Video - Robert Craven interviews Mark Haslam - Loud Mouth MediaJan 04, 2021
VIDEO: 47:51 mins
AUTHOR: Robert Craven & Mark Haslam
In this GYDA Talks, Robert talks to Mark Haslam. Mark is the Founder and Managing Director of Loud Mouth Media in Belfast. Establishing Loud Mouth in 2011 after gaining valuable experience as a Web Consultant in the telecommunications industry, Mark’s fervent passion for digital instilled his vision to set up a specialist PPC (Pay Per Click) advertising agency. His aim has always been to do PPC differently, creating more transparent, measurable, digital experiences and building strong, mutually beneficial relationships with clients.
Mark has a no-nonsense approach to running his agency. He does the basics brilliantly, listening to what his customers want and delivering it. And it has paid off for Loud Mouth Media. Mark tells us how he sees the world.
Robert and Mark discuss:
- Pure PPC or full service?
- Putting stuff where people want to see it
- No big business plan
- How to move from pure PPC
- How client buying habits and behaviours have changed
- Who are we competing against?
- Are there secrets of success? What the best do differently
- What would a ‘fit’ agency look like in 12 months?
- Recommendations/pearls of wisdom, golden nuggets you‘d like to share…
Robert Craven 00:58
And hello, and welcome to the GYDA talks, grow digital agency initiative talks and today I am absolutely delighted to have with us Mark Haslam. And welcome to you, Mark.
Mark Haslam 01:10
And you very much, Robert, for having me.
Robert Craven 01:13
Absolute pleasure. So Mark, let's just go straight in. So what are you known for in the agency world? Where are you? Where's your agency? What's your agency? What do you specialise in?
Mark Haslam 01:25
What am I known for probably being the overly sweaty Northern Irish bloke that gets wheeled out every now and then. But what I would rather be known for would be as MD of like most media agencies I set up coming up to 10 years ago. So yeah, we're full service as opposed to a performance agency. And by that, you know, SEO all the usual stuff, SEO social creative, PPC, that video, everything that everybody else does.
Robert Craven 01:53
So if you have always been full service, or how did you start off at performance and work your way across what was the journey?
Mark Haslam 02:00
We started off as PPC because that's kind of what I knew, or what I know, hopefully. And then basically, just as digital has kind of transformed to needing all of the various different things. We've added them in. We're not an agency that likes to look at things in silo or be precious about our little part of the pie. We'd like to contribute as opposed to the full thing. And basically be able to offer whatever makes our clients money. And if we can make a couple of quid in the process, it's all the better.
Robert Craven 02:33
So why do you think so many agencies that you and I know have kind of stuck to the PPC piece, because there's lots of agencies who are still, you know, we're 65 people strong, we're only 5 people strong. What do you do? We do PPC, what else do you do? We do PPC. So do you do video video PPC. Do you do SEO? No, no, no, we do PPC, quite interested to know why you think so many who have stuck to the guns?
Mark Haslam 03:02
Do you know what it's one of those that I wanted, like a mouth just to be a PPC agency. But I think PPC means a number of different things to various different people. You know, it means Google search, it means Bing. It means social. It can mean so many different things. I think the reason that I wanted to stick with that is because it's what I know. And it's what my background is. The reason we moved away from it was because we are a very client centric agency. We want to give our clients what they want, what they need. So we had lots and lots of people that we have really good relationships, were asking us, can we not do this? Can we not do that? And it got to the point that we kind of thought, You know what, we should be doing this because it gives a better vision of what's going on. I think the reason that other agencies maybe don't is it's a hassle. Maybe they can't hire the right people maybe they don't have the expertise to expand it. I run my agency from the point of view that I am rarely the most knowledgeable people or person in the room. So I bring in people that know more than I do. And that involves bringing in an SEO person and growing up team, bringing in a performance creative person and knowing that, but yeah, I think a lot of agencies stick with what they know. And as long as there's demand for that, then I suppose why change.
Robert Craven 04:24
But clients are always asking for while you're here, can't you just type questions and I guess there's an issue for me always about on the one hand, we're trying to create our expertise, you know, I don't want to be a jack of all trades or all that kind of conversation. But at the same time there's a client say oh, you know, your digital. Can you run an email campaign for us or your digital? You've done the logo and you've done the design and build for the website. Could you just do some posters for us? He couldn't get some flowers for us. So there's got to be a point at which you go actually well, no, we're not prepared to photograph the wedding or whatever it is. I mean, how do you let the new product lines come in?
