A Week in My Life: Alan Houghton, Co-founder and MD of Loaf Agency

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Alan Houghton, Co-founder and MD of Loaf Agency, takes us through a week in his working life.

Monday

It's the start of the week and I’m a little disconsolate for two reasons. Firstly, I had a great weekend (which I’ll come onto), and I’m sad it’s over. Secondly, I subjected myself to a Gary Vee podcast yesterday (yes, I know). 

But something Gary said did make me think. "If you love Fridays and can’t wait for the weekend, and hate Mondays, then you are failing." 

Do I crave the start of a new week with all the pressures it brings? Is my love for family time stronger than my love for Mondays? It's certainly something to ponder. To illustrate the juxtaposition, this weekend was fantastic for one main reason. I saw my nine-year-old daughter achieve a goal she had set herself to complete before she turned 10! Grace dedicates four nights a week (and some weekends) to dancing. Her attitude and love for dancing is inspiring. 

On Sunday, she competed in a solo competition at the UK Dance Class Championships. When she's previously entered, she's placed second and fourth but this wasn’t good enough for her. She wanted first place. This weekend, she achieved this feat... twice! 

I can’t hide my pride and admiration for Grace’s dedication and undeniable talent. So, as I take on the traffic and roadwork-ridden commute into work, I’m reminded that in business, you have to achieve the goals you set out, just as in life. Anyone without them will just go round and round, accomplishing nothing of substance. This has been very apt for our agency lately, as we come to the end of refocusing our vision and continuing to work towards our objectives. 

So back to my Gary Vee question - ‘Do I love the week and am I winning?’ Well, the answer is yes and no. I have a focus and goals that I am working towards and this week is no different. But I do look forward to the weekend for my own personal reasons. Let's be honest - life and business can’t be enjoyable all the time!

So with that reflection in mind, my Monday is all about Sales and Marketing. As MD, my focus areas include business development and keeping a close eye on where we are going. I have had to take myself out of the day-to-day to focus on growth. Throughout the week, I find it tough to concentrate without some structure. So today is about reviewing the Marketing and PR activity for the next two weeks. A lot is going on at present so in the next few months, you should be hearing a lot more from us! 

Key takeouts for today
- Try not to listen to too much of Gary Vee. It can be a bit of a head f**k.
- If you feel like your hamstring is going to go - don’t try to run through it.
- Ask my daughter for advice on keeping focused!

 

Tuesday

After my 6.30am gym visit, I drop my kids off at school and undertake the beloved commute. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. Getting in and out of Manchester was the biggest negative of moving the business into town in 2015 but the benefits outweigh the difficulties. I’m so proud of our studio. It's such a creative space and the Ancoats location is perfect.

Tuesday is Growth and Vision day. First I meet Dave, my fellow Loaf co-founder, at a new artisan coffee shop around the corner called Trove. We have the opportunity to discuss pressing matters, items we need to action and things we need to get done away from the studio.

Today's topic of conversation is filling a critical role which will benefit the growth of the business considerably. It's safe to say we haven't come up with a definitive solution just yet!

The afternoon is filled with planning, checking on the progress of internal tasks and updates from team leaders. It's a satisfying but tricky process, as factors out of our control can impact us getting where we want to be. However, we’re making good progress. 

In the last two years, we've put emphasis on structure, vision, and planning. We had 10 years of doing what we love for ourselves, winning work and enjoying the ride. But it was time to grow up a bit. Even 13 years in, you still need to evolve and adapt as a startup would - keeping ahead of the curve, understanding where you are trying to get and what you personally want out of it. These thoughts are all part of our weekly direction. 

Today is also a late one for the directors. It gives us a chance to catch up on new business and the opportunities in front of us. Usually, we do this at a local bar with food. Jane Eyre is one of our favourites - try it next time you're nearby.

