Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I started in PR at Burson Marsteller, working in healthcare and then worked in agencies within the Lowe Group and Bell Pottinger, including with Lord Bell himself on the Opal Fruits/Starburst name change. I worked on some fantastic household names such as Twix, Anadin, Sodastream and Tomy Toys before moving into the B2B sector with retailer focused campaigns for Unilever and Panasonic. PR morphed into content marketing, and then general marketing communications. Next up came the worlds of geotechnical monitoring, security, construction and surveying, and I discovered that what interested me the most was making complex messaging compelling.
Tell me about your agency.
We focus primarily on helping companies find profitable customers for their B2B services and products. Michelle and I worked together in two different agencies and always felt that, if we could be brave and break away from the ‘security’ of an agency, we’d make a good team. We finally found our balls and created Morton Waters in June 2016.
We want to create a different business to the ones we’ve worked in before which allows us to build specialist teams to deliver bespoke projects for clients rather than asking staff to wear a number of different hats. We believe it serves the clients and staff best because everyone is focused on their specialism not being generalists who have to rush off to Google ‘how to do SEO in 10 easy steps’.
What do you think are the most important issues for developing your company culture?
For us, it’s about being a human. Just because you run a business it doesn’t mean you stop being a human. Put responsibility onto people, explain why you believe they can take it, trust them to do the job and support them where necessary. We’ve worked in agencies before where hard-working staff had to take a day’s holiday to go to a grandfather’s funeral ‘because he wasn’t close family’ – that’s not going to create the type of working environment I want to be a part of.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a women in business?
My natural instinct is to apologise …. “Sorry for chasing you to pay the invoice”, “sorry for reminding you are holding up the process that we’re accountable to”, etc. I’ve had to try to remove the phrase ‘just wondering’ from emails because it softens the message too much. We have to be commercially-minded and that’s easy to put aside when you’re concerned about being pushy about telling a client they are holding up their own success by not sending information through.
I also think you’re always vulnerable as a woman – a male business owner in a bar with a male client is always just going to be a mate, not always the assumption when you’re a woman. That’s a tricky moment you need to avoid but it’s a fine line to tread between what you think is friendly and what someone else sees as flirty.
The Wow Company’s recent survey of 471 agency owners across the UK has the figures as Female 27% – Male 73%. Can you share you thoughts on this?
From my experience, it’s fear that stops women more than anything else. Fear that other people will look and judge you, fear that you’re not good enough. And that’s such as shame because we’re holding ourselves back from something that there’s no reason we shouldn’t be great at. This past year has taught me so much about my capability and shown me there is no need for fear, and that’s a lesson I’d love to have got 10-15 years ago.
Do you have a mentor, or are you a member of an agency owner community?
Not yet – we’re looking!
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?
I’d like a group that is happy to put commercial interests aside temporarily so we can offer advice based on experience and support based on a shared understanding. I think that we have to accept that our individual brands and approach will differentiate us enough that we aren’t competing for work, and instead give us the opportunity to be vulnerable and open to new ideas, and reap the rewards that could bring.
What other female founders inspire you?
One of the agencies I enjoyed working at the most had a female co-founder (Julia Cook at Lowe Fusion, now at StepBack Healthcare) and she was great – fair, fun, knowledgeable, respected. She taught me a lot and I had a lot of fun there. Tricia Moon at Green Moon was another – she set up and led the agency to win some fantastic clients and ultimately be acquired by a highly respected network. Jenny Kitchen was someone whose approach I admired and so we were thrilled to get to work with Yoyo on their project with the RSPCA.
I don’t think I admire them particularly because they’re women though – I like what they’re doing irrespective of their sex.
What do you think makes a great agency?
We put a lot of emphasis on client service – which could be why we have a 9.8 rating on RAR – because we understand that clients’ have a choice and we need to show them they made the right one. We work hard to deliver for them and usually over service (forgetting our need to be commercial!) but doing that means we can sleep well at night knowing we have done our best.
What would be your one piece of advice to future female leaders?
I have two teenage daughters and I don’t think they would listen to any of my advice. They are more confident and capable than I was at their age and I hope that is indicative of young women’s attitudes across the board.
But if could get them to listen to anything it would be that working for yourself is just as accessible as working for someone else, and the autonomy it brings gives you more relief, freedom and joy than it does stress. Whatever sex you are, if you think you are good at something and have considered setting up an agency, be brave, take the leap and hold onto that vision when the times get tough.