Mark Haslam 05:26
Well, I suppose we look at it from a very analytical point of view, we look at impact. So it's funny when you mentioned the wedding photography thing I had one of my creative guys this morning suggest that we should when to product photography, not understanding that that involves having a studio and loads of equipment and having product shipped to Northern Ireland. So yeah, that we won't be going into that one. I think the reason that we move into various different things is because we see where they fit. There's a difference in just offering a service and being able to fulfil that service, in my view. We didn't wake up one morning and decide, you know, what, to my head of ser my head of PPC, can I do SEO on social, we looked at the opportunity, the amount of inquiries that were coming in for it, the impact that it had on customers bottom lines, and we hired appropriately. I'm a big believer in I feel sorry for digital marketing experts, because I think we all do you know, I think it's a joke, especially when they get paid 25 grand, and they are expected to do all of the things that you've mentioned there. We hire specialists, my PPC guys are still PPC guys. My creative guys are creative guys, my SEO, just the SEO, they're not expected to know everything because you can't. Even within that my PPC guys, I have a video specialist, a shopping specialist, display retargeting, and so on. So yeah, it's not everybody, I suppose, who is willing to change. It's one of those things that are one of the very few things I remember from school. You know, change management is very, very difficult. But for me, it's a case of not even changing, it's kind of adapting what you do, because the bottom line is always the same for us where we're only interested in performance. Ultimately, whatever gets us to that performance is what we're willing to do. But it's always taken on with the same ethos. It's not flowery, it's not fluffy. It has a bottom line and a result in mind at all times. I mean, we've talked about this before, but I'd be interested in your view, because we had. I mean, if we just look at history, when was the agency set up? How old is it? It'll be 10 in August.
Robert Craven 07:35
So in those 10 years, when those 10 years started off, Google was the only gig in town. And then we're just starting to say stuff like, mobile is the future, for five years or so maybe even more than eight years, mobile is the future. And for the last five years, video has been the future, video it's a future, videos it's a future. So we have this kind of pressure, which we could argue is informed research, or we could argue is pushing product. Coming down the line from the platforms. Now Google, of course, is not the only gig in town. And now we have video and now and so on and so forth. So what you're saying is, if I've got this right, is there's a mix between clients are now asking us for this. Yeah. Because clients get on Facebook, and Facebook says you could reach 1000 people for 10 pounds. Yeah, so clients are gonna say to you, why can't we do Facebook, I can read your 1000 client for 10 pounds. Plus, what you see fits your values and your systems. So there's a bit of an entrepreneur there, but there's also a bit of a customer . Can we help the customer please?
Mark Haslam 09:00
Yeah, I've never thought about the entrepreneur. But I would never describe myself to be honest, as an entrepreneur, the customer is king, but is everything to us. Whenever we speak to clients, we always emphasise the idea that it's their goal is our goal. It's just how we might go about it different ways. But the goal always has to be the same. If it's, you know, if it's increased brand, if it's increased revenue, whatever it is, they might they will always have a goal. We need to agree with that. Or we don't take them on as a client. It's as simple as that. So yeah, the customer is king. But yeah, absolutely. We don't hold our clients to contract, so we have to put them first. You know, it's, I think all too often. One of the reasons I set up load mouth was exactly because that customer is king but that I worked previously in a big telecoms company that offered pay per click as it was back then. They didn't care. All they cared about was a signature. And I didn't like that. My view was that there's no point in having to call customer for 12 months when you get help them for 10 years. But to have them for 10 years, you need to go buy things with them at the centre instead of yourself. So yeah, customer is king. Give them what they want, but guide them at the same time.
Robert Craven 10:13
That's really interesting.I mean, especially in the last, so we're recording this November, we are now just about how have customer buying habits, how have customer behaviour changed over the last six or nine months view?
