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Welcome to Geoff Phillips

Founder
Canvas Marketing

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“That’s a huge part of marketing, the emotional side of it, rather than just the tangible, transactional side of things.”

Award-winning marketeer, Geoff Phillips, has worked with global businesses such as Avery Dennison, Sage, Cannon, and Caspian. As the founder of Canvas Marketing, Geoff discusses offering his expertise to ambitious, investment ready companies.

Transcript:

Nathan Anibaba:

This is ClientSide from Fox Agency. [singing]. Geoff Phillips is the founder of Canvas Marketing and advisor to businesses using marketing to support growth, scale, or investment readiness. He supports ambitious businesses that are committed to investing time and resource in marketing that works. He’s an award-winning marketer, speaker, and coach with a proven experience at C-suite levels across multiple sectors and business sizes from FTSE 100 to high-growth SMEs. He was previously marketing director at Sage and has worked with brands including Baxi, Avery Dennison, Cannon, and Caspian. Geoff Phillips, welcome to ClientSide.

Geoff Phillips:

Thank you, Nathan. I’m very pleased to be here. Looking forward to our talk.

Nathan Anibaba:

Yeah, I’ve been looking forward to speaking to you as well. You’ve got an absolutely fascinating history and background. You were pretty good at maths at school and you were told by an advisor to go into accounting and finance, which you started at Nottingham Trent University for a while. Why didn’t you follow their advice, and how did you make your way into a career in marketing?

Geoff Phillips:

I was badly advised, which is something I try not to do with the clients that I work with. Now, that takes us … it takes us back a long way there. We’re going back 20 odd years. But I think it’s the reality for a lot of young people. There’s many people that I work with now and I’ve supported a lot of apprentice programs and do a lot of work in talent development within the region I’m in. Particularly, it’s school and A level stages. And a lot of young people don’t really know what they want to do.

And I was just an arrogant young 18 year-old who said I wanted to be rich. I was reasonably good at maths, particularly pyromath. So I still remember careers advisor saying, “Go study accounting. Turn yourself into an actuarial scientist,” which I still don’t really fully understand. And accelerate a few years forward, I failed my second year on the accounting and finance degree, miserably I should say. And I hated anything to do with accounting.

But that was probably one of the first really good pieces of advice that I had at the end of that year, was that one of the professors took me aside who I had a good relationship with and just said, “You’re really excelling in a lot of the business elements of the course.” And there was a module related to marketing in that, and their advice was, “You can keep slugging it out on accounting. You’re going to have to drop back a year in one way or the other. But we think you’d be better suited doing a slightly different course,” which I did and then actually ended up doing a sandwich degree as well. So it ended up taking me five years to get a degree, which at the time I was slightly embarrassed about. But now, it’s the best thing I ever did. And even on from then, that led to my marketing career.

Nathan Anibaba:

Your first marketing role was a placement with Volkswagen, and you credit that as the time that you actually fell in love with marketing. What happened at Volkswagen?

Geoff Phillips:

I think it was just seeing it real world. And it’s something, again, I encourage anybody who’s doing a degree, particularly in a subject where they don’t clearly know what profession they’re going to go into. So it’s all very well if you have a … If you’ve got an early passion to want to be a vet or a dentist or a doctor, there is only really one direction you’re going to go in. But if you go into business, you don’t really know what sector or disciple et cetera you’re going to end up in.

I felt like I really enjoyed the marketing side of business. But going into brand is huge as Volkswagen gave me that real world application of the theory and really helped me to understand that actually what I could do would make a material difference. And I think as well being part of a brand of that kind of size and that kind of heritage, it may sound a bit cliché, but I really felt the power and the emotion of working with a big brand. And that’s a huge part of marketing, is the emotional side of it rather than just the tangible transactional side of things.

Nathan Anibaba:

So 1996 with Volkswagen, super early in terms of online marketing and the internet in general really. What was the state of online marketing of Volkswagen in 1996?

Geoff Phillips:

You’ve probably done your research. From what I can recall, they had a group website that had been cobbled together just to have some presence stitch to the … But actually, during the time that I was there, towards the end of the period, it ended up being about 15 months from what I remember, they actually launched their first ever dot co at UK website, which was effectively [crosstalk] a digital brochure, which was a huge leap because one of the things I still remember very vividly from that job was literally a huge big, brown job bag going around everybody’s desks, where you’d have four or five people proofread quite extensive, multi-page brochures for vehicles, down to really detailed, technical levels. And replicating all of that digitally online was a huge undertaking.

And interestingly, my dissertation ended up being in my final year at the university was what the future of the internet was for the car manufacturers. And my prediction at the time was that dealerships would never go away, but that there would be a greater influence from an online experience in terms of the purchase process for vehicles. And I think that still remains relatively true, but who’s to say in the next 10 or 20 years that bricks and mortar dealerships won’t disappear fully?

Nathan Anibaba:

A visionary at the time.

Geoff Phillips:

Now, I [crosstalk] wouldn’t say that.

Nathan Anibaba:

Okay.

Geoff Phillips:

I don’t think it was difficult to predict. Again, buying a car is a very emotional things as well.

Nathan Anibaba:

Sure.

