Tell me a little bit about yourself. What’s your background/career path?
I was lucky to grow up in various countries and later as an adult I travelled around and worked my way around the globe over three continents. My upbringing is a bit mixed up because I grew up in Portugal, went to French school, finished school and University in UK.
I started off my career in the ad agency world in London, and my first job out of University was in the music industry, at an indie record label called Knight Records.
Working in various markets and industries (including; Advertising, Music, Mining, Beer, Photography/Film, Outward Bound) has given me quite a different perspective on business, and what works in different geographic regions such as Africa, New Zealand and Europe.
Tell me about your agency. What is it you do and what prompted you to start up your own?
Having worked agency and client side, I noticed a communication gap between PR and Advertising agencies working for the same client so I founded and ran Salamandra in Johannesburg from 2006 because I wanted to link the two sectors under one roof to work as a joined up team for clients, and that really worked for us because it created a flow of communication and enabled the disciplines to work cohesively together. After working for a stint in New Zealand, again agency and client side, I came back to the UK and started Salamandra here, but by that stage I’d really fallen in love with Animation as a medium for visual brand story telling, so I incorporated that into Salamandra.uk and we now convey complex messages via Animation, Brand, and Web services for our clients as a means of getting their visual Brand story across.
We’re an agile team of ten, which is a really good manageable number to work collaboratively and stay connected to all projects. It helps that everyone gets on really well. We just moved to bigger premises in Eton. Before that we were literally 30 paces from the entrance of Windsor Castle with all its wonderful historic pomp and ceremony – we never got tired of the changing of the guards and even learned to decipher which regiments were performing by the number of buttons on their jackets! We’ve got a number of people in the office as well as those who work remotely, and we can scale up really quickly for larger projects, so it’s a cool set up.
In fact you can check out what we do in a nutshell here: https://vimeo.com/231087665 Let me know if our Brand story is told succinctly!
We’re delighted that more and more businesses are recognising the power of animation and even the more ‘serious’ businesses such as finance companies are choosing our animated explainers as a great way to explain their products and services at varying technical levels and through so many channels. We work in a number of styles and mediums such as 2D, 3D, Stop Motion and Motion Graphics as well as live footage – and we love mixing up these platforms. Animations don’t have to look ‘cartoony’, because we create any style you like, from painterly, to isometric to 2½ D! These explainers can be serious, quirky, go right inside a product, have a human or humorous touch, or very abstract. We’ve worked for pharmaceuticals, for Blockbuster movie franchises, start up one-person bands, charities and FTSE100 companies. We also work on secret projects under NDA, with other agencies, that we can’t talk about, which is both very exciting because of the brands we are working with, and sad because we can’t share any of these projects!
Covering all aspects of visual Brand marketing we also work in Brand and Web services, and we’ve found that even if we only work on a part of our services for a client, because we are skilled in the other sectors, we know whatever we produce will dovetail with other projects the clients is doing, whether with Salamandra.uk or another agency.
What do you think are the most important issues for developing your company culture?
In our office there’s no such thing as a stupid question and everyone has a voice. In fact, when we have new work in, everybody gets briefed on it so that we can get a collaborative set of ideas from different perspectives, and you’d be amazed how that helps with creativity. Also, I meet up with each member of the team every 4 to 6 weeks for a one to one catch-up, which helps to keep communications lines open with everyone to avoid any issues and enable a cohesive team.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a woman in business?
I haven’t noticed anything specific to being a woman, to be honest. Running your own business is just darned hard work! But maybe I haven’t been paying attention. I think the hardest thing for starting up Salamandra in the UK was building up all our contacts and reputation, after being out of the country for 20 years…
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?
I thought Peter’s survey was quite telling and interesting. But I don’t know why there is that ratio. I wonder whether it’s an agency thing or an entrepreneurial thing. Are there more male entrepreneurs than female entrepreneurs? Though this seems unlikely, because there are so many female start-ups and lots that have done phenomenally well. I belong to the Agency Collective which is a great set up for agency owners who want to grow their business, and I have noticed that the vast majority of members are men!!
Do you have a mentor, or are you a member of an agency owner community?
I have had mentors in the past and I think that if you find a good one, it’s brilliant and invaluable.
I remember years ago asking a lady, during a committee meeting at a Women In Business Club that I had been invited to, to be my mentor and I got told categorically, to ‘Get lost’ and the comment somewhere down the line that “you’ll have to learn like the rest of us”. I thought this quite unbelievable, and was really taken aback. It took me ages to get over that and I just thought, my goodness, that’s so wrong, I was livid. It struck me then and at various times since, that it is a shame that we as females seem to police each other in all the wrong ways and seem more willing to support men than our own kind in business. In my career, I’ve found men actually more willing to mentor me.
Yes, I am a member of Agency Collective as mentioned just now and I was delighted when I went to my first function. It wasn’t clear to me how it would work with competing companies getting together and talking each other. So, I went with some cynicism but came away delighted, thinking gosh everyone is open and willing to chat and collaborate, and I thought what a really refreshing recipe for success. The agency owners were far more willing to talk about things than I expect them to be. It’s highly competitive but equally really inspiring to see how open members are and how willing they are to share information.
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?
Getting financial backing or business loans is not easy for nascent businesses and I do wonder whether men are considered more seriously than women in this respect.
What other female founders inspire you?
I don’t know enough! But I hear you are organizing to put a number of female founders together and I applaud this idea.
What do you think makes a great agency?
I think edgy imagination and teamwork. Also really linking up the dots, making sure that everything, all factors and aspects of a project are considered before you present anything to your client.
We use our five senses if necessary to think about a particular problem. And I think clients expect agencies to be a bit risqué, and be a bit outrageous in your thinking, though they may not in the end choose the risqué option. I think it’s about really listening to your client and totally understanding whom they’re talking to and need to engage with, and what are that audience’s pain points.
What would be your one piece of advice to future female leaders?
Pick your team carefully and don’t give up! Pick people who are passionate and have a similar drive. Find clients who buy into that passion. That sounds really trite, but it works and the biggest kick I get is from clients coming back to us and saying, “Oh my Goodness, you guys are amazing, you really understand our business and our audience and what you’ve created is even better than we anticipated.” And then they go online and talk about our work and refer us to other businesses. That is just incredibly rewarding for us and really gets my whole team going.