At The RAWK Agency we are incredibly proud of where we’ve come from as a team. The journey has made us who we are today and we believe it’s what makes us stand out from our competitors. For this post, I sat down with Alex Howell, Group Account Director and one of the co-founders here at The RAWK Agency to talk about his experience and what makes him tick.
Tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I actually started my career in renewable energy so I can tell you almost all there is to know about wind turbines! It was a great business platform from which to learn and I quickly worked my way up in my time with the company. From here I then looked for a move to an industry a little closer to my heart and formed RAWK Music, primarily focused on artist and tour management.
As the music industry changed and brand sponsorship became a larger part of the day-to-day life of bands, I was introduced to a number of brands and began managing their involvement with the artists at RAWK Music. This led to RAWK Music producing a series of branded gigs followed by a small brand-sponsored music festival. These initial activations proved there was a real niche to work with and an opportunity to focus upon growing our client base and working on brand activations and marketing strategy that far outreached our music based moniker. It was at this point that James Gibson and I founded The RAWK Agency, a multi discipline brand activation agency.
How did working in the music industry introduce you to working with brands?
The more I worked in the music industry, the more I realised just how deeply tied brands and bands were and to what extent bands were, of course, brands themselves. Working with Of Monsters and Men gave me first hand experience of managing a band’s brand. Around this time, the artists I managed on a day-to-day basis were playing more and more brand sponsored events. It was through these that I began to meet the brand and marketing managers that would later ask me to produce music events for their brands.
Could you tell us a little more about your progression from music management to the full service offering The RAWK Agency now provides and how you built such a strong team around the business?
Well, we were constantly building our client relationships by running music activations for both Dewar’s and Innis & Gunn in Scotland. For many of the gigs we were booking acts, managing production, sourcing additional staff and managing stock, as well as managing allocation of budget across all of these events. At this time we were also developing our experiential offering, delivering brand immersion experiences in the form of masterclasses and visits to brand homes. Simultaneously we were offering logistical assistance, design support and brand ambassadors for trade events. We worked our first whisky trade show for Dewar’s at Oval White Space in London at the start of 2014 and our development hasn’t really stopped since.
In terms of building the team we have today, it was a very natural progression. I brought in the trusted team of regular freelancers I was working with from the music events and marketing fields under one full-time company.
At The RAWK Agency we pride ourselves on our approach. What is it about our method that you think sets us apart in our industry?
I hope our clients feel that we’re very hands on and caring about their brand. The big thing for me is that our clients never feel like they’re “just another account”. It’s vital that we know about their brand, identity and heritage as well as they do. I know that there are a lot of agencies out there claiming to do this, but how many are actually making good on this pledge?
There is a noticeable difference between us and some of our peers simply due to the level at which we have invested in our clients in terms of preparation. This is mirrored in the levels of positive support this enables us to provide them for their campaigns. This approach tends to lead to higher levels of trust and a stronger working relationship with our clients, as they know that our team members are behind their brand just as much as their in-house team.
Do you think that a part of that approach comes from your music industry experience - especially the amount of detailed advancing and adaptability needed to manage a high level international tour?
I really do. Production managers and tour managers - or good ones at least - are always incredibly aware of how their actions and the actions of their team can impact the band’s brand. On that point, they have to be well prepared to execute their plans to the letter, but also completely able to adapt them in an on-message manner in the face of any social, economic or political barriers they might face on the road. I think coming from this background has definitely influenced how we approach our clients and their campaigns.
In your role as Group Account Director what’s your typical work day and how do you go about it? As an ex tour manager, can we assume that you're pretty well organised?
Well I used to be out on activations a lot of the time, but I now find myself on the co-ordination and client contact side of things - mainly working through calls and emails.
Just like tour management, I start every day with a large to do list that needs to be worked through to ensure everything happens smoothly and, just like being on the road, it’s rarely that simple! However, as we’ve grown and the team has grown, it has enabled James and I to focus on business development and our own brand. This move away from constantly being in the field has also allowed us to take more of a strategic role with our clients, helping to design and develop campaigns from a conceptual level.
Many of our clients place a lot weight in the provenance of their product. Do you feel similarly about The RAWK Agency and is that why we are so firmly rooted in Edinburgh when such a high percentage of our industry is based in London?
Obviously our main link to Edinburgh is that we were founded here, and to this point, it is where we all live. From my perspective (and I hope the team agrees) I really enjoy living in Edinburgh. The way of life is more relaxed than it can be down South. This atmosphere is definitely something we wanted to carry into the business to maintain a happy environment where people can be comfortable, perform to their best and achieve what they want to achieve in their lives.
In terms of where we are versus our industry, one of the key points for us is that our overheads are a lot lower being based in Edinburgh than if we were in London. This in turn means we can offer our services at very competitive rates. Furthermore, it’s so easy to travel to and from Edinburgh now, clients will often find we can travel and activate an event in London and be less costly than a local London agency.
What do you love about your job?
I love the fact that I work in a place where the whole team are happy in their work. It means a lot to me that we’ve been able to create a company that people enjoy being a part of. Money is important for business growth and stability, but the fact that the team are happy and take pride in what they do means that we are a very productive agency that delivers an incredibly high standard of work.
Finally, what is your long term objective for The RAWK Agency?
I suppose the long term goal is to grow to supersede our competition, take on incredible projects and begin to lead the industry by working with clients who love to deliver interesting and incredible work.
Quick Fire Facts
Favourite album: Champ by Tokyo Police Club
Favourite city: Reykjavik
Favourite food: Keftedes
Interests away from work: Climbing and sports kites