Sunday, 13 June 2010

A new start

I cannot believe that after more than seven years I have left my family of Photolink Creative Group behind and moved to Cash Generator. Only time will tell whether this has been the right decision for me, but I find Cash Generator as a business that has so much opportunity to benefit from my experience and a board of people that I know and trust.

Many changes will be taking place over the coming months following my appointment, so as you can imagine I am bursting with excitement. There is much work to be done to address the perception of the brand and to rapidly expand further the store and Internet offer.

In updating all of my own Internet related links I note that have done so little on my blog it's embarrassing. I will do what I can to correct the error of my ways!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

How a blog should be done!

At Photolink we have finally launched our own blog, it's making mine look worse each time I view it! Rather than droning on about myself this blog looks at what's interesting out there on the Internet and what's interesting at Photolink. Take a look if you get a minute.

If you were wondering about me I'm just back from 2 weeks in Florida, what a place! One week of crazy theme parks and Disney characters and one blissful week of Clearwater to recover. I love America!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Your inbox can't handle it anymore

I cannot believe it's nearly 12 months since I published my last blog. It's been emotionally, physically and mentally exhausting this year as Photolink continue to survive and prosper. The highlights include the recent opening of our own studios in India and the 200% growth of our digital team. As a board last November we concluded that we simply had to invest heavily in digital to allow us to move the Group forward over the next five years. This has become my main responsibility and over the last 12 months we have defined our core services and recruited some of the best people in the industry, to make sure we can offer exceptional creative solutions.

I have to say as we have built the team I've felt a little like Mark Hughes at Manchester City, identifying the best people in the business and hunting them down until we got them. The transition from a relatively small 'new media' team into a digital team that can compete with any other has been painful, but I'm glad to say that we are nearly where we want to be. If you get a minute have a look at our interim digital website

The key to our growth this year has been communication, as we define our offer and manage expectation through a period of major transition. As clients also feel the heat of the recession Photolink as an agency are expected to be on hand for at least 15 hours of the working day and now across the weekends. Unfortunately as we all feel the constant pressure to clear our desks each day, email has become the dumping ground for communication and the dreaded 'cc' means that we spend huge proportions of our day observing discussions that only have a passive relevance to our working day.

The structure of my day has fallen into spending an hour in the morning addressing emails that have arrived outside of my working window yesterday, emails throughout the day build up with me responding to the urgent ones, then two hours each night catching up on the rest of my daily inbox. Last Monday resulted in me receiving 412 emails in one day!

For me that was the final straw. Not only does email slow down your working day but it fundamentally has a negative impact on the way we do business. 'cc' emails encourage a view from everyone included and the nature of email prevents immediate dialogue. The result is that the most simple of decisions are dragged out for days.

After finishing work at 10pm on Monday I decided that Tuesday was going to be a new day. With the majority of my previous days emails coming from 8 or 9 clients and staff. I called all of the clients, requesting that rather than sending email after email they simply call me if they wanted to chat and that I would make a point of calling the most active clients once a day for a catch up. I also made the point of telling the Photolink team to not email me but to come and see me or at least pick up the phone.

As a social experiment I have to say this has been a resounding success. Firstly my inbox has reduced to average 50 emails per day. Yes I have spent a lot more time on the phone but this is a positive not a negative. Decisions have been made quicker and relationships have got better. As for the staff it's been great to see them venture out from behind the computer screens and to actually talk to people. Finally, it's meant that I've not had to go home each night put the kids to bed, have tea, then sit with the laptop on my knee for the next two hours, I've actually been able to stop thinking about work, well for a little more time anyway.

So, we all know it's a problem, we all say we should send less emails, now put it into practise. You will be surprised at the effect it has on the prductivity of your day and it does wonders for communication.

Friday, 7 November 2008

A lucky escape

This week was the Interactve Marketing event at Manchester Central. With an increased focus on Digital within Photolink we spent some time considering whether to exhibit. Although we are a fairly large agency we still have to carefully plan how to best use our own marketing budget. Finally we decided not to exhibit but committed to attending both days as delegates.

