- Marketing Team
- 04 May 2017
In Our Words: The Marketing Centre Story
In 2010, The Marketing Centre founders Lucy Hogarth and Clare Methven set out to reinvent the way small and medium-sized businesses access senior-level marketing skills. Seven years on, our team of part-time expert Marketing Directors continues to grow – proving the need for marketing expertise via a cost-effective model focused on long-term results. So what’s the story behind the business, and where are we going?
Founders Lucy Hogarth and Clare Methven met and spent more than a decade working together at integrated marketing agency Phoenix PLC, serving as Directors before stepping out with their own brand and business.
It was this experience of agency life and the frustrations of business owners they observed that encouraged their search for a new way of working, says Clare. “Small and mid-size businesses would come knocking on our door – having seen our CEO speak at an event – and tell us they desperately needed help with their marketing.
“We came to the view that marketing agencies are not set up to best serve small and medium-sized businesses. What these businesses typically lacked was any form of senior level marketing resource in-house, a person who could direct the marketing strategy, not just the business owner trying to handle everything themselves.”
The agency was limited by the lack of time and input the business owner would give to marketing. “Often these businesses viewed marketing as communications only,” explains Clare, “which ended up shaping our output, despite our best efforts to put together strategic plans to help solve their problems, you need to do this together. There simply wasn’t the bandwidth or realisation of the importance of marketing from the business owners.”
“While our campaigns were successful,” says Lucy, “the business owners were ultimately unable to tackle root issues because real marketing thinking wasn’t embedded in their business.
Crucially, these businesses were also unable to access the best services their agency could offer them, because they lacked budget.
The alternative was to engage a marketing consultant. This opened up more issues for the business owner, says Clare. “How do you choose a good marketing consultant? What qualifies one to be a good fit for a business? How do you monitor the quality of their service? In these cases, businesses would be left to implement marketing plans given to them by consultants, who typically stuck to the strategy side of the work. Business owners would confess to being bamboozled by the models and plans on offer to them, which they often asked our agency to execute for them – even if they didn’t fully understand why.”
“Out of this muddle came the clarity that there had to be a better way of doing things for growing small and medium-sized businesses,” says Lucy. “We hit on what we saw as a fabulous idea: to offer marketing expertise on an in-house part-time basis. After careful consideration, we realised this would work well in practice. In our initial research we came across The FD Centre – who offered a similar, highly effective service in the finance sector, successfully offering Finance Directors on a part-time basis. We knew from their success that there was a real need and felt that small and medium-sized businesses deserved the same support for their marketing.”
Today, The Marketing Centre is part of the Liberti Group of businesses, who each operate the part-time model in different industries, including IT, HR, sales and legal.
“The agency model has some great aspects – what we particularly loved about Phoenix was the real sense of camaraderie and support we created there,” says Clare. “This helps explain why we are so passionate about The Marketing Centre being able to pull the best of agency culture into a different structure.”
Lucy agrees: “When we left the agency world we were very clear about what we didn’t want from the business – which is that we wouldn’t become an agency, we wanted to offer something different.”
The pair spent a year working as marketing consultants while they developed their idea. This time was invaluable as it gave them insight from the other side of the table - self-employed marketing consultants. “Working as consultants ourselves helped cement the feeling that we wanted to build a scalable business that could work across different countries – but based around the camaraderie of a small team,” says Clare.
“Working as consultants exposed us to the realities of that model. As a consultant you’re insulated from others; focussed on your current project, without the ability to develop your network and continue business development for yourself. We wanted to create a team; a network like a marketing hive where our marketing directors could access each other for insight, help and debate. This ethos was something we found at the agency, and something we wanted to replicate in our own business.”
Partly, the decision to start afresh and build something new was encouraged by the Phoenix founder’s bold business outlook, says Clare. “Peter Knight empowered us to question whether we had to conform to the rules. We could do something different, be single-minded and have the confidence to do things our way. I credit Peter with having opened our eyes to the importance of training. Peter supported his teams, putting masses of effort into developing people within his agency.”
This people-first mentality shaped The Marketing Centre from the offset. “The very first thing we did – even before we worked out our positioning – was to look at our values and our personality. This has been important throughout the life of the business,” says Lucy.
Energy was the first value we brought to the table. Teamwork was the second. “It’s not enough for marketing professionals to join The Marketing Centre as marketing consultants expecting regular work” says Lucy. “This is not what we are. As part-time Marketing Directors, it’s about contributing to the greater good of the team – both on a national and regional basis. Our Marketing Directors are there to support each other. The challenge we have is that everybody works remotely.
This starts with careful recruitment, says Clare. “Marketers are typically competitive by nature, so when we interview our Marketing Directors we want to know if the person in front of us can set aside their ambition to help others and share information. Not everybody can fit in with this way of working. Regardless of a person’s experience and skillset, egos have no home here.”
Transparency was the final guiding principle; being open and straightforward in all our transactions. As Clare notes, “Some parts of working with an agency can be opaque – with businesses not knowing who their creative work is being supplied by, and whether services are being marked-up or otherwise. This doesn’t leave business owners with a good feeling. We made a decision from the beginning to be honest and open both internally and with business owners.”
Have our values changed? Not at all, says Lucy: “Having recently refreshed our brand, we took the time to review our own business and ensure we’re still aligned with the ideas we put forward at the beginning. Our values have not changed; we’ve become more and more passionate about them.”
Partly, this is because our unique approach to marketing has helped so many businesses. “From the beginning, the results of our work have exceeded our expectations, it’s so rewarding to see customers’ businesses grow and flourish” says Clare. Today we number 70 plus Marketing Directors and have extended The Marketing Centre into South Africa. There are still parts of the UK we haven’t explored yet and more small businesses that need our help.”
Has it been fun? Yes, says Lucy. “We’re enjoying the journey, making sure we’re still aligned and happy each year. While we’re still enjoying it, we will continue to surround ourselves with others who get the same fulfilment from our work as we do.”
The Marketing Centre’s future looks bright. What could we do for you?
To find out why you should consider a part-time marketing director – and not a marketing consultant – read our latest case study, here.