Leeds agency CreativeRace on hiring spree and expansion plans 

Alistair Hardaker's picture
by Alistair Hardaker
Rob Shaw

The CEO of Leeds-based integrated agency CreativeRace has outlined the next stage of growth for the firm which has been on a hiring spree during lockdown.

Rob Shaw has now been at the helm of the company, which counts ASDA and Greggs as long-standing clients, for three and a half months. 

For the next 12 months, Shaw said his goals were to put the agency "firmly back on the map", and to broaden its core capabilities in data and digital.  

"Our key focus right now is making sure we have a magnifying glass on what is already good about the agency, and working out how we can add to that with broader capabilities,” he told Prolific North. 

"You've got to do it without breaking what was good about the agency in the first place."

Founded in 1978, the agency was known as Gratterpalm until a rebrand in 2015 during a period of growth which includes the acquisition of London-based CRM specialists Underwired.

Some of the new hires at CreativeRace
Some of the new hires at CreativeRace

“Five or six years ago, there were a lot of 'good sized' independent agencies that were becoming part of broader groups, it would have been hard to go for rapid growth,” said Shaw.  

But in the past few years, he said, the market has changed, and despite its heritage, CreativeRace was one of the agencies with the mindset to adapt and grow. 

"Our customer base has really clear views about what they want from their agency, which is very different to what they wanted ten or 15 years ago". 

A number of hires have already been added, and the company is still onboarding new staff which Shaw said is “adding tools to the toolbox” of its offering to new and existing clients. 

In December a communications director, strategy director, group finance director, internal marketing lead and account manager were added to the team. 

"I turned 50 in lockdown, and I've never been more motivated to work and grow agencies and help people.

"It's been a interesting time for recruitment because a lot of people have taken the summer to reevaluate what they want to do with their careers", he said. 

This, and the industry’s recent struggles, have provided an opportunity to "secure people quickly," as part of the company’s plan to expand its digital and data offering.

He said data was the next phase of evolution of CreativeRace, and the performance marketing skills brought in by new hires have been embedded into the business to “leverage all of the existing skills that we've got". 

As part of his strategy, he said data should support creativity, creating a “common language, rather than two different languages.” 

Having left school as a software developer, Shaw worked his way up to IT Director at Leeds-based Ventura before becoming MD of search agency Latitude White in Warrington. 

That early experience gave him an appreciation of the value of data, he said. 

"When we have done work for new clients, or pitching for new work, and we've had a much broader team on the call, starting that process with some data and insight gives everyone a common view". 

"We are now leveraging the data that we've always used for brand strategy and creative, and let it flow all the way through into performance as well".

Stepping into the role from Jaywing, Shaw’s time at the company has been one exclusively in lockdown, and there are still some staff he has only met via screen. 

He said that there was a desire to get back to face-to-face work, but that wouldn't necessarily mean returning to a 9-5. 

"Over the period of lockdown, our productivity went up, and our client satisfaction went up", he reports. 

Shaw, who invested in the company alongside CreativeRace co-founder and chairman Gordon Bethell, said the firm’s visions outlasted a return to ‘normal’. 

"We're not building this agency for the next 18 months, we're building it for the long term". 

"We've been weathering the storm in 2020, and making sure that we are in a position to start 2021 in the healthiest place possible to execute that plan." 

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