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Pete Coates, Head of iProspect Leeds

 

It wouldn’t be fair to say I started my current job 11 years ago as what I do today is very different to what I was doing back then, but it is the same, now slightly creased and dog-eared, contract I signed all those years ago that governs the terms of my employment to this day.

I started my first ever Account Manager role back in September 2009, with a business called Mediavest Leeds, which following a subsequent period of growth, acquisition and new brand launches sees me being responsible for running the iProspect brand in Leeds. On day one I was given the responsibility of overseeing the management of the digital campaigns for an ambitious young northern airline called Jet2 and their fledgling tour operator proposition Jet2Holidays.

It is easy to forget now as they sit at the top of the pile as one of the country’s leading tour operators that back then they were a chippy young upstart; intent on disrupting the travel industry. Their brand had been built off the back of Out of Home and TV spots and they were just at the start of their digital journey, spending a fraction of their budget on online channels.

At this point it’s probably fair to give you the heads up; this blog isn’t about a one-off piece of work that won awards and saw my ugly mug plastered all over Campaign Magazine and the Drum. This is the story of a project that lasted 6 years, involved many late nights, blood, sweat, the occasional tears and a host of pieces of work finished on a laptop in the back of a car on the way to client meetings.

To say Jet2 were a demanding client is an understatement. Their raw ambition to takeover the industry set expectations at an astronomical level and every time you finally made the grade; the bar was raised yet again. As an environment to operate in it was ruthless and regularly very stressful, but as an opportunity to learn your trade and build your toolkit there are few clients out there that could offer anything close to this experience.

These guys did not stand on ceremony, did not have time for politics and had zero tolerance for bulls**t. The objective was always crystal clear – growth, growth and more growth by making absolutely sure we were quicker, more agile and always gave ourselves and advantage over the competition.

When I started, their annual digital budgets were in the hundreds of thousands. By the time we parted ways they were in the tens of millions and we achieved this together by never resting on our laurels, always being proactive and never taking no for an answer.

I often find that some clients’ expectations of how things work agency-side can be misjudged. They often focus on the tools, capabilities and ideas an agency already has so they can just apply the same old formula to their business. “Go into the big box of ideas out back or push the innovation button a couple of times for us and our share price will go into overdrive”. To get the best out of your agency you shouldn’t focus on what they did yesterday, you should instead focus on what you believe they can do for you tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This relentless desire to be ahead of the pack lit a fire in our team. When their dev queue was so long we could not get tags on there, we built them a JavaScript tag management solution (long before the advent of Google Tag Manager). When we saw contextually relevant ad copy delivered better results, we built a dynamic creative solution on top of the Google Display Network (and almost broke Google’s ad approvals systems) long before DoubleClick Studio was a twinkle in Larry and Sergey’s eye. When Trip Advisor told us their new biddable ad platform wasn’t advanced enough to report on average position, we built a tool that scraped their pages every day to give us our average position; enabling us to acquire top spot every time without paying a penny more than we needed to.

Ultimately in life, however, all good things must come to an end and in 2015 we parted ways. The agency client relationship had lasted a total of 12 years, which is quite something in our industry and I had spent 6 years of my professional life thinking about little else.  While there was definitely an upside (I would not have to work on Christmas Day for the first time in years) at first it felt like a slap in the face.

The performance we had driven for their business was clear for all to see, including them. We had built a significant digital marketing platform that had supported the growth of their business. Their share price had multiplied 10 times during the period we had worked with them and we had been running digital channels at a level I have rarely seen before or since anywhere else in the market.

Being bitter, however, is not productive. What I soon realised was that I had actually been given an opportunity. 6 years of exceptionally high standards and that constant drive to be better than the competition had become part of my professional DNA. I have met only one other client since that has the same rare combination of ambition, competitiveness and a no-nonsense attitude, which means the expectations I now set of myself far outweigh those that most others set me.

The extra capacity I got back gave me both the time and the headspace to focus on how to get back to growth. The loss of the client had taken just over a third of our annual revenue away and staying true to the old habit of setting high standards we refused to let ourselves go backwards the following year.

We galvanised the team behind us, made a couple of critical hires, developed a number of new products that had been in the pipeline for a while, but we’d never had the time to focus on, and launched iProspect as an operating brand out of our Leeds office. All these things combined to ensure we still managed to replace every penny of the revenue we had lost and add a few percentage points on top to still maintain our growth in the following year.

 

 

 

 

Since then iProspect has gone from strength to strength, winning a number of highly enviable clients and growing our income by over 200% in the 4 years since launch. I now lead the iProspect brand in Leeds and, alongside my colleague Andrea in Carat, run the Dentsu Aegis Network office in Leeds, something I never thought I’d be doing when I took that Account Manager role all those years ago.

Leadership is a confidence game. It is about believing in yourself and your team to be able to overcome the challenges that you cannot yet see coming. Even when something hits you square in the face; just knowing deep in the pit of your stomach that even though you don’t know the solution, you just don’t know it yet and remind yourself of all the times you’ve been here before and nothing’s beaten you so far.

Jet2 gave me that. Jet2 and the team around me who worked every late night and Christmas Day with me, many of whom are still with our business today; no doubt also reflecting on how that rollercoaster of a client also made them who they are today. Running Jet2’s digital campaigns was ‘The Project That Made Me’ and I’ll always be grateful to them for their ruthless pursuit of greatness.