No job titles, as much holiday as staff like - meet Jenny Biggam of media agency the7stars

The co-founder of the7stars on growth and keeping work fun

VITAL STATISTICS

·         Company: the7stars

·         What it does, in a sentence: We are the UK’s largest independent media planning and buying agency

·         Turnover: £147m

·         Growth: 49% year-on-year growth

·         Founded: London, 2005

·         Founder/s: Jenny Biggam, Mark Jarvis

·         Size of team: 109

THE NEED-TO-KNOW

How quickly has your business grown?

Over the past year we have grown billings by an additional 49% (outperforming the media agency sector and adding an additional £44m to the business). Profitability over the same period has grown by 23.7%. We’ve averaged 30% growth in each of the last three years.

What’s been key to that?

We’re a rare beast - an independent media agency in a sector where big agency networks are the norm. This means we are free to negotiate deals on behalf of our clients that are tailored to their needs rather than them being bundled together with lots of other advertisers as part a group or agency deal with media owners. We are also really committed to our client’s success – for example in the first year of working with P&O Cruises our campaign helped them to deliver their most successful year ever with 35% more passengers and 40% higher revenues.

When it comes to workplace culture, from day one we set out to do things differently by having fewer rules and focussing instead on creating a great place to work. So staff can take as much holiday as they need - we don’t count it - we share financial information about the company with all staff and we don’t have job titles. These are just some of the measures that have led to us coming third for the second year running in the Sunday Times Best Small Companies to work for league. 

The7stars meeting

the7stars team in a meeting

What metrics do you look at every day?

From a business point of view it’s the usual things – profitability, turnover, the new business pipeline.

As an agency we keep a keen eye on Campaign Magazine’s new business rankings – it provides a good snapshot of how effectively we are competing against the bigger networks and helps to keep us on our toes.

A really key metric for me is our annual client satisfaction survey  – we’ve only lost one client in the past three years but even that is one too many. We recently received 8.8 out of 10 for “willingness to recommend the7stars.”

What do you consider your greatest success in business?

I’m really proud of our talented, committed staff most of whom I didn’t know ten years ago.

And your biggest mistake?

Not anticipating how fast we might grow and not hiring bigger premises earlier on. We have moved four times in the past decade which is costly and disruptive. We took a 7stars approach to the latest move, appointing project teams from across the company, to decide on everything from décor to hot-desking, which made the process more fun.

Jenny Biggam the7stars

Jenny Biggam, co-founder of the7stars

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

To hire the best people and then trust them to care as much about the business as you do. It can be really hard to let go and delegate – however watching the people who work here really engage with our business ethos, and make it their own, has been worth it.

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

Over the past ten years we have grown from a team of three to 109 at the last count. When it comes to attracting talent the Sunday Times “best small companies to work for” ranking, combined with coverage of our workplace culture in different media, has really helped – our recent graduate recruitment round attracted over 1000 CVs for seven vacancies.

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

That there is a real demand for a smaller independent agency prepared to do things differently and to look after smaller advertisers. Our approach has attracted like-minded clients and as we have grown, so have they. Growth is fantastic however as we grow we need to work hard to maintain our entrepreneurial values and culture.

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

Digital is revolutionising the way media is traded with the rise of highly sophisticated processes such as programmatic. Within an increasingly automated environment transparency is really key – clients need to know exactly what it is they are buying and what it is delivering in terms of ROI. It’s also important to hire staff with the right technological skills and a desire to keep ahead of the latest developments. Personalisation is another big trend – consumers want brands to talk to them one-to-one but in a way that is appropriate and timely and respects their privacy.  Agencies that can help brands achieve this will increasingly be in demand.

What makes a great leader?

Empowering people to realise their potential and giving them control over their careers. And not taking yourself too seriously!

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