Expert Interview: Opportunistic Female Entrepreneur Georgia Hall On Mixed Marketing Strategies

pic_Georgia NMA judgeIn a rapidly growing Digital world we shouldn't forget the powerful marketing tools provided to us by offline mediums.  People still walk past buses, sit on tubes, read the paper and watch television.  Here, self-proclaimed 'opportunistic entrepreneur' Georgia Hall, formerly of Zinc Digital Agency, Yo! Sushi and now Searcys, highlights how on- and offline marketing strategies are not mutually exclusive, and how her first child was the catalyst she needed to make a very dynamic career move.

I am definitely an opportunistic entrepreneur, I like to take an existing project on and then really make it work.

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When you started Zinc in 1996 did you ever think the business would grow to over 100 staff and have clients such as Virgin, Microsoft and Vodafone?

When I first started Zinc, I set it up in partnership with one of the UK’s leading direct marketing agencies, Evans Hunt Scott, who had clients including Microsoft, BMW, Tesco etc.  So my brief was to introduce their clients to digital media and the business plan was to organically grow the business.  Within the first 6 months it became very apparent that the business was on a fast moving curve, in tandem with the digital revolution beginning back in 1996, and yes I absolutely knew that the company would be successful with such a great business backing and access to a great portfolio of world class clients.

You originally studied fashion before running advertising campaigns for the likes of Max Factor, joining Tower Records as Marketing Director and finally selling touch-screen music kiosks with Ken Frakes.  Where did the idea for Zinc eventually come from?  Were you fuelled by a desire to be an entrepreneur or by the online revolution you could see ahead of you?

I was fuelled by the desire to push this new medium into a major interest. My first job ever after completing my fashion degree in Newcastle was as a designer for a trend prediction company in New York.  I have always wanted to do new things, work in untried areas and work on projects that are ground breaking.

I first met Ken Frakes when I was Marketing Director for Tower Records, I was his client and he came to see me with an idea to launch interactive multimedia kiosk systems into retail stores.  He was working, as a designer, with multimedia designers and an IT company who had a range of touch-screens.  This was back in 1993 and it was so exciting, internet and email was still only an academic communication tool and the concept of showing video, audio and information on a touch-screen to the mass market via the internet had not been conceived at all.

I started talking to all the record companies I knew about this idea and they all expressed a huge commercial interest.  I joined forces with Ken and we set up some prototype kiosks in Tower Records, soon after Coca Cola, HMV and other major corporates wanted to trial this technology.   I resigned from my day job at Tower Records to market and launch digital media and was then asked by Terry Hunt, the chairman of Evans Hunt Scott, to set up a digital agency for him which I named Zinc.

Did you have an extensive online and/or technical background before setting up Zinc - an interactive consultancy - or were you a forward thinker who could see the need?

I am simply a marketing person who can identify a gap in the market and likes to work on new concepts and challenges.  Digital growth over the last 15 years is one of the most exciting communication revolutions we have ever experienced and I am very proud to have been one of the innovators.

Considering you had only just had a child, did you think twice about entering the world of start-ups or did the agency Evans Hunter Scott provide you with financial security and support you required?

Having my first child made me want to be successful, it was the catalyst I needed to focus on a very dynamic career move.  Evans Hunt Scott were my financial backers but if I had not set up a successful company and sold digital media to their clients as a commercial business tool within a very short space of time, Zinc would not have happened, I would still have worked on promoting digital to the mass market.

I read recently in an article from 2000 that by taking recruitment for Virgin online, you had reduced costs to a tenth of that for their offline advertising campaigns.  Does this mean that you would recommend companies spend the majority of their marketing budgets online or is there still a case for offline marketing?

I think both work well together, TV advertising will always take up the bulk of a major marketing budget, as will a major through the line global brand campaigns and this is before a penny has been spent online.  Online is today an independent retail channel, the major communication tool via email for the mass market and still very inexpensive compared to TV spend and of course completely transparent regarding ROI.  But we still read newspapers, travel on public transport, watch TV and have letterboxes which are all very relevant current communication channels as well as digital.

Why did you eventually decide to sell Zinc and go offline with Yo! Sushi?

Zinc had been going for seven years and we had a great client base (Microsoft, Vodafone, Virgin Atlantic, Sharwoods, Warners, Sony).  I had spent a lot of energy packaging the company from a marketing and PR perspective to sell on.   It was also becoming very apparent that the dot com crash was coming (2002); I was expecting my second child and the time was right in both my worlds, personally and in business, to sell.

I took three years out, had a third child, and then decided to joined YO! Sushi part time in 2004 as I wanted to work directly with a client and do all the things I could never do when I was running a company, like directly putting ideas into action, employing a digital agency and really making a direct difference to a brand.  I really enjoy working in food, such a basic consumer need.

Do you feel the way you market a company is interchangeable between the on- and offline worlds or that they are two distinctly different cases? Are there lessons you have learnt from either sphere that you would now apply in the other?

Both YO! Sushi and now Searcys employed me to work across all communication channels.  I think it is very important that digital is not considered a standalone channel; a brand and a marketing communication message or strategy has to work across all media regardless.

Your brief from Searcys is to focus on its core brand whilst launching a series of champagne bars to attract a younger clientele with large disposable incomes in a challenging economic climate. How do you intend to achieve this goal?

Searcys is interesting because it is not a recognised brand to the ‘outside’ consumer world; it is a renowned catering company famed for its hospitality and events in iconic buildings like The Hurlingham Club, Mansion House, Royal Opera House, Vintners’ Hall etc.  And it also has an amazing portfolio of retail restaurants and bars in venues including The Gherkin, National Portrait Gallery, St Pancras, The Barbican etc – and a plan to launch champagne bars – which is a very interesting proposition.

Establishing the brand and PR will be my first major priorities, coupled with retail success which will also move my energy into customer email communications, e-booking and online communications.

Do you have any ideas or plans for a future start-up? Do you constantly have ideas circulating in your head or are you more of an opportunistic entrepreneur adept at recognising holes in the market and reacting to them?

I am definitely an opportunistic entrepreneur, I like to take an existing project on and then really make it work.  I like a challenge and am good at creating opportunities, growing a business and of course marketing it whether it is digital or not, if the germ of the business concept is good.  I also like to think that when my kids are all grown up I will sit down and think of another start up all over again.

Do you have any female internet heroes?

Martha Lane Fox is an easy idol as she set it up, built the brand and successfully sold out.

On a lighter note, name one website you wish you’d founded?

Ocado, the Waitrose online delivery site, because as a working mum I can’t function without it.

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