Simon Hathaway is managing director EMEA at Outform – an agency leading transformation in retail.
As usual, we went to find out what makes him tick and what his average day looks like.
Please describe your job…
I’m the MD of the Outform business in EMEA. I am accountable for the P&L, growth and profitability, so I must define the strategic plan and then ensure we execute it.
Much of this is spending time with clients and building capability to meet their future needs as they strive to meet the changing expectations of shoppers. People want a retail experience that is everywhere, instant and personal.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
I’m accountable to the CEO and sit on the Global Leadership Group, which includes the heads of our key business functions.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
An agency MD is something of a generalist – someone who can pivot between managing the complexity of the business and still focus on the client work that the role demands.
The ability to spot and bring in the people who are going to drive the business forward is key, I might be the MD, but I’m also chief talent officer. At Outform, our common purpose is to find reasons for people to visit stores again and again and we are constantly looking for people who are passionate about bringing insight, technology and creativity to the in-store experiences and share our spirit – ‘dare to innovate’.
Tell us about a typical working day…
It’s a terrible cliché, but no two days are ever the same. Typically, my morning commute sees me spend 40 minutes catching up with emails on the train – we’re a global business working in China, Europe, and North America, so there’s plenty to get through! I’ll typically pick up a coffee at the Rapha Soho Clubhouse and after that it’s a free-for-all.
One of the main challenges as an MD is balancing time with clients and time in the business. We’re starting to be recognised for some of the most exciting work in retail and that’s been fantastic for growth, with that comes growing pains and I’m spending a big chunk of my day shaping Outform for the future. It’s a nice problem to have, but I particularly enjoy the time I get to spend working with our clients.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
When you’re working in an industry driven by innovation, you’re surrounded by creative and inspiring people who are constantly looking for new technologies and ideas to transform consumer engagement. I love it when I see shoppers enjoying the experiences we create in stores.
In the innovation process you have to be ready for things to fail, but that does not make it any less frustrating. It’s a crash and learn mentality that we have to nurture with our teams and clients.
What are your favourite tools to get the job done?
In our business, much of our 3D design is done in Solidworks and the opportunity to bring digital continuity through engineering and production process is very exciting.
Personally, I’ve become a big fan of the Notes app from Apple and I’m a bit lost without my iPad – though I’m convinced nobody believes I am taking notes in meetings, occasionally I do ‘multi-task’!
How did you end up at Outform, and where might you go from here?
I met Ariel Haroush, the founder and CEO of Outform, in a field of wheat in Sweden five years ago. We were both working with Absolut Vodka and they have a very special approach to brand immersion. We hit it off and always said we’d work together one day.
At the time I was working in a creative agency and facing the struggles that so many legacy shops still have today as data and technology disrupt the old-school ways. I switched to the client side, working with technology gurus and they don’t always think like creative marketers, so when Ariel called me, the opportunity to build a new retail agency grounded in technology was too good to miss.
We have huge ambition and we are part of the transformation that is shaping the future of retail. That’s a very exciting place to be right now.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
At Outform, success happens when we’ve created reasons for people to visit stores time and time again. Personally, I feel successful when I’m fulfilled in everything I do – both in and out of the office.
Which retailers have impressed you lately?
The situation on our high streets suggests that retailers are failing to impress anyone, so you have to recognise those that have turned things around. Target has silenced its doubters and its first-quarter results for 2019 beat analysts’ expectations, executing a plan that included remodelling existing stores, opening smaller ones in urban areas and enhancing its digital shopping experience.
I’m excited about brands and retailers who are investing to better connect the online and physical worlds. The Nike app now has in-store functionality and the recent launch of Adidas’ ‘High Street HQ’ flagship is an example of a brand that’s using creatively embedded tech solutions to create a frictionless, ‘destination’ shopping experience.
E-commerce giants like Amazon offer costs and convenience that physical stores will struggle to compete with, but there is a real opportunity for high street brands if they can offer new, value-driven shopping experiences like these.
What advice would you give a marketer starting out?
Stay focused on your consumer and when you are defining experience remember they have three types of budget: money, time and frustration. Any campaign you work on needs to have a human-centric approach that caters for those factors.