Oh my god, I think this is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I arrived on day one with a pocket full of business cards, expecting to launch head first in crowds of digital hungry visitors wanting to network and learn techniques that could be applied to their own organisations. Theoretically with the subject matter being Interactive Marketing I cannot think of a single business in Manchester that should not want to learn about this.

Tumbleweed is an understatement, the halls were practically deserted. Desperate exhibitors who proudly stood in front of their miserable shell schemes tactically planned how to ambush delegates with rain forests of brochures. This resulted in the few delegates that were there retreating to the only safe haven, the lecture theatres. In total across the two days I attended six lectures. Three of them should be ashamed that they are calling themselves digital/marketing experts. However, credit where it's due I thought the presentations by Mediavest, e-Consultancy and KMP Internet were very good.

On day two we decided to give the event a second chance, foolishly hoping that all registered delegates for some reason had blocked out their diaries for day two. The delegate numbers were even lower. I spoke to three exhibitors who were quite rightly appalled at the event.

I can only conclude that this event was very poor. With a great city, a good location and a subject matter that should leave delegates as excited about Christmas as they were as children, the organisers of this event failed miserably and should seriously look at exhibitor and delegate feedback before planning a repeat event in 2009.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Are you being served?

We decided a few months ago that the family car was due for a change. After three years loyal service we decided that our Golf should be changed for something more family bus like (environmentally friendly of course!). Recognising the current financial climate we headed into the market place expecting to see car dealers scramble over each other for our business. How wrong were we?

I don't often name and shame but I have been so thoroughly disgusted with the level of customer service over the last two months that I have created my own top three of shamed companies (in reverse order):

Number Three - Arnold Clark Stockport
After narrowing our choice to either an MPV or Estate we headed off to our local Honda dealership in Stockport to look at the new Honda CR-V. After finally attracting the attention of a sales person I was asked what ideal vehicle I had in mind. After disappearing for 15 minutes the guy returned telling me that we couldn't afford one for our budget, making no attempt whatsoever to give me alternatives (lower spec, nearly new, etc). He seemed quite surprised when I made this suggestion and reluctantly showed me a used model outside, but again told me this was not affordable. Feeling somewhat disappointed with the whole experience I didn't further our discussions and left him to carry on with the laughing and joking he had been enjoying with the other sales guys throughout our visit.

Number Two - Autobytel
After failing at our local dealership I turned to the Internet to find some offers. Although not ideal I found an amazing deal on the Autobytel website for a new VW Passat. Eagerly I phoned the call centre, spent ten minutes giving them my personal details and p/x. The person thanked me for the call and promised a call from the relevant dealership within 10 minutes. 

6 hours later with no call, I again contacted the call centre. Unable to get through by phone and anxious not to lose out on this exceptional offer I sent them an email again detailing my requirements. By 4pm the following day I had still not received a call so again I phoned, again gave a ten minute briefing on my requirements and again receiving a call back promise in 10 minutes. 

Eventually an hour later I finally got the call from the dealership. 'Oh that's a shame Mr Owens, unfortunately that car was sold yesterday, it's a pity you didn't contact us earlier'!!!! To put it politely I explained my disappointment and received a promise that I would be contacted within the hour with another similar deal. I have never heard from Autobytel or the dealership again except for a week later a got a courtesy call from the call centre asking me for feedback on their service!

Number One - David Holmes BMW
Again after trawling the Internet I found a fantastic offer for a new BMW 3 series. I contacted the dealership and great news they had two left. I enthusiastically gave them my details, got a call back with some good finance figures and raced home to tell Claire the good news. The following day we both agreed to take time off work to visit the dealership to sign the papers. 

On the big day Claire organised for the Golf to be valeted and at lunchtime we excitedly arrived at the dealership. Greeted with a coffee we were ushered to a sales desk and met by the sales guy. All great so far...

At that point the sales guy said 'hmm, I can't seem to find your paperwork', so off he disappeared for 20 minutes, finally returning to say he had finally found some of it. After going through our details yet again he went on the system to check the new car, 'hmm (he said again!) that's strange, your car seems to have disappeared'. After waiting another 15 minutes he finally returned to tell us the car had been sold to someone else and there was not another one like it in the country. Unbelievable.

