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Business focus: Alias

PUBLISHED: 15:44 24 October 2017

James Ashe, Managing Partner

James Ashe, Managing Partner

Archant

The 360 appraisal is a familiar feature of the corporate world, where employees from the office junior to the CEO are critically-appraised by their peers. This is our take on that process, and this month it’s the turn of Alias

Director-level

Name: James Ashe

Age: 40

Posistion: Managing Partner

How long have you worked at the company?

I founded the company with my wife Vicky about five years ago. Before Alias, we had a company called Stormin’ Ideas that worked ‘covertly’ with other PR and marketing agencies to come up with the creative ideas and campaigns that they should have been able to come up with for their clients but couldn’t.

What motivates you?

I’m motivated by the journey we go on with our clients.

The project we just completed for Randall & Payne is a great example of this. It started with a brief to refresh their website but we challenged them on their overall brand, asked them difficult questions around what they stood for and made them think about what the future holds. We then worked with them to create a brand that has not only changed how they are perceived externally, but a brand that could impact and shape the culture internally. Watching a business change and evolve in this way is something I really enjoy.

What keeps your business at the top of its game? And how do you drive its success?

First and foremost, it’s all about our clients. The clue is in the name of the business, really. We like to be in the background – the agency behind great companies. We very rarely court the limelight. In fact, doing an article like this is a very rare occurrence!

We also know that our success is based on what we do for others. We treat every piece of work as a showcase, firstly for the client and then for us. It’s a great driving factor and it’s what keeps our standards high. If we can’t be proud of a piece of work, then how can we expect our clients to be?

I suppose the other thing that keeps us at the top of our game is that we are honest. We always tell clients what we think – it’s not always what they want to hear at the time, but they always come back and thank us for our honesty.

So, if we keep putting our clients first, keep the standard of our work higher and build on our reputation for being direct and honest, I’m pretty sure we will continue to be successful.

Explain the company’s vision

The vision is simple – we want to be the best. Not the biggest agency in the region, but the best agency in the region. And that’s not just the best agency in the eyes of potential clients, but also in the eyes of potential staff.

So that means not only creating great work, but also creating the best environment for our team to grow, develop and flourish. A member of staff said in the past that she had learnt more in one year with us that she had in five years working somewhere else. That’s a pretty cool thing to hear and sums up how we support our team.

Any successes you’re particularly proud of?

It all depends how you measure success. We don’t really do awards, and they’re not something that really excite us. We much prefer to take our success from our clients’ successes.

The Chateau Impney Hill Climb is a great example of this. It’s a motorsport event that hadn’t run for almost 50 years before we were asked to bring it back to life. We handled every aspect of marketing for the event: we created the brand, designed and built the website, created all the video content and photography, handled the print and radio advertising, generated hundreds of press cuttings, and drove the social media strategy, as well as handling over 100 members of the press at the event.

In the first year, we drove 10,000 people through the gates. In year two, we increased footfall by a further 40%. Had we entered awards for the project, I’m pretty sure we would have had a trophy or two sitting on the mantelpiece.

What’s the most challenging thing about your role - or the company itself?

As the new face in town, I guess it’s breaking down the relationships that already exist to get in front of potential new clients. Gloucestershire is a small place in which to do business and we see a lot of companies working with agencies based on age-old relationships, which makes it harder for the businesses to determine if they are getting the best results. It’s my job to convince potential clients that there is another, fresher option. No one said it would be easy, but then again, we love a challenge. After that, it’s all the trials and tribulations that come with running a growing and ambitious business.

How do you recruit new staff? How do you know when they’re right for the business?

Great staff is the holy grail – it’s one of the two reasons we moved from Stow to Cheltenham, the other being that we wanted to work with bigger companies. We have worked with recruitment agents in the past but it’s never really delivered for us and if I think about the success we have had with staff, it’s been people like Robyn and James who have come to us directly.

We’re quite picky about who gets a seat at Alias. We don’t have a lot of seats, so the people who come through the door have to have something about them. We like people to have interesting backgrounds and experiences that can spark a conversation. We want people that have a passion – not just for what they do at work, but for other things in their life, like hobbies, as we want them to have a good attitude to work-life balance. We also look for people who have pride in what they do. And finally, we look for people that we can imagine spending hundreds of days every year with in an office in Imperial Square!

If you could give me one top tip for business success, what would it be?

I have two tips that I would give.

First, be authentic and be yourself. We come across a lot of people acting how they think they should act while at work but that is at total odds with the person they are come 5.30pm. It’s really at odds with how we work, as we always tell our team to be themselves in front of clients and contacts. After all, if that person doesn’t like you, then there are around five billion other people in the world you can try!

The second tip we always try to put into action is to make the work as fun as possible. We know that for some clients, working on the marketing side of their business is just a small part of what they do overall, but it offers a welcome break from the day to day. Therefore, it’s our job to make that process as fun and enjoyable as possible. Yes, we are deadly serious about what we do for clients, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be enjoyable.

What does the future hold?

I’m really excited about the future of Alias and our team. We moved into Cheltenham at the turn of the year to help bring our vision of being the best agency to life. While we have only been here for a number of months, we have already started working with some of the most respected organisations in the region.

Of course, we are looking to grow, and the next 12 months is about building on our great start and sharing our expertise with other acclaimed businesses in the county.

James Slater, Senior DesignerJames Slater, Senior Designer

Mid-level

Name: James Slater

Age: 28

Posistion: Senior Graphic Designer

How long have you worked at the company?

