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The Drum Network’s Q&A: Kevin Gibbons of BlueGlass talks content marketing and agency growth

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By Michael Feeley | Founder and chief exec

April 19, 2016 | 6 min read

Why did you decide to found BlueGlass in 2012?

Kevin Gibbons is managing director at content marketing agency BlueGlass.

My background is very much in SEO. I started in the digital marketing industry in 2003, while I was still a student, working with a web design agency in Oxfordshire. That gave me an introduction to the idea that businesses had to continuously evolve their online presence and adapt their marketing technique to stay visible to their target audiences. I was hooked right away – I was convinced that this was a field with a big future and knew that it was something I wanted to be involved in.

This led me to start an agency in 2006, focused purely on SEO, growing steadily over the next five years. In early 2012, I researched and created a presentation comparing the performance of clients who were taking content seriously and those who were doing more traditional SEO, the disparity in the results shocked even me. Those neglecting content were seeing performance shrink by up to 9 percent a year, while those implementing a content strategy were all thriving.

At that point, I decided to focus on the massive opportunity around content marketing and I decided to create BlueGlass as a new proposition focused purely around this.

How did you launch BlueGlass into the marketplace and pull business in the door?

We practiced what we preached. We believe in content marketing and we employed it successfully to get our proposition and our work noticed. The senior team and I also got ourselves out there speaking at a lot of industry events. I personally probably spoke at 25 to 30 events in that first year alone, and then used those experiences to create blogs, photos, surveys and other forms of content, then amplified them via social media.

We’ve always prepared engaging case studies on everything we deliver for clients and regularly enter our work for industry awards. We’ve won at least one major award every year so far since we launched.

Interestingly, we’ve never had had a formal business development function within BlueGlass and yet we’ve doubled our revenues every year. Almost all of our new business now comes to us through our reputation and referrals from existing clients.

What have been the biggest moments for BlueGlass to date?

When we launched BlueGlass, a lot of people thought we were crazy to focus on content marketing, so it’s been very heartening to see the market come around to our way of thinking over the past four years.

A lot of the bigger-name clients we work with we’ve known for a long time, we’ve been able to bring onboard by convincing them of the importance of content marketing as a vital component of any SEO strategy.

We started working with Expedia about 18 months ago, which is a great client to be collaborating with: very switched on, very engaged with their target audiences and open to innovation in their campaigns.

Our work with Better Gyms is very indicative of the type of relationship I see underpinning BlueGlass’ growth over the next few years. They’ve grown massively from around 100 gyms to more than 250 in the UK in the space of the couple of years we’ve worked with them and we’ve scaled up their SEO and marketing activity as they’ve grown. I think that sort of organic growth is more valuable to us as we grow with our clients together, and we can keep a small group focused on getting to know our client brands as well as possible, rather than having to juggle too many accounts at any given time.

The most rewarding part for me is often seeing the people within our team really grow. Getting the culture right is hard, but it’s vitally important within agencies - especially to make sure that when you scale you do it in the right way. We’ve put a huge amount of effort into ensuring we give our team the autonomy and really take responsibility in specialist key areas, with a clear career path for them to grow within business. And when it pays off, we make sure the first thing we do is use that to re-invest into the team’s growth, having substantial training and conference budgets, a free book allowance and making sure we have fun outside of work too - we’ve just come back from our team ski trip in Switzerland!

What have been the biggest challenges to growing the business?

Funnily enough, I’d say the biggest challenge to successful growth has been holding back when it’s the right thing to do for the long-term growth and direction of the business. We could have grown a lot quicker than we have, particularly over the past year, but it would have taken us off the path that we believe in. You need to be strict with yourself and hold your nerve rather than simply grab every offer that comes along.

We’ve purposefully kept ourselves quite lean and focused, and have been fairly selective in terms of the work we’ve gone after. The plan is to not necessarily to grow the number of clients we’re working with but rather to grow the size of our clients.

Other than that, I’d say the biggest ongoing challenge is to stay fresh, creative and innovative. We try to ensure that our team has the time it needs to experiment with new tech and try new things out on our own sites, before sharing the findings with our clients.

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