Growth, entrepreneurialism and diversification in the face of Brexit

Belinda Collins

By Belinda Collins | 20th Jun 2017

– Article written by Henrietta Rackham and published in the Huffington Post 

I consider myself extremely privileged to be working with some very exciting companies and marketing agencies in Kent. Having seen through economic highs and lows over the years, I am totally fascinated and in awe whilst watching bold moves carried out by ’Zest The Agency’ which has literally doubled in size in the past year – plus carried out a full agency re-brand!

Zest’s Managing Director Belinda Collins, took time out to explain to me how the business is managing growth, taking on entrepreneurs, forging strong alliances and partnerships resulting in a diverse and strong team of creatives.

Explain the strategy behind your rapid growth?

Zest’s focus on growth remains undeterred by the recent political European referendum. Of course, we are mindful of the uncertainty that lies ahead, but at the same time, we feel that it is incredibly important for a traditional marketing business like Zest, to expand its offering across a truly integrated and holistic set of services. This allows us to offer services either in isolation or in combination to meet clients’ ever changing requirements, budget and scope.

Tell us about your diversification and how you have adopted entrepreneurialism to enhance this?

We are an income based agency, specialising across five different core disciplines – strategy, media, creative, digital and PR. It is of utmost importance that within each service strand, our offering is robust both vertically and horizontally. Hence why we keep our digital options CMS neutral and we make it our business to become experts on all e-commerce; PPC, SEO, SEM etc. and develop cutting edge innovations around the development, gaming and AR stages. Similarly, with PR, we don’t just develop a ‘normal’ PR offering – we have created a commercial / entrepreneurial minded team who examine those areas of specialisation and hone in on the details including crisis management; hence giving a total PR solution. The need to segment our clients’ audiences from today’s ‘Generation Z’ to all the way back to ‘traditionalists’ is essential.

We recently employed Duncan Larcombe, former Royal correspondent and Defence Editor for The Sun. This move broadens our specialisms to crisis communications, reputation management, personal brand promotions and media training. He has huge aspirations of forging relations with South East and London-based journalists. We don’t just want to be using journalists we want to create a leading edge space where news stories and latest practices can be shared. Watch this space!

We have recently forged an exclusive partnership with Ben Towers, “No 1 Times Super Teen Power” and recognised as “one of the UK’s most exciting entrepreneurs” by Richard Branson. Ben’s innovative skills will be used to help reach and influence the behaviours of consumers – particularly young people – and create and build advocacy in Zest’s client brands. He will also work with the team training clients in how to manage, engage and deal with crisis situations across social media channels.

This has been an exciting year for you personally, what were your immediate ambitions for Zest?

Having taken over the role behind the scenes in January 2016 (before taking up the full permanent role in June 2016), I immediately looked at the structure and the breadth of the agency. Nearly a year on and we’ve doubled in size; through strategic alliances, partnerships and physical recruitment growth within the team. Of course, we have seen a slight increase in expenditure, but then we were operating purely just a small team of marketing strategists. We are now able to boost the PR and digital teams and grow with creative talent both from Kent and out of London. Alongside this we have raw talent straight out of university and are committed to internships and gap year students of which we find invaluable.

So, how was Zest affected by the Brexit vote?

Many of the companies we pitch to rely on some form of European funding. In the aftermath of the announcement, there were at least 2 proposals pending that were put on “permanent hold”. We were further affected by the uncertainly of the UK Prime Minister which thankfully was resolved very quickly. The current PM’s silence on the subject hasn’t helped industry confidence.

What has been abundantly clear is that our clients whose business stretches into Europe and further afield have not been as affected by confidence, as those smaller businesses with no European connections currently sitting and awaiting to feel their fate.

How will you position yourselves strategically 2017?

Business for us has remained stable. I believe this is because we are close enough to our clients that we have been able to help them strategically. We have been through recessions before but research shows that those clients who continue to spend (albeit at a reduced level) do remain buoyant and have stolen the march on their competitors. Immediately after the last recession we experienced a lot of our customers had arrived at the other end of the recession with complete confusion over their client and customer base. They had lost touch with their primary audiences as any customer was a good customer and we were able to help a number of our clients to crystallise their point of difference and re-identify their customer types through a number of research methods including personification profiling and segmentation.

What is your mantra Belinda?

“Attract, secure and keep the best talent. Be constantly mindful of your customers’ challenges and adapt the way you deliver your services to help your customers meet these challenges.”