Mark Haslam 10:33
I read somewhere, Robert, that the last nine months basically since March, yet month have progressed digital marketing by four or five years. I've also read that it progresses by two years. I think my opinion would be that it's progressed as by a couple of years. Everything has changed. You know, we went through the in March 80% of our client book just saying right, we need to pause we need to stop to us haven't grown our agency by 30 or 40% in the last few months. And that's not in terms of staff revenue and everything. So behaviour has changed dramatically. It's changed to the point that you need to be even more dynamic than you were before people expect things very, very quickly. I'm noticing last lag and purchases because people want stuff. They want stuff. You know, almost immediately I thought it was bad before my opinion is it's got worse or better. Whatever way you want to look at it. People expect things to be there. You know, as soon as I thought about it my local fruit and veg plates. Now he has a website and ecommerce store that delivers. I don't know anybody that doesn't to be quite honest. As I've said, I'm currently self isolating my dear wife has COVID At the moment, we have a Nero delivered the other day. I've never had coffee delivered to my house in my life. But this is my thing. behaviour has changed dramatically. My view is that our clients are ecommerce clients need to plan for this for the long term future. There's a read something recently about high, how long it takes to reform a behaviour. And apparently it's in the region of four to six months, we'll change somebody's behaviour entirely. So we need to get used to the idea that people won't buy the way they did before. They won't go out shopping on a Saturday because they don't want to queue they don't want to not be able to touch things they don't want to sanitise every five seconds. So they will expect things to be done online. As a result, websites need to be sharper, because there's more competition. Delivery needs to be sharper, everything just needs to be two years ahead of where it was in February.
Robert Craven 12:45
And there's an opportunity there isn't around not just be sharp, be fast. I mean, whichever slogan you want to stick by, we are fastest, we are the sharpest. But also there's a real opportunity and some people have taken advantage of it for digital transformation to actually because there's tonnes and tonnes of grocers, you know who were on the high street, there are tonnes and tonnes of shoe shops that were on the high street, they've all had to not just have a website, which is like a brochure, but they've had to have brochure they've had have a website and inventory, inventory and website and shop and E commerce. And working from home. So the whole thing has got to suddenly have gone online. So I mean, I've seen a lot of agencies, you've gone down that route, she said there's the opportunity opportunities, digital transformation, I mean, there's equator up in Glasgow who've flipped the whole agency, pre COVID After admin. But they flipped the whole agency. So that's so the digital marketing piece, I think he represents sort of 10 - 15% of the business now. So it's gone from like 90% of the business to 10%. And they're doing they become consultants and digital transformation.
Mark Haslam 14:09
To be honest, it's a phrase, I hit, f&b an honest digital transformation. I think people love it or hate it. I'm one of the haters, you know, transformation for me is something you know, a very quick change from one thing and the another thing I don't know, there's probably 100 People a lot smarter than I am that have had discussions with you about this. But for me, it is more of a gradual progression. You know, just because a greengrocer changes from you know you're walking in the door to know you can order stuff online that to me is not a transformation. It's a slight pivot.
Robert Craven 14:44
Well, at least you're not authentic. I think there is something there that there are a whole bunch of businesses that thought that they didn't need to be digital, or they could do it in the high street, or, I mean,for us, it's also, I mean, the number of agencies that I've worked with, in the last six months, who, six months earlier said, Oh, God, all the staff want to kind of work from home. It's ridiculous. We can't, we don't, we're not happy with it. They're going to come into the office, we've got 47 staff, and we're going to have 47 staff at five past nine every morning. And that's the best way of it working to suddenly realise, hey, wow, actually, yeah, there's been a few casualties, because there's always going to be counted just because you've got like 19 year olds sitting on their beds, you know, with a ironing board in front of them and a laptop on in front of them, because they just don't have all they've got five brothers and sisters, to bed flat. But on the whole, for most people, it's worked. And now I'm not, I'd be interested in how you're dealing with your office situation, aside from you know, you've got COVID in the house. But I mean, it seems to me that most people are returning if as they return or returning to a hybrid model, where they've got maybe 15, or 20% of the staff who, like gagging to get back to the office, because it just doesn't work for them. And maybe 50% of the staff who heard quite happy to just drop in once a fortnight, do a town hall meeting. What do you doing with that?
