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With agencies, it comes down to two things. Talent and attitude. I want to see the whites of your eyes, and see who is going to go the extra mile and put the extra legwork in.

Welcome Adrian Lambert

Marketing Director

Blackbird

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Adrian Lambert has a deep experience of successfully running the marketing operations for public companies, PE-backed businesses, and B2B SMEs. Now Marketing Director at Blackbird, the world’s fastest online cloud video editing platform, he discusses how his career lessons from his time in aviation, the impact of COVID 19 on the industry, and why he thinks lead generation is the number one metric for marketing success.

Transcript:

Nathan Anibaba: 

Adrian Lambert is the marketing director at Blackbird PLC. He has a deep experience of successfully running the marketing operations for public companies, PE-backed businesses, and B2B SMEs. He is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, and implements highly effective, no-nonsense marketing plans to deliver to the bottom line. He has grown multiple companies in the UK, international markets, operating in technology, software manufacturing, entertainment and aerospace. Adrian Lambert, welcome to ClientSide.  

Adrian Lambert: 

Great, and thank you very much for having me.  

Nathan Anibaba: 

Absolute pleasure having you on the show. You graduated in 1994 with a degree in geography from Newcastle University. Did you ever think that your career would turn out in the way that it has? 

Adrian Lambert: 

Nathan, I didn’t, and it’s a long time ago now. But no, it was quite an interesting journey I took, to be honest. I actually took A Levels in maths, physics and geography, and my strongest subject was maths. I was going to do a maths degree for a long time. That was my intention. At the last minute, I had a kind of epiphany, and decided that I wanted to do a more holistic degree, so I chose geography. It wasn’t actually my strongest subject, but I liked the idea of … It’s a very broad-based degree; it covers history and politics and lots of different things, and I found it interesting.  

So yeah, I chose geography and went to Newcastle, had a very good three years there, probably a little bit too good. It’s a phenomenal city. It really is. A lot of warm memories of Newcastle. But I came out, and yeah, I remember I couldn’t get a job. Actually the early 90s, the mid-90s, were quite a tough time economically. There was a recession on, and I didn’t realize any of this at the time, really. I was a bit blind to it. I struggled to get a job for a while. I had about three or four months where it was difficult, and I was very lucky that I spotted an advert in the local newspaper. This was pre-internet. People won’t believe that. This is pre-[crosstalk 00:02:10] trying to find your- 

Nathan Anibaba: 

You’re in a new age now.  

Adrian Lambert: 

Ah, absolutely. My kids won’t believe [inaudible 00:02:15] pre-internet, and yeah, you’d find jobs in the local newspaper, basically, or the national press. And there was an advert for a local … It was a Liverpool University scheme for graduates. It was a graduate placement program. Six-week course, Nathan. It was the best thing I ever did. I went there with lots of other graduates feeling sorry for themselves, and I got a position as a marketing assistant with a very small software company in Birkenhead. I’m from the Wirral originally, Merseyside, yeah? 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Right.  

Adrian Lambert: 

I tell you what, it was fantastic. I’d no idea what I was doing. I learned on the job, but I had a very supportive MD who was also a GP, and he built this business up around medical software. And I read a couple of simple books on marketing, and it was like an apprenticeship, almost. And that’s how I started, and it was a phenomenal two years. Tiny company, but I learned so much.  

Nathan Anibaba: 

Absolutely fascinating. Well, let’s get into your career journey in a bit more detail, because you’ve got an absolutely fascinating background and history working with some of the largest technology companies around, as well as some consumer brands as well. Tell us how you got your start in the marketing industry.  

Adrian Lambert: 

I started with Miriam Healthcare, this company in Birkenhead. I was the marketing assistant, and literally learned on the job, and just really enjoyed it. I really fell on my feet when I found marketing, because it was creative. I liked writing; I could use my writing skills. I worked with a small agency nearby to create campaigns and what have you. I just really enjoyed the whole discipline. I found it fascinating and enjoyable. Of all the disciplines I could have chosen, I fell into marketing, and I’m still pleased to this day that I got into this particular sector.  

I then moved on to Adidas. It was a big, big change culturally. Adidas is an enormous multinational, corporate as we know. I was there only for a year or so. I didn’t really enjoy it, because I realized quite quickly … I’d gone from a company where I ran the marketing even though I was in quite a lowly position in the business. I was now part of an international company where I had no autonomy. I couldn’t do much. I had a nice company car, nice fancy job title, salary, all that good stuff. But I just didn’t have anything to do. I wasn’t [inaudible 00:04:34].  

