The pandemic has transformed the world in several ways, and we can expect many of those changes to be permanent fixtures in our lives going forward. One of those changes has been the way that we approach work, with many particularly office-based businesses now open to the idea of offering more flexible working conditions for their staff.
This shift has also made many businesses realise that there is little benefit dedicating all of their energy to making sure that they, and their employees, are set up in and around London. But there being more to life than the big city is something Ben Scoggins realised a few years prior to the pandemic being the world to a standstill.
“I had done the big creative agency thing. Then I got married and my wife was pregnant. So, we began to think about if we were going to stay in London. Both of us aren’t really London people – I’m from Nottingham and my wife is from Hertfordshire,” says Scoggins, CEO of digital marketing agency Organic. “We started thinking, ‘so, where do we want to go and how are we going to make it work it?’. I didn’t really want to go back to the Midlands, and my wife’s parents had moved out to Devon. So, we thought that we should go and make that work.
“Eventually, I found a guy called James, who had started his own agency down here about 10 years ago. He was looking to take a step back from the day-to-day and put somebody in place to run and build the agency out.”
A different way of life
Scoggins – who has previously worked at DDB, Ogilvy & Mather, and Red Bee Creative – made his way to Organic, and Exeter, in June 2018. He started out his time there as a Commercial Director, before moving on to Managing Director in October 2019, and ending up where he is now in January of this year.
Since moving down to Exeter, Scoggins has found that, as you’d expect, the pace is a little different within the workplace, with people finding it easier to balance their personal and work lives.
“I think there’s more of an understanding about the lifestyle choice that you’re making. Whereas, in London, I found it was always about work, work, work. There’s a different way of just being,” explains Scoggins. “In London, work flows into bars and restaurants and then home. Here, there’s far more in it around outdoor pursuits. We’ve got people in the agency who go surfing after work. You don’t get that lifestyle-y thing in London.”
However, when it comes to finding talent, it can be a bit of an uphill struggle not having London’s “flowing tap of people”, but the pandemic has started making things easier, according to Scoggins. And, nonetheless, the company already has an almost 50/50 split between locals and people who’ve moved down like Scoggins himself.
“Attracting talent in the first place is difficult,” he says. “We’ve spent a long time getting that right. But it’s getting easier, because of the pandemic. There’s a different attitude to work and where you need to be to work. Even so, we have to still have to work really hard.”
One of the things that Organic does to make up for the difficulties in finding talent is to spend time upskilling and reskilling existing employees. An example of this is when the company paid for a Project Director to transition into the of UX Lead, based on a passion he has for user experience.
“Most people tend to get into one career track and then they’re set. Here, we’re far more open-minded,” says Scoggins. “We want to get those individual talents with the right attitude, the right work ethic, who want to do great work, and make sure that we help them mould their career in the way that they want to mould it.”
Being based out in Exeter hasn’t stopped Organic from working with brands including Samsung, Argos, HSBC, and The Body Shop, to name a few. And, moving forward, Scoggins sees it only getting easier to work to with these usually London-based clients.
“We do still have a base in London. We have a little outpost, some space in Holborn, because most of our clients are in and around the M25,” says Scoggins. “But the truth is, post-COVID, I don’t think more clients really care anymore where we are. Clients are increasingly spread out, so the fact that we’re increasingly spread out as well just doesn’t really matter to them.”
As these brands become more comfortable with the idea of working with agencies outside of London, Scoggins feels this will lead to less of a reliance on the agencies housed by holding companies.
As a result, he expects there will be more larger agencies popping up outside of London, with a genuine opportunity for them to lay down a challenge to the powerhouses of the industry.
“Brands are starting to wake up to the fact that they don’t need to go into Central London agencies, they don’t need to pay the overheads that come with that, and they can still get a fantastic product,” says Scoggins. “Now, they don’t physically need to be down the road from the agency. They still need to see them, sure, but there are other ways of doing that.”
Looking ahead, for Organic in particular, the ambition is to continue growing and to become the “destination employer” down in Exeter and Devon, according to Scoggins.
Beyond that, Scoggins wants to continue doing positive work around diversity and inclusion – something that he acknowledges is difficult to do in a place like Exeter. Nonetheless, Organic has started a programme with the University of Exeter to do its part and provide diverse talent with the experience they will need to kickstart their careers.
“Even if we can’t employ people in the right roles, we’re giving people a leg up who wouldn’t necessarily get that,” explains Scoggins. “It’s about just giving them the opportunity to come in, get some experience, learn how it all works, and put them in good stead for getting a role somewhere.”
Overall, Scoggins admits there are downsides to working out in Exeter – whether that’s on the talent front or simply missing the buzz of London – but is adamant that the “upsides more than outweigh that”.