A Week in My Life: John Keating, MD, Dark Horse

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo

John Keating is the founder of Altrincham-based digital marketing agency Dark Horse.

Offering services across PPC, SEO and paid social, Dark Horse works with clients including Hollands and Buffalo 7. 

Keating is also the founder of Databroker, a leading independent list broker which sources data for direct B2B marketing in the UK and internationally.

We found out what a week in his life looked like...

Monday

My week starts at 6:45am as one of my family consistently gets up way too early. At 7:20am, I am told in no uncertain terms to get out of bed and get the kids dressed. 

By 8:15am, blood pressure tablets have been taken and I can finally choose a bit of television. House rules say I choose on weekdays and the gremlins choose on the weekends. Subject to kids’ drop-off going swimmingly, the aim is to get to work at 9:30am. I arrive at 10am. 

My first job is to cringe at all the utter pony on LinkedIn for at least 30 minutes, telling me how agency owners get up at 3am, inject kale and are at their desk for 7:15am. We should send agency MDs as our Olympic team, and save on the funding. 

After several hours of procrastination, it’s lunch time. Time to get a Greggs Sausage & Bean Melt and Steak Bake, before reading the BBC Sport gossip pages. They don’t update it that often, but you never know! 

Next task is to update my hit list of competitor target agencies and the personal brand developing profiles on LinkedIn before doing an interview.  

I make it home for 6pm with the slight fib of having a healthy lunch. I play with the kids for about 30 minutes, picking the game where I have to do as little as possible. Pressing pause and judging 'Musical Statues' or 'Wake up Daddy' are personal favourites.  

10:30pm: Read 'Total Carp' in bed for about 10 minutes, and ignore all the business books on bedside table.

Tuesday

Hacked off about forgetting to put the bastard blue recycling bin out yesterday. That’s going to bite me in the arse in a week or so. 

All quiet at work - literally, there's hardly anyone here. I decide to practice naming the LinkedIn influencers hit list like Arya Stark, before checking Teams. All clear. Next, I check to see whether Dark Horse is Prolific North’s featured company of the day. Hell hasn’t frozen over; I need to consider whose palm to grease to be noticed.  

My afternoon is spent getting some Twirls from the petrol station and hoping it’s kebab night. I contemplate leading and boosting the culture of the company - bit of public praise, think of a new perk. We don’t tell the team about the new perk - rather, we announce it on LinkedIn instead; this seems the more logical way of doing it. 

A few virtual high-fives later and I’m pooped. Culture is hugely important at Dark Horse. We have noticed that it is often the most important thing to be asked about by job candidates… behind salary and number of holidays, of course. 

Off home at 5:30pm for Dinosaur Top Trumps. Going to try to win the plum job of running the kids' bath too - 15 minutes being “busy”. 

GTFI - Chilli sauce please. Hold the onions.

Wednesday

I spend some time reading the other 'Week in My Life' articles. With so many new client wins, consistent success, enjoying beers with the team and the ultimate home life, how did they find time to write one?

You would think that just on a pure percentage basis, one would have had an absolute shite week, lost clients, team members, or money. Nope - all stellar. Just me then.  

I briefly consider doing some discovery sessions and pulse checks, as that’s what I’ve just read about. I Google what they are then remember who we are and what we stand for. It definitely isn’t buzzwords and fluffing. It's all about making clients money. Pulse checks cancelled. 

Fancied some engagement on social media, so I prepped a pro three-day working week, anti-office post. Should bring in the likes nicely. Boom! 

Thursday

I write a job description for a videographer. Don’t know what the going rate is for them so will probably get called a money grabbing **** for not putting the salary on the advert. Decide to make the role office-based, just to really fan the fire. In for a penny… 

Play football in the park at lunch with some of the team. Alty Pirlo. Out of breath. 

A scrolling afternoon. The highlights - I see a post on LinkedIn titled 'All you need to be successful is humanity'. I suggest that talent and skill might also be useful. See another post about 'Wealth only being related to happiness'. Why is everyone bothered about the National Insurance increase then? Pay it with smiles. This gets me thinking that I need to raise my LinkedIn game.

Cue whiteboard, scissors, sticky-back plastic, lots of coffee and a Kate Bush medley on in the background. After 30 minutes, I crack the LinkedIn algorithm and create some agency value-boosting IP.

In doing so, I notice that LinkedIn influencers who post daily quotes from their book, or say that the education system is broken, are getting huge engagement. Another observation: If you want to hire exec-level candidates for your agency, then put out multiple, Canva-built, aspirational posts about the leader. All you need is an opaque background overlaid with a quote taken from Twitter which has the following Dark Horse IP formula: Pick three words, insert connecting words, rotate original three words. 

This is an easy way to get people to comment “THIS,” “Amen” or - my personal favourite - “Never a truer word said”. The groupies have clearly never read the 'Week in My Life' series then. 

I post to test out the new formula and... no one likes it. The realisation dawns on me that I am a hugely unpopular, cantankerous boomer. To create an alternative “genuine” personal brand, I calculate that I need to post and use a trite formula daily for six months. IP updated.

The failed test post: “Personal branding success is to brand your success personally”. #leader #mentalhealth #beyou #success #gogettheguitargareth 

Friday

Full morning spent fishing. Cracking Perch. Double hander. 

1pm: Panic. I remember that every company who writes these always does a Friday thing. Every week, without exception. Rods down, and one company-wide invite email later…

3pm: Have a stand-up call with two staff from the greatest team in the land. There are jokes, japes and swathes of awkwardness. Crack open a cold one and make them stay on the call until drinks are finished. They didn’t want to be anywhere else than with their leader on a Friday afternoon. Remember to take a picture for LinkedIn. 

What a week. Smashed it. We go again next week. Couple of new starters. Will have to plant some more trees for The Dark Forest and put some "look at us" posts out there.

In bed by 9pm with 'Bravo Two Zero' by Andy McNab, a book which actually improves with every read. 

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