It was a German company, and all the clever stuff really is done by the German head office, so I moved on. I joined a company called 4D, a French company. They were looking for a marketing manager, and another technology company … We were a challenger brand for some bigger companies in the same field. I was there for six or seven years. Loved that job. It was fantastic. And yes, ran the operation, had a good marketing budget, we doubled our client base … More tripled, I think by the end of the time I was there, tripled revenues …  

It was that time as well I also decided really importantly to become qualified. I realized that I hadn’t really … I’d learned on the job, but really, I needed to learn the craft of marketing properly and do it the right way, so I did the CIM exams, the Chartered Institute of Marketing, in my late 20s when I had more time on my hands, when I could go to night school, Nathan, and really apply myself. That was one of the best things I ever did.  

Nathan Anibaba: 

Really, really interesting. You’ve generally stayed with a company for roughly about three to four years before moving on. Was that an intentional decision? 

Adrian Lambert: 

No, not at all. It’s funny the way it’s worked out. I think I’ve worked at eight companies in 25 years, so it’s worked about three each, but actually, as a marketer, you join the company, and you go in all guns blazing. You do your research, you write your marketing plan, you execute it. And some companies, you just find that you’ve delivered value after a certain number of years, and you feel that really, you can’t do much more. You feel it’s really the time to hand over to somebody else. I’ve never thought to myself, “I must move on every three or four years.” It’s pure been a case-by-case basis. So I’ve been six, seven years at one company, and I’ve been a year at others, but I’ve always moved when I’ve felt it’s not right for me, or I’ve done all I can, and I want a new, fresh challenge. 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Really interesting. You became the marketing director for IFE in-flight entertainment services in 2010, and you say that was one of the best jobs you ever had. Why? 

Adrian Lambert: 

Yeah. Loved it. Loved it. What an interesting company, Nathan, that was. It was based in Knutsford in Cheshire, lovely part of the world. As you said, IFE stands for in-flight entertainment, so believe it or not, when you travel on a plane and you go on a medium- or long-haul flight and you have that screen in front of you, and you’ve got all these movies and games and TV shows, there are seven or eight companies in the world that specialize in delivering that. It’s actually a really big sector. It’s a complex thing to deliver that content on a cyclical basis to airlines.  

IFE is one of those seven or eight companies, and to be really frank, the reason I joined, I think I mentioned it when we had a chat previously, is that I like to join companies where I feel I can add value, where there’s the bones of a good company, there’s a good product, a good service, the financials are okay, but where the marketing is sub-optimal. I really felt with this company that the marketing was … Well, I felt it was poor, and so I joined.  

I was very lucky that about a month after I joined, the new CEO joined, who still to this day is probably the best business leader I’ve ever worked with. Very inspirational guy. And he basically said, “Listen, let’s go on a journey here. We’ve got the bones of a good company. Let’s build it up. Let’s really be disruptive, and actually challenge for number one spot.” And we went on this journey of play hard, work hard for three and a half years. I learned an awful lot with this guy and with the team. We had a really good CFO, great customer service people.  

Just to put some numbers on that, Nathan, when I joined, we had about 20 airlines as customers dotted around the world. Three and a half years later, we had over 50, and strategically, what we realized was that a lot of our competitors weren’t focused on smaller and medium-sized airlines. We just saw a really rich seam here of business, so we strategized and focused on those mid-tier airlines, and we just hoovered them up over a period of time. We built our marketing up, all the usual stuff. I got an agency onboard, we did a little research piece, we found out what was special about our business, we rolled out a beautiful brand, nice website, we did a lot of things that hadn’t been done before like content marketing, re-marketing, paperclip, we threw everything we could at it.  

We went from a … We were a breakeven company in 2010. Three and a half years later, our EBITDA was six million. We got acquired for about £24 million in 2014 by a bigger company- 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Wow. Amazing.  

Adrian Lambert: 

… called Global Eagle Entertainment. Yeah, I look back at my career, and I‘ve always enjoyed where I’ve worked, but that was a special one. A really special one.  

Nathan Anibaba: 

Sure, phenomenal. You said that the CEO was really inspirational, and you learned a lot from him. What sticks out in your mind as something that you took away from …  

Adrian Lambert: 

Yeah, so Andy was a great leader. He really was. He inspired the team, and what he did, he created a sense of real spirit in the team. We had very much a work hard, play hard kind of atmosphere. He had a high standard, but at the same time, made it a fun place to work. So we’d go out to Chester races, we went go karting and did all sorts of fun things, but again, we were expected to put the hours in. But also, he was a great communicator. I think the team hadn’t been spoken to before really and communicated to optimally, I think. So we had a regular monthly meeting for the whole team, all 60, 70 staff. We’d gather in our biggest meeting room, and Andy would tell it how it was, warts and all. I think the team really appreciated that.  

[inaudible 00:10:28] couple of mantras, Nathan, I’ve never really forgotten. Attention to detail and a sense of urgency, and he drilled that into the team, and I’ve kept that myself all through my career since then. Any teams I’ve had underneath me over the years, I’ve really drilled that into people. Attention to detail, sense of urgency, and if you stick by those two things in business, you don’t go far wrong.  

