Chris Soames is CEO of marketing agency HOME. We caught up with Chris to find out more about his role, and how it has been impacted by Covid-19.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
I’m the CEO of HOME, the largest independent strategic marketing agency outside of London. My role is to work with shareholders, leaders and the wider business to ensure HOME continues its amazing journey. I’m lucky to work alongside and learn from so many talented team members who share my commitment and excitement for HOME’s continued growth.
Talk us through a typical day…
It’s amazing to think how “typical” changed for everyone in 2020. Ordinarily, I would talk about meetings, a crazy amount of travel and the beautiful chaos of responding to the daily events of agency life. However, this past year has been much more about structure, which I’ve welcomed.
It’s important for me to take time for myself which is why I start every day with meditation, caffeine and fuel before moving on to emails (reading not responding), tasks and key focuses. This sometimes means rescheduling or changing my daily agenda.
Although it might be uncommon for CEOs to be heavily involved in agency outputs, I continue to support on key client strategy, and most days involve some element of this. I find it super useful to remain close to a client’s needs to truly understand the changes and challenges they are facing.
On top of that, I support on any new business proposals, unlock things with my leadership team (hiring decisions, investment choices, prioritisation and coaching) and push forward our vision and acquisition plans. We have an aggressive growth plan and a great track record of mergers and acquisitions, both of which need constant attention and energy.
How do you maintain an effective work/life balance?
Even when I have a busy week, I rarely feel unbalanced. Outside of work, I really enjoy spending time with my fiancé and before Covid, weekends were all about travel, hiking, seeing friends and going out for meals.
In the last decade, I’ve learned how to detach from work and process the spikes in stress and pressure that often occur in demanding roles. In my position, it’s difficult to have a consistent routine and being aware of and remembering that has taken some learning. I’ve found that regular coaching and learning how to optimise sleep, diet, environment and exercise have all helped me achieve the balance I need to stay focused and energised.
At HOME, wellbeing is something we absolutely prioritise, particularly this last year. We have a dedicated squad of mental health first aiders across the agency as well as a team who focus on how to bring happiness and fun to the workday. We’ve had regular mental health mailers, hampers full of goodies in the post and seasonal competitions. It always makes me proud when I see how much our Homies (our team members) care.
How has customer behaviour changed during the pandemic?
We work with clients across a wide range of sectors which means that change affects them in different ways. One thing they have in common: an underlying uncertainty of what’s to come.
HOME has a dedicated Insight and Strategy team that work closely with our clients to examine and predict ever-changing consumer behaviour. This has helped us understand how our clients – particularly in travel and FMCG – will need to evolve to remain relevant. When you look at the unpredictable ‘return’ of travel and tourism brands, they are quite understandably nervous, but remain determined to come out the other side better. Then in sectors such as petcare, our clients have really doubled down on their purpose to ensure that they support the wider health of pets as the sector expands with customers who acquire new pets during lockdowns. And our gaming sector clients have thrived through the summer as people look to online bingo and sports betting to fuel their entertainment needs.
What I would say is that this pandemic has reinforced our appreciation for the amazing people and clients we work with every day – each one with a desire to do great work with lots of energy, despite what’s going on around them.
What do you predict for the future?
Right now, there are some fascinating trends that are playing important roles in the future: the rise of D2C brands, explosive growth of software/technology businesses, political tensions, purpose- driven businesses, environmental awareness and the continued drive for privacy.
If I had to pick a few, I would say…
Purpose will matter more and more. And not just purpose for comms sake. If businesses are to thrive, they will need to show how they support the planet, communities and the ecosystems they live within. I’m a huge fan of Bcorp and Economics of Mutuality as big change drivers. Marketing must lead organisations to help ensure that a brand’s purpose consistently and authentically permeates throughout comms, products, services and supply.
Privacy and personalisation will find a way to co-exist. Consumers demand both privacy and personalised experiences. There’s no hiding from it. As a consumer myself, I’ll admit that I want to have my cake and eat it, too. We’ve lived with this issue for a while and with the bright technological minds on the case, whether its blockchain or other rising technologies, I am confident that there will be exciting breakthroughs in this area very soon.
Creativity will be the battle ground. Technology, data and performance have dominated marketing for years. As the volumes of data and technological advancements become more accessible to more brands, automation will thrive. Our competitive battleground will be all about creativity and those that naturally identify and solve consumer problems using a multitude of channels will be the ones left standing.
How has strategy changed at your company?
We entered 2020 with geographical expansion plans in place: HOME was set to open an office in Amsterdam to better serve the needs of one of our largest clients. Although these plans didn’t come to light in the way we had planned, this has allowed us to become more focused on other commitments and our overall direction as a leading agency.
We plan to double the business over the next few years by leveraging our size and scale, but with the agility to give the major networks a run for their money. HOME’s depth in the required specialisms and unwavering focus on the consumer over channel or idea means that our agency story will resonate with clients likely facing budgets reductions as we head into 2021.
And while growing our client base is incredibly important, even in these unpredictable times, our culture at HOME remains a top priority within our wider strategy. We’ve always had a strong culture, even with various mergers/acquisitions, and I believe this is in large part because of the continued investment in our Homies. This year has brought dramatic changes to daily lives and the impact on work and mental health is profound.
Looking to 2021, we are working to help strengthen the resilience of each team member through training and further support across each area of the business. We are also building even more flexibility into our processes, client relationships and ways of working to ensure each person has opportunities to thrive regardless of external events.
What advice would you give to a marketer right now?
With so much change going on in the world, and in marketing in general, my advice is threefold:
Be consumer focused. So many say it, so few live it! Step out of your own world, brand or agency as often as possible. Watch how people behave, listen to how they speak, how they engage IRL as well as online. Bake empathy maps and consumer journeys into all your planning. It’s too easy to get lost in tech, data or our own worldview. The best marketers are the ones closest to the consumer.
Embrace simplicity. With a focus on consumers, make everything as simple as possible. It’s so easy to overcomplicate marketing. However incremental, strive for simplicity and for progress. Every win – whether it’s a better creative, a smoother customer service interaction or the opportunity to create a special moment with your consumers – don’t over think it. Just get on with it and move.
Soak up knowledge and be brave with it. This is regardless of pandemics or marketing trends. The only constant is change. To grow as a person and within your organization, I think you have to be prepared to out learn those around you and make sure you apply that knowledge as often as possible. Whether that’s 15min Blinklist summary books, online courses or actively listening to colleagues around you, the minute you stop learning is the minute it gets boring and unnecessarily difficult.