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Econsultancy: Please describe your job: What do you do?

James Joyce: I am responsible for Astound’s marketing strategies, with the overall aim of supporting the sales function. At Astound we focus on marketing as the mainstay of our commercial team’s work, which sets us apart from our competitors.

My job is to win the hearts and minds of our customers. We do this through a variety of means: producing fantastic thought leadership content, putting on industry leading events for retailers, and I also oversee our external PR team to ensure we maintain great relationships with our target media.

E: Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?

JJ: I report directly into Terry Hunter, our MD. My team is one of five main streams within Astound: marketing, technical delivery, commercial and existing customers, new business, and creative. All of the department heads report into Terry.

E: What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?

JJ: Without a doubt, the most important skill is to be a strong communicator. One of the challenges of being a marketeer in 2018 is the number of different channels there are to communicate through: my role is to make sure Astound’s messaging is consistent across social media, PR and through our own branding.

In retail, everyone knows everyone so it’s important to be someone who is easy to work with and a big part of this is being an effective communicator.

Another attribute which is essential is creativity. As a marketeer you should be able to look at any campaign from the customer’s perspective. This approach will stand you in good stead for being a success in this industry. Creativity is so important because you cannot keep beating the same drum, you need to be constantly evolving. Retailers are creative people by nature, we have to evolve with them in order to provide them with a useful service.

At risk of slipping into cliché, dedication is incredibly important. Do not get into the world of marketing if you want a standard nine-to-five existence. I’m actually at Wimbledon today (this interview took place during the tournament) as we’ve organised an event for our partners and clients here. To make today work, I was up at 4:30am and won’t be home until 11pm – it is tough but this is also what makes it such a great job.

Another key skill is the ability to be able to identify and recruit talent. Surrounding yourself with an amazing team is the best way to be successful.

james joyce

E: Tell us about a typical working day…

JJ: As you’ve probably guessed from where I am today, there is no such thing as a typical working day. On a usual day when I’m in the office (in reality this tends to be only two days a week), I have a wide variety of tasks on my plate.

I’m often reviewing our marketing materials – this might be a whitepaper or case study prepared by our PR team, or it could be a new piece of branded content made by our design team. I also spend my time in the office putting together budgets as well as hosting clients and partners for strategy sessions.

The events we put on take an unbelievable amount of preparation. Believe it or not, I’m already in talks about hosting our event at next year’s Wimbledon. We also put on the annual ‘Retail Open’ which is the biggest golf event of its kind. We gather the industry’s top retailers together for a day of golf at one of the country’s most beautiful courses. This year we put on our biggest to date at the Luton Hoo course for 200 retailers. Events on this scale take a year or more of planning. I was in residence at Luton Hoo for most of May to make sure everything was in place. These events are a huge time commitment but they are also incredibly satisfying.

E: What do you love about your job? What sucks?

JJ: The fact that it is so varied is what I love about it most. I wanted to be involved in the world of marketing and branding from a very young age so this really is my dream job. I got to play tennis with Pat Cash today – not everyone can say that of their Monday in the office!

I think the key is to evolve any role you are in to make yourself better than the competition. Myself and Terry have been working together for many years and have always worked incredibly hard to get in front of the right retailers. But getting in front of them is just part of the battle; we are driven by working out how we can offer them a service that no one else can.

Part of the process of finding out what retailers want is simply sitting down and talking to them. One way we do this is by producing a series of whitepapers around a variety of themes pertinent to the retail sector. Along with our partners, we gather a selection of our contacts from top brands, have a fantastic meal and then ask them what they think of the current state of play in the retail industry. From these conversations we produce a whitepaper which is invariably a great piece of thought leadership content. We also learn a great deal from these meals about what retailers wish they had – this allows us to offer a better service. This is how we know what is going on under the hood of the retail industry.

In terms of the things which aren’t quite as good: the fact I didn’t take a holiday for the first two years at Astound. Though this is testament to how hard Terry and myself have worked to make the company a success. To be successful in this industry, you have to give everything – but when you do, it is immensely rewarding.

E: What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?

JJ: In terms of KPIs, we tend to look at our previous year’s performance. This way we are always trying to better ourselves. We also like to look back at every event we have put on and evaluate the success of it. We look at the functionality of our marketing team and give a very honest assessment of our performance. Did we support sales? Were we able to turn introductions to retailers into business? Fundamentally: have we seen a return on investment?

In terms of our goals, we want to help brands evolve whilst we also develop our own offering. No two years should ever be the same – we need to be constantly evolving.

E: What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?

JJ: Focus groups are one of the most useful tools that we use – if we didn’t listen to retailers and didn’t listen to our partners, we wouldn’t be able offer a good service. Any creative idea we have, we’ll run past the CEO of any company we work with in that sector. If they don’t think it would be useful to them, we’ll scrap the idea.

E: How did you get into digital marketing, and where might you go from here?

JJ: I graduated from Southampton with a degree in Media and Journalism and knew that I wanted to be involved in marketing and branding. I think this stemmed from having a great English teacher at secondary school – this planted the seed that made me love the written word. I liked the graphic design side of branding as well but I always preferred writing strap lines and using language.

I must have sent my CV to Saatchi & Saatchi 25 times and eventually they let me get my foot in the door. This persistence paid off as I got signed up as a fully-fledged tea boy!

In my time at some of the top media agencies I was lucky enough to work with some of the biggest brands in the world of retail. I was able to work with the likes of Ralph Lauren and Puma which was a fantastic starting point as I was able to learn about how the best retailers communicate with their customers through marketing and branding.

E: Which ecommerce websites do you admire?

JJ: Of the sites we’ve created, I think Lily’s Kitchen is one of my favourites. We controlled every element of that build including the website design. As a dog lover, that site has a lovely look and feel. Another site we are incredibly proud of is Boohoo. The scale of that project is what makes it special – it is the largest online marketplace in the world.

E: Do you have any advice for people who want to get into digital marketing?

JJ: I would encourage people not to go straight into digital marketing after graduating. When we recruit people, I like to see they have experience elsewhere. I think it is useful to work agency side for a period – preferably an agency that has retail clients. Experience of working for a retailer directly would also be a huge plus point on any CV we see.

Through working with a retailer, you can learn how brands speak to consumers as well as how the industry works. I learnt so much working with Ralph Lauren and Puma at that early stage in my career. You need to really understand the retail ecosystem and the fact that brand is everything.

I spent five years working in private equity and other businesses and another five years working on the agency side. I think this mix of experiences is important and one I like to see in candidates who are interested in working at Astound.