Nathan Anibaba: 

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Really, really interesting. Absolutely love it. Let’s talk a little bit about your time with IFE in a bit more detail. You’ve got a really interesting approach to getting quick wins for any business that you work with, and you say that it involves both internal and external research. Can you explain a little bit about what that involves? 

Adrian Lambert: 

Yeah, Nathan, it’s a great question and I appreciate that, because I think having been in marketing a long time, I’ve worked on a certain MO over the years of what works for me. I think if somebody’s listening to this podcast and they can benefit from this, then I’ll be really pleased with it. But what works for me is a couple of things. One is quick wins, so I think when you join a company, if you’re a reasonably experienced marketer, you can analyze quite quickly what needs to be done better.  

I’ll go back a step, actually. As a marketer, especially in B2B marketing working for technical companies, sometimes there can be a little bit of some doubt by some of your colleagues regarding the value of marketing, so it’s very important to build alliances quickly with people, to explain why you’re there, in a soft way, but explain that if we get the marketing right, it benefits everybody, that all the best companies in the world are successful because their marketing is strong. You’ve heard of those companies because the marketing is good and of a high standard.  

There’s all that alliance-building in the business, then there’s the quick wins, so I think a competent marketer can see quite quickly what needs to be improved, and that could be digital marketing, it could be the press releases aren’t frequent enough. They’re not PRing the right kind of stories. The list of journalists that we’re sending press releases to isn’t strong enough, so let’s find more. Maybe there’s no digital marketing really working. Maybe the social media’s not frequent enough, or the tone of voice isn’t quite correct. There’s a load of things. The current website is okay, but can be improved, or really needs an overhaul. So often, there’s those quick wins.  

At the same time, I’m always working on a parallel path, in other words, working towards a marketing plan, and the one thing the CIM taught me was how to write a strategic, efficient marketing plan that delivers to the bottom line. Boards like this. Boards want a marketing plan from their marketing manager and marketing director that’s going to deliver value and revenue and improve profitability, essentially. What I do, Nathan, is I do a lot of research. Never dive into a marketing plan until you’ve done the research. I do a couple of simple things. One is I research amongst my colleagues, so I write a questionnaire out. I might go and see my colleagues on a one-to-one and take some notes, or I might put the survey on SurveyMonkey or something similar.  

Your colleagues when you join a company will have so much information to impart to you. They’ve been there for years in some cases, and they’ll have lots of ideas, and people love to speak about … love to have their views heard and speak about what they think is important in the business. So ask them a series of questions. What do you think the company does well? What do you think the weaknesses of the company are? What are the opportunities for growth? What regions should we be tackling? Are there new products we should be developing? [inaudible 00:13:57]? That research amongst colleagues is very important.  

At the same time, then I’m working towards research amongst customers. There’s an absolute goldmine of information amongst customers. These are people who are spending money with you, and they’re doing that for a reason. And they may be happy, they may not be so happy, but find out what they think, so again … You don’t have to speak to 50 of them. It could be 10, it could be 20, but put the time in to speak to those customers, and they will love telling you what they think of your company, especially if the company’s particularly important to them as a supplier. So again, it doesn’t have to be 100 questions. It could be 15 questions. What do you think we do well? What do you think we’re poor at? What do you think of our customer service? Describe our company in five words. That can help you figure out a strapline for the business. What do you think of our competitors?  

Nathan Anibaba: 

Really fascinating. 

Adrian Lambert: 

Yeah, Nathan, it’s when you’ve got that research done, [inaudible 00:14:54] create a situational analysis or a current situational analysis, SWOT analysis, and from that starting point, you can write out … You build out your marketing plan, which is the classic marketing plan. Where do you want to get to and how are you going to get there, strategically and tactically? I’ve been doing that in every job I’ve been at since the year dot, and it’s really held me in good stead. 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Really fascinating. I guess for those organizations or those leaders that maybe don’t get marketing or don’t understand brand or don’t understand various parts of the marketing process, having that empirical data from their employees and their customers, I guess that just makes your job so much easier with regard to building the business case.  

Adrian Lambert: 

100%, Nathan. It’s a real shot in the arm when you’ve got customers saying lovely things about you, but also saying things that aren’t so positive [crosstalk 00:15:45] take it on the chin. When I present a marketing plan to the board, which is one of my responsibilities as the leader of marketing in each company I’ve worked at, you’ve got to take stuff on the chin and be really transparent, and take the good and the bad as they say. I think that’s very important.  

Another thing you touched on there is about the value side of marketing. If people don’t get marketing, and if they really are a bit sniffy about it, or they see it as a little bit fluffy, all they need to know is, is if the marketing is done correctly, the business is going to grow. The simplest metric on success in marketing is lead generation. It really comes down to that. My job as a marketer is to support the sales team, give them the tools they need, give them the materials they need to go and sell, and then give them a steady stream of high-quality sales leads on a regular basis.  

