What’s the CEEK origin story?
I founded CEEK in 2016 as a digital marketing specialist for the hospitality industry. It’s interesting that, despite being one of the forerunners in the ecommerce world, hospitality’s ‘savvy’ when it came to digital marketing at that time was surprisingly low.
We got into the industry because there was clearly an overwhelming need for better digital marketing to help clients elevate themselves above the masses.
It’s not everyday you find yourself breaking into a market with an offering that is quite unique, pioneering even. But, at that time, there really was nothing in the market like CEEK. Today, that outlook is quite different with a wide array of marketing agency offerings and I’d like to think we’re still at the vanguard.
We also proved that you don’t have to be an established, multi-site agency to bring something new to the table. For a while, it was just me and three other employees tackling every challenge clients threw at us.
But, in six, short years, we have become a multi-million pound business, moving from our early offices in Brighton – my home town – to two city centre bases in London and Manchester serving a global client base.
Our team of 15 deals with more than 50 retained clients spanning luxury, home and design, health and wellness and, of course, hospitality.
Thinking back to that time of growing the business, what advice would you give yourself?
Trust in the process. It’s not enough to be good, or even great, just once or twice. You have to be consistently at the top of your game and sustain it over a long period of time.
That process of continuous improvement is what keeps you and your team ahead of the competition, compounding your knowledge and refining your tools and strategy.
There’s such a drive as an entrepreneur to find triggers that will deliver success right this moment. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
This is a nation built on the toil of small businesses that are striving to make things happen every single day. But to grow, you need to be able to sustain and compound those successes, settling into that rhythm that is going to deliver consistency over time.
One example is our decision to invest in a larger office that housed most of our team in London. Most of the marketing world was doing the opposite. But by bringing the team together in a dedicated space, it has fostered quicker knowledge sharing and a high-performance culture that I’m hugely proud of.
It is undoubtedly a huge competitive advantage against other agencies in the sector. Growing this innovative, creative and collaborative culture is the major focus for the senior leadership team going forward.
What specific problems does your business solve?
Quite simply, we’re there to protect our customers and make their marketing more efficient. Sometimes the simplest goals are the best!
But specifically, we need to make sure that they’re efficient and that, with the wealth of tools and tactics available to them, that they’re not doing something that can actually damage rather than promote their business.
It’s really things that every digital marketing partner should be doing for its clients but, we’d suggest, not all manage at the level they should be. Looking for cheap cost of acquisition, driving eyeballs and awareness.
But we feel we’re not just protecting them and promoting our clients’ businesses, but we aim to perfect it. We use data-led insights to improve their marketing over time and to help them scale.
Lastly, we have our own, proprietary methodology that always takes the work at least one step beyond the mandated line of work.
Being able to deliver beyond the black and white scope of the brief is really where we feel there’s a competitive advantage. Beyond contracted value – it’s what our whole culture is built on.
Who or what inspired the business?
It was, funnily enough, from working within the hospitality industry. At the time, we had an events business that was servicing a number of hospitality clients. We felt that their internal marketing was actually hampering our efforts.
Bit by bit, we found ourselves offering advice and helping the venues that we ran events in. We looked at the venue, we looked at the group. We looked at the other businesses they owned and so we ended up growing an agency that now services several sectors.
And the recipe for the secret sauce?
It’s got to be our team. When you buy from CEEK, you’re buying our people – their attitude, their knowledge, their hustle. That is the foundation of what I was talking about earlier, delivering beyond contracted value. Together, this becomes our mission statement, which is to be the unfair advantage to the best brands in every sector.
This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you work with the best, you get to handle more budget, see more, be more creative.
The real magic then becomes taking those learnings and feeding them out to our community of clients. That word community is very important – they collaborate very often.
One recent event saw a plant-based meats start-up collaborating with a high-growth restaurant brand that specialises in smoked meats. Collaborations like this don’t just grow their own market and share of voice, but revenue too as they open up new customer bases. As I said, beyond contracted value.
What about the future, is there a five-year plan, a blueprint for further success?
We’re not ashamed of our ambition. In six years we grew from a handful to two major UK offices and an international client base.
In the next five, we want to triple the size of the team in London and open overseas offices in the Middle East. In North America, we’re looking to grow our client base 10-fold.
But critically, the core mission over the next five years is to invest even more in our people. We really believe we have the best talent in the market and we need to nurture that.
Of course, to expand, we will need to attract fresh talent to the business and that’s already happening. It’s adding new cultural dimensions that can only add richness and depth to what we already have.
But we need to invest back into that resource by providing learning and development to really hone those skills.
Has any challenge really rocked you? Forced you to change tack or shift perspective?
I think the pandemic is naturally at the forefront of many leaders’ minds still. Yes, it was most definitely a challenge but it also had a cleansing effect on a number of industries.
Many unfortunately went under and some rather unfairly, but for those that were overleveraged and overstretched, they couldn’t cope.
Those businesses that are left, by this baptism of fire if you will, are by definition stronger and now have a different mentality for having come out the other side.
Having overcome this, they are looking to the long term with renewed purpose and they want business partners with the same tenacity and expectations. This plays to our sweet spot as a truly collaborative, partnerships business.
Some might say that challenges received wisdom, thinking perhaps that some companies are emerging a little battered, a little more tentative. But I think that probably is another facet of CEEK that has come to define us.
We’re not taking the same worldview – not to be contrary – but because we think that to bring difference for our clients you’ve got to be – different.
While many marketing agencies are shutting down their offices and moving to remote working, our team is pushing to build a physically present culture.
We’re investing in our infrastructure and teams to meet those needs and that’s appealing to a lot of people, people who crave that connection and team culture once more.
Over the past few years we’ve really seen the value of leadership, and business leaders are being called upon more than ever to really drive change. How do you get people to buy into your leadership vision?
You’ve got to get into the trenches. Whether it’s with clients or team members, it’s a high performance culture and we fight for each other. I often liken it to being in a sports team – it’s competitive but it’s tight-knit.
Leading by example is often bandied about but there really is no other way. My work rate is mirrored by my senior leadership team and they are all exceptional people.
In fact, surrounding yourself with exceptional people is one of the only ways people are really going to believe in you. It helps new clients and new talent understand the community you’re building and buy into it.