Mark Haslam 16:37
I've been trying to remember back to how it all started. To be honest, that sounds like the start of the disaster movement, you know, when you kind of try to recap the whole thing, but there was a day, I think it was the 12th of March, I decided that I was emptying my office. So we eat at that stage, maybe 22 People all sitting in an office and Belfast, plenty of room, you know, that was three and a half 1000 square foot office. So everybody had more than enough space. And that was great. But my fear was possibly selfish and trying to be a wee bit pastoral as you have to be these days. From the point of view of I was concerned that if one person gets sick, the chance of all of us getting sick are pretty high. And then if anybody gets really sick, that they can't work, then the agency could have been gone. And six or eight months, you know, burn through all the cash. Job done. That's it over. So Possibly, yeah, from two points of view. I kicked everybody out of the office and a half to say from the next morning. You know, we all downloaded slack. We did what everybody else did, we downloaded slack. And we started working remotely with remote meetings and but it was a funny time. It was a they would refer to firefighting basically, for the last six or eight months. That's what it felt like, you know, we had clients pausing. And that happened for probably a month. And then about a month after that. Everything went crazy. So the guys home a team of work from home has opened my eyes. I was that guy. No, we can't be working from whom God no, that's awful, you know, I came from a bit of a kind of white collar telco background where we all have to work. And, you know, it was difficult. And I've hired I have staff in Glasgow, I have just recruited a new marketing manager that was in London, I have another PPC account manager that was in Birmingham, another PPC account manager moving back from Jersey. So I don't care where people are anymore. It's taught me to trust people. It's taught me to change things. I think the biggest regret for me is I had staff previously that did want to work from home. And I lost them because of that. And I look back and go, Why didn't you just listen, you know, but you know what? There's a phrase that we use and load mouth, and it's normally about other agencies or about clients, but it's you don't know what you don't know. And in this scenario, I didn't know what I didn't know, I didn't know how effective, how efficient, how much happier my guys could be. But going forward, we've been back into the office since then, that lasted about two months. And then I pulled everybody again just a few weeks ago, just with the numbers going the way they were. And I'm delighted that I did that. We're more efficient. Guys are happier when we do return, when that is, yeah, it'll not be at the heart for whatever it is. We did offer a bit of flexibility, but it certainly will not be not going forward.
Adam Harris 19:25
Yeah, I just don't I just thinking about your situation. Who do you think you're competing with? Do you think you're competing with the bigger agencies? Do you think you're competing with agents of the same size? Do you think you're competing with other agencies? In the locality in Northern Ireland did or the small agencies or Bangalore or in house teams, or just a marketing man? Who would get the work If the work doesn't come to you what happens? I guess this question.
Mark Haslam 20:10
Well, I believe you could have been I had a marketing call with my marketing team just before this. And we were asking that question what she had going on, and you could help out. I believe we compete with everybody that you've just mentioned, we're a funny agency. Where I don't think we're small anymore. There's 28 of us, I think at the minute. We have big, big clients, you know, we've multinational clients, we have huge retail clients, we have small clients, we go up against all the big guys impression finding brand louds, all those guys. We go up against the in house teams, we go up against the small local agencies, we get a hell of a lot of work from the States. We compete with everybody. Now, we're where it makes it slightly different. It's where it's funny is there is a slightly denigrating attitude, I believe, on the fact that we are in Northern Ireland, I think a lot of the time, you know, people will kind of pick up the phone and go, you know, we have a London office, we have a Glasgow office, we have a Dublin office. And they all actually our physical offices that people can be in, we just haven't been able to hire people for them at the minute, being very honest. The minute we were dying to a final two with a really big chain of blue dry bars, which looking at my hair will be I think you'll understand they didn't. No wonder if our existence. But they quite literally said sorry, we're going with the other agency, your pitch was better, but they're in London. And we were kind of like, right, okay, well, it's up business that we want. Being honest. Yes, it is. It's a business that there was nothing we could do about it, and therefore you can't really get hacked off about. Yeah, but yeah, we compete with everybody, I believe, who we want to compete with are the ones I've listed, you know, and I do feel that we can stand up and hold our own against any of the big agencies. You know, I suppose it depends what you're trying to do. We're just trying to do good work for clients that we want to work with.
