Erika was interviewed by Emily Cashen of the East Anglian and the article published last week. Here it is in full.
Can you tell me a bit about life before Spring? What led you to found the agency?
Spring has now been here for 13 years, so life before Spring is a dim and distant memory. However, after teenage years taking as much copywriting work experience as possible in agencies in London and Liverpool, I spent my twenties in London, firstly with Chime-owned agency AMD. There I fast-tracked to account director by 25 and headed up fascinating, change-making accounts including the late-90’s wave of Thames-side regeneration projects, and Nomura Bank’s affordable sell-off of MOD housing stock in communities across the UK. I then moved to the London office of Attik, a global top five branding agency, working with The Princes Trust, Ford, Diageo and an early days music platform called Trust the DJ.
In my early 30’s I developed a burning desire to tackle clients’ problems and opportunities my own way, and so decided to launch Spring. Why leave London to do so in Southwold? Partially because I love it here and if I was going to focus my ambition into my own concern long-term, I wanted to build it somewhere I love. I also believe fiercely that if you are good and determined, you can blossom anywhere, even in unexpected places.
However, another thing at play was awareness that I had, in my work, often dealt with issues related to sustainable communities and felt somewhat duty-bound to make a commitment to the community that I call home.
Spring describes itself as ‘The Agency for Change’. What does this mean to you?
We positioned ourselves as the Agency for Change about five years ago for a number of reasons. Firstly, it drew together our disparate activities: on one side, consultation and engagement programmes, usually for sizeable corporates; on the other, creatively-driven brand communications for businesses that are often owner-managed. The uniting feature of both is the appetite and need to create change by those we work with, who tend to be board director level.
Also, we recognised that we are at our best when we can be flexible and bold, rather than constrained in our approach, working with clients who are really committed to the project’s results – so, frankly, ‘change’ smokes out projects that will not allow us to make a real difference.
Over the years, we have shape-shifted too, to meet changing trends and needs. For example, there is a growing requirement for creating and seeding varied content across social media and in the real world, and we are also developing tools and toolkits that equip in-house practitioners with the ability to deliver high quality communications, building in a legacy phase to projects to ensure that it happens successfully.
Awareness of the need to tackle brand purpose and integrity before thinking about graphic design has grown, which is great, so it’s increasingly possible to help clients buy into successful, embedded brand programmes that really deliver value for them.
And we’re getting more and more opportunities to understand and work with quite small audiences: real communities and highly specialised interest groups, understanding them and their motivations, working out who really does have influence, before creating any kind of campaign.
It’s exciting to me that much of what we do today didn’t exist when I was first working: who knows how we will be responding to projects in the next decade! What’s fun is to mash up traditional and new technologies, skills and attitudes to come up with things that are exciting, unexpected and effective.
And our big corporate change has been over the last three years where we have developed and instilled an Active Ethos which my business coach, David Sheepshanks, kindly refers to as world class. It takes the form of clear phrases set out in logical order: Bring Positive Energy, Know What Matters, Make Excellent Work, Improve People’s Lives, Live our Vision as Agents for Change. These are brought into our recruitment and mentoring, client acquisition and development, partnerships and procurement. They are embedded in every part of the business, even on our windows and walls.
Springers hold themselves and each other to account by them: they are undeniably fundamental to Spring’s whole existence. The Ethos has transformed Spring’s team and approach, and I’m starting to get out and about giving workshops and talks on the subject to help other businesses and sectors to benefit from a similar process.
It’s worth saying that although what we do is serious and challenging, it’s also enormous fun and the team here reflects that. We’re incredibly close knit, comfortable having tough conversations and there’s good support within the team. We’re flexible about fitting people’s lives within work and vice versa – I think when you field a team of talented and passionate people, there is a risk of burn-out so we are careful to protect the Springers, and to respect their duties and interests as people in the round, not just as employees.
You’ve worked with a number of high-profile clients over the years. Can you tell me about some of the campaigns that you are particularly proud of?
Although I love us being here, on the edge of England, I’m acutely conscious of the need to make extra efforts to stand shoulder to shoulder with creative brands we respect in order to maintain our national profile. (Remember Ginger Rogers doing ‘everything that Fred Astaire does, but backwards and in high heels’?!)
So this year’s win of a Gold at the notoriously tough Design Effectiveness Awards for our Anglian Water engagement project was my Olympic Gold: a highlight amongst a few years of good awards! The judges’ feedback was that there had been no debate about our Gold, and we were one of just six awarded. The premise was very simple: Anglian Water needed to engage 8,000 people over a week, about water resilience, and had booked the Forum in Norwich. Our insight was that in the middle of summer holidays we could create a real family experience and so created the H2OMG! water fairground, complete with a water wheel of fortune, ‘beat the bog’, water course marble maze and lots of other educational, noisy and interactive stands. We put a huge inflatable tap high up on the Forum and hired circus performers to create a buzz outside. People flocked: 35,000 of them took part and 21,000 shared their views. And that’s the kind of project I love: where we can really break the mould, create a sensation and cause an impact.
Years back we launched Adnams’s Ghost Ship, turning the brewery into a phantom ship through 3D filmed projection, working with influencers and supporting a revised approach to landlord briefings, to ensure that the new beer was talked about with enthusiasm across all levels, and ultimately helping to sell half a million pints during the campaign itself.
Of course that also demonstrates the fundamental importance of a really good product – had Ghost Ship been revolting, even the best campaign would not have produced results! We are always careful to ensure our clients are creating something high quality, and that they are really committed to that.
