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Key startup lessons from a content marketing agency

A year since we launched eric, our simply brilliant content marketing agency, content director Alex Mead looks at the key lessons learnt.

1. Global companies will work with small agencies

No matter how much experience you have or how good your team is, being a startup always presents a challenge when it comes to new business. You know you’ve got pedigree and can do the job. [In fact, not just do the job, but do it better than the big guys – why else would you have started up?] But can you get past procurement? Will they take you seriously? Will they even talk to you? Admittedly, with Government and some corporate behemoths, it’s tricky, but it’s not impossible. You just have to persevere, network like hell, and find the best way to put forward your case to the right person – and hope it’s at the right time too. If all these things align, then even the big guns will listen, why wouldn’t they?

Crabtree & Evelyn

2. Shared workspace isn’t all ping pong and Drumsticks

Not that this is a bad thing. I do love the continual supply of retro sweets and as a former ping pong champ [Brixham Leisure Centre Open 1991-92], I’m pretty happy about having a table handy too. Even the slide in reception was an instant hit with our creative director.
We’ve had three homes since starting out and, like Goldilocks, our latest one fits us just right.

At WeWork London Fields we have our own dedicated space, great meeting facilities that our clients love, a global network of offices at our disposal, and we can upsize and downsize each month when campaigns come in or out, and we’re surrounded by brilliant individuals too. And there’s free beer. Did I mention the slide?


3. Millennial entrepreneurs can actually be quite useful

Yes, there’s probably too many people wearing skin-tight jeans, baseball caps and using those standing-up desk contraptions. And it’s hard not to roll your eyes at the wide-eyed youthful optimism behind some of the ideas. But for every self-proclaimed ‘entrepreneur’, there’s also an understated genius with an idea you wish you’d thought of, or a developer with an app or bit of tech that can come in very useful indeed for both current clients and prospects. Every week we’ve been at WeWork we’ve met someone who is either a potential employee, client, collaborator or inspiration.


4. Social media really is about being social

A friend with a gazillion followers once told me ‘social media success is about making your thumbs bleed’. In short, you have to actually do the work to get the results. Every agency loves its content planners, the more convoluted and complicated the better. Add in every social, print or digital channel possible multiply by brand messages divide by format and you’ve got something no client is ever going to understand. In fairness, content planning is part of the process, but the real secret to social is just being social. It’s not about dry, automated posts written weeks in advance following a strategy that tries to second-guess the internet and its people – the best kind of social is responsive, reactive and present. It’s where you’ve got someone reading, writing, responding, retweeting, making the occasional cheeky comment and making up polls for fun – basically personifying your brand so they’re the kind of person you want to listen to. It’s about quickly creating GIFs, quote cards, animations and taking pictures and videos because that’s what a situation calls for – and because you know the audience will respond to it. And it works. It worked for us, Rhino’s Twitter monthly profile visits is up 1,527% in just six months and impressions are up 3,685%. Not bad, eh?

rhino rugby

5. Being platform neutral is the best way to go

However most content agencies attempt to hide it behind carefully worded mission statements that use an awful lot of words to say very little, we know where they all come from. We know they usually have one favoured angle and then hope to upsell from there. Video agencies – and indeed ad agencies – have long claimed the word ‘content’ as purely of the moving picture variety. Many contract publishers have also long since rebranded in the hope they can add a website to the print mag, and anyone who wields a pen, camera or Macbook have also become one-man agencies offering specific services.

At eric we wanted to be truly neutral – offering the solution that was best for the client after we’d been through their goals. It’s never been about trying to flog them a one-size-fits-all white label solution. So far, we’ve built a brand from scratch and created its content hub (GolfTraveller), shot 20 triathlon training videos in a day (Aropec); produced 12 print publications in about a week (well, close, more on this later); developed and created a full 360 marketing campaign covering everything from shop windows to ecrm to social media (Crabtree & Evelyn); and we’ve used multi-format content to bring in roughly a squillion (at the last count) extra eyeballs on Rhino’s Twitter channel.


6. You have to work with people you like

The All Blacks rugby team are arguably the greatest sporting team on the planet, and the key to success has been a team ethos that was famously described by one of their coaches in two words: ‘no dickheads’. It’s a mantra we’ve followed at eric. It’s simple and effective and if any of us get too close to the edge, the other hauls them back from the precipice – even this article will be carefully read by my colleagues (just in case). Then it’s about the clients, it’s hard when you need the money – which every startup does – but there are some relationships which you instantly feel won’t work from the start. And at a growing agency you can’t just throw someone else on to the account, your selling point is the personal care and attention often lacking among the big guns, so you have to be involved. In short and without wanting to sound like an Agony Aunt, Uncle Eric says: ‘if it feels wrong, then it probably is, and you need to walk away’.


7. Larry Lamb is a legend

We know this for a fact. Not only is he the voice of eric and been in Superman, Gavin & Stacey and was the mastermind behind the Hatton Garden robbery, but he’s also part of the stable of talent we work with thanks to our partnership with the brilliant Meryl Hoffman.

Even when Meryl’s current stable of fine talent including Zoe Ball, Velocity Girl, Nick Bright and George Lamb haven’t been called upon, she’s been able to advise our clients on what they should and shouldn’t be paying for their celebrity services. Larry of course is priceless and worth every one of the millions of pounds he charges – this is why.


8. Monthly mags are for wimps, we produced 11 in six weeks

The British & Irish Lions players may have thought they had it tough featuring in four or five games on the recent New Zealand tour, but we featured in every game – producing the editorial and design for the 10 matchday programmes and a full 116-page review over the course of just six weeks. And don’t think we used the same copy over and again, it was completely new every time, writing, editing and designing, and whipping our journalist network like it had never been whipped before to meet every deadline with world-class editorial.


9. Tell your own story, in your own way

It’s never great when an agency offering to create content for your social channels neglects its own. From the start, we knew that with clients coming first, it would be hard to keep our own channels up-to-date so we decided to make Instagram a priority. That way, we could at least point clients in that direction – clients, wannabe clients, click here please – and not send them to a place littered with bake sales, fancy dress and back-slapping award news.

If you’ve not headed to @ericonholiday already, when you do, you’ll discover a place full of beautiful images – a virtual tour of the planet. It’s ideal content for Instagram, it demonstrates our globetrotting nature, and it showcases some of the brilliant people we work with. And if nothing else, it’ll give you all a little bit of holiday inspiration. Just be sure, when you get back from that holiday, if you think you need a bit of content inspiration, you give eric a call.