Geoff Phillips:

And I think most people would agree that going and touching, feeling, and experiencing that in the flesh is something that a lot of people enjoy, unless you’re actually just buying a car for a transactional reason, which some people do. But that’s just a different audience.

Nathan Anibaba:

Fast forward a few years and you become the marketing manager at Baxi, Baxi Boilers in 2002. Tell us what that experience was like.

Geoff Phillips:

Well, that was a radical change from what I’d been used to. It’s probably worthwhile saying I was still relatively naïve in how to map a career at that stage. But to put it into context, I went from working for … I spent time with Volkswagen for the period of placement. I spent nearly a couple of years with Cannon, who are obviously Japanese-owned, very different culture, but a huge global company. Then, I spent two wonderful years with Avery Dennison, who are American-owned and, again, a very different culture to Cannon.

And for reasons of love and family, I moved from the South of England, having spent probably five or so years living in the south, up to the North of England and have no concept as to the culture that was waiting for me with a Northwest British-owned manufacturing business that was Baxi. And the reality and the role was very different to what I perceived on the outside. And that was always very much the culture and the business. It was very, very traditional, very set in its ways. It was a very heavily traditionally led sales organization as well.

And there were huge challenges in overcoming and taking them forward, which at the time … I accept at the time I was probably too junior to be able to heavily influence that change. But also, the leadership and the executive within the business weren’t willing to embrace that change. And that company itself has been broken up several times and had various different investors go through it and try to make money from it.

But the biggest thing I learned from actually … from Baxi, other than … I always look and try and encourage anyone I work with to learn from their experiences, whether or not they feel good at the time or not. But the one thing that they really taught me at Baxi was the power of the channel, the power of an indirect influence. And I tell this story still very regularly, which is that, if you have a boiler in your household, generally most people only ever know the brand of their boiler or their heating system when it goes wrong. So as a marketer, you’ve got a huge challenge of trying to market a product to an end user, which is ultimately the consumer in a household, when actually most of their experience is only ever going to be when they’re in a negative place.

So the power of the channel is huge within that marketplace and your gas installers have a massive impact on what brand you select, because they will know what products are or are not reliable and they’ll have certain things that they will trust. So it taught me a huge amount about how to market into a channel in a very indirect sales model through both merchants and resellers as well as the actual installers themselves.

So very, very different experience and one that I reflect on now as being brilliant for my career, because it taught me a lot more about the kind of businesses I wanted to work for and the kind of things I enjoyed doing and also taught me a lot about that channel marketing side of things as well.

Nathan Anibaba:

That, I’m sure, became even more relevant when you started your career at Sage and you became marketing director, as we’ll talk about a little bit later. I’m sure that channel experience proved to be really, really valuable.

So you then moved to Newcastle, where you ended up running a marketing agency, which was owned by your wife’s family, as I understand. And this was the first time you actually ran an entire ship, the entire company by yourself. So how did that experience differ to being employed and now that you’re in charge of the entirety of the business?

Geoff Phillips:

Well, just to give a bit of context, I didn’t run it individually myself, but there were four of us that were the management team, if you like, and we had an agency of nearly 30 people at the time, turning a couple of million a year.

The biggest lesson that I learned was don’t work with family. It can be an emotional rollercoaster when you work with family members, particularly multiple ones. But very seriously, it was … I was assimilated to … There’s lots of people who say, “Oh, wouldn’t it be lovely to run a bar or a café or something like that?,” because you see from the outside on the surface how that could be a brilliant lifestyle type of business. And it’s the same with an agency and ultimately a marketing agency. It could look glamorous from the marketing side, but you’re still having to run a business at the end of the day and all of the things that come with it. The financials, the cashflow, the people management, legals, building management, all of those things come with it.

Nathan Anibaba:

Sure.

Geoff Phillips:

So ultimately, it’s those things that I think, when people go into that agency world, they don’t necessarily appreciate that that’s the case. And you have to make money. You have to be profitable to be able to pay people at the end of the month. And that’s a huge responsibility when you’ve got a reasonably big workforce.

But the biggest thing I learned from running the business at the time … Well, there’s two big things really, is that we became very dependent on one big client, and I won’t go into that on this conversation. But it absolutely is true that not to put all eggs in one basket, because we [crosstalk] became dependent on a particular client. And that ultimately led us to make a decision to wrap up the business a couple of years I had been part of it. It actually ran for 20 plus years, so it had a very good lifespan. And some of the reasons for changing the direction of all of us that were involved were family reasons, health reasons, and a few other things.

But it gave me a really deep understanding of what I call the drug of entrepreneurialism and the rewards that come with it, which you cannot experience when you work for a large, secure business where you’re surrounded by all of the facilities and the resources and the support and training that you need, because you are very much on your own. Nobody’s coming. And it’s about you making that success for yourself. So it taught me a huge amount about that.

Nathan Anibaba:

We’ll talk about that a little bit later, because now you’re self-employed again. So we’ll talk about how you’re dependent on that drug at the moment. But let’s talk a little bit about Sage. You joined in 2009 as a new customer marketing manager. You ended up staying for 10 years, holding several leadership roles in marketing, and you became the marketing director in 2016. There, you led the UK and Ireland customer marketing team in acquiring and growing the Sage customer base across their Cloud portfolio. What did you learn when you were at the company?

