ThinkOTB Agency

How do businesses stay relevant over 30 years?

January 11, 2021

“Business has only two major functions: marketing and innovation”

said Peter Drucker, the great American management consultant and author. It’s a vital piece of advice for staying relevant in business.

And that’s just as true now as when I founded Davies Design back in ’88. In those 30 years, our marketing agency has never stopped innovating, adapting and flexing to market conditions. We started life as a design studio, then a direct marketing agency, then digital, then branding, and now the innovation marketing agency. We’ve built on our experiences (not replaced them) and we’ve learnt to stand by our founders’ and our agency’s values – good causes, good heart, good intentions. Without these, there is no soul in any company.

I believe it’s these good intentions that have helped us build an organisation that has made a major contribution to UK plc; an organisation that is competitive, productive and relevant in the future of innovation and creative services. We have had a long-term, significant impact in the industry and stand out as an example to others nationally and internationally. Over our many years, ThinkOTB has created the best conditions for future success, a supportive environment for new innovation.

ThinkOTB is passionate about the innovation community, and it’s vital for staying relevant in business. Our quest to understand and deliver innovation and creative thinking has led us to study it, write books about it, teach people to understand it and to seek cognitive diversity by working globally.

Our company is based in Leeds, West Yorkshire. Leeds is the northern digital and financial hub of England, but still needs recognition and reward if it is to be seen as a real powerhouse for the UK. But from Leeds we work with the global teams for clients who manage activity relevant to all regions across with world – from Dublin, to CEMEA region (Central Europe, Middle East & Africa) and APAC region (Asia Pacific).

In fact, over the last three years, ThinkOTB has been honoured to work in three global hubs – San Francisco, New York and Atlanta, and this work now accounts for 12% of our export Gross Profit. Staying relevant in business is about seizing opportunities. Now, we trade internationally and have grown net profits by 573%, all of which have led to ThinkOTB winning the Queen’s Award for Enterprise 2020.

By always building on our experiences and learning from the great companies who choose us as their marketing partner, we have picked up a few other awards along the way. We’ve been recognised for our specialisms in brand strategy, client service, professionalism, strategic thinking, value for money to digital, direct marketing effectiveness, innovation and creativity. And all those years ago when I founded Davies Design, I never thought I’d be a judge for some industry awards too!

Building long and lasting partnerships

By remaining small but agile, we’ve been selected as marketing partners for some of the biggest and best companies in the world…and some that aspire to be Google, VISA, MasterCard, National Grid, Arup, GSK, ASDA, Next, Dr Oetker, PZ Cussons, Turner, Thomson Reuters, Unilever, Which? and Save the Children. Our fresh and flexible thinking helped these organisations increase growth and shareholder value. We help them by unlocking the creative potential in their people and their business.

By really getting to know the company, and by asking the right questions (which isn’t as simple as it sounds!), ThinkOTB has developed and embedded innovation processes within these companies. Over the last five years, we’ve taken this a stage further to design and develop unique proprietary tools and techniques for each stage of the innovation management process (from creating ideas to implementing the innovation).

Our expertise and reputation for being champions of innovative thinking has given me the opportunity to travel the world, speaking at business and innovation events in Australia, New Zealand, Russia, UAE, Europe, Iran, India and the Republic of the Maldives.

Growing through knowledge sharing

Our services reach far further than marketing which hugely contributes to us staying relevant in business. We have been able to significantly change the way that people and organisations think regardless of race, socioeconomic status, religion, gender or sexual orientation. I have also become passionate about community, thanks to my mentor, Sir Tom Farmer. This great philanthropist instilled in me how important communities are to society, both socially and professionally.

With such incredible experiences in my life, it feels only right that I pass my knowledge on too. I guest lecture at many universities in the UK including London Business School, York, and Leeds with one of my books being a key textbook at London Metropolitan University. Once you start sharing your knowledge and experiences in books, it becomes a bit of a habit! I write for trade press and have co-authored Think, a book about innovations, and Making Waves, which explores the notion that great ideas effectively implemented have a positive ripple effect.

