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ThinkOTB celebrates 30 years in business

Jo Waddington, courtesy Guzelian Media

Leeds’ ThinkOTB is celebrating 30 years of helping blue chip and SME clients grow their businesses across the globe.

Over the past three decades, ThinkOTB has grown a diverse and global range of clients, including PZ Cussons, Visa, and the National Grid, and won a coveted Queen’s Award – one of the business world’s most prestigious awards.

MD Jo Waddington joined the agency as a teenage office junior in its earliest days and has risen through the ranks over three decades at the company.

She said: “We’ve not only survived but thrived through the many changes in our sector. Marketing platforms change, trends come and go, but the building blocks of creativity, ideas and how we communicate effectively, is what our innovation and marketing agency is built on. That, and strong, long-standing relationships.”

As the sector evolved, so too did Waddington’s career, and the one-time receptionist worked her way up to become director and part-owner of the agency alongside founders Mark Davies and Tina Catling. The trio’s vision was for ThinkOTB to be the leader in innovation and marketing while continuing to partner with some of the largest organisations in the world in a range of sectors including the banking, fintech, food and public sectors.

In 2020, ThinkOTB became the first ‘innovation agency’ to win the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for International Trade. The award was thanks to its outstanding sales growth overseas – 72 per cent in the Middle East.

Waddinton says that one of her biggest coups came in the UAE, where she’d gone for a meeting with a prospective new client: “I remember coming off the plane and turning my phone on to find a message telling me the meeting I was supposed to be going to had been cancelled. I was on a business trip and suddenly had no meetings,” she recalled.

Instead of panicking, Waddington contacted the consultant she had been liaising with, who she’d never met in person. Thinking on her feet, they teamed up and turned the situation into a fruitful opportunity for the agency: “We’d already created lots of momentum at the agency and I was able to transform a potential disaster into a series of meetings and return with multiple opportunities which catapulted ThinkOTB to a sales growth figure of 560 per cent.”

Waddington feels both she and the agency have reaped the benefits of her long service: “I think because I started out in a role where emotional intelligence and people skills were crucial, I’ve learned to adapt to different types of people and how to deal with them,” she said. “One minute I might be briefing an intern who is just starting out in industry, the next I might be supporting my client services team to overcome a challenge, and five minutes later I could be talking to the CEO of a multinational company.”

This adaptability has been crucial given the way the advertising and marketing worlds have changed over the years: “When I joined it was predominantly print-based and now, we’re fully integrated, working across all media channels,” she said. “When the move to digital was just around the corner we jumped on it quite early and transformed the agency by buying a digital agency. We went from creating direct-response ads in the back of newspapers for mail order businesses to building high-conversion digital campaigns for organisations of all shapes and sizes”

In the post-Covid world, she has played a pivotal role in helping reposition ThinkOTB as an innovation marketing agency. “Offering end-to-end innovation and marketing gives us a competitive edge that other agencies don’t necessarily have in-house,” she explained. “Businesses are rapidly having to adapt to new ways of working, whilst also pivoting to meet consumer demand. By getting them to think differently, we can put them on the road to success and bring new ideas to market.”

Looking to the future, Waddington unsurprisingly predicts a growing role for AI in the industry, although she insists it won’t replace human ingenuity: “AI will serve as an assistant, like other technology that came before it,” she said. “But the individuality of our creative team is our strength. We call this Ingenious Thinking. And we believe there is nothing more powerful than our great client relationships, they’re at the heart of everything we do.”

Even after 30 years, the MD said she still gets a buzz from her work: “I don’t see this as a job and the day I do is when I know my time’s up,” she said. “There’s always something unexpected that comes up and I like that challenge. I feel I perform better under that pressure. And that’s probably at the root of why I’ve succeeded, because the day I joined was a challenge and it still is, in a positive way.”

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