Robert Craven 22:11
But I think there's something you see, there's a guy called Sammy Mansa, who runs agency UK, here in Bath, it's just a mile or so from where I am now. And it's full service agency. And he did the sun, he did the math. And he reckons that the ideal size of an agency, I can't remember the exact number, I think it's something like 32. And the reason for that, and he says, we've got the opportunity, we could double the size of the agency, we've got people queuing up, that we're putting the gate down at 32. And the reason for that is that 30, 31, 32, you've got 30, 31 People who are all doing great work. And you've got a bookkeeper and accountant, and you've got a managing director, Sales Director, but basically, everyone's fear learning, you've got no one who's not for you. And more importantly, you're small, and you're tight, you know, everyone and you know who their partner is and where they went for holidays. And you can do great work without everything going into a committee. You've got small, nimble teams that are close, knit and understand each other. And it's a pleasure to work in. Whereas if you're 100 staff, there's a 200 staff, you know, you may double the turnover, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, but then you've got to take investment, and then you need a board. And then you need a sales team and it's and it's a different game, and for what he's trying to get out of running an agency, which is a great living. he reckoned that the sweet spot was around about 30 - 32 people and 40 people, you'd be less profitable and we'd be running an agency, he wasn't enjoying running. And that's his choice. So I think it's really interesting how some of the people watching will have been party to a programme I run in Iran in enhanced the dam. And one of the things that happened was on the far right hand side of the room, from where I'm looking, we had all the big agency for 200 500 staff that they're just Versace suits, and so on and so forth. And then the rest of them we had like 10 - 15 people things. And the 10 - 15 people wanted to be sitting over there until one of them said, so how much is my business worth? And I said, Well, you'd be surprised. It's actually worth the same as theirs. And they What do you mean? So I said, Well, you're a 15 person business. Turning over one and a half million you're doing 25% EBIT. Those guys over there. 200 people, 20 million turnover. Yeah, 10% net profit is 2 million. And they can sell for eight times, which makes two times eight, which is 16 million, which sounds fantastic. But they sold most of the business, they have only now got 10% of the shares 10% of 16 million is 1.6 million. So actually, the guys running 10 to 15 person agencies. Well, I mean, obviously, they're not getting the salary and the big BMW cars and the golf club. And I haven't had the pleasure of plural. But k I think the idea that the bigger is better. Is sometimes flawed.
Mark Haslam 25:53
Yeah, I get reminded every now and then a client actually reminded me of it the other day, there were a client of mine, when it was just me. When I set up load mouth that my goal was it would just be me. And I would earn a bit more maybe than I earned in my previous job, which wasn't huge, but it was enough, you know, for me and the wife and the kids. But this whole digital thing he knew it kind of took off away. But I get asked a lot. How many staff? You know, what's the goal? We've just finished our financial year there. What's the goal of how many staff by the end of next year there is not remotely a goal? And I put it down to a couple of things. One that I don't know how to do that being honest, I don't know, I've never run a business before. Before. Like, I don't know how to go right. You know, I've got 20 people. I'm sorry, she's made at the moment. I want to have 40 Next year, because there's too many things that impact that. I would rather let the things that actually impact meeting those people lead the way.
Robert Craven 26:54
Oh, Mark, I'm going to push back on that a little bit. I think that there are times in the life of an agency where you fundamentally move up a gear, it's a new chapter, it's a different way of behaving in the same way that you go from Baby toddler infant juvenile and at each stage, different ways of thinking, different ways of looking different skill sets. And you know that, you know, when you're one person that's Whoa, I've made a sale. And then when you're 30 It's like the sales team announced a major sale, but it's only worth 5000 pounds, maybe we shouldn't even be doing it. So I think there are key changes at about 15 people and about 25 people about 45. And the simplest way of explaining just going back to some demand support is that you start hiring non fear owners. So 28 person agency may have one or two non fee earners. But a 40 person agency might have four non fee earners. So that might be Sales Director, sales manager, finance manager, office manager and a couple of interns. And that, yeah, we don't need to be too bright at arithmetic to recognise that if you spend 50,000 pounds on someone including on costs, and they bring no income to the business, that it just clutters your profitability. And therefore the agency moves from buy from me, my name Mark, I'm on my own and I'm a great guy to loudmouth has a way of doing things and there's a loudmouth ology look at our great clients and our great client lists. So I do think things change as you go. And I think what, if you know that those changes are predictable then you have the foresight to see what's going to happen.
Mark Haslam 29:10
I'd get where you're coming from, I think just the way you've described it, Robert, we maybe are a bit different. And again, it comes down to me having zero agency experience before I decided to start one. When we were a 10 person team, we have non fee earners. We have an office manager, we have a marketing team. We have you know the sales team , the commercial director, and all that sort of stuff, but in my view, the non fee earners are like the fee earners they are and more is the way I look at it. So by having a marketing team, they are able to do the research, do the proposals, do the award entries, do the case studies do all of that sort of stuff that allows my performance guys to get on and do their butt. So I wouldn't not that I would ever disagree with you. But I would say it's difficult in an agency to be as broad brush as to say that somebody is non fee earner. My marketing manager, for example, will write awards that we will win, some of that will generate huge amounts of money. Whew, like more than my best performance guy can generate any year. So yeah, it's hard to know. But I don't have a plan. Being honest, I don't have a plan of we're going to have 40 people in a year's time. I haven't included we might have 40, we might have for, you know, six months ago, it probably felt closer to us having four, nine, it feels like we could have 14.
