Some of the best agencies and pieces of creative work in this industry are often born out of simplicity and clarity of vision. The story of Something Big, one of the Top 20 communications agencies on Creativepool, isn't much different in that respect.
Quite interestingly, the team at Something Big loves dealing with challenges and disruption, as new lessons can always be learnt from these unparalleled situations. The company was born with a people-first culture, and judging by the story you can read below, it will keep living up to those values, looking to make this industry an incredibly special place to be.
For this Company Spotlight, we are learning more about the story of Something Big from CEO and Co-Founder Sally Pritchett.
How was your company born and where are you based?
You could say, the Something Big story started with a pub, a back bedroom and a vision to do it better. Back in 1999 my co-founder, Nick Butcher, was a super talented creative at an agency and I was a client-side marketer working with several agencies. We’d meet in the pub and put the agency world to rights. We felt there was so much that could be done better and then we realised we could do something about it.
We had a simple vision, to build an agency that had creativity, passion, commercially strategic solutions, a commitment to the fast turnarounds clients needed, and really strong moral ethics. It turned out it wasn’t just us that thought this was what clients were looking for. We quickly grew out of Nick’s back bedroom and grew ever bigger teams with larger offices as more and more clients joined us. Now, over 20 years later, you could say the rest is history.
What was the biggest challenge to the growth of your company?
The hardest part has probably also been the most exciting which is dealing with disruption, uncertainty and general change. From economic disruption, like the financial crash in 2008, to more recently the impact of COVID which has caused businesses to lose confidence and clients struggle to hold onto their budgets.
When we founded the business our strapline was ‘design, print & creative’. It feels strange now to think the word print was there because channels like web, email, social and video just didn’t really exist. The communications landscape has evolved at such speed, and it’s brought many opportunities but has also given us the challenge of which direction to grow the agency, and how to grow profitably.
Which was the first huge success that you can remember?
There are so many happy memories over the years, but one of my favourites was a pitch win that took us to a completely new level. We were a team of under ten at the time working out of a barely converted farm unit, but one of our clients saw our potential and asked us to pitch against a huge global, network agency. Knowing we couldn’t compete like for like we just gave it our all, stayed true to ourselves and our creativity, honesty and commercially savvy solutions won the day. That was a pretty sweet win.
What’s the biggest opportunity for you and your company in the next year?
There’s no doubt the pandemic has been really tough, but I have real optimism for 2021. Our clients are bouncing back and are on a mission to get their own success back on track. As a ‘creative communications agency’ we work on both external and internal communications. At the moment both sides of our business are thriving, our larger clients are working hard on their employee engagement, looking after their teams wellbeing and keeping their culture strong during remote working, while other clients are transforming their business models and pushing themselves hard on marketing. We’re busy and forecasting a strong recovery this year.
Can you explain your team’s creative process?
The words ‘creative’ and ‘process’ are sometimes like magnets repelling each other but one of the things that’s built into our team is that we’re all creative. Ideas can come from the finance team or Account Directors as well as from our creatives, so collaboration is a big part of how we find the magic. We also try hard to listen well and get curious about the problems our clients bring us. Like many things, the better the preparation the better the result, so we try hard not to just dive in with solutions before understanding what we’re trying to achieve.
How does your team remain inspired and motivated?
We’ve always had a ‘people first’ culture. I work on the premise that if I can keep our team happy, they keep our clients happy and that makes the business work. It might sound simple but it hasn’t failed me yet. Taking this strategy seriously means putting a lot of effort into our people, genuinely caring about their wellbeing, development, environment, relationships, pride and physical and mental health. It serves us well and I couldn’t be more honoured and lucky to work with such an amazing team.
How has COVID-19 affected your company?
When COVID hit it made an immediate impact. The rug got pulled out from underneath us with projects cancelled and clients going into hibernation. We went straight into crisis management. A year on, I’m really proud of how we responded, we had a clear recovery plan and worked our way through various difficult decisions, and today our business is stronger than it’s ever been.
Which individuals do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?
There are so many great creatives in the industry doing great work, I love how the simplest ideas can come from anywhere and COVID seems to have brought out some great creativity in the industry. One Minute Briefs is also a great platform for spotting budding new talent. To put a name to my current hero I’d say Mary Portas. Whilst I’d admire the huge creativity and bravery she’s shown in her career, what I really love is that she’s using her ethics and values to speak up and lead a manifesto for change.
What is one tip that you would give to other aspiring creatives looking for work?
Be yourself. It’s great to admire other people but don’t aspire to them or think that they’re right and you’re wrong. Go with what’s in your head, heart or gut. Your idea might be the best, so ignore the little imposter-syndrome voice and be confident.
What’s your one big hope for the future of the industry?
Back in the pub all those years ago, one of the biggest frustrations I had with the industry was the lack of ethics. Huge retainer fees for little return, pricing structures that made no sense and an intentional mystery around the creative process. It’s all improved hugely over the last couple of decades, but I’d love to see even closer partnership between agencies and clients. With more transparency and honesty, I think the industry has a huge opportunity to lead by example and I think clients will welcome it.
Do you have any websites, books or resources that you would recommend?
A lovely read that I was given for Christmas was ‘Creativity: A short and cheerful guide’ by John Cleese. It’s down to earth, easy to read and full of really great insights on how to channel your creativity.