We recently sat down with Michael Grahamslaw, Editor of Northern Insight, to reflect on our journey in business to date and our hopes for the future. This was featured in Issue 78 of the magazine.
Did you always envisage a career in the Media industry?
AY: When I was at school, I was initially going to pursue a career in journalism. However, this evolved into a broader interest in marketing and communications.
HT: No, not at all. I have always been drawn to roles that enable me to engage with people, network and share ideas or strategies for business growth.
What has been your career path so far?
AY: My first full-time job post-university saw me working as a Communications Officer for a government housing organisation. This role provided a great foundation and the opportunity to experience the different elements of marketing communications. After two years, I left to take up a position with a small youth charity in South Africa. Initially, this was meant to be for six months but turned into a seven-year love affair with the African continent. Due to the size of the charity, I was responsible for overseeing every element of its marketing activities. I couldn’t have asked for a better training ground, and this is where I started to branch out into creative strategy and design. After leaving the charity in 2016, I took the step to become a self-employed consultant. I worked with several different businesses across South Africa, America and Europe. It was through one of these projects that Harvey and I first met. Once we realised our shared vision for creating an agency that uses brand as a catalyst for growth, we launched The Pulse Rooms. Due to ongoing projects, we decided to relocate the business to the UK in 2019.
HT: Start-up and scale-up businesses have always intrigued me. This interest began during my time at university when I was given shares in a coffee bar and restaurant. However, the long hours meant I suddenly became cut off from the rest of the world. This meant my opportunities to connect and network with people were limited. After studying Sports Science, I started my formal career in pharmaceuticals. This catapulted me into the sales and marketing environment. In the pharmaceutical sector, I had many wonderful experiences launching global brands. I also played a role in large-scale strategic marketing campaigns. Throughout my 15 year stint in the sector, I always felt I was pushing against a greater system by offering my creative and strategic inputs. The cogs would turn slowly and limit your ability to input on a ground level. Eventually, I moved out of this corporate environment to begin my journey working with start-ups and scale-ups. This process included launching several businesses myself. I have always focussed on strategic growth and marketing within these enterprises, and this is where I continue to offer my expertise in our growth agency.
What have been the biggest challenges you have faced so far?
AY: In some sectors, branding is still viewed as a nice to have, rather than essential to a business’s long-term growth. This is particularly the case with start-ups when finances are tight. We want to change that perception and help business owners to realise the importance of branding and how it can drive growth. That is why we use the phrase ‘brand-led growth’.
HT: Marketing offers so much value to a business when approached and applied strategically. It has to be at the heart of the business strategy. To bridge the chasm between marketing and the organisation’s strategic objectives is a challenge we endeavour to overcome daily.
What services do you provide?
We deliver brand-led growth. This involves growing and scaling businesses by helping them identify and communicate their value.
How did you adapt your business during the coronavirus crisis and support clients?
AY: One of our original goals within The Pulse Rooms was to help businesses launch across borders. When the world went into lockdown, we had to switch our focus and value proposition immediately.
HT: The pandemic had various effects on customer needs in different sectors. We helped our clients to adapt and redefine their value proposition to ensure they were still relevant in the marketplace.
What is your greatest strength?
AY: Building processes that enable our clients to feel comfortable as we take them on a creative journey.
HT: Engaging and connecting with people on a professional and personal level.
What is your biggest weakness?
AY: As someone who likes to have a clear plan and process, I often struggle to relinquish control and adapt when things change. In business, your day can quickly take a completely different direction.
HT: I’m naturally a big picture thinker, so I find that smaller administrative tasks can drop down the pecking order.
What has been your proudest achievement?
AY: My proudest achievement was winning the ‘Brand Creation of the Year (Agency)’ category at the North East Marketing Awards last year. That was for our work with CBK Adventures - an outdoor water-based activities business in Cullercoats. The win was even more special as CBK is a stone’s throw from where I grew up and currently live.
HT: I’ll second Andrew on that one. As well as winning the award itself, it was so encouraging that the judges recognised how we approach brand development differently. We work to ensure that the brand impacts multiple areas of a business, ultimately driving sustainable growth.
What are your remaining career aspirations?
AY: To create opportunities for young people starting out in the creative industry and help them on their career path. I was fortunate in my early career to have people who were willing to take a chance on me and allow me to learn on the job.
HT: I would like to apply the skills acquired through business to one of my other passion areas - wilderness adventure therapy and outdoor experiential learning for children aged 7 to 13 years of age.
How do you see your industry evolving in the next 10 years?
AY: I believe we’ll see more emphasis being placed on brand as the differentiator. Already, businesses are increasing their advertising budgets, particularly across digital channels, to cut through the noise and rise above the competition. A recent Guardian report found businesses that constantly refined and shared their brand value proposition grew by an average of 76% over 10 years.
HT: We are already seeing massive shifts in the use of digital technologies. These technologies are having a positive impact across so many sectors. However, I still see the opportunity for personalisation within our industry. Our responsibility will be to bring the ‘persona’ back to the fore within organisations. Ultimately, people are still at the core.
Download a copy of the full issue by clicking here.