Geoff Phillips:

The biggest thing, to be honest, with working with an organization of that size was just the sheer number of opportunities that were available to you. So having not worked in a business of that kind of level of my career before, that point, there were just so many great ways that you could add value to the business.

And the big thing I learned was that, ultimately, if you get stuck in, if pardon the phrase, you get stuck in you start to make a difference, you start to create a name for yourself in terms of contributing as part of a bigger team towards a goal. Ultimately, you become a little bit more visible. And properly understanding the way that a big global company like that operates and really having the time to appreciate the way that that works and making that difference creates those opportunities for you.

And I think the biggest thing that I learned was not just developing as a marketer, but developing as a leader and learning what it takes to be part of an executive team, accountable for a business that’s turning over hundreds of millions of pounds and highly profitable and needs to be high performing.

But it’s still interesting, though. People look from the outside into Sage, particularly at the time when I joined, seeing them as a software development. They were still relatively in the dark ages marketing-wise when I joined. And I do not credit myself for changing the way they did marketing, but certainly, my love of digital marketing and challenging the norm helped them to introduce the email marketing, wean themselves off print, really embrace data science and really think about how a brand can be influential on a customer, which at the time wasn’t necessarily the case.

So huge learning curve, and I only ever planned to stay at Sage for maybe a couple of years. If I’m perfectly honest, it was supposed to be a stepping stone, because there were various other things going on in my life at the time that just needed a role. But the people and the opportunities and the brand and just the sector we worked in as well was fascinating, and the bug really bit me. And as a lot of people said at Sage when I was there at the time, you get to the point where green blood runs through you. And I certainly felt that. It was fabulous. And I credit the organization for developing me into the marketer that I am today.

Nathan Anibaba:

Really fascinating. You also say that you learned about how to run a business, how small businesses run. You also learned about leadership and that you had really no fear because you’d seen businesses, small businesses, fail before. So that’s leaning on your previous experience, which I guess is an experience that many of your colleagues wouldn’t have had or maybe didn’t have. So you were able to probably better empathize with the small business owner, which is core to Sage’s customer base.

Geoff Phillips:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think you hit the nail on the head really, is that when you’ve worked in small businesses before and/or you’ve seen failure and experienced failure before, you have a very different outlook on life and you can relate to the pains and the needs, but also the language of small and medium businesses, which ultimately were Sage’s end audiences.

And I don’t think I ever really realized that from day one at Sage. But certainly, later on in my career with that business, I realized how much of a benefit that had been in terms of being able to market to them in away that really related to them and really got under the skin of how they wanted to be talked to and managed as a customer of that business. So that was a massive benefit.

Nathan Anibaba:

Now, in a company like Sage, knowing where and how to deploy your marketing spend is crucial obviously. With so many touchpoints from TV, radio, online, print, social, events, how do big companies like Sage with thousands of customers know where to best deploy their marketing spend so that they know where the best customers are coming from, so that they can re-deploy those efforts sufficiently?

Geoff Phillips:

Well, a big part of it with a business like that is continuing to do what you know works well. I’ve always run with a mandate of break your marketing budget up where you’ve got somewhere between 70 and 90% of your marketing budget is trained on things that you know work and that you’ve found ways to measure and gain attribution from. And then put a small percentage, say that 10% or even up to maybe 20 or 30%, into the things that maybe will be new and different and will help you to leap frog the competition. And they are often the things that are more difficult to measure or to attribute from.

So that’s the way that I’ve always worked in terms of the mix. But in terms of how to actually make sure that you understand where new customers come from, it is a challenge. The reality in most organizations is that, when you’re in good times and you’re growing and everything’s going well, you generally have a good feeling as to where things are coming from. But actually, the pressure to understand attribution is normally much greater when you’re missing targets, when you’re really stretching the business to try and grow rapidly. And that’s the point at which you really need to know and understand that you’ve got the right metrics in place, that you’ve got the right touchpoint measures in place, you’ve got the right technology and understanding of the customer journey so that you can pinpoint as much as possible where you’ve had an influence on a customer’s decision to do something.

One of the things we actually often used to debate was, if we turned off marketing for three to six months, what would happen? And we never did, but [crosstalk].

Nathan Anibaba:

I was going to say.

Geoff Phillips:

It was too big a risk, and I think we all knew that.

Nathan Anibaba:

Yeah.

Geoff Phillips:

But there were some times where, with a lengthy decision pipeline in a business like that where you can be spending thousands on a whole new software solution, it can often be a long pipeline. So trying to measure your attribution back to the early stages of that customer funnel can be challenging.

And again, that channel piece that we talked about earlier on was a big learning piece as well, because you often have channel influencers like, for example, an accountant or a business partner or even peers within business who will heavily influence somebody’s decision as to what they choose. And as a marketer, you can’t necessarily always track that, but you can understand that, even at the top of the funnel with awareness, if you’ve got a sharer voice, if you’ve got brand recall, and you have a presence in the places that you do market, then you can piece together the fact that that will have had an influence on somebody doing something at a particular stage.

