The best bits from Prolific North's 2020 features: Insight and lessons from our industry-leading guests

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo

Throughout 2020, we’ve profiled a wide range of industry leaders from across the North for our regular weekly features.

Every single week, we’ve brought an insight into influential figures’ working weeks with A Week in My Life, the story behind exciting digital SMEs in My Startup, and highlighted important life lessons through What I’ve Learnt. We’ve also shown what people and companies’ work setups look like in our Where We Work and Where I WFH features.

On top of all this, we've also published a huge range of thought leadership from influential people right across marketing, digital, tech, and beyond.

We hope that it’s been enlightening, reassuring and educational - and we’ve enjoyed reading them all.  From feature to feature, our guests shared gems of insight, as well as stories of successes and failures that helped them become the industry leaders they are. A special mention should go to what must be the most-recommended book of the year from those who took part in What I’ve Learnt - Spencer Johnson’s ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’.

Here are some of the most salient and informative insights from a challenging and eventful year.

Best bits

January 2020

Dean Benson, CEO of Visualsoft: “I signed up for an Iron Man a few years ago, and couldn't swim at the time! I focused for nine months on the three disciplines needed, and then completed the Iron Man in Switzerland, despite a rather slow and steady 14-hour time.

“Success is achieving your goals. This could be a daily goal, one that's taken many years, or a life destination.”

Robin Skidmore, CEO & Founder of Journey Further: “I’ve had a few decent failures! Could it be when I spent six months building a subprime mortgage brokerage just before the wheels fell off? Or the time I invested in a T-shirt company and we opened a store next to Topshop and went under four months later? Or when I almost sold half of Epiphany in year two for £50,000 and the loan of a black BMW 3 series?!”

February 2020 

Liam Bateman, CTO of Silverchip: “I once made an ‘on screen’ appearance on BBC One’s ‘Short Change’ in 2001, after complaining about not getting a free CD from Kelloggs, despite sending all my vouchers off (first world problems!).

“Success for me is about life and financial freedom. I love this industry, I love technology and I love what I do. I want to keep working on exciting projects, launching our own products and offering game changing results for our clients.”

Fiona Kirwan & Lisa French, Truth PR

March 2020

Alexis Kelly, Senior Software Tester at BJSS: “Talented Mancunian women make a real difference every day - some coders, others not. Women like my inspirational BJSS colleague Vesna Milanovic, who successfully managed the new ticketing system at Manchester City FC; or ITV’s Janet Hornby who led the delivery of a payments system that is used by many of our nation’s favourite celebrities; or even Emma Grant, who evangelically articulates the amazing opportunities that exist in our sector. 

“They provide compelling evidence that STEM subjects aren’t really for ‘the boys’ but are the gateway to rewarding and varied tech careers where momentous social impact can be made.”

Lisa French, MD of Truth PR: “My best investment is the time I spend with my kids. No matter how crazy work can get, I always take a day out of my working week to be a mum. It’s so tempting to put work first when it gets stressful (and juggling emails and calls can be difficult when in soft play hell!) but both Fiona and I are firm on our belief that parenting should always come first.”

Mick Style, CEO of Wavemaker North: Work/life balance “is something that, I’m proud to say, we are acutely aware of as an agency and make sure that our team sees work/life balance as a necessity. From simple things such as taking a regular break away from your screens, and giving tips for applying focus, i.e. walk and talk, and finish early on a Friday. We also have Mental Health First Aiders and flexible working arrangements.”

April 2020

Richard Pay, Creative Lead at Uniform: “Real change takes time - you can’t become perfect overnight (and you definitely shouldn’t pretend to be). Honesty, intent and action is what the world needs to see.

“So can global brands have a heart? Absolutely. Brands are a reflection of the people who work there. The decisions they make, the action they take, the change they want to see.”

Andrew Trotman, MD at KOMI Group: “It’s easy to get hung up about the negatives that can be associated with social media, but during this time of isolation people need to see the benefits of how to engage with it in a healthy way - especially if we see someone struggling or being unusually distant, as small gestures can go a very long way. We’re all in this together, after all.”