Four months

Briefly tell me about your job role and how many people you’re responsible for?

As senior designer, I’m responsible for the entire design team, and together, we create brand identities, websites, and a range of marketing collateral in both digital and traditional mediums. I ensure that our creative output is always of the highest quality and that we deliver exactly what the client needs. I oversee projects from start to finish, all while pushing our creative boundaries at the same time.

What attracted you to work at the company? And what keeps you there?

I had the opportunity to join Alias at a time of great change in the business, following their move to Cheltenham and a shake-up in the team. In particular, I was really excited about the potential to have a strong impact on the business, and the opportunity to grow as the agency does. So far, I’ve found that variety is what keeps me going – both in the work that we produce, and the different personalities in the office.

What would you say are the best things about working there?

As we’re a small agency, I have a real opportunity to make a difference within the business. Just four months in, I think that I’m doing just that, and I’m really proud of the work that we’ve created in that short time. There’s also a great team in place at Alias – it’s a really relaxed and friendly atmosphere in the office.

What opportunities have you been given in your role?

I’ve been able to drive change right from the start. I’ve been able to input into the direction of the clients we seek to work with, and it’s been up to me to shape the creative output of the business, including the processes within the studio and the external suppliers we work with to deliver a project.

What changes have you seen in the business - or in your job - since you started here

Being the newest member of the team, it’s tricky to say what changes I’ve seen in the business since I’ve started, but we have started working with a lot of new clients in the last four months, and it’s been great to be able to set the standards high right at the start of the relationship.

What motivates you?

The ‘perfectionist’ in me always strives to deliver the best work that I am capable of producing, and my ‘OCD’ tendencies mean that I always do it in a very organised and concise manner.

But really, it’s my two-and-a-half year-old son that keeps me working hard – first, because I want to provide for my family in the best way I can, constantly pushing me to drive my career forward, and secondly, to provide a positive role model for my son to follow, as my father did for me.

Tell me about communication and morale?

As we’re a fairly new team when you think about it, morale is good and we’ve got a great team spirit. We always challenge each other’s thinking and bounce ideas around, so it’s a good environment to be working in.

Would you make any changes at the company, in terms of efficiency or anything else?

Being in an industry that’s constantly evolving, there are always opportunities to learn new skills and develop new processes. Already, we’ve started using new technologies to improve our workflow, and I can see more of that happening as we go.

What does the future hold for you?

Hopefully, a long and prosperous career at Alias! My main goal is to develop a stronger brand strategy and consultancy offering for the businesss – our brand offering is already excellent from a strategic point of view. But I think there’s a greater opportunity to build on that and make it a more integral part of our services.

Robyn Hardman, ConsultantRobyn Hardman, Consultant

Employee

Name: Robyn Hardman

Age: 26

Posistion: Consultant

How long have you worked at the company?

Four years

Briefly tell me about your job role

As part of the marketing team, I’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. On any given day, I take on the role of copywriter, proofreader, strategist, and account handler. While my expertise lies in all things digital, I work on projects of all shapes and sizes, so I might start the day by drafting a press release, and finish up by developing a client’s SEO strategy.

What attracted you to work at the company? And what keeps you there?

While finishing my MA in Writing, I was looking for a company that would challenge my thinking and give me the opportunity to let my creativity shine. I started at Alias as an intern and right from the start, I was put to work on key accounts and creating work that really made a difference to our clients. I felt like a vital part of the team from day one, and that drive to keep getting fantastic results for our clients and work on great projects is why I’m more than happy to stay.

What would you say are the best things about working here?

Getting cuddles from Wilf, the office labradoodle, is a big plus! There’s also a great atmosphere in the office – we all work really well together, we support and push each other, and most importantly, we have a good laugh.

What opportunities have you been given in your role?

I’ve been able to work with plenty of different clients, rather than just get stuck on one account – from handling online PR for boutique hotels to managing the press office at a major motorsport event, there’s never a dull day. Throughout the years, I’ve also been given chance to work on higher-profile clients than I would have done at other agencies, and have been able to drive our digital offering forward so that we can provide a wider range of services to clients.

What changes have you seen in the business - or in your job - since you started here

Possibly the biggest change I’ve seen in the business is our move to Cheltenham from Stow-on-the-Wold. Not only was it a physical change in location, but it was a big change for us in terms of clients, as we started developing new relationships and working with fantastic companies in the area like GFirst LEP, Randall & Payne, and the University of Gloucestershire.

What motivates you?

I really take pride in the work that we do. We have very high standards at Alias, and so I’m always striving to meet those and ensure that we’re doing the best we can do for our clients.

Tell me about the relationship between staff and management

In some ways, it doesn’t feel like working with management – we’re a small company, so we’re all part of the same team, getting stuck into each job and working together to bring an idea to life. Having been with James and Vicky from fairly early on, we get along really well, and they’re always encouraging me to keep challenging myself and grow. I know that they trust me to make the right decisions for our clients, and that’s a really nice feeling.

Would you make any changes at the company, in terms of efficiency or anything else?

I wouldn’t say no to a proper coffee machine!

What does the future hold for you?

As the business grows, I’d like to develop our digital offering even more substantially. Although there will always be a place for print media, the way we use social media and digital marketing is constantly shifting and changing, and I think there’s a lot of opportunity in the county to provide a digital service that has a real focus on strategy and influence, rather than simply pushing the same old content.

Visit the Alias website for more details.

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