Nathan Anibaba:

What were some of the things that you hypothesized when you thought about what would happen if you turned off marketing for three months?

Geoff Phillips:

Well, the biggest hypothesis was that we knew that, because of the pipeline, that the influence of marketing wouldn’t … or the influence of no marketing wouldn’t be felt until probably at least three months, if not [crosstalk] longer, because it is very much a … it is a gradual buildup. And particularly in that kind of a B2B market space, it’s very much a … There are subconscious influences, regularly seeing the brand, regularly experiencing the brand, whether it’s through the product, through customer services, through direct marketing, through peer-to-peer recommendations, through sponsorship. All of those different things, they gradually build up to give the customer confidence and take them into that consideration stage beyond just initial engagement. So we knew that that would be the … That was the hypothesis for thinking about that kind of a timeframe.

And as you would expect in a business like that, there were huge amounts of direct marketing going out on a regular basis and [crosstalk] customers that would drive a behavior from customers. But the reality was that most of that would build up over time and would be triggered by a particular change of circumstance or change of need or legislative change that might influence somebody’s decision to actually take action at a particular time.

Now, I would say as well, though, one of the big things from a marketing perspective, when you talk about the mix, one of the things that many people don’t think about in an organization of that size is the influence of marketing on your internal audience. So the ability for internal colleagues to really relate to and believe in and gain confidence from external marketing is huge. It has a real contagion effect to internal audiences that really gives them the belief that they are working for a brand that’s playing big in the market and is really serious about succeeding and winning new business and growing. And that could have a huge effect on the [crosstalk] internal audience as much as it will on your external audience in terms of driving impact.

Nathan Anibaba:

Really, really fascinating. Let’s talk a little bit about working with agencies. This is an agency podcast, of course.

Geoff Phillips:

Of course.

Nathan Anibaba:

So we need to spend a little bit of time doing that. But so you must have worked with lots of agencies during your time at Sage, and selecting an agency partner is probably one of the most important decisions that you can make really. It’s very easy to pick up the phone on the spot and hire a new agency. It’s far more difficult to find that ideal partner to really reshape the way that you think about your marketing to really propel the business forward. What’s the best way that you found of choosing an ideal agency partner?

Geoff Phillips:

I think there are lots of different ways, and I’m forever learning from people and how they select agencies. But one thing, I’ve got a very simple model that I’ve always used, which is thinking about … Well, first of all, I would always say, “Be very clear what you want to achieve together.” How you go about finding an agency will be very different depending on whether it’s a short-term project or a longer term partnership, if you like. And they could be in lots of different guises as well.

But I think fit is hugely important. So is there a good fit in terms of relationships, people? Do you get a good feeling from the way that you maybe share culture or the way that you approach things, the way that the agency and the client work?

The other one is function. And I think you’ll see there’s a theme in here that I’ll mention in a minute. But function, do you actually have the expertise and the capability to deliver what is actually requirement? And from a client side, how can you assess whether or not somebody has that function and that capability to deliver? And in a lot of circumstances, well, you have to almost make sure they have actually done it and they really can do it, rather than just say that they can do it.

And then the final one is future. So we have the theme there is F. So fit, function, and future. And I used a similar model for recruiting people as well, to be honest. But is there a future in the relationship? How could it grow? If the agency, for example, doesn’t have some of the skills that you currently need, but you find that there’s a really great fit and they can meet most of the other functions, do you see that there is a future whereby they can develop themselves into what you need? Can you work as a joined up relationship to find that way to then grow into the future?

I think that if you can have that fit, function, and future in any relationship and look for those things, then there’s a good chance that it will succeed longer term.

Nathan Anibaba:

Really fascinating. So when you are short listing agencies and it’s come down to the final two or three and they’re all capable, there’s a good fit, there’s a good capability or their function, and you see a future in working with them, what tends to make the difference when it comes down to the final decision?

Geoff Phillips:

I think, first of all, it needs to be a collective decision. So in most of the times when I’ve done big agency recruitment processes or review processes, you do it as a team. So you don’t just take the opinion of one or two people. You take the opinion of a trusted small group of people. And I have been in those situations where you’re very grateful to have two or maybe even three agencies that, as you say, have that fit, function, and future potential and you really are down to splitting hairs.

And that’s when, unfortunately, you get to the point where it almost becomes a scoring piece where somebody might literally win out by one or two points. And that sometimes is a difficult thing to have to break to [crosstalk].

Nathan Anibaba:

Yeah. Hard to take. Yeah.

Geoff Phillips:

But I think it is a mix of having that almost slightly emotional, if you like, feeling in terms of what will or won’t work. And I think there is a big element of trusting your gut within business, but then coupling that with the objective side of things. How do they score and can you … If somebody came to you from one of the agencies and said, “Tell me exactly how you went through the selection process,” you’d happily walk them through it and you’d happily be able to justify how you’ve made those decisions. And I think it’s incumbent upon clients to have that diligence in the way that they approach things.

But I also think that there’s nothing wrong with being able to very with authority say, “There was just a fit that didn’t quite exist and a feeling that we had over and above the objective things that were there.” So yeah, it’s always a fascinating process. It’s always something that’s great fun to do, I think, from both sides, but you have to do it with the right level of diligence as well.

