Creating a Supportive Environment at Urban River

Carl Buckley from marketing agency Urban River talks about doing it better, and how creating the right environment is key.

Sounds like a cliché, but it was a chance meeting, a discussion over a pint and we decided to go for it. No clients, no office, just hope, ambition and energy.


Can you give the readers a short intro to who you are and how Urban River all started?

Urban River was started way back in 2002. Sounds like a cliché, but it was a chance meeting, a discussion over a pint and we decided to go for it. No clients, no office, just hope, ambition and energy. Here we are 15 years on and have a successful marketing agency working across both digital and non-digital forms of marketing with a mixture of great clients ranging from charities, the NHS, private business both large and small.


What inspired you to set up your own agency?

We felt we could do something better. Not necessarily more creative or technically, but the way we managed and approached clients and staff. As a non-creative myself, I felt that I could bring a more business-like attitude to what was traditionally seen as a candy floss type industry - we wanted to develop an approach which clients who were non-marketers could easily get to grips with.

I had also worked in some miserable places and wanted to create a place where staff enjoyed coming to work and doing what they do. Provide the right environment and it shows throughout everything and ultimately delivers a better client experience.


You mention recruitment and stiff competition can be big challenges in your industry – how do you attract the best talent and stand out from the competition? 

That is a tricky one as there are companies that pay higher salaries, but we look at the overall environment. Urban River is a great place to develop and as well as enhancing technical skills we expose all staff to clients right from the start with the intention of developing a more rounded person and improving softer skills. Whilst this approach does have its pitfalls, in every case staff have agreed that is has improved their overall skillset.

I have tried to create an environment where I myself enjoy working and look after people. Training and development is key, we provide many perks, both financial and wellbeing based e.g. health schemes, everyone has their birthday off and we invest in downtime leisure time. We have developed a healthy respect for everyone within the business which also improves communication and creates a supportive environment.


Marketing and Digital is changing rapidly – what have been the biggest changes since setting up in 2002 – and what do you see on the horizon for your industry?

The industry has changed beyond recognition. There is a real devaluing of large swathes of the service offering brought about by disruptive practices which to a large extent confuses the market place.

More than ever it is key to market yourself, but in the right way which distances yourself from the competition. There is an incredible amount of noise out there, particularly online and it is becoming more and more important to define what you want to achieve.

The level of marketing particularly online will become more targeted and potentially intrusive to the extent that there are now two generations that do not know life pre-internet and for them it is the norm. I do however think that more traditional approaches such as print based materials and well-designed adverts will mount a fight back as they have the ability to cut through the ever-greater level of online noise.


Do you have any advice for any small, up and coming agencies starting out? 

Look at your competition, don’t get dragged into a price war just to buy turnover – if you aren’t making any money, you will soon lose interest. Think about why you want to start the agency and what you can offer that's different, whether product based, knowledge or sector experience. Also, don’t try and be all things to all people. Stick at what you are good at and learn to say no.


What do you think about the Entrepreneur ISA and Small Business Savings Allowance initiatives?

On the face of it, they are great ideas. Anything which supports investment whether into your own business or others is a good thing. Regarding the Savings allowance, it’s imperative businesses are encouraged to save when possible. Saving will ultimately result in future investment back into their own business, which of course in turn strengthens the future economy.


Lastly, what’s been Urban River’s proudest achievement?

Creating a successful business that employs happy staff and delivers results to the benefit of our clients against a very competitive industry backdrop.

Carl Buckley is the managing director of Urban River

More Start Up stories