Outpost is a multi-award winning advertising agency based in Congleton, Cheshire. They’ve been going for nearly 15 years and over that time have worked with national and international brands including: Jaguar, Revolution, Living Ventures, Three, Bear Grylls, Hunter Douglas, Heineken and Rana.
Outpost believe in taking brands further by using the power of design and technology. They are strategically driven in all they do and never been interested in technology for technology’s sake.
Business Up North caught-up with Christopher Wilcock, Co-founder & Creative Director to find out a little more about his background and his business.
Tell us a little about your background and how you started your business?
From the north of England my career path has been anything but traditional. I did art and design at college and then went onto study Computer Science at UMIST in Manchester where I quickly learnt that coding wasn’t for me. What I did take from my degree was an overall understanding of the technologies involved and how they could be used to solve a business need. From there I decided that I wanted to develop my design skills in advertising. I went on to study Flash and freelanced in several agencies in and around Manchester before the opportunity came to setup the agency. Nearly 15 years later and I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with some amazingly talented people and work on some fantastic accounts around the world.
How long have you been running Outpost and what does Outpost do?
The agency in one form or another has been going for nearly 25 years now. Nearly 15 years ago I was doing freelance work for local agencies when the opportunity came to acquire the company which was called Opening Doors and was a market research and telemarketing company with some good blue chip clients under its belt.
My business partner who is my dad and myself then spent the next 13 years transforming the business into a full-service marketing agency working with a range of clients from national restaurant chains to global software companies. A couple of years ago we decided we wanted to take the business in a new direction; focus our service offering and really take a more targeted approach on which brands we work with. So, we decided to rebrand. We called ourselves Outpost and wanted to focus on delivering strategic driven advertising campaigns and digital solutions for lifestyle, fashion and automotive brands.
What was the inspiration for the business current path you are on?
It was after some real self-reflection about who we were, where we wanted to go and most importantly what did we enjoy doing we took the business on a new path a couple of years ago.The business had grown well over the years however its identity had always been directed by the contracts and clients we had at the time. We decided that if we wanted to be successful and do great work that we were known for we had to become masters of our own destiny.
I take ideas and inspiration from anywhere. I love all aspects of art and design mainly product design and architecture. I take real inspiration from people like Elon Musk (SpaceX and Tesla) and BjarkeIngels (BIG Group) who are radical in how they think and don’t wait around for society to catch up they just do it. I also make sure I keep an eye on what’s going on in the industry as a whole, don’t just limit yourself to the sector you’re in, look at the wider world of art, design and advertising for ideas.
Is there one bit of advice you wish you’d been given before you started your business?
Wow that’s a toughie. I’d probably hit myself over the head and ask why you want to build an agency, I guess I’ve always been a gluten for punishment! Honestly, I think looking back I probably wasn’t ready –I should have spent some more time working in large agencies to really learn the craft and develop some good contacts in the industry. When I was freelance, I was mainly working as a website designer specialising in Flash, and when we decided to go down the full-service agency route I had to pretty much learn everything for myself – but hey I guess you can’t choose when opportunities arise!
Also, something that I’ve only really realised in the last few years and part of the reason behind the rebrand was to focus on something and become really good at it, even if that meant taking a few steps back. When we were a full-service agency, even though the quality of the work was always high we were not known for anything and with that it’s much harder to establish yourself.Finally, I’d say stop comparing yourself to other people/businesses, just work hard and focus on something you enjoy doing and the recognition and success will come.
What is the one most important thing you’ve learned during the experience of running your own business?
I know it’s cliché but never give up. Running a new business is hard and there are always going to be rough times but there will also be good times. I’m a firm believer that if you love what you do and work hard you’ll be successful.
Collaboration and surrounding yourself with talented people that you can learn from and bounce ideas off.I love being really immersed in a good project and collaborating with the team and new people, the buzz you get when you’ve all come up with that killer idea is amazing.
Self-promotion is vitally important if you want to grow, unless you show people what you can do no one will ever hire you. This can be very hard for introvert creative types and I find this particularly difficult to show-off your work and approach new clients. Saying that we’re lucky in the creative industry that there are so many outlets to share and express ideas along with talking to other creatives. I find this is extremely important as sometimes it can feel quiet solitary running a business and can be difficult to gauge where you are in relation to your competitors.