Robert Craven 30:46
But just to go with that. Are you one of these guys who's all over the numbers? Or you just look at it once a quarter? What's your work? Where are you in terms of financial stuff?
Mark Haslam 31:04
I used to be the guy that looked at it every day, when it was small, you know, and, you know, every point was a prisoner. The numbers that I look at are more our company in numbers, the analytics, the results that we're achieving. I think one thing I've learned over the last 10 years is if those are good, the numbers with pine signs in front of them are good, too. Don't get me wrong, we do reviews, my commercial director would be more over the top of them than I am. But the way I look at it is as long as we're doing good work. We're onboarding more clients than what unfortunately isn't, then things are good. You know, I'm not that naive, that I'll go out and make stupid decisions and hire five people without looking at the numbers on a live button.
Robert Craven 31:51
Okay. Cool. So this is interesting, because there's the question I always have in mind with people about, you know, are there Secrets of Success? Is there a secret sauce? And very often people have a Yes, I got where I am. Because what I did was this or that. And they have an ology, so to speak, and they follow through on it. And because it's worked, they make the conclusion, I mean, it's not cause and effect, it's just two things happening at the same time.
Mark Haslam 32:30
I don't think you're gonna have an ology, if you don't know what the result is going to be. You know, it's all very well, in hindsight to go back, I did a thing. Right, therefore, I was right. You may not have been right at the time, there are so many different things can impact the I have a dislike might have a secret sauce, and no, not remotely. Not that I know of a, my personal belief is that we haven't actually achieved anything, yet. We're doing something similar to a hell of a lot of other agencies. We possibly put our customers more at the centre of it than a lot of people do. Not everybody, there's a lot of agencies a hell of a lot better than we are out there. But I don't I personally don't think we've actually achieved anything as yet. I don't think hiring, you know, 30 people is an achievement, I think it's a need. I don't think we haven't, you know, generating X amount of revenue is an achievement, I think it's a result. I don't think whenever, you know, getting a nice holiday, is an achievement, you know, on it becomes a result of all the other stuff, or, you know, I'm not a big one for kind of the business school kind of approach to things. My belief is that everything that we do on a daily basis is so changeable. You know, you've mentioned digital transformation, it's, you know, everybody's going through it, agencies are going through it, because we don't know what tomorrow brings. We don't know, you know, a year ago, if somebody had said tech talk was going to be this big thing that wasn't just going to be my son dancing around the living room looking like an idiot, you know, that you can plan for what you don't know, there's no way.
Robert Craven 34:05
So. Do you think there's a way of other things that successful agencies do, that unsuccessful agencies don't do? If we've been in training rooms together, and you look around and it's the top 10% or whatever the measure is? Is there a sense that there are certain things that successful agencies are doing others aren't? Or do you think it's literally a case by case piece?
Mark Haslam 34:44
I think the common theme that I see with the big agencies isn't the work that they do. Don't get me wrong. I'm a big admirer of, you know, a lot of the agencies that I've had the privilege of sitting in the room with or even talking to, I'm in awe of, you know, those I have achieved things. But what they do that is different to the ones that don't get talked about or don't get invited to the table or whatever. It's all in my view. It's how they market themselves. It's nothing to do with the work that they do for their clients. Because I think we can all everybody watching this will have seen work that agencies that are looked to be amusing, have put out, that's absolute garbage. And I'm quite sure there'll be people that have looked at work that we have done, that maybe isn't the best, you know, we all do it, that's fine. I think it's how you talk about it. I think it's high, you portray your own image. I think there's a digital, there's a tendency for agencies not to be as transparent as they should, and only give the results that they want. I think that's where we trip ourselves up sometimes. Because my belief is that our client should understand what we do, in order to value it that sometimes can result in them thinking they knew everything, and then bringing it in house, which is pretty crap. But yeah, I think the big guys, they know how to talk about themselves. One of the an agency a massive admiration for would be worth going. What Alan does, is phenomenal, you know, when it's 100 yard stuff, or 100 yards, 100 miles down the road from me. But I think one thing that goes incredibly well as markets itself. I think they do the awards that they win. Seeing with compression font in space and time. Brienne louds a huge fan of what towns have done there isn't what I want to do. Probably not, to be honest, that might be out of jealousy that I don't think I can or I'm gonna say that I don't want it because I don't think I can. But yeah, I think the differentiator is how you market yourself how you talk about yourself.