I had another podcaster, I forget which one it was now, but he was talking on … when you interviewed him about how he’d taken up the leads from two a month to 20, and that’s great. That’s how I measure it as well in business, so where I’m at at the moment, we’ll come onto Blackbird I later I think, Nathan. Obviously it’s your podcast, [crosstalk 00:16:57].  

Nathan Anibaba: 

It’s coming.  

Adrian Lambert: 

But when I joined Blackbird, we were getting I think one lead a month. We’re now getting in the region of 40, 50 after 18 months, because we’ve got the marketing right, and we’ve got the brand awareness right, and our digital marketing is firing on all cylinders. Lead gen is the number one metric for marketing success in my opinion. 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Really fascinating. Well, that brings us nicely on to Blackbird. Let’s talk a little bit about the company. You joined Blackbird PLC in 2018. You are the world’s fastest, most powerful cloud video editing platform in the world. Talk about what some of the problems are that you solve for your clients.  

Adrian Lambert: 

Well, you’re obviously right. You’ve nailed it. We’re a cloud video editing platform. Very interesting history just briefly: it was developed by a maths prodigy genius, a guy called Stephen Streeter. Still with the business, the founder of the company. He foresaw that video would be edited and published in the cloud. He foresaw that 20 years ago. He’s an Oxbridge graduate, an Oxford graduate, I should say, and video for years had been edited on premise by big, heavy editing suites that were expensive, needed a lot of bandwidth and infrastructure.  

Steve and his team of very talented developers build this cloud-native editing solution. It’s very efficient, so it’s cloud native, it’s very quick, and we’re getting a lot of success now. So traditionally, the business … We’ve been around for some years. We’re actually also a PLC. We’re on the [inaudible 00:18:27] stock market, so [inaudible 00:18:29], which is interesting. Always the litmus test of how we’re performing.  

But for many years, the company was selling Blackbird into the Soho/London TV production world, so Blackbird was used on all sorts of TV shows you’ve probably heard with like Come Done With Me and Gogglebox, [crosstalk 00:18:49]. Yeah, loads of TV shows. But to be really frank, that market is not the most lucrative, and we re-strategized, so now we’re very much focused on four core markets, which are sports, esports and news and entertainment. And we’re getting traction because we’re getting noticed now, so clients of ours include in sports, Liverpool Football Club, Arsenal Football Club, the Buffalo Bills, which are a big NFL team in the States, the Sabers. A lot of sports rights holders and management companies like IMG use us, Delta, [inaudible 00:19:24], Eleven Sports … We use all sorts of sports in all different regions.  

And very similar workflow. It’s live [inaudible 00:19:32] video. It could be a football game, it could be basketball, it could be behind-the-scenes content, and editors can go into their browser on a laptop at home or anywhere. They can work remotely, and they can edit the content, enrich it and publish it very, very fast to social media or to OTT platforms or VOD, which is video on demand platforms. Blackbird’s finally getting the attention and the recognition it deserves, because it’s a phenomenal British tech, and I’m extremely proud to work there.  

Nathan Anibaba: 

So as I understand, the company has been around for 20 years or so, but especially you’ve grown quite quickly in the last year or last few years, especially. Talk a little bit about how COVID has factored into … how COVID has affected you as an organization, both positively and negatively.  

Adrian Lambert: 

Again, a great question, Nathan, and yeah, look, it’s a terrible situation, and none of us wish we were in this predicament. I think it’s really taken the world by storm, really, and it is what it is. We’ve just got to get through this as best we can. From a business point of view. I’ve got to say Blackbird dealt with it extremely well. We actually started working remotely in the middle of March, a few weeks before the actual UK lockdown. Fortunately, because we’re a cloud-native business, not just the technology, but also our systems, we just basically … One day the CEO … It wasn’t a sudden decision, but the CEO and the CFO said, “We need to go home, guys. Just start from tomorrow.”  

And we just started working from home, took our laptops back, and email … Worked seamlessly. We used Slack, Zoom, everything’s working well. I honestly think we’re more productive than ever, because we’re a London-based company. I’m living in London with my family right now, and I used to get a bus to work for an hour. Couldn’t work on that bus for an hour. It really was impossible. That’s gone now. I can be at my desk any time. So we’re actually working very efficiently.  

The other interesting factor with COVID is that our software, Blackbird, is the perfect video editing solution for remote working, so we’re actually busier than ever. We’ve had an absolute acceleration of interest in our platform. Literally I think we’ve won five major contracts in the last three months, not just because of the COVID situation at all, but Blackbird’s a phenomenal product, and I think we would have won those contracts anyway, but it just moved the conversation forward, because if you’re editing a video from home using a traditional editing system, you need a lot of bandwidth, a lot of infrastructure. With Blackbird, you don’t. It’s a very light touch product. Very powerful, but light touch. [inaudible 00:22:18] bandwidth. It’s easier to learn, to use, it’s very efficient.  

