5 Minutes with... Michael Tomes: the all-new Creativepool
Last week was a big week for Creativepool: after months and months in the making, the new Creativepool website went live. So to crown its first full week of existence, we have the first ever interview with Michael Tomes, Creativepool’s Managing Director. He’s telling me where it started, where it’s been, where it is now and where it’s going.
Michael, thanks for taking time out to answer these questions after what I know has been a pretty intense past few months for you and the team. It’s clear that Creativepool has come on leaps and bounds since its inception – but what was the essence of your idea for the company way back when you first launched it in 2007?
The idea of Creativepool started out as a way to bring companies and creatives together. When I began Creativepool those many moons ago, the kind of technology that is around today wasn’t available. It has taken the whole Creativepool team working tirelessly (and still it goes on) to achieve these radical changes. An industry network designed around the needs of companies and the needs of individual creatives. The whole premise of the site involves putting members’ work front and centre, and giving people the unique opportunity to connect through the work they make. Hence our strapline, “It’s all about the work”!
A bold step, if I may say, to not only launch your idea but to do so miles away from your native New Zealand. What’s your background prior to forming Creativepool?
I’ve been in the UK for quite some time now. I studied Economics in Otago in New Zealand where I grew up, before moving to England in 1999. I had my own small design firm in a little place called Mount Maunganui but to be fair I wasn’t a particularly great designer. On leaving NZ, three mates and I attempted to cycle our way to the UK. Unfortunately, we hadn’t really thought the process through and made it to Singapore before running out of cash. I’ve worked on a number of design projects with different agencies including Maher Bird Associates since being here. I’ve always been one to sink my teeth into a challenge and have even dabbled in property renovation.
You’re the head honcho – the Managing Director. But you certainly don’t sit in an ivory tower; you’re on the shop floor with the rest of your team. Can you tell me what your average day at Creativepool might involve?
There’s always a lot going on! My time is split between overseeing website development, marketing, account management, and I’ve always got a keen eye open for new opportunities and business partnerships. We kick every week off with a Monday morning meeting – despite the protest of many of the team as the 9am sharp start isn’t their favourite. But by Friday afternoon we’re winding down with a beer in the office while we plan the week ahead.
Ah, that Friday beer feeling! And one that’s good for morale, too. It’s a well-worn phrase that companies are about people, and the success of Creativepool suggests that you have a great team around you. What sort of passions do the people who work for you – or with you – need to have?
A passion for the work they do and a life outside the company – we like to work hard and play harder. Everyone here is interested in the creative industry – and is creative in one way or another. People need to be able to think for themselves and to also have a passion for what they do. I have little time for people who come and just do their job. No matter what you are doing, you should have a drive to do the best that you can while you do it – whether that be stacking shelves or being the CEO. You’ll get a lot more satisfaction out of your day if you do it to the best of your abilities.
So now, six years on, has Creativepool evolved in the way that you had hoped and/or expected?
Yes. Completely. We have developed a platform that redefines how people and companies interact on the web. Gone are the days when what you did as an individual was only ever about you. The new Creativepool website gives the companies’ most important asset a voice in what they do for that company, a place where they can be proud of what they have achieved by showing how they are linked to the output of the company. For the users of Creativepool, who come to see the work, they are no longer faced with an impersonal “product page”; instead they are presented with an intimate picture of the product with both the company and the person who has created it proudly defined.
The concept has far-reaching implications – and we realise this is not limited to the creative industry. Imagine being able to go a website and see who really made that pair of trainers you wear, the guy/girl on the production line, the marketing professional, the designer, the distributor. To be topical (in the UK, at least), imagine a website where you could see where your beef has come from – which company was responsible for which ingredient in your microwave lasagne. This is empowerment for everyone: the companies who care about their consumers and their product, the savvy consumer, the hardworking individuals.
Last year you moved from some really cool but quite small premises in a converted clock factory to your current premises right in the heart of design capital Clerkenwell. So you’ve obviously moved on in leaps and bounds and that means a bigger workforce. Are we looking at world domination here?
We've already been dubbed the LinkedIn for creatives and the Pinterest for brands. But the concept has bigger plans. We want to prove to the world that this platform is true to the "principles of the internet". The thing for me that makes the internet such an astounding place is that it empowers the individual. That a blogger with a love of shoes in some small town away from everything has the power to influence, to broadcast, to inform outside of the mainstream media. We're taking it another step and letting each and every person who works on anything to have their place in history, to tag their name on what work they have done and proudly say “iMadeit”.
I was lucky enough to be able to see the beta version of the new website. It’s really changed a lot and I’m loving the fresh new look. What’s new that wasn’t there before?
Everything. Well, almost everything. The focus before was on being a closed network that was very much focused on you as an individual being able to showcase your work. Now the site is an integrated website like no other. We have taken the best that is already out there and taken things to another level. It's all about the work now – hence our strapline. It's all about the work and how the companies and people who made the product interact with that product. Imagine it as a visual CV, a full graphical and interactive list of all of the work you have ever done in your life. A trail of products and things that you helped to create. Imagine being able to go onto Nike’s page and see a chronological list of all of the products that they have ever created. Imagine seeing Apple’s page! Then imagine that every person who was involved in the product being listed, and on their page being able to see everything they have created. The possibilities of what this website can do is truly inspirational.
Got a favourite feature?
I'm not sure I have a favourite, but I hope that people grasp the power of the platform: that they realise what the tool is and use it to its zenith; that people understand that Creativepool is no longer just about “you”, or just about the company; that the shared pride over what we produce is what matters, not only to the company and the employee but also to the consumer, to the people who love a brand. Being able to peel back the layer of the product and see who was involved at every level is empowering for all involved: consumer, company and, of course, you and me – the people that have made it.
One of my favourite areas of the new site is the “Magazine” section. What inspired you to launch that area, rather than just having the blogs as you had before?
There’s so much great content out there, we needed a vehicle to share it. The Magazine has advice, opinions, interviews with top agency and in-house creatives, news and events. Our company members benefit from extensive coverage and we have a dedicated press centre where they can upload their press releases directly.
We also publish a fortnightly newsletter containing the most popular articles, and featuring the hottest new talent on Creativepool.
Your core membership has grown exponentially. I’ve been one of Creativepool’s bloggers for a few years now and I think the membership has pretty much doubled in that time. What do you think has been the key to that success?
We listen to our members – they’re the most important thing about what we do. That’s where our strapline “it’s all about the work” came from, and we take this ethos seriously. When people tell us what we like, we do it more, and when they tell us what they don’t like, we make every effort to improve.
We have a really pro-active and friendly account management team who are always being commended on the levels of service they provide.
So is part of the reason for the facelift to attract an even wider audience?
Yes, I guess so – but to be honest, I haven't thought about it that way. For me, Creativepool is a personal project in many ways. We want to make it an extension of the web. It’s going back to what I believe are the first principles of the web: a place where the media that we consume are no longer the bastion of organisations and media owners. It’s a place where we can all have our voices heard; a place for us all to take pride in and showcase what we do, and to interact with what we like and the people behind it.
Thanks, Michael, for really taking apart the ethos and ideology behind Creativepool for us. As we’ve said, the company is really growing and moving forward in leaps and bounds, but it’s also getting a lot more personal too. And the reason for that, of course, is because… “It’s all about the work!”
Ashley Morrison is a blogger, copywriter and editor.