May 2020

Tim Downs, Director of Aberfield Communications: “It’s time for agency owners to step up and live by their own advice when it comes to the decision to furlough members of their team.

“We have a responsibility for the wellbeing of employees, and that means ensuring that they come through this not only financially stable but also mentally able to deal with the coming months.”

Rob Skinner, Founder & MD, Skout PR: What’s your best failure? “Not taking advantage of a great opportunity in my last job. I took on the role of MD, but didn’t make it my own, for various reasons. In hindsight, I think the time and place just wasn’t right. However they say you learn from your failures and I think it gave me the kick up the backside I needed to go on and do my own thing.”

Richard Midgley, Ponderosa

June 2020

Laura Good, Client Services Director, RED: “I’d like to see offices become a creative space to get the team together and discuss ideas or meet with clients, rather than somewhere we’re wedded to five days a week. Coming to the office should always feel energising, not monotonous.”

Richard Midgley, Founder & MD of Ponderosa: What does success look like to you? “Passing something on, watching people flourish and seeing people do well makes me happy. It may sound simple but it’s true, happiness is success. But make sure you enjoy the journey.”

August 2020

Bec Chelin, MD of Manifest Manchester: “Young and eager to impress what was, at the time, a very big client for us - I focused way too much on what I wanted to get across and not what the client needed or wanted to hear from us. It was the best lesson I’ve had in my career - listen more, say less, and work in partnership with your clients.”

Georgina Phillips, Co-founder & Director, The Tonic Communications: “What has been nice about lockdown, despite the stress of juggling work and family, is the time for reflection. Many companies are realising now that they have managed to maintain professionalism and good standards while their team has been working remotely, and many employees are appreciating the extra time (and money!) they get back from not having a daily commute.”

September 2020 

Amanda Perry, Founder of SOUP Agency: “I am a firm believer in practicing daily gratitudes. Even on those days when you feel you have nothing to be grateful for, there is always something, and reminding yourself of it can save the most testing day.”

Tom Etherington, Operations Director, Evolved Search: “There have been a few memorable 'sink or swim' moments, including a few nervous client phonecalls and meetings early on that made me realise that not being able to present could hold me back. I’ve presented to full rooms of people and stood up in boardrooms of global brands, but would never have imagined that would be possible when I first started out.”

Natalie Trice, PR Consultant: “Change is needed in our industry, and while COVID isn’t a welcome addition to anyone’s life, it is a chance for us to address the mental wellbeing of ourselves, our teams as well as clients and even contacts. 

“We’ll always get more from the employees who feel valued and supported than the ones who are overworked, under pressure and struggling.”

Clair Heaviside, Serotonin

October 2020

Clair Heaviside, Co-founder of Serotonin: “Tech will never replace real-life human interaction. But I have certainly experienced the positive impact of technology to bring clients closer, make things happen more quickly and totally break down geographical barriers. I can visit clients in Manchester, London, Edinburgh all in the same day, and all before lunchtime!”

Jon Stroud, Creative Director of JIST Studios: “I hate the word ‘entrepreneur’ because I think it's overused. However, the best part about being someone that starts and runs businesses is the iterative learning that we go through over a whole lifetime.

“I was only saying the other day that by the time I get to 80 I'll have learnt an incredible amount!”

Oonagh Barrington, MD of Transatlantic: “Success is a feeling - a feeling that you have the time available to do the things that make you feel calm and content. So time to do your cleaning and washing, do a good job at work, pick up your son at a decent time and have a nice conversation with your husband. It’s the little things.”

Al Mackin, Founder & Director of theEword: “There has to be trust between employers and employees, and as the rules change, employers need to rebalance how they view their employees. I told my first boss ‘40% of sick days are taken on a Monday or a Friday’, which he believed was a great example of how employees can’t be trusted. 

“Some roles just require someone to be in the office, and some people don't want to work from home. The workplace of the future has to be a hybrid”.

December 2020

John-Paul Simpson, Director & Chair of Zircom: “In my personal life, success is my children leaving home well equipped to deal with their future.

“Professionally, it’s creating value through the work I do and, in the process, making a difference to people’s lives.”

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