What I've Learnt: Trevor Cairns, CEO of LOVE.

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo
Trevor Cairns

Trevor Cairns started as one of LOVE.'s clients, and eventually became its CEO.

He started his creative career across popular sports brands, before moving to the Northern Quarter-based creative agency in 2013. Before this, he was CMO at Umbro, creating a relationship with LOVE. that still continues now.

The award-winning agency has come a long way since he took the helm, securing high-value accounts and making international waves. We spoke to Trevor to learn what makes him tick, and what his career has given him as a person.

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

I’m a habitual list maker. There’s always at least one lying on my desk covered in scribbles - my role is pretty broad, so making a list is the only way to keep me on-track. I’ve tried all the list apps but I’m old school and nothing works for me like pen and paper.

What's been your luckiest break?

Joining Nike in 2000. I was living in Newcastle and had left my previous role as it was relocating to London, which wasn’t the right move for me at the time. A recruiter asked me to name my ideal job, to which I replied “working in football marketing for Nike”.

Two months later, the same recruiter called and said she was hiring for that very role. I was lucky enough to land it and spent the next 13 years there, which often didn’t seem like work at all. As a football nut it was a dream, going to amazing games, presenting to global superstars and getting paid for it... the closest I’ll ever get to a lottery win.

What's your best failure?

Nike bought Umbro in 2008 and I moved across as CMO. Unfortunately Nike never really backed Umbro financially or emotionally and sold the business four years later.

However, the lack of resource made the Umbro team very resourceful. The step-change from a plentiful Nike budget to a pitiful Umbro one was a shock, but the lack of funds offered certain advantages – it forced the team to think much more creatively, achieving results disproportionate to spend, and in turn, offering them great developmental opportunities along the way. My team at Umbro were as good, if not better, than any I worked with on the Nike brand. 

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

Financially, my first house - I only wish I still had it. Time-wise, in people - there’s nothing better than seeing an individual or a team develop, and being able to play a small part in that growth is hugely rewarding.

How would you describe your work/life balance?

It works for me. I don’t travel too much, leave the office by 6:30pm each night, and I tend not to work at home or answer work emails at night unless they’re critical.

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

I have to be honest and say I get bored by the vast majority of business books, but I’m currently delving into 'Eat Your Greens' by Wiemer Snijders - a series of papers by leading marketing practioners like Mark Ritson, Martin Weigel and Richard Shotton. It’s straight-talking and myth-busting. There's so much “noise” in marketing today around consumer behaviour, technology, data and brand building, and 90% of it is nonsense. The other 10% is in this book.

Our ECD, Dave Palmer, presented me with 'The Death of Bunny Munro' by Nick Cave on my first day at LOVE. A brilliant read about a middle-aged, alcoholic lothario, although his choice did make me a little paranoid.

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

Always trust your instinct. I’ve gone aganist my gut a couple of times and it's backfired spectacularly - once when hiring, once with a job offer. Let the heart rule the head.

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

My Dad passed away many years ago, but he remains a huge influence in me, through his work ethic, humility and focus on his family. It’s my one regret that he never got to meet my daughters and see them progress.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I spent three very happy summers working as a hospital porter, which for different reasons, is actually up there with my favourite jobs. Working in a hospital in Northern Ireland in the late 80s had its obvious challenges, but the camaraderie, team spirit and humour there always stayed with me.

What does success look like to you?

Right now I’d say it’s LOVE. We’re growing every year in a challenging environment, our culture has remained strong throughout the growth, and in my opinion, we’ve as good as, if not a better, client list than any agency in the North. We’re not the biggest in people or revenue terms, but I wouldn’t swap our position with anyone. Long may it continue.

To put forward a senior industry figure for What I've Learnt, please send an email to Charlie Spargo.