Basically I love any project where someone with a great product or service, and a compelling need to connect with people, looks us in the eye, opens up their business to us and trusts us to deliver a great result for them – often in unexpected ways.
I’m super proud that we grew tourism from the UK to Morocco by 6% when their neighbours including Egypt were really struggling, that we quickly raised applications to the British Racing School in Newmarket by 50%, that a district council piloting a home heating fund has had to recruit two more staff to handle the enquiries generated by our work, that the British Psychological Society has brought the European Congress of Psychology to the UK for 2023 with our help. Everything we do should be creating this kind of impact.
These are all great examples of how jobs, economies and wider communities can be positively impacted by the work we do – that it’s also creatively satisfying and fun, is an added bonus!
In our ‘Suffolk’s Inspiring Women’ booklet, we reported that Spring donates 10% of its turnover to Suffolk Charities. Which charities are close to your heart at Spring? And why is this so important to you as a company?
I am drawn to causes that allow us to make a specific difference, especially ones that involve people we want to help, and so we will tend to approach them ourselves. Only last week we replaced a school’s charity fundraisings which had been stolen – we were impressed that the children’s immediate response had been to make another box and start fundraising again.
We are great fans of Emma Ratzer and Access Community Trust, which creates fantastic community benefit by preventing people from becoming socially excluded, relieving the needs of people who have become socially excluded and helping them integrate into society. Similarly we’re proud to support Matt Smith at Ultimate Boxing who makes huge efforts to give kids and young people the opportunity to grow their fitness and mental resilience through boxing.
On a wider level we’ve been proud to work on a campaign for Age UK in the county, which was an idea we approached them with and paid for 250 more people to receive their support. This year we have also created a concept for them and HomeStart, that is at fairly early stages and very exciting. We’ve donated our time over the years to the rural needs work headed by Clare Euston and Mark Pendlington, and continue to support a variety of its outputs and initiatives.
Looking back over the last decade or so, it’s nice to see the wide range of things we’ve been able to do at a variety of levels – from hyperlocal to regional to national – that have made a difference, and it’s a privilege to be able to do so. I suppose we could carry on our business without getting involved but we’re lucky to be here, and as people we are also lucky to have the skills and opportunities that allow us to flourish. It’s only fair to give back.
Some years ago a phrase ‘To prosper and to cause others to prosper’ landed in my head and became Spring’s unofficial mission. Shortly afterwards I came across the concept of ‘Ubuntu’ which originates in South Africa and was a philosophy put into action most notably by Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu in the 1990s. It means that we should all be able to develop ourselves fully in order to give back fully to society, and it clarified why the ‘prosper’ mission struck a chord. It’s my firm belief and a strong part of Spring’s world view, hence our focus on what we can do in our community.
Spring now has offices in London and Birmingham, along with its Southwold office. Is your presence in Suffolk something that means a lot to you? How has being a Suffolk-based company shaped Spring as an Agency?
We’re lucky that we have been able to expand our offer across a wide area. I worked out recently that our ‘average’ client is 53 miles from Southwold (not including Morocco!).
The West Midlands are experiencing exciting growth and there’s a ‘get on with it’ mentality that I admire. We held out against a London office for a long time, but find there is a triangle that forms our main working area, of which one point is in London – so it makes sense to have a footprint there too.
And how has Suffolk shaped us? I love Suffolk’s character: individualistic, hardy, creative and fresh. (We built the LookSideways-East cultural tourism brand around this from 2015-2018 and helped grow visitor numbers by 15%). Spring’s character fits that, and it underpins our desire to keep creating unexpected solutions to clients’ briefs that really hit the mark for them.
Recruitment is a challenge away from the usual industry hubs, though as Spring defies categorisation to a degree, we have developed a lot of our team in house – following the maxim of hiring for attitude and then training, training, training for additional skills. We have also been able to bring in some amazing talent from other areas and sectors, ensuring we never stand still and that we can take a broad view in our work.
I’ll never know whether the position we have achieved nationally is supported by or despite our location! But what I do know is that I am phenomenally lucky to grow a business and pursue a career that I love, which challenges me and allows me to make a real difference.
Any other news?
Next year Spring is launching an exhibition of Hardwicke-Knight’s 1950s Southwold and Walberswick photography, throughout the summer holidays from the start of July to the start of September.
The Instagram account ‘HardwickeKnight’ drew my attention when it featured a run of photographs from 1950s Southwold and surrounding areas. First attracted by the elegant compositions and slightly bleached colour palette, they in many cases looked, on first glance, like Southwold now. But differences emerge: naturally people’s clothes and the vehicles (or lack of them!) on the roads, and then gradually different uses of buildings, paint colours, signs, even completely different buildings and spaces. Put them together and you develop a charming picture of Southwold and its surroundings gone, but not long gone. A version of the place known to many still alive, still close in so many ways to the town we all love today. There are glimpses of lives quite different from ours, yet in the places and spaces we occupy.
The summer of 2020 is a wonderful opportunity to share this with Southwold and Walberswick’s residents, workers and visitors; and what better way than to bring us all together to do so? To really bring the imagery into context, we will work with business owners throughout Southwold and Walberswick, to display some of the most iconic images in their premises. In addition, we will create a gallery exhibition of the complete set of images in a single venue. The exhibition will be accompanied by a brochure that details where images can be found. It might also contain images of the modern version of his photographs.
We will arrange a launch and auction and publicise the show widely. We are excited about sharing these exquisite images, and supporting some of our neighbouring businesses in the processs.