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The midlands agency that understands the quirks and irrationality of human nature | #CompanySpotlight

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For this week’s company spotlight, we’re looking to the Midlands for a change and getting to know a little more about one of Creativepool’s top 20 marketing agencies

The Birmingham-based Big Cat is an agency of strategists, creatives and communications experts that strive to turn ideas into distinctive brands.

A decidedly playful agency, Big Cat are interested in the instinctive ideas that understand the quirks and irrationality of human nature and are experts at moulding those ideas into inspiring and ambitious campaigns. 

They are not interested in KPIs and sales data. For them, it’s all about drawing on human instinct and turning it into powerful reasoning that gets people to buy, care, think, feel and do stuff for all kinds of brands.

Today, we caught up with Founder and CEO Anthony Tattum to discuss everything creative.

How was your company born and where are you based?

Our company was born in a slightly unconventional way. I was a club promoter across the Midlands, which is really the OG form of marketing. From the connections I made doing that, people started asking for help promoting and marketing other things and other facets of their business, initially in the leisure and entertainment space.

It really just grew organically from there. Today, we have become a fully integrated creative marketing agency based in the JQ, Birmingham

What was the biggest challenge to the growth of your company?

Like many other agencies, COVID hit us hard. We proudly represented a ton of amazing hospitality, retail and leisure brands and, of course, they were hit even harder than we were. Since then we had to reformat our business structure, which included opening up new sectors, and growing our network of consultants and experts, so we could offer a more tailored and fluid operating model.

With this transition there have been a lot of growing pains, but also a lot of new opportunities and ways of working that we’ve really enjoyed. 

Which was the first huge success that you can remember?

The first big win for the agency was working with Coventry University way back in 2000. We took over the management and the marketing for their 1900 capacity event venue.

This was the first major commercial contract we had secured and really set us on a path to working with larger clients and larger scale projects. It also solidified our position as a real player in the industry and a force to be reckoned with! 

What’s the biggest opportunity for you and your company in the next year?

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We are starting to see hospitality come alive again and believe next year we will be back on track in that sector. We see a huge opportunity to gain back our reputation as hospitality specialists across the UK and be a backbone for the industry by delivering successful launches and ROI. 

Can you explain your team’s creative process? What makes it unique?

What makes us unique is we exclusively sub-contract creative work. That means we can work with a myriad of Creative Directors rather than being dedicated to one. The result is that we can work with the right creative director for each piece of business.

This allows us to really tailor our approach and ensure the we always have the right person for the job. It also is really great for the creatives themselves as they get to work on business that is up their alley and it really shows in what they deliver. In end we get incredible creative, from someone who loved working on the project and clients who are just as excited by it as we are. 

How does your team remain inspired and motivated?

A big thing for us is transparency. Time and time again I’ve seen companies keep their financials and other “health signs” of the business a secret to everyday staff. For us, we do the exact opposite. We are very open with our staff about everything.

Sharing not only targets vs. actuals, but things like our monthly operating costs and cost to cover all salaries monthly. It makes everyone feel a part of the same mission and we see it resulting in a stronger community spirit within the agency. Oh, and a wicked good party… that too.  

How has COVID-19 affected your company?

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COVID has been good and bad for business. It meant that many of our legacy clients fell away. A large portion of our team went on furlough and we even had to make several redundancies. Morale took as much of a hit as revenue. On the flip we have built an incredible network of ex-agency veterans, which allows us to collaborate with the right peeps to solve each unique brand challenge.

Having less client work through much of 2020 we were able to concentrate on honing our proposition, uniques, operating model, sales strategy and other cool stuff that agency’s do for clients all the time but never get to do for themselves. We’re still rebuilding our client base and revenue, but with lower costs, a clear direction and a freshly minted B Corp certification, we’re being a lot more choosy who we work with.

Which agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?

As part of our shuffle during COVID, one thing we did that we are really proud of is get clued-up on all things Behavioural Science by the legend, Richard Shotton. We’ve always been really fascinated by marketing effectiveness and personally I am a huge science and marketing geek, so it is a match made in heaven for me.

So, I guess for me, as much as there are amazing agencies out there, I am really inspired more by books and podcasts about Behavioural Science and new ways of thinking about human behaviour and influencing people. Recently I started reading Alchemy by Ogilvy Chairman, Rory Sutherland, who is another one of my heroes. 

What is one tip that you would give to other agencies looking to grow?

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Treat your own business as a client. It’s easy to work so much on client brands, but forget to apply the same principles you sell to others to yourself. We do a ton of marketing of our own agency whether it is through email, social or even direct mail. We aren’t afraid to shout about our successes and neither should you.

Further, the best way to prove you can do something for others it to show how you’ve done it for ourselves. We’ve worked really hard to have a stellar SEO ranking and social feed, and so it’s a lot easier now to sell this in to clients. 

How do you go about finding new clients/business? (Pitching, work with retainers, etc.)

Pitching is a big thing for us. We put a lot of effort into each one so we are very selective on projects we pitch for. In terms of finding opportunities, I think it’s about having a number of routes to market and many active channels. Like we tell our clients, agencies should maximise physical and mental availability.

For agencies this means make sure you’re easily brought to mind and easy to find. We achieve these goals through having a well optimised and designed website, engaging social feeds, and email lead-gen campaigns. We also work with intermediaries like Columba and the GO! Network.

We’ll often go old school by sending out DMs and tweets. We also try to feature regularly in the local business and marcomms trade. Finally, I make sure I’m out and about networking constantly plus contacting my many connections on LinkedIn.

What’s your one big hope for the future of the industry?

At Big Cat we invest a lot in CPD, learning and development for agency staff at all levels. We’re a member of the IPA (the chartered Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) and take their chartered status very seriously.

My one hope is that the marketing and advertising industry will be seen in the same light as accountancy, architecture, healthcare: professional, accountable, highly educated and focused on outcomes.

Do you have any websites, books or resources that you would recommend?

I love marketing and behavioural science books. My top three would be:

  • The Choice Factory by Richard Shotton
  • The Behaviour Business by Richard Chataway
  • Alchemy by Rory Sutherland 

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