Key takeouts for today
- Be open-minded about the types of brand you might not initially consider a good fit for your business - sometimes can surprise you.
- I learned that an Anagram of my name was pretty rude - I can’t believe after 39 years I didn’t know this!
- I still hate giving the go-ahead to pay VAT - you all know what I mean.
- There are two Crowne Plazas in Manchester - don’t ask!

 

Wednesday

Today is New Business day. Fresh from our discussion last night, I start actioning the tasks and activity we agreed. This can be arduous but it's essential to keep on top of current proposals, warm leads, new opportunities and building my network.

On Friday I’m attending a Two x Two event. It's a day organised by Creative Resource and gets students to answer a brief with support from mentors -  of which I am one. I spent time reading through the brief which has been set - Increasing Communications for Organ Donors - something, to be honest, I didn’t know too much about. It was a really interesting and insightful read.

Key takeouts for today
- Don’t go to London for a new client meeting unless you expect not to get a response from said client - at all.
- I still hate the commute, especially Wednesdays. I'll get the train tomorrow for a change.
- Liverpool may not win the league after all thanks to Man City beating Everton.

 

Thursday

I go to the gym and tell myself that my hamstring is OK to do a class which involves sprinting uphill. Bad idea! But all is fine(ish) and I make my way into work. I should have got the train. 

Thursday is Operations and Finance day which to be honest can be pretty dull at times so I’ll say no more about it. 

On a positive note, the guys came back from a new business meeting which went extremely well. A client who wants to be guided as well as challenged to help define their strategy is an exciting opportunity for us, and right up our street. One of the things that we really enjoy is adding value and being on board at the very start of their journey. We see more success as we help them mould their communications effectively, rather than just being given a brief and asked to answer it.

In the afternoon, our Senior Brand Planner carried out an Emotions Workshop with the team. We looked at Plutchik's wheel of emotions, to understand how we can use that tool in our work. By looking at the evolutionary background of the study of emotions we can better understand the role they play in our behavioural instincts. 

Heavy stuff but it is really helpful to understand where emotions come from. For example, if we're trying to prompt optimism, it's useful to know that it's rooted in joy and anticipation. This influences everything from planning to design and copy - even if the end customer never sees that work. 

Key takeouts for today
- Get the train, god damn it!
- Those foam rollers really hurt.
- Don’t put half a pack of Wrigley's chewing gum in your mouth at any one time, or a small part of your tooth will break off!

 

Friday

Friday is usually Sales day and planning for the following week. However, today I am mentoring at the Two x Two event organised by Creative Resource. It’s set up to answer a brief in a day. My task was to encourage people to talk about being an organ donor.

Today, I actually got the train. I didn’t want to be late but I also had to get home in time to get away for the weekend. I can generally trust the train to be quicker than the drive!

I eventually find the venue for the student event at Bartons Arcade. I was surprised at the turnout from the students – they were everywhere! I remember when I was studying and it was a good chance to meet people in the industry. It’s still evident that the gap between what they learn in their studies and the reality of agency life needs filling somehow – I know it’s tough.

Each and every student was willing to learn and eager to impress – something that will stand them in good stead for the future. I was impressed by the attitude of the students but also from the agencies who were in support. It was a long but enjoyable day and I met some great people. Full disclaimer: the coffee wasn’t great!
 
Also, the subject matter and brief was really an eye-opener. Last year, 1200 organs from potential donors weren’t available because their family didn’t give their consent after they died. All because they hadn’t told their family it was their wish. They had signed up and wanted to give life when they had lost theirs but had never had that conversation with the people that mattered, so their wish had been refused by the family.

Hard hitting but a reality. It was a compelling and emotive notion. Some of the ideas for the campaign were great.

I had to get away early, but it was a great experience. I loved getting involved and hopefully meeting the future creatives and marketers of Manchester.

Key takeouts for today
- Never forget the chase, and the feeling it gives you.
- Always be willing to give without expecting to get something back.
- Don't forget your umbrella in Manchester!
- I really do love the weekend (Gary Vee), but for entirely different reasons to why I love the week.
- Sign up to be an organ donor and tell your family about it.