It’s a people thing!

With Ashgrove Marketing celebrating its 15th birthday in 2022, founder Terry van Rhyn reflects on what makes a successful creative business and what keeps it fresh

In business, as in life, there must always be a purpose and a goal in order to progress forward. Yet, after pondering how to capture the meaning of the 5,479 days we have been providing branding and marketing services in the Isle of Man, I’m not so sure it’s quite as simple as that.

When asked recently about highlights and achievements, the thing that immediately came to mind was the people who have made Ashgrove what it is today.

When I started the business, my vision was to create a big sandbox for other like-minded industry professionals to bring their buckets and spades, and for us to build a few exceptional sandcastles together. For the most part I’ve been successful in providing a creative and happy environment for those who get it. There are few things more rewarding than to be part of a team of people with different skill sets and characters all working as one to achieve a common goal.

Having been part of the marketing and advertising industry for over 40 years, for me it has always been about the people. This creative industry is a melting pot of blue-sky thinkers, oddballs, renegades, pirates, sophisticates, philosophers, dreamers, artists and pragmatists.

The common denominator is that you must believe in challenging the status quo and fearlessly search for something no one else can find, but not just for the sake of being different. Finding solutions to complicated problems should not be easy and you therefore must go down many rabbit holes to uncover the right answers.

Surprisingly, perhaps, I believe the creative mind needs order and structure to function properly. The purpose must be clear, and the problem defined to focus the mind on finding the solution. This is achieved by gathering as much information as possible to determine the who, what, where, why and when in order to get to the how.

Different skill sets and personalities are involved in each phase of the process and that is what makes it so beautiful to be part of the experience. Creating an ad, for instance, is not about the visual theme, layout or the design: it is all about the message and whether or not it is clear how the audience will react, do or feel. The pretty pictures and catchy headlines must have a purpose otherwise those will simply be pretty pictures and words.

During the past 15 years I’ve had the privilege to work with a number of incredibly talented creative people. We have created memorable work we are proud of and, just as importantly, we’ve had a lot of fun on the way.

Half of what makes this still interesting is the gathering of facts and information needed to inform the process. The other half is the unknown factor and where your musings will take you. This is because you can’t rush the creative process – not if you are serious about finding that very elusive, extraordinary solution or the “big idea”. It can sometimes happen in mere hours, more likely days or perhaps weeks, depending on how deep we have to burrow down those rabbit holes to find the answers.

I want to again mention these people who are with you in the trenches and who make the difference between delivering something that’s just pretty smart or something that’s really exceptional or remarkable. The universal truth of any business is that it is only as good as its people. A happy work environment delivers better productivity and ultimately happy clients.

In the end, the question we need to answer is whether or not we have made a difference. Did we meet our goals and objectives, and do the results reflect a positive shift in our client’s business?

One of the key characteristics I have discovered about my team is that for each and every one the common denominator is personal responsibility, accountability and credibility. Ashgrove’s slogan is “Reputations. By Design” and this is actually reflected in how the individuals function within the agency. By taking ownership of their role or task they actively claim a stake in the responsibility for the end result.

I call it “extreme ownership”, a name taken from a book written by two US Navy Seals. In a business, just as in the military, the first rule is that you need to trust the person next to you to do their job. Creating that trusting environment can only be achieved over time and with a few projects under the belt, but the moment when it all clicks together is quite exceptional. I, for one, find these collaborative connections very inspiring and that is why I wake up in the mornings with a smile on my face, ready to take on any Everest.

Looking ahead, as we are wont to do at the beginning of a new year, I’m not sure how 2022 will pan out for all of us. There are some more challenging times ahead, no doubt, but whatever happens it helps enormously if you can look around you, feel that you are part of a team and know that if you work together things will be just fine.

Happy New Year!