Tell me a little bit about yourself. What’s your background/career path?
I’ve been in the agency world for about 24 years, originally joining an agency at 16 as a YT trainee production assistant. At that point I’d just left school, with no qualifications and no idea about what I wanted to do, but I quickly fell in love with the agency environment. I then spent years grabbing every opportunity, asking lots of questions and learning from everyone.
From starting as a production assistant I worked my way up to production manager, print buyer, client services assistant, client services manager until I became an account director with my own department at one of the biggest agencies, at the time, in East Anglia. At this point I also became a mum for the first time and realised that I needed some flexibility, so when my daughter was six months old I started my own marketing consultancy with the intention of only working part-time, within 18 months I was full-time and my second daughter was on the way. While working as a consultant I’d forged a partnership with a freelance designer and we decided to merge our businesses and clients. When my second daughter was eight weeks old we formed osbornenash a design agency that very quickly grew from two to a team of eight. After four years I had the opportunity to become the sole owner of osbornenash and took the company through a rebrand and journey of repositioning to become a multi award winning strategic brand communications agency.
Tell me about your agency. What is it you do and what prompted you to start up your own?
borne is a brand communications agency that delivers creative solutions with a strategic rationale. There’s soon to be 13 of us split between creatives, developers, strategists, client services and essential services. We’re based in Norwich with an office in London, that we use on an ad hoc basis, and work with clients regionally and nationally.
I’ve always loved this industry and from very early on I knew that I would set up my own agency, I wanted to take all of the best bits from all the agencies I’d worked at – the culture, the talent, the way client relationships were nurtured and do it in my own way. One lesson I’ve taken with me is to always employ people who are better than you and I believe I’ve done that – I’m surrounded every day by incredible creative talent and people who love this industry as much as I do – its difficult to call what I do ‘work’.
As a single mum I also need flexibility, as I want the best of both worlds, but I knew the only way I could do this was to set up on my own. If I don’t get enough time with my children my work suffers, and I believe that every person that works here should have the same flexibility I’m lucky enough to get. Which is why I believe that flexibility and trust is such an important part of our culture. I know my team will deliver 110% but I also know they need time to lead their lives and not miss out on things important to them because of work.
What do you think are the most important issues for developing your company culture?
To remain flexible and personal as we grow. We all know each other, we celebrate together, we know when someone’s not having a good day and we talk about our lives and know each other’s families. We don’t have a policy for everything, we don’t micromanage and leadership is largely collaborative. This culture is part of the reason borne attracts the talent it does but I’m aware that as the agency grows we are going to have to work extra hard to maintain this.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a woman in business?
To be taken seriously. I came in as a young girl with no qualifications and had to challenge the stereotype that I was automatically cast in. I feel I had to work even harder, put in longer hours and show more drive than my male colleagues to gain the respect I wanted from my peers. It’s the same now but it’s not so much about respect as a business woman, as I think I have that, but it’s the uncertainty I can come face to face when I mention I’m a mum – you can almost see people starting to worry that my priorities are elsewhere.
The Wow Company’s recent survey of 471 agency owners across the UK has the figures as Female 27% – Male 73%. Can you share your thoughts on this?
It doesn’t surprise me unfortunately – but I don’t understand why it’s so low. I think agency culture can be responsible for this but not solely. I think we need to be reaching out to young girls as teachers, parents and influencers working with them so that it’s not a matter of ‘I wish’ but a matter of ‘when’. Our industry isn’t unique either regarding male v female ratios, so this needs to be a change of behaviour full stop.
Do you have a mentor, or are you a member of an agency owner community?
No I don’t have a mentor and am not a member of any agency owner community
Do you feel as a female agency founder, they offer the level of support you need? Do you need additional support that isn’t currently available?
Locally I don’t feel like there’s anything support wise, but I’m lucky in that I have a large network of individuals that I can call on when needed, so I probably haven’t looked into this in great detail. Something I would like to look into though is school mentoring programmes and how I can get involved in supporting and encouraging young people into their career paths.
What other female founders inspire you?
Michelle Mone, Ultimo – totally driven in everything.
What do you think makes a great agency?
Being exciting and valuable to anyone that crosses its path
What would be your one piece of advice to future female leaders?
Be brave, always aim for further than you think you can get and treat mistakes as something to learn from and an opportunity for improvement.