So like I say, Liverpool, Arsenal, a big client of ours in New York called A+E Networks doubled their capacity. A+E Networks run the History Channel and six other major entertainment channels. That was another big success for us. We just signed up Riot Games last week, which we’re absolutely delighted about. Riot Games,- 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Fascinating.  

Adrian Lambert: 

Yeah, developers of League of Legends. It’s the most popular played game in the world, 80 million- 

Nathan Anibaba: 

It’s huge.  

Adrian Lambert: 

Yeah, I’m not a gamer personally, but I’ve read a lot about it, obviously, having prepared the press release and worked with their commercial team on the PR. So I’ve got to say, I hope it comes across, but this is a British tech company. We’re 30 people strong. We’re a small outfit, and Riot Games have chosen Blackbird. They could have chosen five or six other products. They chose us. 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Amazing.  

Adrian Lambert: 

And their CTO said Blackbird’s best in class, so it’s a really great British tech success story. We’ve just got to keep going forward, really. We’ve got a lot of exciting stuff happening, and we’ve just got to keep going, really.  

Nathan Anibaba: 

Really fascinating. What are the major strategic objectives that you’re working on now, and what are the main challenges the company is struggling with, and how are you helping overcome them? 

Adrian Lambert: 

First thing is, and I’m a firm believer you can’t do anything without good people. So the CEO, Ian, is extremely good, and has completely changed … Well, how can I put it? He’s enhanced a good company, and made it even better. He’s built a new commercial team. One of the challenges is getting good people, so we’ve got a really good team now, and we’re always looking for more. Recruitment’s a never-ending process, so we’re always on the lookout for good sales people, good developers, good commercial people. That’s one thing.  

Strategically, we keep it really simple. So we‘re focused on the four big sectors: news, sports, esports and entertainment. Territorially, really the US and Europe, and Asia when we can. Obviously, we can’t be everywhere, but Asia’s another important market for us. But what we’re doing is, we’re winning direct deals where we can, but we’re working on what’s called an OEM strategy, so this basically means that we are signing up major … We call them OEMs, but they’re major telcos, and these are companies who have big sales teams. They have big tech stacks. They’re always looking for best in class solutions, and in simple terms, they can sell further and faster than we can, because we’re a small company at the end of the day still, punching above its weight, but there’s only so much we can do with our team size.  

That’s our big focus, and we’re having some very, very interesting conversations with multiple household name telcos, who love the product. I don’t want to jinx it, so I’m touching wood here.  

Nathan Anibaba: 

Surround yourself by wood, right.  

Adrian Lambert: 

Yeah, fortunately the desk is wood, so [inaudible 00:25:21] my head as well. That’s the focus, and we think … Well, it is the right strategy, and we think that’s going to pay huge dividends for us, Nathan, in the near future.  

Nathan Anibaba: 

Really fascinating. Talk a little bit about the agency support that you have to help execute on your strategic goals. What does the … How do agencies or freelancers help you execute strategically into the market? 

Adrian Lambert: 

It’s interesting, and I realize this is a Fox Agency podcast, and I’ve got to know the Fox guys very well and am very impressed with what they can do. I should say that, because I genuinely mean it. I haven’t used agencies for a couple of years. I did earlier in my career. I used to go down the full-service agency route, and I’ve worked with all sorts of agencies in Manchester. I think I’ll name check a couple of the better ones. I think Delineo are great. [inaudible 00:26:09] Manchester run by a guy called Nick. I think it was Nick Melvin. I think he moved on, but Nick was great. I’ve suddenly just thought of an aside on Nick. I remember I was looking … This was when I was at IFE Services, and I was looking for an agency, and four came in to see me, and Nick from Delineo was the only guy who didn’t give me a big deck and tell me how great they were. He asked me a load of questions, and he’d done his research.  

Nathan Anibaba: 

That’s interesting.  

Adrian Lambert: 

Yeah, and he’d actually done a lot of research on me and the company, and he came in with solutions from the first meeting. I was really impressed and I chose those guys, and we were on a bit of a journey together. They had some great account managers, and I was … Very impressive agency, Delineo, and I still wish them well, and I may work again with them in the future at some point. But yeah, so [crosstalk 00:26:51]. Rippleffect, another good one, when I was at … in the past, and Cicero, a good agency, who got bought out actually years ago, but they were a great agency as well. So there’s a lot of them about, very talented agencies.  