What do you see as your future business challenges?
I’m going to have to talk about Brexit – sorry! Since the referendum results we’ve seen confidence in the UK market change dramatically, consumers are nervous of spending money and this is having a knock-on effect with brands being cautious about how they spend their budgets. Hopefully the mess can be cleared up soon and it can give businesses and consumers some certainty and confidence again. In the advertising industry as a whole, the last 10 years has seen some pretty seismic changes. From the ongoing decline in print through to the explosion of social media our industry has always had to adapt to the changing demands of society. In order to stay relevant, the way brands communicate with their audience is constantly changing especially in fast paced consumer advertising. Agencies have to always be aware of emerging technologies and how they can help benefit clients. I think over the next few years due to the sheer amount of data people now receive you’ll see an increased demand for personalised advertising and products where consumers will specify exactly what they want and it will be delivered to their door – this can already be seen with major brands like Nike offering the creation of highly personalised products online. This level of personalisation and convenience as our lives get ever busier is only going to hurt the high street as people’s buying habits continue to change.
What would you like to leave as your business legacy?
I think the importance of putting the audience at the heart of everything we do along with pushing to achieve the best possible work for our clients. I’m also a firm believer in challenging the status quo. There are so many agencies out there that push the same old template driven work that doesn’t standout and ultimately does nothing for the client’s bottom line. At Outpost every campaign, every website, every piece of content we create is bespoke and unique to the client’s exact business objectives and what will resonate with the audience to get maximum impact. Some clients don’t always like this as we’ll question the current way of working and take them out of their comfort zones.
Your biggest business achievement or success so far?
Apart from still going after 15 years – I must be doing something right! I think it’s building the team and culture we have now and having the courage to rebrand the business and go in a new direction. At the time,there was nothing wrong with the business we were profitable and fairly well-established in the area, most people thought we were insane to basically be starting again. However, we had aspirations to work for brands we never could of in our previous form. Yes, it’s been hard work but since the rebrand we’ve worked with clients such as Jaguar, Cheaney Shoes, Bear Grylls and Rana. And even though we never set out to win awards since the rebrand we have picked up over 10 international awards for our Bear Grylls and Verity Studios websites.
When you are not running your business, what do you do to relax?
After work, most nights you’ll find me at my local CrossFit gym. I’ve been obsessed with it for the last 3 years and I can honestly say it has helped me deal with the day to day stresses of running a business. CrossFit’s ethos is to be the best version of yourself and continually improve, ideals that draw many parallels in running your own business. It also promotes the fact that you are on your own journey and you should never compare yourself to others. After years of working ridiculous hours and weekends something our industry is notorious for my health and relationship was suffering so I decided to make a change. My training has now become an important part of my life and daily routine, not only does it help with creativity it helps you unwind and reset.Believe me it’s important to make time for yourself, whatever it is.
I always like to set myself challenges and work towards them whether it be running a half marathon, cycling to Wales or entering a CrossFit competition – I can’t stress how important it is to have the right work life balance – something we encourage at Outpost.
What is your biggest achievement outside of business?
I guess because I love what I do the business has been such a huge part of my life for a long time and I really didn’t dedicate much time to myself or think about things I wanted to achieve outside of the studio, it was all about delivering the next project, getting money in and paying the billings.
I don’t know if I’ve got to that age but in the last few years I’ve definitely devoted more time to myself outside of work and started to challenge myself to achieve things. I’m starting to travel more and see more of the world along with constantly entering CrossFit competitions, half marathons and other daft physical activities. Despite all that I’d probably say getting engaged recently while on holiday in Iceland to my partner. We’ve been together 6 years and it was about time I popped the question to her. She runs her own landscape design business so I’ve very lucky that she understands and puts up with me.
What would you be doing if you weren’t running your business?
I can’t imagine not being involved in some aspect of design or being creative. Since I was a kid I’ve always loved art and design, always drawing and building models. When I was, younger I did some work experience for a film and TV effects studio in London and absolutely loved that! I guess if I wasn’t in advertising I’d probably have gone into Industrial design or visual effects.