to someone’s salary, it’s a
massive fuck up, but you learn from it. And this is I helped Shannon, my HR assistant, and she’s fairly
new to her career, but she’s shit hot at these things as well. She saw panickety with attention to detail,
which is phenomenal in a HR person. But I constantly cheque and I’m like, I’m sorry, this isn’t you, this is
me. Because I know where and this is where intelligent failure comes in. You will never forget it.
Mine wasn’t an intelligent failure. I learned a lot. Listen, any mailing, any emails? I have a cheque process
now, so I learned from it and nobody died. What about you coming at you? There must be something.
I mean, crushed. I feel like I could write a book on mistakes. I’ve made some big and serious, some stupid
and funny, but I think there’s a sin, which is what got you here won’t get you there. And I think I was quite
late to actually realise that I read it the day. Yeah. So when we started the agency, I had this weird
romantic idea that some of the early hires would then go on to be the seniors, the heads of maybe even
directors in the business. And then with time, you have a lot of evidence in front of you that suggests that
actually they’re not the right people for the rule. And then you either have to hire above that individual and
when you obviously a small, tight knit team, that can be quite difficult. It’s actually quite pally with
everybody in the team, or you need to both hopefully come to the decision where actually it’s best for this
person to move on to a different role. And I think I was just way too keen to try and keep everybody
together and to keep everybody happy. And what happened as a result is that the business will suffer in
one way or another if somebody’s not right for that rule.
Yeah, it’s true, isn’t it? And people say, these are people at work, they’re not your mates. But when you
work in a small business, that’s not true, is it? You’re spending so much time with these people and
winning together, losing together. It’s kind of you form a bond and it’s really difficult to move through that.
And sometimes the company outgrows people and sometimes it’s the other way around. Sometimes
individual might outgrow the company or they’re just at a different stage of life and they want other things.
Just about having that honest conversation and not trying to force something together.
Yeah, definitely. My last question, then. I ask everyone, and I don’t even think I tipped you off about this,
but books, do you have any book recommendations for people? We always ask this at the end if you’re
interested in something, learning some more about some of the things we’ve talked about, or just a book
that was really useful for you during your career. Any recommendations that you would say for people?
There’s one that I recommended in the last agency update. Which was five Dysfunctions of a Team. Very
famous. Really? Sorry, Sonia. That’s our recommendation. You’ve got to go and read it now, because that
actually covers up a lot of what we’ve spoken about today around culture, about trust, around
psychological safety. And I think if people understand all of that, everything else just fits into place.
Yeah, perfect. You can have that as a joint recommendation between the two of you there. We have five
dysfunctions of the team. And there’s a link, if you are listening in the show notes, to click on that and it’ll
just take you straight on, have a look so you can get it. Listen, thank you very much for your time. So that
Ian and Janaid from Evolved, if you’re listening, thank you very much. We’ll be back in 2023 with the
same old stuff, the same jokes, the same questions for the same sort of structure to the podcast we are
about to announce, the kind of spotify wrapped for the strategy sessions. Basically, it’s an email that we’re
going to put out with the top five episodes on between Christmas and New Year that we’re going to write
this afternoon. So this episode won’t be in that because we’ve pulled all the data already. You’re not going
to be in the top episodes of the year, unfortunately. But thank you for listening. If you’ve been along for
the whole year, if you’re just new to this episode, because I’ve got two great guests here. Thank you for
Have a listen to the back catalogue. There’s some great stuff there’s probably about 45, 50 hours now of
me talking in the same shit joke. So thank you very much and have.