To be honest, right now, Nathan, what I’m doing is I’m working with expert freelancers, is what I refer to them as. I like the model. I’ve got a coterie of these guys, who I’ve either been recommended to or I found myself, so I’ve a guy who does pay-per-click advertising for us. I really believe in using experts for things. I can cobble together pay-per-click advertising, but it is a big … It’s a complex [inaudible 00:27:29]. I’d rather pay a guy a monthly retainer to do it properly and save a [inaudible 00:27:33] money, because I think it’s about ROI.  

I’ve got a good guy in pay-per-click. He’s also a good SEO guy, that I defer to for his knowledge and expertise. I’ve got a guy who writes our content. He’s a journalist in the industry, who had written reviews about Blackbird before, and I liked his style. I use him as our writer of … I hate the word blog, but basically thought leadership content. I use a guy … We do a lot of LinkedIn work. We have a guy for LinkedIn advertising [inaudible 00:28:02] on LinkedIn. I think LinkedIn’s an enormously important platform for B2B. For us, it’s the number one. Everybody we’re trying to get is on that platform, so [inaudible 00:28:10].  

The guys who built our website, which launched about three months ago, I was recommended to, and they did a phenomenal job in about eight weeks. What I like about that model is that I’m dealing with guys who are seasoned professionals, who’ve been at agencies and gone it alone, and I’ve got a straight dialogue into these guys. So the guy who built the website, John, was an ex creative director in an agency, been around for years. He’s gone solo, and rather than working through an account manager, which [crosstalk 00:28:43].  

Nathan Anibaba: 

The message can be diluted, or …  

Adrian Lambert: 

Yeah, and it’s nobody’s fault, but often they get full-service agencies … One of the issues I’ve had in the past is that … And this is a very common comment, but I’m going to say it again. When you put a brief out, and the agency comes in, you get the MD and the creative director, and you get a very polished pitch. And you think … You’re sold the dream, and you’re like, “This is incredible. I’ve got to have [inaudible 00:29:11].” 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Yeah, exactly.  

Adrian Lambert: 

It’s like, they’re going to change my life. [inaudible 00:29:14]. They’re going to make me look good, the company look- 

Nathan Anibaba: 

Exactly, right.  

Adrian Lambert: 

And then what happens is, you sign off on the dotted line, and then suddenly those individuals disappear, because [inaudible 00:29:24] and they’ve got other pitches to worry about and they’re trying to feed the machine. And then you end up with an account manager, and that account manager can be very bright and very dedicated, but they often don’t have … I can’t [inaudible 00:29:37]. They might not have the gravitas and experience to help me as a marketing director.  

I need a peer, who I can bat ideas forwards and back with. So then what can happen, not always, is the account manager gets frustrated. They’re working behind the scenes trying to make things happen for you as the client, but they’re trying to pull all sorts of levers to make it happen. But frustration can set in. The quality of work can diminish sometimes, and delays happen with requests. So I’ve been a little bit bruised with some agencies in the past, and I’m liking the freelancer expert model at the moment.  

Nathan Anibaba: 

That really makes sense. It’s a well-trodden path and strategy for agencies, especially the larger ones. They deliver with the A team. Well, they pitch with the A team, and then deliver with the B, C or sometimes even D team, which is a common thing that we hear in the industry.  

Talk a little bit about how you like to select agencies, because you talked a moment ago about a pitch scenario where there were four agencies that came in. The one that didn’t have a large pitch deck was the one that actually won your business, because he asked consultative questions and did a lot of research on you. But in order for him or an agency to actually get on your radar in the first place … Let’s say that you have no idea that an agency exists, but they know that they can add some value to you in some way. What’s the best way of them getting on your radar and demonstrating some value to you, and potentially starting a business relationship? 

Adrian Lambert: 

Yeah, again, so really, what I … Again, I’ve been in situations where I’ve needed an agency. What I tend to typically do is I’ll write a brief like any marketer would do. It’s only a couple of pages. Explain what you’re looking for, and then approach some agencies. I might literally search online, and I might approach a few that have worked for in the past, and maybe I’ll contact five. Then I want to hear who’s keen, who’s got the bit between their teeth, who’s going to help me, who’s got the passion, who’s going to really be my right-hand man to get me through the next two, three, four years to build this business up and get where we need to go.  

Then I’ll invite three in, and like I say, you’ll get the A team in, and you’ll get a very polished presentation. But what I’m interested in is people who have done their research. It’s great that the agency has got this many logos on that deck, they’ve worked with all these A list bluechip brands, and they’ve done X, Y and Z campaigns. Fantastic, but what are they going to do for me? How are they going to help my business grow in the next three to five years?  

I always ask very searching questions from the first … even on the phone call. What do you know about the business? If somebody’s not bothered to even find out what we do at a basic level, the conversation is not going to go any further. It won‘t go any further, because I think I can’t rely on you to be passionate and do the legwork on the business.  

