We’re hitting the agency world again today, meeting the founder and CEO of a content marketing agency.
Dan Andrews tells us about life at the tree.
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Please describe your job: what do you do?
Dan Andrews: I’m the founder and CEO of the tree, a full-service content marketing agency. We pride ourselves on creating content with character, whether through campaigns or social strategies. My role is to lay out the vision for the business, and build a crack team of highly talented people who buy into that vision, and deliver for our clients. I really see my role as supporting each individual to be the best they can be.
It’s also about applying practical creativity to our clients’ objectives and goals. Thinking laterally to ensure we are most effectively supporting our clients is a discipline which I try to instil in every member of the team.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
Dan Andrews: You need a significant level of resilience to be a CEO. Every day throws new challenges at you, and you need to be able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. Empathy is important, too. You can’t second guess what everything thinks, but knowing what pushes the buttons of the individuals in your team is the only way to get the best out of them. That empathy extends to clients. Being attuned to customer needs, and getting under the skin of our clients, really sets us apart.
If I’m honest, I’m a jack of all trades. Being a generalist – knowing a little about a lot – goes a long way when you’re building an organisation from the ground up. Then it’s a question of identifying a wide range of talents across your team, so that you can deliver on specific aspects of your offering.
Tell us about a typical working day…
Dan Andrews: I tend to catch up on the latest news and industry insight during my hour-long commute, and I’ll browse social media. When I reach the office, I catch up on developments with ‘night owl’ and international clients that have come in overnight. Most mornings we have a ‘stand up’, or one-to-one catch ups, where people share their priorities and work through any challenges. It’s a collaborative process.
Generally I’m out and about meeting clients and prospects throughout the day, so there tend to be quite a few decisions waiting for me at the office by the early evening. That’s when I get most of the real work done – putting creative thinking down on paper, reflecting on how we can move forward, and keeping a check on our clients’ long-term goals.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
Dan Andrews: I absolutely love the creative and strategic side of things but the fact that we help businesses on a daily basis really excites me. We’re not just trying to sell marketing for the sake of it. We really care about delivering results.
As you go further up the food chain you become more distant from the day-to-day. You’re not as involved, and I do miss that. The administrative side I love and loathe in equal measure. I’m a numbers person in the sense that I find finances and projections fascinating, but the process side of accounting does my head in! I’m more of a dreamer.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
Dan Andrews: From a client perspective it’s really important to have a clear, definitive, long-term vision. We try to break down milestones to understand how we get there. Improved engagement through social leads to greater conversion of sales; establishing brand metrics and deploying social listening to better understand sentiments; all of these are tools in the armoury. A lot of agencies and businesses are singularly campaign-focused, and lose sight of the long-term goals. We like to think we keep these firmly in mind.
For the business, we have a five-year vision, a key part of which is to be one of the most admirable agencies in the country (and hopefully, one day, in the world). We try to break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks, because trying to be on top of everything stifles growth. We look at the team and identify who is best-placed to move us towards each element of our vision.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
Dan Andrews: Throughout the business we use some great platforms to support clients, particularly Sprout Social and Sysomos. But my favourite would have to be the root, which we have developed and are rolling out across our clients and to other agencies. It’s a single screen content, ecommerce and analytics platform which is revolutionising the way we deliver digital.
On the business side, HubSpot is invaluable for sales and understanding how our pipeline is shaping up. Like many businesses we use Xero for accounting. When managed correctly, it allows us to have a really clear picture of where our financials are.
How did you end up at the tree, and where might you go from here?
Dan Andrews: I had a short spell at Bournemouth University, but I quickly realised that it wasn’t for me. So I left, and got a lucky break on a management traineeship with Bob Geldof’s media company, which has since rebranded as Zinc Media. I started off in media sales working across a range of titles, and then worked on Teachers TV, which was innovative at the time.
I moved to Manchester in 2011 to launch a digital team with an emphasis on generating commercial opportunities, and really enjoyed working with the CSR division. We put together some heavyweight programmes for the likes of BP, BMW and Nationwide. I then headed up business development for a division of Octopus Group, working with clients including Cisco and SAP.
At that point the business was pivoting away from the traditional way of doing things, so I saw an opportunity to build a content-first agency that put digital at the forefront of everything. I thought we could buck the trend, and be more agile. So I set up the tree with my friend and business partner Ed, initially working with small and medium-sized clients from a bedroom. Our watershed moment was taking on a project with Rosetta Stone, which set us on the path to growth. Since then we’ve been proud to work with household-name brands like Ticketmaster, Hays and JustEat.
The agency continues to grow, rapidly. We’re currently looking at businesses who might have a complimentary offering, with a view to acquisitional growth. But a service organisation can only scale and grow in a certain direction, so we are building up a product-based business called the root, which we believe has limitless potential.
The root is a highly secure and flexible content management and ecommerce platform . It’s now delivering powerfully for a wide range of clients and we are seeking investment to help take it to the next level. That will be a key focus on mine over the years ahead, because we believe we have a genuine market leader on our hands where the root is concerned. Hopefully investors will agree.
What creative has impressed you lately?
Dan Andrews: The recent IKEA adverts which recreated famous living spaces – genius. They took living rooms from The Simpsons, Stranger Things and so on, and rebuilt them using IKEA products. Although it was essentially a straight-down-the-line billboard campaign, there are real learnings to be taken into the digital space and the social arena from that campaign. I enjoy seeing companies that listen to customer social trends and sail close to the wind, in terms of repurposing well-known concepts, and owning them.
Any advice for new marketers?
Dan Andrews: Vocational learning is absolutely critical. University is great, but it’s no substitute for on-the-job experience. Young apprentices are throwing themselves head first into business and getting vast amounts of experience before they’re even 20, and that’s great to see. There are many ways to skin a cat, so I’m not saying “don’t go to university”, but there are real benefits to gaining as much hands-on experience as possible.