Robert Craven 36:43
I mean, that's great. I love that because I think that's I mean, in a hugely commoditized world, you know, where basically, you get how different this is thinking, but then there's the doing in terms of doing the doing is doing it's, you know, that are speaking to someone the other day, who said, basically, it's a 200 person agency, basically recharge, recharge double, what did you say we charge, double their salary and add 20%. And that's our model. And I think it's broken. And it is broken, because it's just a factory, you know, and in fact, with factory work, the drivers aren't getting the price lower and lower. And I think your abs absolutely no doubt about the marketing stuff. We did my colleague Ganesh did a research piece on I think 200 agencies and looked at their opening page. And he managed to condense them all into one of 12 offers, which were the fastest, or the friendliest, the nicest, there was no differentiation. And as you quite rightly say, if you think about the names you mentioned before, their marketing is different, the way in which they present themselves, the way they portray themselves. And the way they talk about what they do is different. It's not more bloody people climbing trees and saying and what makes us different is customer service and all that ship. Great. I love that. So I know you're not a fan of looking forward. But there's two things I'd like to discuss. So the first one, let's do the first one, and you may have no opinion, you may have an opinion. I'm just wondering what your view is on Brexit, especially as you know, you're probably nearer closer to the whole Brexit conversation, in a sense being in Northern Ireland, and we are in mainland, people just don't understand that you are about COVID But maybe you're slightly. I'm not sure. Maybe you're slightly closer to the conversations and we are.
Mark Haslam 38:58
Yeah, it's an interesting one, Robert, I think COVID Firstar was a pleasant break. From Brexit I don't think the underplay. I think of Brexit thing from two different points of view. In reality, it shouldn't really make a difference to us. As digital agencies, we don't buy things we don't move stuff about, you know, we pay for something that doesn't really exist. We charge our clients for that, you know, so in terms of movement of goods shouldn't really have an impact. In terms of Northern Ireland, I'm quite an optimist. I love where I live, I wouldn't live anywhere else. And I'm also a big fan of what we can bring to the table when it comes to Brexit. We're in a very unique position with a foot in Europe and a foot in the UK. The EU Ireland is also the first port of call for import from the US, Belfast in my view has the potential and people who laugh at me when I say this, and they laugh at me about a number of things, to be honest. But we have a potential to be a Monaco, a Monte Carlo. There are without the weather, maybe there are things happening in Belfast already, such as Microsoft has set up a cybersecurity centre and Belfast, maybe is that's because they recognise the potential where we will fold on, which is where we always following is we will, we won't see the potential we'll look at the danger. What if, and that's what Northern Ireland does. We're not going to get into the past, but we've, we have a potential then look at things very cautiously. I think if we had a leadership that was more business focused on maybe a bit more business experience, they would look at it and go, right, let's go to your Googles, and your Facebook's on your LinkedIn and do exactly what Dublin has done better, and offer them something that nobody else can and let's face it, that's what Northern Ireland house, but we won't, will dwell on what could go wrong and all the other crap. We have some of the best education results in the whole of the UK, I think we actually have the best education results in the UK. But we all leave, we go to London, we go to Edinburgh, we go to Manchester, because that's where we deem the opportunity to be. We talked about marketing agencies a minute ago and the best ones. Northern Ireland is the worst of marketing itself. Despite what it has, and its potential. were awful at talking about it. We'd like this underdog thing. We don't like people to think we're any good at stuff. So yeah, this is turning into more of a therapy session over think than anything. Into therapy apart from I mean, last time I a couple of years ago, we did a tour of Northern Ireland. And that was the thing that we kind of noticed was the dwelling was absolutely the right word. And when you go into public classes, look at what's going on. Yeah. You know, what Game of Thrones was a nice thing for us because it was to focus on and make Northern Ireland famous for but Yeah, listen, Brexit gonna happen. Does anybody really know what it's gonna lead to? I don't think so. I don't think even the people that are in charge of it really no. In my view, it's what's going to start to be honest, rather than Brexit be and I think it's going to be a start. I was reading about Brexit the other day, the French looking at the same thing. The Germans will be quick to follow the Dutch. I don't know, Northern Ireland has a fabulous opportunity.