Nathan Anibaba:

Let’s talk a little bit about Caspian. In 2018, you became the marketing director or marketing advisor, sorry, to Caspian. They are a technology company developing AI solutions to automate risk investigations. I have no idea what that means, but it sounds very important. What problems do you solve for your customers?

Geoff Phillips:

So Caspian were one of the first clients I worked with when I set up Canvas Marketing, and we can talk about that, again, in a moment if you want to and what Canvas is. But effectively, I worked in house with Caspian starting off a couple of years ago. They’re a technology company that help banks to automate the way that high risk decisions are made.

Now, by that, it’s related … In their particular circumstance, it’s related to financial crime. So finance crime is rife. Literally, trillions are laundered through our financial systems every year, and there’s a huge percentage of money that circulates in our financial systems that is unidentifiable almost to banking systems as being financial crime proceeds.

And the main problem that banks have and financial institutions have is that they can’t keep up with the sophistication of criminals. But also, the ability of humans to meet the needs that they have in terms of tracking and identifying financial crime is very inconsistent. It’s a very finite resource that has huge costs behind it.

So Caspian use AI and have developed an AI platform, which effectively embraces deep machine learning, that can replicate human traits, so the way that the human brain thinks and how it investigates and analyzes particular situations and how it then makes a decision ultimately on what should or shouldn’t happen. And technology can do that on a much more accurate, consistent, and scalable basis than humans more often can. So typically, in a human team, you might have maybe 10 or 15% that are able to do it at a really high level, at a really high expert level. But the rest of the team are unable to meet that kind of level, whereas a machine can do it to a scale and on the accuracy and consistency that the humans never really can.

But the biggest challenge with that industry, and I think this is a broader subject for technology businesses generally and for marketers and technology businesses, is the more and more that AI and the machine learning component of AI is developed to be a part of the technology that we embrace is, what is the machine doing? How do you know what it’s doing? How do you have trust in the way it makes decisions and actions particular things? And it’s very different having a bit of AI that turns on a light that you can very quickly change or a bit of AI in your TV that might give you a slightly [crosstalk].

Nathan Anibaba:

A better program or whatever.

Geoff Phillips:

Yeah, or recommend something. We all have AI. AI is running recommendations on Netflix for us every single day. But it doesn’t matter if accidentally they promote a type of programming that maybe doesn’t fit with you, because there’s not a huge risk behind that.

Nathan Anibaba:

Sure.

Geoff Phillips:

But when you’re dealing in financial markets, there is huge risk behind particularly when you’re dealing with multi millions and trillions of dollars of money flowing through systems and getting the right decision is really important. So that kind of a level where it’s that very, very higher order decision making, you need something that can actually explain how it does it.

And the great thing with Caspian as a marketeer that was very, very clear from day one of working with them was that they had a compelling differentiator, which was that they had built a way for the machine to explain itself fully in a very transparent way, but in a way that humans can understand. And as a marketeer, you know that’s gold, that actually having that really, really … It was a world first at that kind of level of AI. And as a marketer, having that, it was a fantastic thing to be able to build as a core part of the story.

Nathan Anibaba:

Talking about what the machine is actually doing, I’m worried about that they’ll become Skynet and become our overlords and they won’t have any need for human beings anymore. It’s that Terminator scenario that I’m worried about with AI. But I guess we’re a few years off from that now. Absolutely fascinating. So [crosstalk].

Geoff Phillips:

And that genuinely, Skynet, I don’t know how many times that’s been … That’s a word that is used when you’re having [crosstalk].

Nathan Anibaba:

Really?

Geoff Phillips:

Oh, it’s fascinating.

Nathan Anibaba:

God.

Geoff Phillips:

That is one of the biggest fears.

Nathan Anibaba:

Yeah.

Geoff Phillips:

You make a decision as an executive in a large global business to deploy a machine, and it then starts doing things that you can’t explain. That’s hugely dangerous. But nobody will ever allow that to happen, which is why it’s so important to have that explain-ability element to that kind of an AI. But yeah, [crosstalk].

Nathan Anibaba:

Yeah.

Geoff Phillips:

Arnie is going to take over the world, so you don’t have to worry about it.

Nathan Anibaba:

He already has. Governor of California. He did it.

Geoff Phillips:

Yeah. So …

Nathan Anibaba:

Fourth largest economy in the world, right?

Geoff Phillips:

Absolutely.

Nathan Anibaba:

Really fascinating. So let’s talk a little bit about Canvas. As you said, you’re now the founder of Canvas marketing. You provide strategic marketing services to businesses with big ambitions, like Caspian, as we’ve just discussed. You use your director level experience to help businesses to really grow and scale by delivering marketing that really works. How do you achieve that?

Geoff Phillips:

Well, I think, first of all, I should be very, very transparent and say that Canvas is two employees. And I never wanted my name in lights, so I wanted the opportunity as my own business to be able to create a brand and to almost go through the process that I would do with other clients as well. So that was part of the reason why I created a name for the business rather than something more traditional like Geoff Phillips Consulting.

Nathan Anibaba:

Geoff Phillips. Yeah.

