At the beginning of May, Julio Taylor was named as the new chief executive of award-winning digital agency, Hallam. In this column, he shares his insights around steering the business through a ‘unique and tricky’ time, operating with the ‘attention economy’ and reveals his vision for making a smart agency smarter.
Stepping up as chief exec
Becoming chief executive officer of an agency the size of this one is a significant personal milestone. It’s exciting. But, at the time, it would be a lie to say there wasn’t a feeling of apprehension. This is a big job at a big agency and this is an incredibly unique and tricky time to be assuming a role like this in.
That said, I’m really confident in our great team and culture — and I’m really proud of what we’ve built together because it’s one of the main things that’s helping us weather the Covid-19 storm. That makes a huge difference to me stepping into this position. The most successful way to lead is to surround yourself with people and professionals who are great and if you have that, you can go forward feeling secure and safe. That’s how I’m feeling right now.
A new well-balanced dynamic at the helm
Ultimately, my job now is to provide our team with direction, support, encouragement, and vision – all with a collective aim of driving Hallam forward.
I’m not alone with this either. At the same time, my friend and close colleague, Jake Third, was appointed the agency’s new managing director and is someone I work extremely well with. While my strengths lie in providing strategic long-term vision, Jake’s is in the finer detail. He is a brilliant executioner and manager. Effectively, while my focus will be on leading the agency, he will be managing the business, and we have got a well-balanced dynamic in place.
Acting swiftly to combat Covid-19
There’s no hiding from the severity of the economic impact that Covid-19 has had across the UK and while it has been an understandably testing time, Hallam has coped really well, acting both swiftly and early to the evolving developments.
We quarantined the office a week before lockdown when we began to sense something was very wrong indeed. We were already set up for remote work. We were quick to tighten our belts, with an eye on the future, and secured key contracts and negotiated pauses with our clients proactively, well ahead of time — full credit for that goes to our account management team, who had the foresight to take ownership of the situation.
Above all else, it was the actions of our colleagues that made the biggest impact. Everybody in the agency (and I mean every single person) agreed to take a voluntary percentage reduction in salaries - an incredible sacrifice that everyone made for each other and the company and truly spoke volumes about the culture we have established here at Hallam.
Health and wellbeing is Hallam’s top priority
We recognise the strain homeworking can have on the mental health of an individual. Remote working comes with a certain intensity that you do not get in the office and people are spending more time in front of their screens than ever before.
Away from work, there is a lot of uncertainty over the economy and we’re all worried about loved ones. All of that combined is a heavy pressure on anyone’s shoulders.
During Mental Health Awareness Week, we announced that we had appointed four mental health first aiders – another testament to our culture, given those individuals voluntarily trained up to help the colleagues around them. We run regular wellbeing sessions for our staff to attend digitally too and our work on that front is continuously developing.
A smart agency with a vision to be smarter
Hallam’s priority is providing expertise, knowledge, leadership, and strategy - an agency that is about more than just execution. Adopting that mindset will allow us to plug the gaps and limitations that brands have in-house.
That’s the direction I intend to take us in. Our agency has always had a reputation for being smart. Now we want to be smarter. The biggest challenge agencies, like ourselves, have in the future is what they can offer that brands can not do themselves.
There is an ongoing challenge to evolve and to build capabilities and services to ensure you always have something valuable to offer. Agencies are either going big and focusing on execution, or they’re focusing on strategic leadership. Here at Hallam, we’re focusing on both.
Simplifying complexity in the ‘attention economy’
Our vision is to become a trusted advisor and critical partner to our clients. The complexity of the digital marketing landscape is growing exponentially. We’re thinking about multiple platforms, voice, brand, tracking, and precision. And our job is to simplify all of that complexity and turn it into something tangible and strategically aligned with our clients’ needs.
We’re very deep into something I call the ‘attention economy’. The amount of content and information that is available to people online right now is so high - higher than the number of eyeballs available that can consume it on a daily basis.
With that, it is more important than ever before to be able to cut through that noise.
The power of simplicity and brand messaging
The way you get across what you’re trying to say - should be more a priority than how you reach people and how you spend advertising budgets. The power of tone, empathy, meaning, and purpose, is more important than it has ever been, in my opinion, and Hallam’s goal is to fuse all that with the precision of the technology that is available to us.
That’s something we’re doing now, even in the midst of the most complex digital landscape there has ever been.
A message to businesses preparing for the market rebound
People are spending more time online than they have ever done before. With that comes a rise in expectations and the margins are lower. When our clients are saying something online, it needs to be memorable, meaningful, and have a purpose.
What we are going to see at some point in the near future is a rebound out of Covid-19 - a response to the economy and the market – and there’s going to be a lot of brands out there that are thinking about how they can stand out when this is over.
My message to brands out there is that what you were in February will not be as effective towards the end of this year when a degree of normality returns. It’s going to be a different world and it is going to be those brands that evolve with it - those that are smarter - that will be remarkable and stand out.
Julio Taylor, chief executive officer at Hallam