After spells in the international marketing departments of Rothmans International, and Saab-Scania, Guy Gilpin worked for Saatchi & Saatchi where he developed his love of International advertising. As an account manager on international accounts, it became evident that there was a need for a specialized translation service, serving the advertising and marketing world, offering creative translation using market-based copywriters. This gap in the market gave birth to Mother Tongue Writers, the company Guy formed with two ad agency colleagues. From a three-man startup to a global entity with hubs in London, Singapore and LA, Omnicom Group Inc. acquired Mother Tongue in 2012 and after a four year earn-out – Guy was made Chairman.
How did you get into the industry?
Well it was out of necessity really – two of the three partners started at Saatchi and Saatchi but left to renovate French barns and sell them to Brits. This worked for a while but when we came out of the ERM at the start of the 90’s, sterling collapsed and so did our source of clients. So we came back to London, looked at what combined assets skills we had and they pointed to a startup combining advertising and languages and thus Mother Tongue was born.
Any emerging industry trends?
We’re getting pressure from the tech side, which is understandable, however you can’t replace humans with tech completely, especially in the creative world so the trend of offering a totally tech solution will eventually come unstuck through quality issues and they will have to refocus on the quality of what goes into the tech – ie human writers and translators. Integration is a big thing – how the translations link in to clients’ content delivery systems etc.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
While we would not employ technology to the human writing side, it’s clear that quite a lot of the management process can (and will) be automated. The marriage of tech and creativity will be where we hope to score.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
Having already worked for international clients in advertising we already knew that there was no real solution for getting creative copy translated in a way that sounded culturally right, so it was a natural step for us to create such a service. We’ve always aligned Mother Tongue to the advertising industry so we closely monitor the industry and adjust ourselves accordingly. The move to digital requires new skillsets from writers and we make sure all of our copywriters are completely up to date.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
We’ve been going for over 25 years and in all that time, there’s never been a single One Big Thing that changed our future, it’s been a collection of smaller improvements and adjustments and I think that will be true for the future, having said that, 5-6 years ago we opened hub offices in Singapore and USA – that propelled us from a London shop to a truly global enterprise so who knows?
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
All the usual suspects: look after our clients, look after our people, watch the competition, keep up with technology and challenge convention every now and then.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
We started off with 3 founding partners and in the early days it was fine but one of the partners was not putting in as much as we were and we wanted to push the business and were prepared to work for it – we eventually fell out and we bought her out which was not nice because we were friends as well. It’s important to get partnerships in business very right and to have agreements in place for the worst eventuality – it’s not a natural thought when setting up a business because everyone is so optimistic at the time.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
I think the client experience will be enhanced though technology – we are investing in some good tech that allows control and transparency from within the client dashboard, it also consolidates various client departments, making sure all language output from the client as a whole is consistent. And on top it makes us more agile, which leads to efficiencies and increased speed to market for the client. The “ideal” client experience will vary not just from client to client, but from job to job and even day to day – sometimes people are looking for a completely frictionless experience where they send a job, get it back and barely notice the service provider is even there (Uber style), whereas at other times they are looking for someone to provide them with detailed guidance and advice in a field that is (literally) completely foreign to them. So it’s finding that balance between treating the client’s time as precious, and giving them as much of our time as they need/want. Again, it’s about using technology where it makes sense to do so, without losing the human touch.)
How do you motivate others?
Getting people working as at team can be very motivational and we try to put different teams together to work on projects. Allow individuals to take charge and work in as much freedom as possible. Reward – we have a profit share scheme, which associates hard work to personal gain, more than a salary does – never a bad thing.
Career advice to those in your industry?
Be nice and open to your fellow workers – make people want to work in your group and want to come to you for advice. Have empathy. Before coming to a decision that affects a client (or anyone really) always put yourself in their shoes and consider how this decision will affect them.