Geoff Phillips:

But I never really wanted my name in lights and I also wanted to make sure that there was a vehicle in the future should I want to diversify the business that would have an umbrella that wasn’t just singularly attached to my name.

But I’m not going to quite answer the question as it was put, but I think what I’ve realized when … So I always had an itch that I wanted to scratch in terms of going back into almost self-employment. And that was part of the reason I learned a huge amount in the corporate world was Sage. But you do get to the point where you realize that your ability to make a difference under the motivation and driver, you start to question those things. And I really wanted to try doing the things that I’m doing with Canvas and working with smaller businesses to try and help them to gain benefit from the experience that I’ve got. And that’s in an arrogant way in any way whatsoever. And actually, somebody had to point that out to me for me to understand that.

So when I was looking at doing something myself, the one thing that really I remember resonating that a few people said to me was that there are lots of very, very good marketing director level type of people out there in the market, but generally, the majority of them are working for one single business and are-

Nathan Anibaba:

Right.

Geoff Phillips:

They are committed to that one single business. But there’s a lot of businesses out there that are at a stage where they really need to grow, but they don’t have the investment or the confidence to be able to put somebody permanent in place …

Nathan Anibaba:

Right.

Geoff Phillips:

… on a full-time basis with the kind of skills and experience that I’ve got.

Nathan Anibaba:

Sure.

Geoff Phillips:

And I think what those businesses need, almost a mix of a bit of junior, a bit of mid level, and a bit of senior level marketing experience. So a number of people encouraged me to really use that level of experience to go and offer that out to businesses that would see value in that.

And I have to be honest, the first stage, having lived in the corporate world for so long, I was looking in the mirror thinking, “Really? Would people pay me for that?”

Nathan Anibaba:

Yeah.

Geoff Phillips:

“Really? Do people want that?”

Nathan Anibaba:

Really?

Geoff Phillips:

And you start having conversations with businesses and really understanding the network and getting under the skin of their needs. And it was a reality that actually there is a value that I’ve been fortunate to have been able to develop over a period of time that’s still very relevant to businesses that really want to understand what marketing will or won’t work. And when you’ve been through those cycles several times at a very large level, dealing with large budgets, large targets, big ambitious businesses, you do get a good sense of what will or won’t work, whereas …

I have a very strong belief that there’s a huge amount of talent in our marketing community in the UK. There’s a huge pool of early stage guys in their marketing career. And actually, most of them have got all of the great ideas that I could ever come up with and, more often than not, more of the great ideas that I could ever come up with. But they don’t necessarily have the authority and the belief and the experience of having gone through knowing what impact their decision to do something will have. And therefore, they don’t have the confidence maybe to take a risk that you do when you’ve had a bit more of that experience.

Nathan Anibaba:

Interesting.

Geoff Phillips:

And that’s a lot of the value that I try to take to businesses, is they ask me for my opinion and I tell them with a relatively decent amount of authority what will or won’t work and which direction to go in and I’m willing, very happily, to take the accountability with that. But that comes with experience.

So I saw that opportunity to be able to offer that kind of level of service into client and almost operate client-side to a degree. And then rather than creating a big agency with multiple experiences or multiple expertise internally, I work more on an associate model whereby I go and find and outsource expertise that is needed from design or media buying to PR et cetera, that I then work with a select group of other partners or associates, if you like, that can then help to deliver whatever the business needs that I’m working with.

Nathan Anibaba:

So tell us who some of your ideal clients are. I imagine it would be technology businesses with high growth ambitions, maybe heavily backed, BC-backed businesses. Does it have to be technology? Are you looking at any other industries, or what tends to be a good fit?

Geoff Phillips:

Well, if you talk to most businesses who have been in and who have had the experience of hindsight, the majority will say you have to be fairly focused on who your sweet spot is. So I do not deny that working with businesses that have technology as their product or their service that they provide and/or businesses that have technology that underpin the product and service that is provided are things that really resonate with me and I can add the most value to, particularly in a B2B space.

So those opportunities come naturally, and I’m fortunate to say that the majority of business that’s come my way has been through referral and recommendation, which is always a great position to be in, I think [crosstalk] perspective of what position you take within the agency or outsourced supplier model.

Nathan Anibaba:

I guess this is your second time being self-employed. What are some of the lessons that you’ve not repeated the second time that you made the first time? How different is the second rodeo of being self-employed?

Geoff Phillips:

I’ve probably covered most of those answers, to be honest, earlier on. I’ve got a much, much deeper appreciation of the way that a business runs. I could make decisions with experience and with that luxury of hindsight and knowing what does and doesn’t work. And I’m a lot clearer now on what I want to do and what I want to be involved in.

We were just touching that on a sweet spot of technology businesses and B2B businesses, but I’ve got a big ambition to be involved with businesses that, as you say, were either ready for investment or going for next stage of investment or are at very early stages of going for their first level of investment that will drive significant growth and ultimately understand that investing in brand and marketing are critical and core to their success. And if businesses aren’t really in that kind of a mode, then they’re not going to get value from what I do.

So I do work with a bit of a variety of businesses. And actually, I’ve ended up working with a few professional services businesses in B2B, which naturally, a few of them are accountants, which wouldn’t surprise you, given my background with Sage [crosstalk].