So there’s all that, so really, I think it comes down to two things. I think it’s talent, is one thing, and attitude is equally important. I want to see the whites of your eyes, and I want to see who’s really … I say, I’m going to repeat myself, but which agency really wants the work, and is going to go the extra mile and put the extra legwork in to get the company I work for where it needs to be.  

Nathan Anibaba: 

Mm-hmm (affirmative). You spoke about briefs earlier. A good brief, as we all know, exponentially increases the agency’s ability to do fantastic work. The client sets the start and end points of a project, giving the agency a very clear foundation for the strategy and the creative development. Some have likened the briefing process to briefing a surgeon. You want to make sure that it’s very clear, it’s very focused. With that being the case, what’s the best way of creating a fantastic brief that an agency can take and execute on? 

Adrian Lambert: 

I think really keep it simple. Explain … It’s almost a mini marketing [inaudible 00:33:39]. It’s saying this is where we are now, this is where we want to get to. We’re looking for an agency to help us get from A to B in the shortest amount of time. I think it’s on the client as well to be very clear. It’s not all down to the agency. If things get off to a bad start through a lack of clarity and expectations being set properly, that can be down to the client as well, so like I said at the start of this part of the podcast, it doesn’t need to be 20 pages, it can be a two-page brief, but really say what you’re looking for. And yeah, I just think it’s very important to set the whole relationship on the right tone right from the start. I like to keep things simple. I really do.  

Nathan Anibaba: 

Really, really interesting. Last couple of questions, and then we’re getting to our speed round. Over the course of your career, you’ve worked with many notable B2B technology names, and you must have seen the evolution of B2B marketing change quite significantly over the span of your career. How has it changed most significantly in recent years, and where do you think B2B marketing is heading? 

Adrian Lambert: 

When I started in B2B marketing, the average standard of it was pretty poor. And that’s because a lot of B2B companies start up … They’re started up by technical people who are very talented. They might be engineers, scientists, and they’ve got a great idea and they start a company up. I’m having some water. Excuse me. They may not understand the importance of marketing. They understand the product and the discipline very, very well, but they don’t understand the importance of branding and awareness and differentiation and targeting and all the basic tenets of marketing.  

Back in the day, when I started out, it was dreadful. And this was the infancy of the internet, so a lot of websites were very poor. Polished brands weren’t common in B2B. What there’s been I think in the last five or six years, maybe 10 years, has been a catching up between B2B and B2C, and it’s long overdue, and thank heavens. You now see a lot of very polished B2B brands that clearly, the founder or the owners or the MDs realize the importance of it. They’ve actually got marketing talent in the business, so the standard is much improved.  

Where I’m at at the moment, Blackbird, there’s a show every year. In fact, there’s two big shows. One is called NAB, and one’s called the IBC. Right now, they’re not live because of the current COVID situation, but I’ve been to a few of these. You walk around the halls, and the marketing is exceptional. The booths are good. You’re looking at the collateral. All the touchpoints are there. Not always, but a lot of these companies now are really on the ball. So they’re catching up to B2C.  

I think the realization, Nathan, that actually, we’re marketing to people. [inaudible 00:36:29] B2C, you’re marketing really to one individual normally, who makes the purchase decision. In B2B, as we all know, you’re marketing to a decision-making unit, the DMU, which often has five … can have anything from two to 10 people, and you’ve got to try and satiate all those different needs and finance and operations and what have you. But you’re still marketing to people. People still are influenced by words, by form, creativity. So that’s I think much more recognized now, thank heavens, in B2B. So the standard of creativity is much higher.  

I think the adoption of digital marketing is very widespread now within enlightened B2B companies. We’re up against it. At Blackbird now, we’re doing a lot of the right things, but so do a lot of our competitors. They’re very on the ball. They’re very switched on to digital marketing, so we need to be one step ahead all the time. I think they’re the main take-outs, I’d say.  

Nathan Anibaba: 

Mm-hmm (affirmative), really interesting. Adrian, final question, and then we’ll get into our speed round. With the focus on COVID-19 recently and Black Lives Matter and a number of other social movements, leadership and the importance of leadership has come under the spotlight. You’ve been a very successful leader throughout your career, and you’ve worked with other very successful leaders as well. What do you think are the qualities of a successful leader? 

Adrian Lambert: 

You know what? I think being a nice human being is very, very important. I really loathe bullies. I’ve seen a few in my 20, 25 years, and it’s unusual, but I’ve seen it in practice, and it’s really repugnant. I think, to get the best out of people, my style is an arm round the shoulder and being supportive, being a mentor. I have a team of one right now; a great guy works for me.  

