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Calm in the eye of the Hurricane: how a creative agency survived Year One in business

Calm in the eye of the Hurricane: how a creative agency survived Year One in business post image

Jon Mowat is a busy man. His growing video and motion graphics agency, Hurricane Media, is a very well connected player in Bristol’s vibrant digital and creative scene. After our interview, Jon was off to a meeting with a well-known Bristol marketing agency, followed by a catch-up at a major events producer.

Jon’s background at the BBC set him in good stead when he set up his own business.

“I made documentaries for BBC1, a lot of ‘blue-flashing-light’ stuff. But I was spending a lot of time away from home. For instance, six months in Iraq is far too long to be away from the family, my wife Charlotte, Florence, 3 and newborn Spencer 3 weeks.

“At the BBC I had learnt how to tell stories and use a camera. My chance to go it alone came when I made a film for a friend’s company. People really liked the high production values in this corporate video. I realised there was a gap in the market.”

How did you survive Year One?

“We worked out of a tiny £50 per week office rented from BRAVE. Affordable office space was the best support we could have got back then, because when you’re starting out, price is often the only thing you can compete on. We have scaled up to bigger offices in the same complex over time, so flexibility is extremely useful, too.”

How do you recruit the right people?

“From the point of view of a young growing agency it’s always good to have staff around you that are as passionate as you are about making the business a success. The whole team has to work very closely together and if you’re looking for a 9-5 role, without much diversity, then a fledgling agency probably isn’t for you.”

What makes a good salesman?

“A year ago we recruited a superb business development guy, Mark Smout, which is the best thing we’ve done. Look at our client list: Peugeot, Puma, Panasonic, Alcatel, Kraft, Balfour Beatty, Britvic, HTC, JISC, SACO Apartments and The Soil Association.

“Your sales team must be self-funding. Don’t be tempted to use a loan to pay a salary. If you aren’t billing, that money in the bank is an illusion.”

How do you grow a business?

“You cut your cloth according to your means. Get a foothold and grow sales, then you can take on specialists. Be careful with your money. To start with, we hired cameras and kit. As we got more work we bought cameras. So we invest in equipment when we can, according to cash flow and our sales pipeline.”

Bristol’s a hub of creative businesses. How do you fit in?

“We are part of a community of creative business in Bristol, no doubt. Marketing agencies, digital houses, and events companies: these are our clients. The scene has been there for years but Bristol Media has given it a superb focus.”

How do you know what to charge?

“Aah, pricing… I would love to charge more for everything we do because we put our heart and soul into every piece of work. But it’s incredibly competitive out there. We have this debate all the time. But we keep coming back to wanting to do the best we possibly can, whatever we charge. It pays dividends in the end through word of mouth from the agency community.”

Any last pointers for people thinking about starting a business?

“Get involved in a growing sector. For instance, there is an explosion of video for the web. We are in a growth sector, a good place to be.”

So what does the future hold?

“My business partner John Lanyon and I are creatives: we want to make stuff, not sit in board meetings all day. So keeping the size manageable is important. For us it’s important to work directly with an in-house team or with partner agencies, staying close to the work.”

Examples of recent work from Hurricane Media:

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