The first time I spoke on the phone with Andrew Stark, a York-based Marketing Consultant, I was impressed with how diligently he gains an understanding of his clients and the markets they work in. It was clear that he was genuinely passionate about actually making a real difference for his clients.
Keen to get to know Everyday People members a bit more and help share the outstanding work they do, I asked Andrew a few questions.
You have over twenty years of experience, what have been the highlights?
I’m feeling my age now.
I’ve worked with Tesco and Morrisons in the past, seeing work I was involved with being on their shelves was quite a buzz.
In previous employment, I have fond memories of working with “satellite” teams in Spain, Poland, Turkey, Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands and Dubai. Getting to know the different people and the differences in their respective markets was really interesting and loads of fun. The challenges they faced made me realise how small my world was before that; for example, Turkey had a looming threat of military action much of the time, as well as suffering very destructive earthquakes. This really puts into perspective the challenges businesses face.
I’m quite proud of getting great PR placements for a former employer where some of the sales teams were unconvinced with indirect sales approaches. They were financially motivated on their monthly sales targets, so didn’t see PR as ‘instant’ enough. I positioned their Head of Data in a European data publication with quite an opinionated article about the impact of “big data”. This approach caught the eye of some very senior people at Proctor & Gamble who promptly invited the Head of Data to a particularly exclusive global suppliers conference in Geneva.
I’d proven the benefits of indirect selling and position, and also got them a seat at the table.
Also, I’d like to mention a side project I’m working on with Melissa Magson – Connected-York app. Getting an idea off the ground from a conversation over a cup of tea to an app which is now live in the market place was a real proud moment.
Do you have one piece of advice for people wanting to understand their customers and markets?
Talk to people. A lot. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to sound stupid. There are no stupid questions when you’re trying to understand something that’s new to you. It’s far more embarrassing to fake it and you’ll be found out and discredited.
I really try to immerse myself into clients’ worlds as much as feasibly possible. One client is a wines and spirits retailer and wholesaler. Their target market is the ‘average Joe’ calling in for a bottle of wine to Masters of Wine and Sommeliers whose role it is to understand all aspects of the product at a very high-level. As part of better understanding their challenges, I voluntarily completed a wine and spirits course (WSET, level 2 wines and spirits.) I got a distinction! I’ve also been known to help out on their retail side from time to time.
Tell me a little bit about how you work
I prefer to work on longer-term relationships with clients rather than one-off projects. It helps for billing of course, but it really enables me to understand how they operate, what their industry challenges are and so on.
Project work is great too – but if someone asks for a specific solution (be that PR, brochures, online content etc), it strikes me that this is the answer to a problem. I want to understand what the problem is before we decide on the solution.
Do you have an ideal client?
My ideal client is passionate about what they do, and are open to ideas and discussions. The industry isn’t the main driver for me. I have a client in the rail industry, it’s their approach and innovative ideas which motivates and interest me. What I could now tell you about Overhead Line Equipment and the problems it can cause could fill several pages…
Recently I went to a f**k-up night, where business owners shared their major f**k-ups, it was like group therapy. How do you motivate yourself after bad days?
Ha. I saw that – what a great idea. We all have bad days and people who say they don’t are either lying or incredibly fortunate!
Working with a wine retailer helps (I call it ‘research’)! These days I’m much more relaxed about the bad days as I know good days will follow. It’s pointless beating yourself up about things out of your control – but I suppose the trick is identifying what was the route cause of the problem.
As a sole trader, I find isolation makes things seem worse – so when my head is down I try to remember to pick up the phone or call in to see a designer or photographer I work with. Someone who is in a similar position (sole trader), 20 minutes over a brew putting the world to rights reminds you where your focus is – and what the measurement of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ really is.
People work with people. What would your friends say were your best and worse qualities?
Unsure if I should answer this one!
My best qualities… I do have a wide range of experience and can get quite passionate about what I do.
My worse qualities. Occasionally I can forget these passions sometimes which frustrates me. There are plenty of others too, but I don’t want to tell you! Haha.
Which books have influenced your career?
The ones I remember most are “It’s marketing Jim, but not as we know it” by Edwina Dunn and “Brand Is Dead, Long Live The Customer” by Clive Hunby. (i.e. DunnHumby – the massive “customer science” data company who are now a subsidiary of Tesco I think..)
What I liked about these books were the simplicity and common sense approach. I hate too much bullshit.
Another book that has helped me is Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. It’s not a marketing or branding book. It deals with self-discovery. (Translated to Sanskrit, Siddhartha means ‘he who has attained his goals’). I’m not religious at all – the book was given to me. In the story, Siddhartha struggles to find his true happiness in life. He does so eventually – and it has nothing to do with wealth, fame or authority. There’s a lesson for many people in it I think.
I’m also currently reading a lot about distilleries at the moment as I plan to develop something in the whisky world.
You mentioned earlier that you created an app – ‘Connected-York’, which you co-founded with Melissa Magson. It’s really impressive! There are some great offers, I’m going to try 3 yakitori with salt and pepper chips for £10 at Shori Pan at Spark York.
Thank you. Melissa and I started working together as our skill-sets are complimentary. The app came from a shared frustration about the availability and accessibility of content.
Please do go to Shori – it’s great – and tell your friends!!
The App isn’t just about offers though – it’s for people to explore and discover new things – or things they had forgotten about. We’ve had some great feedback from a team at one of York’s largest employers. They use the app to select somewhere new each week for their ‘offsite’ team meetings. The app is helping them break their usual of ‘pre-packed sandwich’ and are enjoying trying new places.
What lessons have you learnt while developing Connected York?
Patience and understanding. Developing an app to this level was a new experience, I would say for both of us. Although I’ve previously worked a lot in the digital space, there’s always been larger teams of developers, UX specialists, designers, advertising and so on. With Connected York, the buck stops with Melissa and myself.
The key part of the approach goes back to something I mentioned earlier- talking to people. The research stage went on for months and months, which included questionnaires, informal conversations and plenty of meetings too.
What’s your favourite communication/collaboration tool?
The telephone. I’m old school I suppose. Email is great for getting things done and updating people, but nothing beats a conversation.
Working on the App, Melissa and I live fairly close to each other, so we have lots of meetings. We did start looking at tools such as Monday and Trello, but need to give it some focus and both of us commit to trying it out. I would be interested in what other people use.
When you’re outsourcing a project, what things do you consider when choosing who to work with?
I outsource to different people – from technical people building digital platforms through to illustrators, photographers, printers and animators.
I come from a print-related background, so I know the dangers of outsourcing on cost alone.
I really look for a personal connection of which comes understanding and trust. I need to feel I can get along with the person or company. I need to really believe what they are telling me. Too sales-led or too many mentions of their status in the company. No thanks!
If they have a passion for what they do and make a point of understanding what I want to achieve, then we’re onto a winner.
Working on the app really brought this home. We wanted to support as many local businesses and traders as we could (and we did) but we also wanted the ability to discuss things face-to-face with people. Having an app builder in York and an illustrator 5 minutes down the road was a huge help. We could really get the passion, and added input, from them which I don’t believe I would have got if we mainly worked remotely.