Q&A: How I grew comms agency Vista from £3m to £12m in one year

We meet James Wilkins, MD of the creative agency that works with 15 of the FTSE 100

VITAL STATISTICS

Company: Vista

What it does, in a sentence: Intelligent Creative Communications Consultancy

Founded: Vista 2015 (previously Logistik 1996)

Founder/s: Dirk Mischendahl

Size of team: Leeds 60, London 40

Your name and role: James Wilkins, MD

 

THE NEED-TO-KNOW

How quickly has your business grown?

Vista, previously Logistic, started 16 years ago as a small events AV agency in Leeds. It was a £3m business that grew to £16m during my time. In my first year the business grew from £3m to £12m in the space of just one year.

What’s been key to that?

People are the heart of the business. The ability to be different is very difficult, the ability to be better is what clients ultimately buy in to and that is all about your people. Clarity of thought and vision is also very important. You will get knocked all the time but your ability to stay focussed on what you truly believe is crucial to success.

Ultimately you can have a great product, great brand and a great business but what you must have is a network of people you can connect with. With confidence, trust and affinity come the ability to impress things. I work very hard personally to build and foster deep relationships with the people I do business with.

What metrics do you look at every day?

Our net promoter score, so what our clients are really saying about us, what they feel about us and our work and whether they would recommend us to other people.

Equally, we are a time based business so we look at how much time we are able to recover from our clients. Time is a real measure for us to see if we have enough resources, are they in the right place. Agencies often give away too much time, so you need to look closely at how you manage your time and how you can get better at recovering your time.

What do you consider your greatest success in business?

I don’t think I’ve had it yet. Building an agency through the recession that has continued to grow and now works for 15 of the FTSE 100 and some of the biggest household names in this country, is something I am extremely proud of. We’ve been asked to work on some of the most important communication engagement the UK has seen in the last 5-7 years, to be asked to do that Is a privilege, but do I think my biggest success is yet to come, yes absolutely.

And your biggest mistake?

Not understanding the importance of managing growth many years ago. When I was younger lots of people knew I was going to be going to an agency, and also they wanted to work with me and we took it all on and quadrupled the turnover in a year. What I didn’t understand was the requirements you needed in your own infrastructure to support that, we achieved it just, but we learnt a lot in the process.

What’s the most important management lesson you’ve learnt?

Listen first. I believe massively in coaching and creating great conditions for people to fulfil their potential which comes from listening first and learning along the way. Equally, knowing when to lead when people need to see strong leadership.

How quickly has your team grown, and how have you attracted great talent?

The team has grown rapidly from 15 people to over 100. Finding good people is very difficult, when you do, offer them a job even if you don’t have anything for them to do, because you need to keep talent in your business. The challenge for an agency is not how good you were yesterday it’s how good you will be tomorrow. We want to attract talent by making sure the offer makes sense financially, the work and conditions are interesting, and they feel as though they are learning and developing as people. If you tick all three boxes you will find that your best people will stick with you.

What’s the most valuable insight you’ve gained into your market or industry?

You have to constantly improve. The conditions for agencies and the competitive nature means the ability to be truly different is really hard. You have to constantly be demonstrating that you are improving to the client as well as never taking a client for granted. It isn’t about clients doing business with our business, it’s about our people having a personal relationship with the people we do business with.

What do you think are the most significant developments or changes on the horizon for your industry?

Continued rise of digital, as the pace and change will only accelerate quicker than it has so far. The employees of the people we talk to are changing. The days of people joining large organisations and remaining at a company for a long period of time have changed; the loyalty spectrum has moved. This provides a different challenge for communications. Equally there is a much tighter alignment between brand, marketing, HR and comms making symbiosis critical.

What makes a great leader?

Understanding what people do best, by listening and being truly open to what’s going on. You have to learn, demonstrating that you are constantly evolving and are in a position to truly lead people. And don’t forget to laugh; demonstrating that it is relentless, hard work, but equally can be fun, bringing authenticity to your work so people have to have some sense of a relationship with you.

Follow @VistaAgency on Twitter

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