Nick Brooks of 4CM Ltd tells us about the power of inbound marketing.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Nick Brooks: Generally, we’re managing well with what have become sequential lockdowns. We’re fortunate as we live in a village, so are able to get out easily to exercise and get a break from constant Zoom/Teams calls.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is simply dealing with the ’Groundhog Day Effect’. Whereas in the past in a normal workday there would be far more variety, and normally highs and lows, everything is now comparatively flat, with little to create much emotional response.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded 4CM Ltd.
Nick Brooks: I founded the business 40 years ago this year!
4CM Ltd serves the needs of the industrial sectors, with specialized, knowledge-rich marketing services. We work with some amazing clients, who do fantastic things, from keeping wind turbines turning to putting satellites into orbit. Our role is to take what our clients do and make it inspiring to their target audiences, helping clients grow and prosper – that’s what gets me out of bed every day!
How does 4CM Ltd innovate?
Nick Brooks: Given that we’re a service business, it’s difficult to follow the traditional approach to innovation that you’d normally associated with a product or manufacturing company. However, we try and dedicate regular senior staff time to blue-sky thinking, both for our own business and to the specific services we provide to individual clients. If we can find better ways of doing things and producing even better outcomes, then we’ll do.
Looking ahead, we’re currently talking to leading universities, to see if we can create joint projects that drive marketing innovation still further, as part of the UKRI Knowledge Transfer Partnership scheme.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Nick Brooks: From a business perspective, the pandemic had an impact on our revenues in 2020, reducing them by around 30%. However, since the first lockdown, we’ve seen a recovery in demand and currently have a solid sales pipeline; we are winning new clients, which is helping to put us back on track to meet the goals in our 5-year business plan.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Nick Brooks: In common with all business, we had to make tough decisions. We had expensive offices in Milton Keynes. Fortunately, our lease was due for renewal last March and we were able to decide to transform the company into a virtual agency.
This hasn’t been without its challenges: helping staff set up home offices, develop their skills with remote working and online meetings, and putting initiatives in place to help them stay motivated and avoid feelings of isolation.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Nick Brooks: All of our business tools were already cloud-based, so we were ahead of the game in that respect. We now use Zoom and Teams daily. We are also developing online training courses and encourage employees both to make use of on-line learning and to ensure that they focus on the quality of their health – physical and mental. This can be as simple as ensuring they take a regular break, one-to-one calls with the line manager, setting up walking and fitness challenges, and so on.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Nick Brooks: We operate in a specialized niche, so have few direct competitors – few marketing agencies have our level of knowledge and experience in the manufacturing sector. Perhaps our biggest competitor is the status quo – companies not wanting, or prepared, to do something different, even if might transform their marketing and sales.