Robert Craven 42:27
So just getting back onto the script. For the future, talking about the future, again, I mean, with all these all the different platforms, all the different channels that people can be working on. What do you think what for you? Is it is a fit looking agency going to be doing in 12 months time? I mean, I know you don't like the business plan thing. But we've got being I mean, it's as big as it's going to be. Is Google always going to have this domination? Are the courts going to break up? Are the tech giants just laughing at them? And what so what do you see that the future kind of panning out?
Mark Haslam 43:11
There's too much risk, in my view for courts and for the and those sort of people to get involved in giant tech, you know, the, they tried to do it, I think with the tax that Google loomed in the south of Ireland, and the Irish government basically turned around and said, we'll pay it for you. You know, that's the impact that these guys have. It's not going to change, you know, getting a few billion in tax does not outweigh what it brings to the economy in terms of jobs in terms of the impact on the pubs, restaurants, sport venues around Barrow Street and Dublin for argument's sake, where it's gonna go. I haven't a clue. I think the important thing is that you adapt, and you don't try to fight it. You know, one of the things that you talked about at the very start of this as the agencies that started as PPC agencies, are there still PPC agencies, that will be the ones in my view that will struggle. Because it's moving away. You know, we chatted very recently about the impact of video. And some of the agencies we were talking to, you know, they're still talking about PPC, PPC to me isn't a thing anymore. It's what it used to be, you know, it's about channel selection, now. It's moving with wider consumer behaviour, giving people what they want. I kind of simplify what we do for a living as putting stuff where people want to see it. That's it, you know, and as long as you continue to do that, I think you'll be alright because ultimately, you're putting your clients in front of people that want to buy their stuff.
Robert Craven 44:42
Putting stuff where people want to see it.
Mark Haslam 44:46
Not the most educated food you'll ever come up with a terrible.
Robert Craven 44:48
No, no, no, that's gorgeous. That's gorgeous. That's absolutely gorgeous. So final question. We go out for a beer tonight. And we did that. And then a meal and a couple bottles of wine and a couple of glasses of brandy and coming out of the restaurant. We were doing our finger wagging. The thing is, is a lot of people really ought to do. I'd love to know if we had a younger agency owner, whether so younger agency found with us, I'd love to know what your recommendations or your one liners or your pearls of wisdom would be about running an agency, they may just be one, there may be several that are really curious.
Mark Haslam 45:37
I don't think I've ever been asked for advice before. So you know, well, I would just say give it a go. You know, my previous job I walked out of in the middle of a conference because they put a slide up that I didn't like, I think it's something to do with the red hair, it gets a bit fiery sometimes. But it's the best thing I've ever done. You know how I didn't even really know that it was gonna set up an agency at that state. You know, what is an agency? Is it 10 people? Is it 50 people? Wasn't it certainly isn't one person. So I went out on my own as a freelancer, contractor, whatever you want to do, I would just say to people who've given a rattle you know, well, if you can give it a good go, there is so much business out there for all of us. You know, that's why you mentioned something about who we compete with earlier? I think competition is an interesting thing, that there's not enough people. And it sounds ridiculous. There's not enough people doing a good job in what we do. To have to compete all the time. You know, people come to us because we do a good job. They don't talk to anybody else. And likewise, I'm sure it'll happen with the other agency. So there's loads out there. There's, it's an industry that's growing massively, and it's only gonna get better or worse, depending on what way you look at it. But I would just say give it a go. You know what you can't. Nobody can say they're doing a perfect job. I think there's loads to learn. There's loads of people out there that will help you. But if you don't give it a rattle, you'll never know.
Robert Craven 47:03
I love that. I absolutely love that, Mark. Absolutely great. I've really enjoyed talking to you. I love having my assumptions challenged and pushed around. That's great. And you know, the proof of the pudding is you're running a great agency with a great reputation. So, Mark, thank you so much for being our guest. It's really been an absolute delight and pleasure to be talking to you. Thank you very much indeed.
Mark Haslam 47:29
Robert, thank you very much for having me. Cheers.