- Content marketing
- Product design & build
- Strategic consulting
As 2020 draws to a close, it’s time to reflect back on not only the past year, but the past decade since Mediablaze was founded to help brands become publishers.
Mediablaze started 2020 with a bang — in February, we moved into our shiny new offices near Waterloo station and started brainstorming our 10th anniversary bash. Then six weeks later, the pandemic struck and we quickly had to adapt to working from home while also supporting our clients in pivoting their marketing plans and accelerating their digital transformations.
Of course, as a digital experience agency who specialises in working with brands who are serious about helping their customers get the most out of life, we relished the challenge. We quickly got down to business helping a luxury gym take their membership completely online and creating timely, relevant “at home” editorial content for brands to connect with their customers.
As this pivotal year winds down, our founders reflect back on the evolution of the agency over the past 10 years.
Drawing upon their 40+ years of digital product and publishing experience between them, Mediablaze co-founders Roger Barr and Paul Button share their insights into founding the business, the lessons learnt along the way and what’s next for Mediablaze.
What was the impetus to launch Mediablaze?
Paul Button: "In my role as a publisher I’d spent several years building brands that connected people with their passions and hobbies. By creating authoritative and inspirational content we made it easy for people to do what they wanted, from learning how to use the latest technology, selecting the best mascara for their skin tone, to choosing the best running shoes for their next race. Creating content that genuinely helps people is of course nothing new, and like all publishers, brands could access and influence these audiences through a variety of PR and advertising tactics. However, thanks to the onset of social media and advancements in digital advertising it became obvious that brands had a real opportunity to build bigger audiences than ever before, providing valuable and authentic content experiences of their own, making it easier to win new customers and retain existing ones. Ultimately, by behaving like a publisher.
"Having met Roger whilst working at Haymarket and Future PLC we developed a strong relationship and mutual respect for each other. Roger had been a supplier, specialising in building digital destinations for publishers and over time we became great friends - with a mutual desire to do one thing - ‘to help brands become publishers’, the initial raison d'etre of Mediablaze."
Roger Barr: "2010 was an interesting time. Social media was in its infancy, specialist social media agencies were springing up and generally it was regarded as a dark art. This opened up a plethora of opportunities and a new sector in the agency landscape, particularly for an agency that’s going to help navigate this new territory - for us this meant creating content that people wanted and using the right platforms and channels to distribute it.
"I’ve always had a passion for digital and for helping to solve people's problems, I think I’m just wired that way. It was a timely moment and it’s always wise to start a business in a new or growing sector - hence 2010 being the right time to launch Mediablaze."
What’s been the biggest highlight for you in the past 10 years? And if you’re happy to share, the toughest part?
Roger Barr: "For me working with Speedo On was a dream project. It provided a rare opportunity for me to combine my passion in sport with my day job in digital. What’s more, my personal expertise in coaching and mentoring athletes came to the fore to shape the product itself. Understanding how to build a product is one thing, but having that insider knowledge takes the end product to a new level. This is truly one of the greatest projects of all time for a brand I admire hugely.
"With regards to a low, I’d have to say 2020 as we started the year on a flier, however like millions of other agencies, our wings were clipped dramatically in March. Dealing with the highs and lows is part and parcel of leading an agency. 2020 is no exception. I think our general outlook is to focus on what we’re passionate about, and to try and figure out where the opportunity is. So we've taken some time to adjust our positioning and right now Paul and I both feel that our digital experience offering is perfectly placed for the next few years as brands accelerate their investment in digital."
Paul Button: "Seeing our vision become a reality and realising we had a viable business was a high for me. It’s been a real adventure and I feel both lucky and proud to be doing what I love.
"The hardest part of this job is saying goodbye to people when they leave the Mediablaze family. As with many agencies, the needs of both the business and people change over time and it’s tough making difficult decisions, however making those decisions is part of leading a business, and when this involves staff leaving, it’s heartbreaking."
Who have you had as a mentor over the years and how have they helped guide you?
Paul Button: "I have been lucky to work for and alongside some great leaders, the training and support I received in the early days of my career at VNU Business Publications has been invaluable, and I could name many people that I owe a great deal of gratitude to. However, the most valuable support and advice has always been what’s closest to home. Over the years my biggest mentors remain my mum and dad, both of whom ran their own businesses from a very young age and instilled a work ethic in me that drives me every day, not to mention the relentless desire to get back up when you’ve been knocked down - a necessity when you start your own business. And of course, my wife Emily, who married me when I resigned from a well paid job to start a business in a recession. She has been on this journey since day one, and continues to be the most valuable support I could ask for."
