Mark Stringer "Strings": Founder, PrettyGreen

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Bio:

Strings founded PrettyGreen 4th July 2008 as a way of fulfilling his entrepreneurial dream of helping create and own new brands and after being convinced by one particular Client that it give him wiings (as well as realising that he wasn’t quite ready to retire). With over 20 years of Client and Agency experience, an integrated thinker, who’s not bad at coming up with an idea or two. As well as setting up PrettyGreen, he was an non-Exec for over 6 years of BritDoc, is often a judge for PRCA, PR Week and MAA Awards and sits on the PRCA Council. He is also a co-founder and Director of La Maison Fontaine (an Ultra Premium Absinthe range), where the Blanche is the now the most awarded Blanche absinthe in the world. He was once a school high jump champion (but he was 9).

How did you get into the industry?

Whilst at university I had done two placements for a kitchen manufacturer and learnt everything you don’t want to know about kitchens, but had spent time in customer service, finance, production, NPD, but didn’t find any of them particularly inspired me.

However, for my third placement I was lucky enough to be offered a placement at Buena Vista in their marketing department, which I jumped at, and found an industry and career that from there on in just never felt like work, and I never looked back.

Any emerging industry trends?

Today we are all publishers. News is no longer owned by newspapers and content is no longer created solely by media houses, film studios, publishing houses. The world of PR, advertising and media is on the one hand battling to understand what it’s sustainable revenue and business model is, on the other embracing this exciting new world order.

From a PR specific standpoint “earned media” is an incredibly exciting space to be involved in, especially given the concerns over traditional bought media, such as TV. And a traditional PR Agency today, is no longer traditional. They often are developing large integrated campaigns, executing everything from social, digital, events, stunts, sponsorship, advertising.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

Following the crash of ’08 and the continued financial uncertainty across the globe, we’ve seen a tightening of belts when it comes to Agency fees and creative work. There is much more scrutiny over marketing costs.

Alongside that, we all know the pace of work has got much  faster. There is an immediacy expectation to responses. If we send an email today, we expect about a 20 min response time. If we don’t get that, often a text will follow.

What this has led to in the creative industry is an expectation that you can deliver great creative work in a much shorter time. Leading to a sense that responses and ideas are rarely crafted.

Someone quite wisely said in marketing you can trade on price, pace or creativity. As soon as you squeeze any two of those factors you will fail. But today we often hear people say, there’s no time, no money, and it has to be award winning.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

I never set out to create my own PR Agency. I actually wanted a total change but was unsure what that meant. What I did know was that I didn’t want a boss, and when you realise that, a lot of doors automatically change.

I also wanted to be able to do the things I’ve always wanted to do, rather than feel that the business was merely a vehicle to earn money, to lead an interesting life, and that I’d turn down exciting opportunities because they maybe didn’t quite fit into a neatly defined box.

And it was actually a Client who I was acting as a consultant for, persuaded me to set-up my own Agency, and they said they wanted to Give me Wings.

I’ve also always believed that PrettyGreen is about creating life defining moments for myself, everyone who works in the business, and our Clients. It’s a bold ambition but when you look back at your year, it shouldn’t just be punctuated by holidays, it should be that alongside amazing achievements at work.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

We are currently exploring a number of international opportunities and we believe we’ll have another PrettyGreen office in a cultural capital of the world, alongside looking at a number of opportunities to both acquire and create joint ventures with complimentary businesses.  

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

One of the key reasons that the business has been successful is that we have a real commitment for focusing on ensuring we only take on projects that play to our strengths and enable us to do what we really want to do.

What we’ve found over the years is when we deviate from being an experiential and content driven PR Agency, and we step out of Sport, Entertainment and Wellbeing, we don’t do our best work as it’s not where our passions lie.

Alongside that we’ve really focused on our maintaining our strong culture, and what we believe in. Clients will come and go, and therefore who we are and the value we have should remain true. We have a very stringent recruitment process, based around our values (everyone is creative, stand up for what you believe in, be smart and curious, go above and beyond), ensuring that people joining us are likely to want the same things we want. This can be distilled down to the “Christmas lunch test”, basically would you want to be sat next to the person you’re interviewing at our Christmas lunch, if you would then so would our Clients.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

At the end of 2012, in the space of 4 weeks, due to a combination of Clients changing direction, and pulling projects, we lost 70% of our revenue. It had a dramatic effect on the business, and on me personally, as everything we had fought so hard for was on a knife-edge.

Standing up at a Company meeting and explaining the situation just before Christmas was one of the worst things I’ve ever had to do, as it was a bolt from the blue, and personally I felt like a failure. As the Founder and CEO I was meant to be growing the careers, not putting their jobs in jeopardy.

But we took a bold decision, and only made a couple of people redundant and took a decision to go out on the front foot and build on our reputation and what we had, rather than looking to shrink the business back to basics.

Fast forward 12 months and the business had fully recovered and we had grown by over 15% YOY.

The lesson that I learned was that in a world of uncertainty “you can only control, what you can control”, so focus on making those things the best they can be, and stop worrying about the things that you can’t influence, it’s just a waste of emotional and physical energy.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

Clients don’t have to work with us, they choose to, so ensuring you have a relationship built on trust is critical. Alongside that we believe that we create a working relationship that is both professional and enjoyable.

We also set out to deliver campaigns that create “brand fame”. If customers and consumers aren’t talking about the marketing you’re delivering then you’re probably not delivering work that is worthy of the money you’re being paid, and we strongly believe that being able to effectively articulate the commercial return is imperative.

How do you motivate others?

By solving problems, and helping reassure people that they can solve their own.

I’m not a religious man, more spiritual, but I unfortunately believe that you only have one life, therefore you have to make the most of the here and now. I want people to use their time at PrettyGreen to be the best they can be, and therefore I try and motivate people by helping people do more of the things they want to do, which ultimately gets people to work harder for themselves.

Career advice to those in your industry?

This industry doesn’t have a finish line, it’s relentless as you’re only as good as your last idea, and regardless of how many things are going well, your focus is often on things that aren’t. You’re not selling a uniform product, or cookie cutter service. This can lead to a great deal of emotional and physical fatigue.

Therefore you have to remember to enjoy the ride, as the destination is rarely a big enough reward.

You also need to distill it all down and remember we’re only here solve a Clients problems. What you have to “do” is a long list, what you’re “doing” is just unfinished business. We get paid for getting things “done”, so focus on that.

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