Charlotte McMurray is an award-winning digital marketer who previously held the role of Digital Performance Director at Silverbean, a leading digital agency based in Newcastle upon Tyne. In September 2016, she decided to go it alone, setting up Cameo Digital with the aim of offering her clients a break from the traditional agency model.
Throughout her digital career, she’s been named as one of Econsultancy’s Rising Stars in 2013, The Drum’s Top 50 under 30 Women in Digital in 2015 and The Journal’s ‘Top 35 under 35’ North East Business Talent in 2016. Her new venture is completely independent and allows businesses the chance to work directly with senior, seasoned digital marketing professionals, without having to battle through layers of junior account management.
Charlotte is an astute digital strategist, a keen content marketer (having been featured in many digital publications and blogs) and a bit of a digital nerd, citing SEO and PPC particularly as her areas of expertise. South Tyneside-based Cameo Digital allows her to get back to what she’s passionate about, namely ‘doing’ the work that drives performance and having a measurable impact on her client’s business success.
How long have you been running Cameo Digital and what does your business do?
I’ve been running Cameo Digital for a little over a year now. We’re a collective of freelance digital marketing consultants, working together to help businesses develop strong digital marketing strategies, before putting them into practice to achieve goals.
Our ethos is all about doing good work with good people, and we’ve specifically designed Cameo to help businesses access senior expertise in a flexible and cost-effective way.
Our focus is on connecting experienced digital marketers directly with clients, rather than delivering work through junior teams or account managers, as you might find within a traditional digital agency.
We also operate a very lean business model (no offices, no sales teams, no pool tables!), which means our clients get to work with highly experienced experts for the same or even lower costs than your average agency retainer.
What or who was the inspiration for the business current path you are on?
A lot of the inspiration for my current path comes from my frustration with the limitations of the traditional digital marketing agency model. There’s a lot of scepticism amongst businesses about the results agencies are able to deliver, and seeing first hand where things were going wrong, particularly for smaller businesses, made me want to build something that worked better.
I’m also driven by the desire to improve the experience of agency marketers, who often suffer at the hands of the profit-driven agency model. The way agencies are structured often means they’re pressured to put margin ahead of wellbeing, and stress and anxiety are endemic.
Because of that, more and more talented marketers are choosing the freelance life over the agency grind, and I wanted to find a way to support that and eventually help many more experienced digital experts make the leap into working for themselves.
One bit of advice you wish you’d been given before you started your business?
Just get on with it! It’s way better to jump in and do some work than to procrastinate with planning and preparation. I spent far too long before I started my business worrying about exactly how everything would work, and I could have achieved exactly the same results with far less stress if I’d just got started instead.
The one most important thing you’ve learned during the experience of running your own business?
How much is unnecessary. The business start-up culture is full of meaningless fluff and noise, and it can make running a business seem far more daunting than it actually is.
There’s a perception that clients won’t be impressed unless you have a flashy office, or that you can’t be truly productive unless you’re getting up at four in the morning to meditate. It’s all tied back to this awful concept of “hustle” – that if you’re not single-mindedly filling every minute of your day with intense activity, you’re not trying hard enough, and you don’t deserve success.
The truth is, everything comes down to the quality of the work you do. If you’re doing good work with good people, everything else has a way of sorting itself out, regardless of how early you get up or how many networking events you’re at. My experiences over the past year have backed this up time and time again.
What do you see as your future business challenges?
One of the benefits of being focussed on doing good work is that it simplifies a lot of things. Cameo Digital has grown considerably over the past year, and that’s wonderful, but I’m not trying to force any particular outcome from here. I don’t feel any pressure to keep pushing to reach “the next level”, whatever that is, so it’s not like I have challenges in that sense.
If there is a challenge, it’s maintaining that mind set, and not being drawn into the business dogma of growth at all costs.
The assumption within the industry is that Cameo should be aiming to expand and be acquired and make millions, but that’s not what we’re about. Standing firm in our beliefs in the face of that can be challenging sometimes.
What would you like to leave as your business legacy?
I’d like to be proud of my work, and to help other people do work they’re proud of too, whether that’s clients or colleagues. I love the work I do and the people I work with, and I’d like to help more people reap the same benefits by starting to work for themselves.
The rise of the freelance economy is a huge opportunity for talented digital professionals, because the work we do is so well-suited to this model. I’d like my legacy to be a group of people who Cameo has helped to achieve a better quality of life and do better work on their own terms.
Your biggest business achievement so far?
Telling other marketers, both client-side and agency-side, about the concept behind Cameo, and having them “get it”.
It’s a scary thing to put together a positioning from scratch based on your personal view of the world, and then send it out to peers in your industry, particularly when what you’re saying is “I think we’ve been doing this all wrong”. I’m still humbled when somebody says they understand what we’re about, and that they like it, and I think that’ll always be true.
When you are not running your business, what do you do to relax?
One of the biggest things that changed for me when I went into business for myself was how I used my leisure time. Before making the leap out of the agency world, I’d got to the point where I struggled to do anything more exciting than zone out in front of the TV.
Since I started Cameo, I’ve seen a huge improvement in my overall wellbeing, and my free time is much more interesting as a result.
This year I’ve been working towards a few fitness goals, and learning a second language, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m also a keen dog walker, and I’m lucky enough to live close to the gorgeous North Sea coast, so you’ll find me out along the cliffs quite often in my lunch breaks too.
Your biggest achievement outside of business?
Over the past year I’ve been teaching myself Italian. I started with a free app and worked my way up from there to the point where I can confidently read a newspaper, and understand a fair amount of a TV programme or film. Picking up a second language to a respectable level is something I’ve always wanted to do but never had the energy to focus on before, and I’m hugely proud of it.
I’ve also taken a leap and got into speaking at events, so far doing the NE Business Expo and the Tees Biz Show, discussing the ethos of Cameo Digital, the reasons we want to disrupt the industry and the ways in which brands can identify whether their incumbent agency is really up to scratch. I hope to do more event speaking in future and am keen to get more involved in causes I care about, such as the amazing women’s charity, Smart Works, which I hope to work with over the coming year at their new Newcastle base.
What would you be doing if you weren’t running your business?
I genuinely can’t think of much I’d be doing if not for this, and I think that’s a good thing – I’ve had jobs before where I could have given you a huge list of preferred options!
I’ve very much had my fill of the 9-5 and I don’t think I’d be tempted to go back to a full-time job, so I’d definitely be in business for myself in some guise. There’s a part of me that’s tempted to pack up and live the digital nomad lifestyle – maybe one day!