Roger Barr: "One man that’s been a constant in my work-life is Richard Gower, who founded and ran Lion Creative for over 30 years. He gave me my first break back in 2006. Not only is he a wise owl, he’s also now a great friend. It’s been really helpful to speak with someone who’s done this before, who’s made the mistakes, and is willing and able to impart their knowledge. In our conversations I would say one of the main benefits is he makes me ‘look up from the grindstone and consider the bigger picture’ outside my day-to-day activities - it’s great to have an objective view from a knowledgeable third party I trust."
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur wanting to launch their own business?
Roger Barr: "Take a good hard look at yourself and ask yourself this question. ‘Are you a lone wolf or are you someone who benefits from being in a partnership?’ Personally, I know I work best in a partnership. Conversely I view someone like Martin Sorrell, founder of WPP as a lone wolf, but as with all great leaders, he has the ability to surround himself with good people.
"My advice, if you’re going to start a business, would be find a couple of people who align to, and complement your skill set, and share the problem with them - as it’s unlikely an individual will have all the required knowledge. Running a business is extremely rewarding, but it’s also really hard work. Co-founder relationships are key - they need to carry the stress as well as share the highs and lows. In addition, identify a proposition that’s on the up, something that’s new - I would advise against launching into a tired, over-saturated marketplace. And whilst you’re at it, define what’s going to make you stand out. Just offering a service is not going to differentiate you. Continuing on a practical level, remember to get advice on finance - working with specialists is most important as there are many scenarios to consider."
Paul Button: "To add to Roger’s comments, I would say if you believe in your proposition and you believe in yourself then do it. When it comes to building a team, I really do believe it’s imperative to surround yourself with people who are better than you, who are specialists in their chosen field, will challenge yet support you, whilst also bringing the best out in you. It also helps to understand what keeps your customers up at night...
"Oh, and be prepared to be ‘always on’ - when you run your own business, the world never sleeps and holidays are never quite the same."
What’s the best part of running the agency?
Roger Barr: "That’s easy - people. I’ve had the privilege to meet and work with amazing people, and create some brilliant relationships, both at home and abroad. When it comes to the Mediablaze team, we’ve recruited some fantastic people into the business, and we’ve built an extensive network of expert freelancers and contractors that we collaborate with on specific projects. There’s a reason people refer to us as the Mediablaze family and I think it’s because of the relationships we’ve built."
Paul Button: "Agree with Roger here, it’s the people. It may sound a bit cliche, but it’s the truth. If the last eight months has taught me anything, it’s that we have an incredibly strong and passionate team. There have been so many challenges to overcome and changes to adapt to, but everyone has always been flexible as we continue to work together."
So what's next for Mediablaze?
Paul Button: "It's been well documented that the pandemic has caused a seismic shift in human behaviour with the adoption of new technology and platforms to support how brands communicate and connect with their customers. 2020 has taught me to be more humble, to focus on the employee experience as our teams now work more remotely, and to tune into what differentiates us from other agencies. Aside from celebrating our 10th birthday, our rebrand and refreshed proposition sets a new playing field. We’ve launched a range of new products based solely on clearly defined tasks for brands to engage with us on a project basis. The products range from a one-hour session exploring social media best practices to a 4-week sprint on creating a content marketing playbook and are all designed to help brands dive deeper into their business challenges."
Roger Barr: "There have been many changes during 2020 and one of the major changes for us is rebranding the business. But it’s much more than a fresh lick of paint and a visual refresh as we’ve taken the opportunity to reflect on our why, our values and what we want from the next 10 years. Fundamentally we want to do work that makes a difference in people's lives and that builds products that help brands help their customers get the most out of life. Really it’s all about creating deeper connections. People who believe in this sentiment will want to join us as a member of our team, and as a client."
Fuel your imagination
We believe in creating deeper experiences that keep people coming back — and we love a challenge. Whether you’re looking to launch a new product to market or review your content marketing strategy, shoot us a message and let’s have a chat. Paul and Roger.