Much of the innovation which ThinkOTB creates with clients is leveraged though tools and techniques that I have discovered over the years. With the support of HMRC Research and Development funding, I have captured these in an online platform for people to use the intellectual property. It’s in the form of a license to trade under my company brand. Now there are licensees in South Africa, the US, Australia, Spain, Scotland and England.

Good causes, good heart, good intentions

Those values I told you about at the beginning, flow through everything we do at ThinkOTB. But, we never really tell the outside world about them. In fact, ThinkOTB works with universities in Leeds to develop students in the workplace. Our ‘fresh n’ up’ scheme takes students after their second year in university. We pay them well to work for 12 months in the company. We help them to gain a working knowledge of marketing agency life, meet mentors and make industry connections. ThinkOTB also supports the ‘School of Thought’. This scheme supports young people in our industry to develop their skills. Currently two of our team are working through this.

For many years, ThinkOTB has been supporting charities in a range of ways. It’s just one of the ways we’re staying relevant in our business.

Some of our team went to Burkina Faso in West Africa to work with WSA (Water and Sanitation in Africa). They were shocked by the experience of seeing people with no water and no sanitation whatsoever. After working with WSA to create a clear brand identity and flexible communications strategy that would champion their work and engage with fundraisers, we brought six of the WSA team over from Burkina Faso to visit us in Yorkshire and work with our company for a week.

They had never been out of the country before. One of the activities we did was take them to Jorvik Viking Centre to see what life was like 2000 years ago in York. The sad thing is, they said “that’s what it’s like for us now in Burkina Faso”. They said that so many children were dying in Africa because of the poor water supply – the equivalent to two jumbo jets full of children crashing every day in Africa.

Going back further, we also worked with the incredible Emmaus charity. They provide homes for the homeless and teach them new skills. All of us are just a few bad events or decisions away from being on the street. It can happen to anyone. Linked to this, ThinkOTB also helped launch a new bank service for homeless people in Glasgow with RBS called Grand Central Saving.

When people are homeless, they find it difficult to get banking facilities. They can be subjected to abuse on the street and many lose what little money they have. This bank gives them some security. One example is when this scheme got going, a homeless man walked into the RBS and asked the cashier to withdraw all his money (£50) the cashier was suspicious and said “but you only have £10 left, are you sure you want it all?”. On accepting this the man went outside the bank and gave the money to a thug who had forced him to withdraw all his money. So it’s not perfect – but it’s better.

For over 15 years we have worked with the housing association, Midland Heart. Over that time, we have produced all their branding and website and also helped launch ‘Frost and Snow’, a cupcake shop and charity run by their residents. Our association with charities also extends to the British Heart Foundation and producing the marketing materials for The Art House.

For over 15 years, I have also volunteered my time as a facilitator for the Gordon Cook Conversations at Windsor Castle (St George’s House) and in Scotland, supporting and developing mid-career people. It is a place where people from right across society who are in a position to make a difference gather together to grapple with issues pertinent to our contemporary world. The House thrives on debate, discussion and dialogue as a way of nurturing wisdom which can be put to use in the wider world.

In December 2015, ThinkOTB commissioned a team to take part in The ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers). The ARC is a ‘must do’ for many sailors and attracts over 200 boats and 1200 people every year. They sail 2700 nautical miles across the Atlantic from Gran Canaria to Saint Lucia. We chose the ARC because of their focus on the reduction of plastics in the ocean and whilst on this, worked with schools in St Lucia to paint school buildings and clear grounds.

As you can see, it’s been an incredible 30 years at the helm of what is now, ThinkOTB. Here’s to many more years of adapting, innovating and staying true to our values!

How are you staying relevant in business? If you want to draw from the expertise at ThinkOTB, get in touch.


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