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What I’ve Learnt: Ben Pollard, Managing Partner, Syn

Ben Pollard - Syn

Ben Pollard is managing partner at Syn, a creative agency based in Leeds.

Syn was recently named as a new entry to Prolific North’s Top 50 Integrated Agencies for 2024 and has a team of 34 working with major clients such as Dr. Martens, Adidas and Eastpak.

The agency has recently worked with Life Fitness, a leader in commercial fitness equipment, to deliver a global marketing campaign to introduce the Symbio range.

From failures to lucky breaks, Pollard shares all the lessons he’s learnt across his life and career.

Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

I have a few things that I’ve brought into my daily routine, so it would be hard to choose one as they all keep me mentally and physically balanced. But if I have to, I would say walking my dog.

Every morning, while the kids are still fast asleep, I wake up at silly o’clock and walk the dog. It is a great way to focus on my day ahead and help me process things that might need some thought. Something about being around nature in the fresh air (even when it’s chucking it down!) provides you with a sense of clarity you can’t seem to get when the kids do wake up, and life (and your phone) comes alive.

Reflection plays a big part of my life these days, and this is a great platform that allows me to do this.

What’s been your luckiest break?

I’m a big believer in making your own luck, but sometimes you have moments or make decisions when you know the outcome might not be clear cut. But looking back, Covid was a break which has proved beneficial from a business perspective. Whilst at the time, it was, without a doubt, the worst experience i’ve had (as i’m sure is the case with many people) but we had only been in business less a than a year, the business focus was in Retail, and with everything grinding to a stop we also had zero support financially and a small team to support.

But during Covid what the enforced stop allowed us to do was re-evaluate the business, what we did and how we did it. We realised that having a business plan before having a business is allot different from having a business plan once you have run one – albeit for a short time. So we spent time drilling down on the agency positioning which led to us transitioning from Syn Retail to We are Syn, a transition that would allow us to talk authentically to brands outside of the retail landscape.

A move which looking back now was the best thing we have done as a business as we are a much more rounded as an agency because of it.

What’s your best failure?

As an agency, we are constantly bouncing ideas around how to make retail more exciting and engaging. For years, we have worked with global brands on an attractive, engaging, and converting consumer journey model. And we thought there had to be a better, more exciting way to educate consumers at purchase. Each time we worked on this type of brief, we challenged ourselves to look at how to make it happen.

Then one day, we had a brief that transcended our thinking down the route of an interactive footwear wall. A digital wall that would allow the full consumer journey to happen in one place. So we started to build out how this would work. A few months later, we produced a fully detailed concept deck and product name called Hypewall. A revolutionary digital footwear wall that allows you to play, attract, engage, and convert content in a single piece of technology. Using SmartPegs to support product, the wall would allow specific content to be played to specific products, and even if a consumer placed the product down in a different position, the content would follow the product wherever it was placed. This technology didn’t exist anywhere and was a genuine first-to-market concept.

Working alongside our tech and AV suppliers and brought it all the way to prototype stage and then Covid hit. Retail had stopped, and any interest went quiet. The project internally lost momentum, and so it remains to be seen what could have been if Covid hadn’t happened and where it could have gone. Even today, as a product, it still hasn’t been executed the way we had it – although a few have tried. In the end, we lost the drive as the main business was always the focus, and we were working heavily on our proposition at the time so it had to take a back seat. But it was a great idea that we nearly got into market, and who knows maybe one day we will, but i still class it as a failure to not achieve what we set out to do.

What is the best investment you’ve ever made, either financial or time?

I have to say, setting up Syn has been the best investment of my time and finances. We set out with no clients, and we paid for our first server and Macs on personal credit cards and worked off a dining room table. To look at how far we have come in that time with a team of 35+ people, working with some of the world’s biggest brands globally i’d say that investment was more than worth it.

Which podcast or book would you recommend others to read and why?

I was recently given a book called How to Win Friends and Influence People when I attended a leadership course and whilst at first I didn’t really think it was my thing I’m actually glad I read it. Leadership comes in many forms and this was a great read to recognise this in more detail. Oh, and Shoe Dog is an absolute must read also!

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Believe in yourself always.

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

I once worked at an agency with a larger than life managing director who really trusted me from day one and exposed me to more than what a normal employee would usually get exposed to. We had some great times, and rolled with the punches when it didn’t go so great, but i don’t actually think I would have had the courage to set my own business up if it wasn’t for him. So, Wilf Geldart, I thank you for playing a huge role in mentoring me for what I’m doing now.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I once acted with Judy Dench in a film called Wetherby a VERY long time ago.

If there was one thing you could change about your career, what would it be and why?

I’m not sure i’d change anything if i’m honest, even the times where things haven’t worked out as planned or you take a job that’s not right for you. It’s amazing that when you keep pushing forward things happen and whilst it might not be the path you set out on, it often takes you further than you might have thought.

What does success look like to you?

Aside from health and happiness and purely talking about me and my career, to build something like we are with Syn is something you never take for granted, and we’ve done it without investment or having any kind of security behind us. So to grow and establish ourselves alongside some of the other well known agencies in Leeds and Manchester would be fantastic – but ultimately if one day we had other agencies looking at Syn as a source of creative inspiration, then that would be a mark of true success for me.

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