I’ve had teams of three or four in the past, never big teams. But I really believe you get the best out of people by being nice and supportive, and listening and doing the best you can. I’ve never had a situation fortunately where performance has been so bad that it’s become sticky. I’m always careful with recruitment to make sure that I bring the right people on board. I’m fussy. I might interview 10 people. If the right person’s not there, I won’t take them on, but when I bring somebody on, I’ll do my utmost to support that person, and make them flourish, and give them all the tools they need to be a great professional. 

I think all those things, really. I think at the top end of the business, CEOs, they’re cut from a different cloth. It’s a lonely place, running a company, and they’ve got to make some tough decisions. You can still be nice, and still be thoughtful and kind. But CEOs have to make some tough decisions sometimes, because businesses aren’t charities. They’re there to make a profit. They’re there to generate revenue, and to thrive. But I like to work in nice companies, which allow people to flourish and are supportive. I know I’m repeating myself, but I think it’s extremely important.  

Nathan Anibaba: 

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Really, really well said. Adrian, let’s get into our speed round now. This is the round where I’ll fire some short, sharp questions at you. If you can fire some answers back to me, that will be fantastic. Which CMO is doing the best job in marketing right now, in your opinion? 

Adrian Lambert: 

Well, do you know what? I knew this question was coming, and I gave it a bit of thought. One of the silver linings of the COVID situation is spending more time with my family. I’ve got two children, an eight-month-old daughter who’s just lovely, adorable, and a six-year-old son. I spend a lot of time with my son, particularly, who’s not been at school for three months now. We’ve become Lego fanatics and Lego experts, and Lego are phenomenal. I’ve had to Google it, but Julia Goldin is the CMO, and my word, what a job she’d doing. They make bits of plastic at the end of the day, but The Lego Movie …  

Nathan Anibaba: 

Yeah, phenomenal.  

Adrian Lambert: 

Yeah, great.  

Nathan Anibaba: 

Everything around Lego.  

Adrian Lambert: 

Long answer to a simple question. [inaudible 00:40:34] the most brilliant, yeah.  

Nathan Anibaba: 

Yeah, definitely. Really expensive, but they’ve done a fantastic job. It costs you an arm and a leg.  

Adrian Lambert: 

That’s the clever marketing bit. [crosstalk 00:40:43] way over the odds.  

Nathan Anibaba: 

What’s the single thing that annoys you about working with agencies, and what do you absolutely really like about working with agencies? 

Adrian Lambert: 

Yeah, I’m going to repeat myself. I think it’s being sold the dream at the pitch stage, and then the reality’s not been quite the same. It’s not the same with all agencies, but I’ve been bitten with that a few times. The great thing is when the magic happens. I’ve worked with some very talented agencies, who have delivered some phenomenal creative campaigns, stuff that I couldn’t do in-house. And that’s when you think, great, these guys are worth their weight in gold.  

Nathan Anibaba: 

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Really interesting. At times, we all hit low points, especially during COVID and lockdown. What do you do to motivate yourself? 

Adrian Lambert: 

Well, I’m quite a self-motivated person, to be honest. I don’t get low for too long. This is a bit of a twee answer, but my children really … When I see them downstairs, because I work in the loft right now like lots of people. [inaudible 00:41:39] a kind of conversion, and working at a small desk and a computer. And when I take a break and I see my daughter downstairs who’s eight months old, just smiling and the happiest thing in the world, shaking a little toy, I think, you know what? Life’s not too bad. This is what it’s about. It’s about family, and everything else can wait.  

Nathan Anibaba: 

Really, really well said. Last couple of questions: what excites you most about your current role and position? 

Adrian Lambert: 

I am loving this job at Blackbird. I said I’m enormously proud of this business. We’re a British tech company taking on the world. We’re beating a lot of competitors to win business. It’s enormously exciting, extremely fast-paced, and yeah, it’s a lot of fun. I’m really thrilled to be here.  

Nathan Anibaba: 

And my final question, Adrian: what’s the single biggest thing that you’ve yet to achieve that you would like to achieve in your career? 

Adrian Lambert: 

Good question. I think it’s success at Blackbird now. I hope to think I’ve delivered value at every company I’ve been at, but this is the big one. Blackbird’s got a world-class product, and if we get this right, it could be an absolute world leader in its sector, and that’s what we’re [inaudible 00:42:47] to do, and if I can achieve that in the next two or three years, I’ll be delighted.  

Nathan Anibaba: 

Really well said. Adrian Lambert, thank you for being on ClientSide.  

Adrian Lambert: 

Thank you, Nathan. Absolute pleasure.  

Nathan Anibaba: 

If you’d like to share any comments on this episode or any episode of ClientSide, then find us online at fox.agency. If you’d like to appear on a show, please email milly@fox.agency. The people that make this show possible are Milly Bell and Natasha Rosic, our booker/researcher. David Claire is our head of content, Ben Fox is our executive producer. I’m Nathan Anibaba. You’ve been listening to ClientSide from Fox Agency, and we’re done.  

 

 

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