Code Computerlove’s Tony Foggett on ‘doing the deal’ and agency life as part of MediaCom

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It’s just over three months since Code Computerlove announced its merger with MediaCom North in a deal that saw the media giant take a 75% stake in the long-established digital business. We caught up with Code’s founder and CEO Tony Foggett to discuss how the deal came about and what being part of MediaCom North means now.

How did Code start out?

Myself, Louis Georgiou and Wini Tse established Code in 1999. The three of us broke away from an agency called Mainstream (that went on to become WRG), which had given us insight into the importance of culture, work ethic and client relationships – we also worked with some large blue chip brands.

The main reason we formed Code was, not only did we really like working with each other, we also recognised that we had the ideal balance of skills for the digital era - ‘the strategist’, ‘the tech’ and ‘the creative’ (or better put, the suit, the specs and the pony tail!). Not many people were doing this at this stage.

It was a great starting point for our ethos that remains today, the right people working together doing what they love. And this is where the Computerlove element of our brand came from. We now use “made with Computerlove” as our quality seal.

With some serious hard work under our belt, one of our first claims to fame (and probably the first time we were featured in The Drum) was creating a website for Dr. Martens, which went on to win numerous awards. This grabbed the attention of some other major brands who soon joined our fast-expanding client list - including HMV, Huggies, Bisto, Hovis and Sharwoods and growth rocketed on the back of our clever creative and high quality work.

How has Code grown?

We’ve enjoyed consistent year on year growth, averaging around 15% growth per annum. We had a strong reputation from the beginning and this has helped us to continue to attract major brands and businesses throughout our history. Our emphasis has always been on creating long-term relationships with clients, supporting their digital maturity as the world around us changes. For example Hillarys has been with us for 13 years and the NUS have been with us for nearly 16 years.

With a strong leadership model, we have been very focused on realising our ambitious three and five year growth plans, and have not been afraid to reinvent ourselves. Standing still is not an option in our sector; we started out as forerunners and have continued to be so, always being ahead of clients’ ever-changing needs from a digital agency, taking risks and developing new ways of creating digital solutions.

When did the MediaCom acquisition first come about and how easy was the process?

We’d had lots of approaches from various types of businesses over the years, which I always explored to see if there would be a good fit. Many weren’t. MediaCom is at the top of its game on the customer acquisition side of the journey, as are we for performance optimisation, conversion, UX and build.

Joining forces we could offer a connected service that’s not been seen on this scale before. The relationship has given us access to an unprecedented scale and depth of customer data and digital insight, bolstering our understanding of the whole customer journey to successfully convert this traffic into meaningful actions. This has increased our sophistication, not just looking at what’s happening on site, but delivering an extended view of what’s bringing them to the site.

Another major factor in the decision-making process was the cultural fit. Our unique culture is instrumental in our growth and success, and MediaCom very much emulates how we work; we focus on value, breaking down silos and working collaboratively with clients towards shared goals.

So we quickly got to the negotiation stage and, while the actual process took a while as these things do, it was relatively easy and straightforward. The geography helped too – with both agencies being based in Manchester we could see a real partnership being formed. We spent time with MediaCom, in particular Paul Cooper who now oversees both operations, clarifying the things that were important to us as a business. We knew they understood who we are and what’s made us successful to date – elements that we don’t want to change.

Importantly for me, I knew I could stand in front of the Computerlove team and say with integrity that the acquisition created a real opportunity for everyone involved – and the company vision, that everyone had already bought into, would continue to guide our growth.

How has it changed the way you will run the agency?

Apart from getting our numbers in earlier in the month, not a lot has really changed – because MediaCom bought into the fact that Code is a highly successful and well-run business with a very in-demand approach to developing client’s digital capabilities. Becoming part of the MediaCom group was about nurturing this to the next level.

Code’s management team is still driving the business forward but now some of the industry’s brightest brains and resources of the largest media group in the world support us.

We have been having some extremely positive conversations with MediaCom’s existing clients about connected journeys and our proposition has certainly captured the attention of some major businesses that are searching out agencies with this level of capability.

Naturally, being part of a publicly listed organisation we’ve had to professionalise some of the support services. We have a fantastic support team that has dealt extremely well with the changes and this has been a really smooth process. Where it makes sense to share resources and collaborate, we do.

How will the acquisition change the scene in the northwest?

To be honest, I think it is significant beyond the northwest. There aren’t many deals that I know of between such a sizable customer acquisition specialist and a creatively-led digital agency that specialises in experience and conversion. We’re already appealing to digitally mature businesses that are looking for this level of sophistication and this is just the beginning.

It’s significant for the northwest because this wasn’t about ‘London buying into Manchester’ – we’re both born and bred Manchester businesses and together have created something extremely noteworthy on the UK scene. Our business will undoubtedly give heightened focus on the region as we bring big brands and talent in from all across the UK and even globe.

We feel we’re pretty unique in the marketplace, offering best practice across the end-to-end customer journey, and collaborating in ways that other agencies don’t or can’t.

How do you feel it will attract talent?

We know it’s the quality of our talent that’s made us who we are and our capability to attract the best talent in the region has fuelled our growth and success; this is why we work hard with partner organisations and the universities to nurture entry into sector and to collectively tackle the talent shortage that we all face.

When you create something of national significance, people naturally gravitate to it and we’ve already been getting calls from some top talent wanting to join us. People are already excited about the career prospects; there really is no glass ceiling within our organisations. The quality of brands that we’re working with across both entities is a major pull; people are attracted to successful growing businesses and developing their own skills by working on ambitious brands that are creating innovative digital solutions.

How do you see the agency’s responsibility in recruiting and developing talent in the region?

We’ve got more of a responsibility than ever to use the profile we have to help change attitudes to working in digital – especially among women – and we’re already making positive moves to change this.

Tony Foggett is chief executive officer at Code Computerlove

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