Nathan Anibaba:

Sage. Right.

Geoff Phillips:

Yeah.

Nathan Anibaba:

Right.

Geoff Phillips:

But yeah, so technology and professional services are a really sound, sweet spot. But that learning from previous experiences is understanding where you can add the best value and then understanding how to run that business and how to develop it as well. And I think it’s …I don’t really look back too much on mistakes. I just always make sure that … Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone does stuff wrong. The best learning I’ve ever had is just don’t do it again. Learn from your mistakes, but don’t repeat.

Nathan Anibaba:

Right. There you go. Definitely. Geoff [crosstalk]. Geoff, I could talk to you all day, but let’s get into our speed round. These are the questions that we ask all of our guests. So I’m going to fire some questions at you. If you can fire some answers back, that would be appreciated. These are the questions that are a little bit more about you, the human being, the individual. It’s almost like the man behind the brand.

Which CMO has the most difficult job in marketing right?

Geoff Phillips:

Well, I think given our current climate, anybody who works in travel.

Nathan Anibaba:

Travel.

Geoff Phillips:

How could I not say that?

Nathan Anibaba:

Right.

Geoff Phillips:

That’s an obvious one [crosstalk]. It would be unfair to pick out any CMO. What a challenge they’ve got in that sector right now. And to an extent, hospitality and a few of those other service-related sectors. But I think the uncertainty around travel and the holiday companies and airlines, for a CMO, it must offer … the broader marketing team, it must be a huge, huge challenge right.

Nathan Anibaba:

Are agencies a luxury or a necessity? What do agencies do that’s so unique that their clients really can’t do on their own or replicate themselves internally? It would be crazy to think that you could do something in house that you’re actually paying someone for. Are they a luxury or a necessity?

Geoff Phillips:

Well, I think they’re an absolute necessity. But again, a lot of it comes back to the circumstance. I think agencies can deliver short-term or project-based resource that you just don’t have in house, because you can’t recruit five people to work on a project over and above what you currently have. And they also bring expertise. What I always look for in agencies is how can they apply the expertise that they have from other clients within their portfolio into the client that they’re working with at that given time. And that’s something that is invaluable for somebody who works singularly for one of the big business.

And then there’s that creativity as well. You’re looking for that spark and that ingenuity and something that will really surprise and delight you as a client that you don’t have the inspiration for in house. And often, that agency client-side can then inspire and trigger ideas coming from both sides of the fence. But you’re looking for that inspiration to come initially from that agency. So I would say absolutely a necessity.

Nathan Anibaba:

What excites you most about being self-employed and being the founder of Canvas Marketing?

Geoff Phillips:

Well, one of the fascinating things of being self-employed is people always say, “Oh, it must be wonderful to be your own boss.”

Nathan Anibaba:

Right.

Geoff Phillips:

And nobody ever really thinks about the fact that, when you work for one big organization, you typically have one boss or maybe two or three if you’re in a matrix organization.

Nathan Anibaba:

Sure.

Geoff Phillips:

I work with, at any given time, maybe five or six different businesses. And those people who run those businesses, be it the CEO or the founder and/or some of the people in their team, they are my boss.

Nathan Anibaba:

Yeah.

Geoff Phillips:

And so [crosstalk].

Nathan Anibaba:

You have five bosses.

Geoff Phillips:

Yeah, absolutely.

Nathan Anibaba:

Yeah.

Geoff Phillips:

But I think the benefit of deciding your own destiny is that you can pick and choose who it is that you work with. And the thing that really motivates me from a self-employment point of view is that I’m now working with businesses that are giving me a very, very challenge than what I’ve had previously as a marketer, but also giving a huge motivation.

And I’ve never suffered from imposter syndrome. And that may sound arrogant, but I do suffer from lack of challenge and almost need that challenge to really motivate me. And when you are faced with needing to find a solution to something and you realize that there isn’t a huge global team that you can go to to solve something, it’s a massive challenge.

Nathan Anibaba:

Right, right.

Geoff Phillips:

So building a really good network around you to help with that is critical. But that really brings a level of opportunity and challenge and almost those moments that they are called “oh shit moments,” the days where you wake up feeling just a little bit sick on a morning.

Nathan Anibaba:

Queasy. Right.

Geoff Phillips:

Yeah. I’m thinking, “Oh my God. How am I going to do that?” And that’s [crosstalk]. Well, just continually challenging yourself to get there. People always say I’ve got a very calm external delivery.

Nathan Anibaba:

Demeanor. Yeah.

Geoff Phillips:

But I still have those moments underneath where you’re thinking, “How the hell am I going to solve this?”

Nathan Anibaba:

Squeaky [crosstalk].

Geoff Phillips:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think if you don’t have that, it doesn’t give you that [crosstalk]. You don’t have that challenge. It doesn’t drive you. And it’s finding a solution to those things is really, really satisfying when you can find it, particularly if it’s, as you said, the person behind the brand. Ultimately, I am my own brand to an extent. And you realize that there is no hiding. If you screw up, that has a very, very material impact on your brand. And as I mentioned earlier, I rely heavily on referral and I’m very fortunate that many of the people I work with are … we have a very, very successful working relationship, and you therefore get that referral.

