Contract into contacts

Tom Adams, founding director of interactive design group Mook, explains why every consultancy needs a non-executive chairman like Phil Jones

When we started Mook in 1999, inexperience was a virtue. Interactive design was still in its infancy and remained the preserve of horizontally promoted advertising executives, dotcom lunatics and men with ponytails. Since then, things have got a bit more serious: clients are better informed, they want eye-watering creativity and results. Mook has grown from five to 15, moved offices, weathered the industry recession and taken on some incredibly high-profile work – including The Month for The Sunday Times. So you could say we’ve moved from snowboards to the boardroom.

Running a small creative business is hard work. When you’re owner-managers like myself and my three co-founders, you have to produce the work as well as giving time to the strategic issues.

The attention to detail needed to develop client relationships can go out of the window when you’re working 14-hour days trying to deliver a project.

Last autumn, after our most successful year to date, we realised it was time to start capitalising on the financial security of long-term client relationships, and work out where the business was going. We’d been good at day-to-day tactical decisions, but didn’t have any perspective on where the real opportunities lay. After some intense discussion, we decided Mook needed some practical business advice coupled with renewed energy and enthusiasm: Sir John Harvey Jones meets the Reverend James Brown. We also needed to work with someone who understood our culture and the nature of our business.

Enter Phil Jones. He was leaving his role as vice-chairman of EHS Brann and going off to his villa in Portugal to watch football. We were men on a mission and we persuaded Phil to join us as our chairman in July 2004.

Why chairman? We already knew we wanted someone to work with us at board-level, and a non-executive director was the route we’d chosen. Someone to help us out a few days a month, bring their contact book, experience and let us win at table football. But as soon as we started talking to Phil, it was clear that his personality and skills called for a more involved role, something grown-up and serious that would demonstrate our commitment to each other. As chairman, Phil is more than an advisor: he’s our senior ambassador, our strategic partner, and our seal of approval in a competitive marketplace driven by reputation. And he has some grey – sorry, silver – hair, and all chairmen have a bit of that.

To be honest, none of us knew what a chairmanship would involve. We knew we’d collaborate a few days a month and wanted to make the most of Phil’s connections, reputation and team-building skills. Phil said we reminded him of his early days at Real Time: a busy studio, a talented team, jumpers for goalposts and everything to play for. Phil’s salary is equal to employing one full-time designer – an investment we feel will pay great dividends. We structure our time around a board meeting, team talks, and an occasional long lunch. So he helps with everything from preparing a pitch, to thinking up interesting ways to get us more exposure.

But the best thing about Phil is his love of people. Within his first two days he knew everything about our team. He is an enabler who thrives on bringing like-minded people together to achieve a common goal. And that’s worth its weight in gold. This week he introduced us to a book called ‘First break all the rules’ and insisted we all read it. So we’re definitely not going to do that.

We’re also hoping Phil’s reputation and experience will count for a lot with existing and prospective clients as well as persuading great creative talent to join the company. One of the big challenges for any small creative studio is winning the trust of large client organisations. Phil’s chairmanship provides that extra bit of reassurance when it comes to a competitive pitch. In fact, it’s already had a positive impact on a couple of key client relationships.

It’s impossible to know what long term effect Phil will have on our business. We are now looking forward to some controlled growth around new client relationships as well as strong additions to the team, a higher profile, and building partnerships with like-minded companies.

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