These three dealerships who must be keen for business should be ashamed of themselves.

Fortunately my saviour came from Lookers Honda Derby. After spotting a nearly new Honda CR-V (you know, the one that wasn't affordable) on the Internet I made contact with the dealership. Within 15 minutes I had a call back with a good finance quote and three days later we collected the car along with a bunch of flowers, a £25 M&S voucher and a petrol credit for making the journey.

The moral of the story for recession hit retailers, whilst you have to compete harder than ever with competitors, surely customer service is paramount to winning business and not just price.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Am I from another planet?

I have been hot on the digital trail this week. As well as attending a host of client meetings I've been making a conscious effort to attend networking events to see how other organisations are managing the digital evolution. With a spare night in London I chose to visit a 'Mash Up' event to discuss how digital innovation could be used to make better use of Government data. 

How sad am I?

Surprisingly I found this more interesting than I first thought. Firstly, I was amazed at what data could now be made available using the the 'power of information', then secondly I progressed to who really cares, then finally I sat trying to understand how our public sector clients could actually make use of this information and could there be benefits for the private sector. Furthermore the word 'innovation' kept being used. This is a word that has previously been somewhat of a struggle to apply to campaigns in the public sector, but just maybe this strategy may provide a glimmer of hope.

Yesterday I attended the second Manchester Digital networking event. I wouldn't say there's active collaboration between the digital agencies in Manchester, but it was nice to see everyone at least in the same room discussing new technologies and it was great to see most companies doing well.

The highlight of my week came in debriefing members of Photolink, some of whom have limited digital knowledge from other parts of the Group. As I re-played my weeks client meetings and networking events they clearly felt I had visited Mars instead of London, as I proposed my intent to run a webinar by creating a site using API's, Flex and Web 2.0, using Twitter to communicate with members who may tune into the meeting using Skype!

As I'm writing this blog I have just learned I have become an uncle again. Welcome to the world Matthew Owens. As I struggle to keep translating the current technical evolution into benefits for our clients, I dread to think what the digital landscape will look like when my nephew is old enough to care but I hope it's as exciting as this one!

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Batting for the other side

After 15 years and a great deal of peer pressure I've final changed sides. No not my sexuality or my football team (how could I now they are the richest team in the world!), no I have finally changed from PC to Mac, something I vowed never to do. Two weeks in I have been suffering withdrawal symptoms as I have had to learn a new textbook of shortcuts, but I've been through the pain and am now starting to see the upside.

It was great last week when I visited India (yet again) to Skype my family using webcams, firstly in Dubai waiting for a flight transfer, then again each night from my hotel room. This has to personally be the greatest benefit I have seen from digital to date, I think my children would certainly agree.

The digital side at Photolink has been understated for the last few years. Although in it's own right the department has a turnover that would rival some of the regions largest digital agencies, we have chosen to keep it fully integrated into our design team and not shout about it as a separate department. We remain convinced that our USP is to offer clients fully integrated solutions for their businesses, where we can consistently communicate their brand values and marketing campaigns across multiple channels - print, digital, pr and events.
However, exciting things are afoot at Photolink as we have further expanded our digital focus. Firstly, we have recently added to the team by recruiting three new digital creatives and have also recruited a dedicated team for digital marketing so that Photolink can effectively manage on-line campaigns through SEO, PPC and email. Finally, as we view digital to be far more than just web we have licensed a mobile platform so that we can now deliver eCommerce through your phone. This channel really excites me as there will definitely be significant growth over the next 12 months.

The photographic offer at Photolink has also evolved to recognise digital as we have now invested further in our rich media offer. We are now using video to deliver 360 product views and fashion catwalks. As our clients continue to shift sales to online we believe this investment will allow us to continue to offer a premium creative service.

As I don't seem to be able to write a blog without mentioning India I am pleased to announce that we have now opened our own creative studios in Mumbai. Initially we have 11,000 sq ft of photographic studio space, but a mezzanine is also being added so that we can provide design services to our Indian clients. Have a look at for more information.