But I do live with an element of fear that if you screw up one day, how do you make sure that it doesn’t impact your brand and that referral model? And that’s just a reality. That’s just being self-aware and accepting where you are and gives you that drive to make sure that you don’t screw up.

Nathan Anibaba:

What do you do for fun when you’re not running VC-backed B2B technology firms?

Geoff Phillips:

Well, as I said earlier, I almost see fun in being in an early stage of a business. And I mentioned … We talked about Caspian earlier. They’re one of my earlier clients. And they’ve recently announced investment from NASDAQ, which is phenomenal for a business of their size, and I’m very proud to have been part of the very big team that [crosstalk] made that happen.

But I’m also … One of the things that drove me to get into this kind of a role is the opportunity to get involved in businesses that you can really have an intrinsic part of from the start and make a difference. And there’s another startup business, startup technology business in the energy sector, that I’ve actually got a share in and I’ve been doing a little bit of sweat equity work with for about a year or so. And they’ve actually just received some significant first stage investments. So that for me is fun.

It was a proper bit of a gamble thing of allocating a bit of unpaid time towards something that really felt like it had huge potential. And again, I don’t take the credit for achieving that. And it’s still early stages of announcing who that business is at the moment, but that’s given me huge amount of reward and fun.

But beyond that, I don’t claim to be anything more exciting than that. I like holidaying, eating, drinking too much, going to gigs, all that kind of stuff.

Nathan Anibaba:

Right. Just like the rest of us.

Geoff Phillips:

Yeah, like everybody else. Don’t do anything absolutely crazy. But I think just getting that right balance between a bit of family life and a bit of fun and socializing. And often, they do overlap with business as well, and that’s a good place to be.

Nathan Anibaba:

And my final question, Geoff, what advice would you give to a recent college graduate or millennial who comes to you and says that they want to start their career in B2B marketing and follow in the footsteps of Geoff Phillips?

Geoff Phillips:

I would say … So I’ll answer that in a couple of different ways. A lot of young people I talk to now haven’t used people like me or within the sectors or industries that they want to work in to be able to reflect on where their core capability lies and their core value lies. And I find it fascinating that …

I know a vice chair at a local sixth form that have got huge amount of talent in their pool of students. And I love when I can get the opportunity to sit down with some of those guys and actually ask them some really searching questions about who they are, why they are, where they want to go to, what they want to achieve, and then really try and dig into the core capability that they’ve got. So I would say … And a lot of them are very blind and non-self-aware to those things that really they should draw out when they’re going to seek those opportunities.

So I would encourage anybody who is at that kind of really early stage, particularly pre-degree or even coming towards finishing their degree, to really sit down and talk to somebody who’s had experience in that sector and get them to really, really almost tear you apart to an extent, but in a nice way, and really get to the crux of who you are. Because if you can tap into that experience and knowledge, you can really go and then set out your stall and your case really confidently to those who may well employ you and be that differentiator, rather than just going in with, “I’ve got a degree. I want to be in marketing, but I don’t really know why. I don’t really know where I want to go to. I don’t really know what I’m going to bring to it.”

So I would say a number of those things, I think, if you can self-discover on that and use mentors and people around you to give you that direction. And then the other bit of advice I give to young people is that it’s not all about a title. There are a number of people I’ve worked with who I’ve coached and developed up into progressing their career. Some people get really obsessed with a particular level or a particular title. My advice to all of them is don’t wait and don’t expect to make that jump to that title. Use your current opportunity and your current role to do the things that are expected of you to the best of your ability and do another 10, 20, 30% over and above that on other things that will lead you to that future opportunity. So you almost get upon where you’re actually doing that next level of job before you even get there.

Nathan Anibaba:

Sure.

Geoff Phillips:

Does that make sense?

Nathan Anibaba:

Yes, it does. Very interesting.

Geoff Phillips:

And just don’t get hung up on that title thing. I still remember loads of people coming to me when I first became, I don’t know, head of marketing, whatever else, going, “Oh my God. It must be amazing to be a head of marketing.” But you feel like you’re there and you don’t feel any kind of-

Nathan Anibaba:

I see.

Geoff Phillips:

… big-headedness of reaching that stage. It feels right to have got there.

Nathan Anibaba:

Sure.

Geoff Phillips:

And if you’re suddenly just made a senior position, but you don’t actually feel ready for it, then ultimately you’re not ready for it and you’ll probably fail. So there are maybe a few that might be useful to people.

Nathan Anibaba:

Very fascinating and a great place to end. Geoff, thank you so much for doing so.

Geoff Phillips:

It’s been a pleasure. I should have said that one of the fun things I enjoy is doing things like this. So thank you for the opportunity, Nathan.

Nathan Anibaba:

Thank you very much for being on the show. 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 as a guest on the show, please email milly@fox.agency. The people that make this show possible are Milly Bell and Natasha Rosich, our booker/researcher, David [inaudible], our head of content, Ben Fox is our executive producer. I’m Nathan Anibaba. You’ve been listening to ClientSide from Fox Agency. Have a good day. [singing].

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