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February 04, 2022 • News

Doing things differently and evolving in times of adversity

Ranked among the 150 best British agencies by PR Week and voted 2nd in the campaign's Best Workplaces category, the integrated B2B tech marketing agency, Octopus Group took a big turn in 2021. As they celebrated their 20th anniversary of independence, the group announced a new future within Publicis, one of the biggest agency groups in the world.

“At a time when unfortunately, lots of businesses folded, we just got stronger.”

We spoke with Finance Director Ben Holden about the acquisition and the flexible approach they took to gain new clients.

“As the PR pie was getting smaller, about five years ago, we recognised that we need to do some things differently. There was an opportunity to offer different services, doing things differently, so we started transitioning into more of a marketing agency. We offered B2B marketing rather than B2B PR (which is what we used to do), focusing on the technology sector, which is where most of our clients came from.

When we did that, we grew.

Over the lockdown period, a lot of event business came our way. If you imagine, marketing budgets are usually split one third to events, one third to digital and one third going elsewhere; all the events stuff couldn’t happen and got repurposed to became digital which came to us. So, we just gobbled up all that stuff that other agencies couldn’t do and grew our clients.

Having that change five years ago and with covid happening, the new business we created suddenly became really successful.

We climbed the PR week rankings and won the 2nd best place to work for, and as a result of that, we got an opportunity to sell and sold the business to Publicis, the third biggest media group in the world. They liked our results and the fact that we’re in the B2B space, which is a growing space right now. So yes, it’s been a good year for us, although exhausting!”

The big wrestle for new talent

“Our issue now that we’ve grown is towards resources. We can’t get our hands on talent quickly enough.

I think everyone across the market is struggling with that; there is a big ask for talent to join agencies. I think generally, people are pretty hacked off right now. They’ve been stuck in their jobs working from home on zoom calls for the past year, and people are ripe for a change.

People now are moving and that’s forced up the price as people are fighting for the right talent."

Embracing hybrid working

"Before covid, we typically were in the office five days a week, and we were really backward about it. It was a real draconian mindset.

The great thing about these past few months is that, from a work perspective, it’s opened our eyes, and we can see it is possible to work remotely.

The reality is that it depends on the type of job you’re doing. If you’re client-facing, you’d often need to be in the office, but if back-office working and basically on email or on zoom calls, you can do that from home. It really depends where you are on the introvert/extrovert spectrum. I think it’s best to have a flexible approach.

We’ve got someone in our workforce now who’s living out of a caravan in Cornwall.

Ultimately, I think people will decide what works for them. You can try and build your policy as you like, but eventually, there’s going to be a better offer elsewhere, and you’ll have to compete with that. Companies will have to become more flexible, and I think that’s a good thing.

Building connections in a virtual world

“Before covid, we had a strong culture already, so people were very accommodating and could rely on the bonds they had. We were used to doing loads of things in person. We're a 60/70 strong group of people, but we do things like sharing our lunches together, weekly beer-o-clock on Fridays, finishing the day at 4, Christmas drinks, lots of team building and just trying to share and celebrate together. Once a year, we host our Rock Stock festival in a field.

Over the past year, we’ve hired people we haven’t seen in person and haven’t built those bonds. We could rely on that culture less and less and needed to rebuild some of that culture by sharing experiences together.

The first thing we did was being honest with people about what we’re doing with the business.

A lot of those communications we’ve kept doing, and celebration Thursdays, where we catch up and celebrate things together. It’s important because instead of walking around the office, physically seeing everyone what happens is you get little subgroups, we've tried to get them engaged and make sure nobody is left behind by hosting fun things, team building activities, and hosting things like virtual escape rooms.

Whatever you decide for your people, whether they are in the office or not it’s just important to check-in, make sure people are there and have a voice.”