Tell me a little bit about yourself. What’s your background/career path?
I’m 40, married and have two children.
My educational background is languages – French and Spanish – and this has proved a great academic foundation to build upon. Early on in my career, it was a great door opener. Although I do not use my language skills at work, the literary aspect of my degree has meant that I am a proficient and confident writer which has been essential to my career success – within marketing – and now running an agency.
After a brief spell working for a trading company (that was not for me!), I worked in marketing in-house which exposed me to most disciplines within the marketing mix which has prepared me well for agency life.
Tell me about your agency. What is it you do and what prompted you to start up your own?
Distinctly is a search marketing agency with a proven track record of helping businesses grow through SEO, PPC, digital PR and related services. We support ambitious businesses, looking to grow aggressively within competitive industries and convert online visibility into increased revenue.
I am the Commercial Director of Distinctly. Agency life happened rather by accident rather than design. Tom, the MD, approached me to join Distinctly about 6 months into its inception. We worked from his spare room initially before moving to our first office. That was over 6 years ago now and we’re now in our third office with a team of 16 (and growing)!
What do you think are the most important issues for developing your company culture?
Company culture is something we’re particularly passionate about and defining our own unique culture has been a very important discipline as we’ve grown. It may seem like something that just evolves but you need to be far more prescriptive than that. An agency is only good as it’s people and if your culture is not defined and articulated to all your team then it won’t have the desired effect.
A key element of this is authenticity. Fast becoming a cliché in marketing circles; when it comes to culture it really is important. From a leadership point of view, this is central to building trust, strong relationships and empowering the team.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a woman in business?
I think it’s still very difficult for women in business. Having started out in professional services, the majority of the key decision makers were male and middle aged. Not only could that be intimidating but I also know that I had to work harder than my male counterparts to achieve promotions, pay rises and bonuses.
However, nothing could have prepared me for the challenges I faced as a mother in business. With two small children I ended up accepting voluntary redundancy due to the pressures and lack of support. Fortunately, it led me to a more fulfilling career however I do not feel that mothers should have to face that level of adversity.
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?
As shocking as these statistics are they are not overly-surprising. In the 90s, the statistics would have been closer to Male 95% and beyond this that would be 95% ‘male and pale’. The industry has a lot to do to address both a lack of female leaders and a lack of diversity at the top.
What other female founders inspire you?
From a retail and founder point of view, I have always been inspired by the likes of Chrissie Rucker (The White Company) and Anya Hindmarch. Both entrepreneurial women with fantastic business acumen and a proven track record of growing businesses at the same time as raising children.
From an agency point of view, Karen Blackett of Mediacom, is a fantastic example of a strong woman who has reached the top through sheer hard work, self-belief and talent. She is still the only senior black woman in the advertising industry which she is working hard to address.
What do you think makes a great agency?
The key ingredient to a great agency is its people. Recruit the very best people available and nurture them. This takes time, energy and dedication but the return is huge.
What would be your one piece of advice to future female leaders?
Be bold, take risks and have self-belief. I have seen far too many men get noticed ahead of their female counterparts due to their more bullish nature.