A Week in My Life: Chris Hodgen, Managing Director at Absolute
Bolton-based creative agency Absolute was established over 20 years ago and has gone from strength to strength, working alongside clients like Manchester City FC and Total Fitness.
Today, its MD, Chris Hodgen, walks us through a typical working week for him...
I’ve never been someone that needs a lot of sleep, so I tend to get up around 6am every morning whether I’ve had a late night or not. The morning is the best part of the day for me and where I’m at my most productive.
I start each day checking my phone for emails and looking at my schedule for the day (and week) ahead. I’ve a very energetic one-year-old Labrador, Luna, who will be super impatient for a morning walk so my wife and I will head out to Healey Nab where we live to get some fresh air and morning exercise. I’ve a good 45 minutes where I can think and plan before getting to the ‘office’, our studio in Horwich, where the pace will pick up pretty quickly!
Once Luna is walked I make my way to the studio, which is a very easy 10-minute drive over the top of Rivington. I don’t miss working in a city one bit!
This Monday morning is all about reassessing and planning our strategy for the last six months of our financial year. Everything has changed so much over the last few months so as well as ensuring our clients needs are being met, we need to stay on top of our own business strategy. I’m confident with the right plan in place we can prosper in these challenging times and, contrary to popular belief, that will require investment and marketing - practise what you preach!
The afternoon is spent with Absolute’s Creative Director Simon Allman, to run through a brand campaign presentation for one of our FMCG clients, St Dalfour. We’re doing separate presentations with the UK arm, followed by a presentation to the board of directors in the US. It’s our biggest presentation done via video call, so it’s important we make sure everything works from a content perspective, as well as from a technology perspective!
The team have done a great job and there isn't much to change. Simon and I work well together and I enjoy presenting. I’m more commercial and analytical whereas Simon lives and breathes brand and strategy - so its a good mix.
Some of our staff are back in the office while some are still working from home. We’ve made sure the studio is safe and our design team have been back in for few weeks now - they work best when they can bounce ideas back and forth in person. Our digital team are still working from home, but will start coming back in over the next six weeks. We’re fortunate to have nearly 10,000 sq ft of creative space so social distancing isn't an issue.
In the late afternoon I try to get round the team to catch up on projects and see where everyone is at, not just from a work perspective but also personal. Some of the team live on their own and it’s important to look after them, whether that’s by providing gym memberships or even mental health counsellors. It’s a bit cliche but I see my team as an extension to my family. They’re working hard for me, so I want to work even harder for them.
I found the early days of lockdown tough - catch-up calls via Google Hangouts just aren't the same as face-to-face contact and I never felt fully up to speed. You can't beat being in the studio and seeing the great work the team are delivering. I’m really glad we’re getting back to some sort of normality.
Tuesday starts with the same routine. The good weather puts a spring in my step and I’m excited about the prospect of an exciting pitch. I started the agency 20 years ago, but still have the same enthusiasm for pitches and new business. It really is what gets me out of bed every day.
The pitch starts mid-morning and, as predicted, we have some IT problems with Google Hangouts. One of the clients can’t seem to get the sound working. In the end, we set up the meeting in Microsoft Teams, only 30 minutes late...
The presentation goes well. If the UK test launch is a success, there’s a chance to roll out the campaign globally.
The rest of the day is spent looking at a potential digital project with lots of software integration and some bespoke API builds to streamline a company's sales processes - a project we would love as it's right up our street. I catch up with Byju, Absolute’s Technical Director, who is still working from home, via video call.
I start Wednesday with our accounts team getting some visibility on sales, invoicing, supplier payments and cashflow. It’s an important process and we need to run a tighter ship than usual as a lot of companies have furloughed large parts of their finance teams. All is looking okay at the moment, apart from an issue we have with an ex-client in Dubai.
The afternoon is assigned to going through a behind the scenes video created with one of our clients. The campaign was due to launch in April, but was put on hold due to lockdown. The wheels are moving again now though and we need to ensure all assets are ready for the big TV launch later in the summer.
Thursdays always tend to be busy days. We try and make sure agency meetings take place midweek, so that staff can take long weekends if they need to without impacting workload. On this particular week, it’s me having a a Friday off so it’s a busy day!
I head to the studio early at 7:30am to get some admin done. A weekly meeting with our Head of Client Services and account management team is at 10am - a great opportunity to discuss live projects and look at other innovative ways we can support our clients.
The Drum announces its Roses Awards online at lunchtime and I find out how our nominations have faired. We don’t enter too many awards, but it’s important to keep our profile up and show off our work. They’re also a great barometer in analysing our output against other agencies - it keeps you on your toes! This year, it’s good news - we get a Silver for our Milk Maids campaign. Gold goes to TBWA for Pizza Hut. So, not bad company to be in!
After lunch, it’s a meeting with one of our retail brands, 11 Degrees. We’ve been working on a summer campaign with one of their brand ambassadors - the Bulldog himself, Jimmy Bullard - around Euro 2020. With the tournament postponed to 2021, we need to see what activity can be activated this summer, and what needs to carry over to next year.
Thursday nights are normally taken up helping my 15-year-old son’s football team at training. We haven't been able to do that for a while due to Covid, but we keep things active with our Teqball table in the garden. If you haven't tried Teqball before, then it’s a must! It’s basically table tennis with a football to hone your ball skills! It’s great fun to get outside for some fresh air and enjoy some time with the kids in a “slightly” competitive environment!
Friday is a day off. I’ve been using the weekend to work on my other passion - building and racing cars. I bought a Formula Ford in need of a lot of work from France in October last year and have been working on its restoration since then.
I was lucky enough to win the Marcel Albers Memorial Trophy at Zandvoort in Holland in 2019 and decided to try and retain the title at the next race in a Marcel Albers replica car which I’d built myself. The event has since been cancelled (for obvious reasons!) but I've still loved the project. I love the competition of car racing and have raced for over 25 years, but also have a passion for manufacturing and engineering. It really takes my mind off the agency and gives me another focus outside of work. You also get to meet and network with some pretty influential people, which has its benefits for the day job.
Today is the first test of the car at Oulton Park, a fantastically picturesque circuit in Cheshire. It’s a mixed day for weather but it’s great to get back out on track and blow the cobwebs away, even in the rain. The car runs well and we were able to get it set up and going fast over the day without any off track excursions.
I finish the day with a check of my phone and see I’ve missed a number of calls from the studio. Calling back - slightly panicked - I find out we’ve won Gold in the Drum Awards for our Milk Maids campaign. We beat the likes of Royal Mail and Playstation - amazing news to finish the week.
Time to drive home for a well earned beer and recharge - and then we go again!