Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I am co-founder of a great start-up B2B marketing communications company called Morton Waters, based in Tunbridge Wells. I’m also a proud mum to my 2 year old daughter. I’m incredibly lucky to have the support of my family, as without their help, I’d struggle to wear both hats.
What’s your background/career path?
After completing my English Literature degree at the University of Leeds, I undertook a 3 month unpaid work experience placement at a PR and entertainment agency. This allowed me to gather a portfolio of work, which then proved vital in securing my first role as a PR Account Executive at a fantastic travel PR agency. Here I was fortunate enough to work with an incredible female Managing Director, who taught me disciplines and skills that I still practice today. As much as I loved my job here – and the amazing perks of leading press trips to far flung destinations – I needed more of a challenge, so I head to the City.
After a stint at a leading financial strategic communications agency in London and a year spent as an in-house communications manager at a language training company in Brighton, I moved into a more varied marketing role at a full service agency in Tunbridge Wells. This is where I met my now joint-partner, Charlotte.
Having worked here for a few years together, it was time for me to move on to a rapidly growing agency in Sussex. A year later, Charlotte joined our team, and we once again worked together across a range of B2B clients.
Tell me about your agency.
We started Morton Waters in June 2016. We’re a B2B marketing communications company, working across the security, technology, utilities and engineering sectors. By translating our clients’ often technical and complicated sales messages, we make the complex compelling, and deliver this through marketing activities such as media relations, email marketing, social media, website development and exhibitions.
There are no off-the-shelf packages – we create marketing strategies and deliver campaigns to meet each of our client’s specific business objectives. These campaigns are built on insight and fact, not assumptions, and could be designed to achieve brand awareness, lead generation, client referral, stakeholder communications or employee engagement.
The desire to see clients served well and achieve tangible results for them remains our key driver, but we also love the flexibility that working for ourselves brings, allowing us to work around our children’s timetables.
Having worked with Charlotte for six years across several different agencies before starting Morton Waters, I think I always knew that we’d start up in partnership, it was just a matter of timing.
She’s certainly the only person I’ve ever worked with that I thought I could do this with. On our way to a client meeting one day, sat on the train, we whizzed past the Courage building in Southwark and it seemed to be a sign! We made a decision then to be brave and just go for it.
What do you think are the most important issues for developing your company culture?
At the very beginning, Charlotte and I independently set out our vision for Morton Waters. When combining our thoughts, it was clear that we both felt strongly that it’s important for us to treat all the people we work with – clients, staff, contractors and suppliers – like they are humans, and this is central to our company culture and approach to client service.
Underpinning all activities is our belief that clients always have a choice, so client service is a top priority for us. When we worked in other agencies, we often heard other staff’s frustration that the client had changed their mind, or they didn’t like an idea or they were being difficult. We don’t believe in that attitude. We see our role as working in partnership with a client to achieve a clear end result which delivers on their business objectives. If our first attempt at achieving that result isn’t quite right, then we reassess and tweak activities accordingly.
We also recognise that one person can’t be an expert at everything, and we are open about each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We often describe ourselves as being two sides of the same coin, in that we share a common work ethic and core principles, but we think in different ways and bring different skills to the partnership. It’s being able to recognise these differences, and utilize them, that makes our partnership so strong. We take the same approach when working with others. We don’t want to pretend that we are a full service agency, when we are in fact sub-contracting certain things out, so instead we choose to be open with our clients and tell them upfront that we work with other talented, trusted specialists in key areas, such as web development and SEO. This gives our clients access to the best talent at a fair price and means we can sleep at night, knowing that we’re providing the very best service to clients.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a woman in business?
I don’t feel I have ever been held back by others because I’m a woman, but I have probably been guilty of holding myself back (particularly early in my career) due to my own self confidence. This is something that I believe only improves by really knowing your industry, learning from experience and constantly evolving your skills. Confidence is probably something I’ll always have to work on, it’s just who I am. It does drive me to continually improve though, which can only be a good thing.
The industries we choose to work in tend to be very male dominated, but I don’t think this is really an issue. In fact, sometimes I think being two females operating in this environment helps us to stand out, although we don’t make a point of playing on it. We focus on doing great work and letting the results speak for themselves.
For me, at the moment, my biggest challenge is trying to balance being a full time joint-partner in a fledgling agency and a great mum to my 2 year old girl, as well as retaining some form of social life (so I don’t go bonkers), and trying not to beat myself up too much about not giving enough time to my family, my business, friends, the ever increasing washing pile! The list is endless…
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 can’t say I’ve ever really considered this in the past, as across the agencies I’ve worked at the split has been roughly 50/50, but it sounds like this is the exception, which is a shame.
I don’t want to say it’s wholly down to women having career breaks to have children, but if I didn’t have the support of my mum, husband and a fantastic pre-school which my daughter loves, I would find it incredibly difficult to do what I’m doing now work-wise.
One of the great things about being in a partnership with another woman, who also has a family, is that whenever either one of us has a wobble, the other is there giving support and encouragement. We have each other’s backs.
Do you have a mentor, or are you a member of an agency owner community?
We haven’t currently got a mentor, but we would love to find one. When we first established Morton Waters, we looked to forge relationships in the local business community so that we could share ideas with other creatives, reaching out to local agencies that we admire – such as Yoyo Design – building a network of trusted partners and joining a co-working space. We’re also members of Pure B2B in Tunbridge Wells, which allows us to share thoughts with other business owners in the local area and has also resulted in some great new project wins.
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 think finding the right kind of support can be tricky. When setting up, Charlotte and I both had many years’ experience of working with clients and delivering successful campaigns. What we didn’t have was experience of running our own business. Gaining this has been a steep learning curve, and it’s this area where I feel many new agency owners could use some additional support and guidance.
What other female founders inspire you?
My business partner, Charlotte, obviously! I wouldn’t have gone into business with someone I didn’t feel inspired by. She has an incredibly questioning mind, and I find the way she problem solves remarkable.
Now that I have an insight into what it takes to set up and build a business, I’m inspired by anyone – female or male – who is brave enough to leave the relative safety of working for an established company to set up on their own. It takes courage, tenacity and personal sacrifice.
What do you think makes a great agency?
Strategic thinking – approaching every brief with a load of questions and fully understanding what the business objectives are, then tailoring activities to achieve those objectives.
Truly understanding your clients’ customers – taking the time and digging deep to get to the bottom of what drives people to take the desired action, then communicating the messages which resonate with them through the channels they occupy.
A genuine passion for the industries you work in and a drive to deliver the best client service – this isn’t really something you can fake, so choose your clients wisely.
Talented people with current skills – no one can build a successful business on their own, so for me people are hugely important. Finding people you like to work with and are great at what they do, and treating those people with the respect they deserve so that they stick around.
Honesty and courage – It’s important to understand the client’s wishes, and deliver on those without being sycophantic. Being honest and having the courage to offer advice that may seem contrary to the client’s wishes, if experience and results suggest it’s in their best interests, can sometimes be challenge.
What would be your one piece of advice to future female leaders?
Just go for it, but make sure you know your shit!