David Gelb is the co-founder and Managing Director of London-based digital agency JBi Digital.
For our regular Day in the Life feature, he spoke to Econsultancy about how he came to co-found JBi, his favourite tools for getting the job done, and the most impressive marketing campaigns he has seen recently.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
David Gelb: As Managing Director of JBi Digital, I am responsible for overseeing the agency’s strategic direction and ensuring that we hold true to our core values.
I have two main priorities: to ensure that each of our clients receives a full and beneficial service, and to create a friendly, attractive working environment for our employees. By delivering on these objectives, JBi is able to deliver on its mission statement, which is to create “outstanding experiences” in all that we do.
I am therefore heavily involved in account management, acting as an escalation point for many of our clients and supporting in any way that I can on our projects.
We make strong team communication a priority at JBi, with an emphasis on mutual respect; I believe that trust is vital in creating a confident and driven employee base. We want our employees to feel comfortable and confident enough to challenge decisions and put their ideas forward.
If our clients enjoy working with JBi, and our employees enjoy working at JBi, then I’m doing my job.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
David Gelb: I’m in that lonely place where the buck stops with me!
I am lucky to have a strong team around me who are not afraid to take accountability wherever they can and challenge me on key decisions. They bring fresh ideas to the table and offer skills which I do not have, which certainly makes my job easier.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
David Gelb: Success in my position is, in my view, dependent on clear communication. When employees don’t feel listened to and respected, the agency suffers.
As such, I make an effort to ensure that everybody at JBi is given the opportunity to contribute wherever possible. Whether it be a key project decision or internal brainstorming for JBi’s new branding, we want to create a feeling of togetherness and collaboration.
I also place a strong emphasis on the importance of listening. We want to instil confidence in our team that they can speak their mind and communicate honestly, which goes a long way in fostering a productive working environment.
Intelligent recruitment goes a long way in cultivating a positive working environment, and is also an important consideration in my role. Building a team of talented, driven and collaborative people with complementary skills is vital to the success of any ambitious agency.
Tell us about a typical working day…
David Gelb: There is no typical working day for me! Every day is unique and brings its own challenges, which I love. There are no slow days.
I do have some daily habits which I endeavour to keep. I start each day by reading through the news, before reviewing company and financial reports and then making my way into the office for 9am.
Once I’m in the office, my day can consist of anything from brainstorming sessions and client meetings to project work and business development. Having such daily variation makes for a dynamic working environment and goes a long way to keeping things fresh.
If I can, I always try to find the time to go for a walk around Marylebone at lunch time. This gives me a chance to reflect on the day and collect my thoughts, as well as get some fresh air and exercise.
I usually leave the office at around 6:30pm and spend the evening unwinding with my family, before spending an hour or so at the end of the day going through emails and planning for the next day.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
David Gelb: It goes without saying, but I love when things go right and find it difficult when things go wrong.
Each day brings its own victories and excitement, creating a real sense of positivity and forward movement that is a pleasure to see.
As much as I love the varied nature of my job, though, it can be tough when things don’t go to plan. Whether it’s disappointment at not winning a pitch or frustration at failing to hit an internal target, it’s important that everybody bands together in these situations so that we can learn from and build upon our shortcomings.
For me, I find that the key is to focus on the controllable aspects of my job and ensure that I set my own, realistic targets as well as setting ambitious targets for the agency as a whole.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
David Gelb: We are currently in the process of finalising the JBi brand and re-defining our positioning. The goal is to present ourselves as a digital partner for clients, with an emphasis on building long term relationships and working as an extension to the client’s team rather than just acting as an executor for a project.
For me, the most important metrics for measuring success are staff and client retention, followed by financial metrics. If our clients are staying with us long term and our staff are loyal, we know that we are succeeding in delivering an “outstanding experience” throughout the agency.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
David Gelb: Having put such an emphasis on the importance of communication earlier, it won’t be a surprise to hear that my favourite tools are those which aid communication!
My phone is central to the way that I work with clients; there are no opportunities for misunderstandings or Chinese whispers when you are speaking to somebody directly, and it is far easier to build a strong personal relationship over the phone than it is over email. While face to face communication is always preferred, phone calls are often the best substitute.
I am also a big fan of Slack instant messaging for internal communications. I would highly recommend it to any agencies which don’t use it already.
How did you end up at JBi Digital, and where might you go from here?
David Gelb: I began my career as a graduate trainee in the banking industry, after which I founded a global online recruitment business. Unfortunately, I launched the business at the start of the global recession, which had a significant impact on its success.
I was working with a number of highly skilled, digitally savvy people and decided to take a risk by changing course, co-founding JBi Digital with my colleague, Raj Bawa.
When JBi first started, we had no clients and little industry knowledge. The most difficult hurdle was convincing clients to trust us with their projects.
Thankfully, we are in the opposite position today. We have a diverse range of clients, from exciting start ups to established, international businesses, and I am very excited to see what the future holds.
What marketing has impressed you lately?
David Gelb: Politics aside, the Conservative Party’s General Election campaign was brilliantly planned and implemented, especially in comparison with its opponents’ campaigns.
With their target market in mind, they agreed upon a simple and impactful message, which was never diluted or compromised despite heavy external pressure.
As bored as we all became with hearing the words “Get Brexit Done”, each member of the Conservative Party was disciplined, stying on message throughout their campaign, and the party ultimately won with a landslide. By comparison, Labour and the Liberal Democrats had muddled messages which ultimately led to confusion and a lack of support.
Whether you agree with their politics or not, the Tories’ approach to the 2019 General Election was an example of a strong and well implemented marketing strategy.
What advice would you give a marketer starting out?
- Listen to and learn from those with more experience than you, but never be afraid to communicate your own thoughts .
- Find an environment where you are encouraged to contribute ideas and challenge your colleagues with confidence.
- Perseverance is key – if you have an idea or strategy which you believe in, don’t give up on it.
- Always think critically! Ask questions like:
- Who are your target market?
- What are your target market looking for?
- What are you trying to achieve?
To learn how to improve your recruitment practices, overcome the skills gap and build inclusion and diversity into the hiring process, don’t miss Econsultancy’s newly-published Modern Marketing Job Descriptions Report.