Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

NDA meets James Sleaford, UK Chief Growth Officer for Incubeta

Marketing performance company Incubeta has enjoyed significant growth over the past 12 months, growing its client base and acquiring Groundswell, Maze-One, and Panalysis. As it looks to continue on this trajectory, it has introduced a new role within the senior leadership team in the form of a Chief Growth Officer for the UK. James Sleaford, formerly Incubeta’s Managing Director UK & Ireland, has been chosen to take up this gig.

Sleaford, who joined Incubeta almost 10 years ago after seven years in recruitment, started the role in January, and aims to use the appointment to advance the company by “identifying the levers amongst all the noise which will really drive growth”.

“It’s always nice in any field of work to get a new role or a promotion. From my perspective, I like to work on projects; I like to build things. This is an entirely new business unit. I like the challenge of having a completely blank canvas,” explains Sleaford.

“What is really exciting about this role is that it generally spans across the whole business. I get to, potentially, work with everybody in the business on all the different services that we cover. So, you’re not just focusing on paid search, or just focusing on programmatic, it touches on everything. As a result, I get to work with all of the incredible people that we have.”

The role was created following a mixture of strategic planning sessions and those “quick coffee conversations we had missed so much whilst working entirely from home”. The leadership team was looking for a way to restructure things, as Sleaford puts it “it wasn’t like anything was broken, it was just that nagging feeling that it could be better and that the sum of our parts could have an even greater impact for our clients”.

People power

Sleaford’s first mission is to meet with all of Incubeta UK’s various teams and gain an understanding of how these teams are working with clients, seeing what works and what doesn’t.

This will also involve exploring the opportunities and challenges that clients have, and seeing where Incubeta can help them the most.

“There’s no point going in with a plan, which is based on perceptions coming in from the outside,” Sleaford states. “The key thing about the role is that it should be about enabling our people to do their best work, and making sure that the client sees the best of this and gets the most out of this. That really comes from exploring what the opportunities and challenges are, rather than going in with a model or framework. It’s not a case of fixing anything, it’s more a case of amplifying and improving.”

Sleaford hopes that, with his appointment and plans, the company uses this year to really focus on the people behind projects, rather than placing too much emphasis on “incremental gains as usual”.

“I’d like to be talking about some of the great work that people have done. I’d like to be talking about some of the awards that people have won around things. I’d like to be talking about promotions that people have had internally,” says Sleaford. “Genuinely, and generally, doing work which has had a massive impact on a client. That’s the key. I want to be telling stories about projects which have transformed our customer’s business.”

The Incubeta UK CGO highlights that “people want to do work that interests them”, and don’t want to do things that they find “boring, repetitive, or have no end purpose”. This is why he feels it’s important to focus on the real impact that is being made, and celebrate that.

“You don’t want to be slogging away for a year on something and then looking back and seeing that it’s kept things ticking over, but hasn’t really made any difference,” he adds.

Growing into the future

Overall, the coming year is going to be about Incubeta finding ways to continue helping clients with all of their needs, and getting them to prioritise the things they really have to, rather than listening to the “noise”.

“At Incubeta, we talk about ‘upgrading your growth’, and we mean that in terms of our people and customers. We’re trying to support customers across a whole range of areas. We may have a specific service on a media channel or vertical, but the questions we get from customers go far beyond that,” Sleaford explains. “We’re able to turn around and say, ‘okay, we don’t do that, but here’s how we can help’. We can give that consultancy, advice, and guidance. This is critical if we’re genuinely going to help businesses across the board.

“We talk a lot about cutting through the noise to find out the real signals. That is a big part of what we’ll be doing as well. Fundamentally, if we’re going to help businesses grow, we need to get them to focus on the priority things that they can do here and now.”

Across the wider industry, Sleaford is interested in keeping an eye on marketplaces, the metaverse, and the personalisation dynamic in the coming year. For Incubeta, following the acquisition of Maze-One in September 2021, marketplaces will be a big focus in particular.

On the metaverse, he feels there will be an early mover advantage but, ultimately, it means he’ll have to “spend some time with my nephews, nieces and godchildren to research the gaming universe, to fully appreciate it”, he says jokingly.

Meanwhile, Sleaford hopes “the privacy conversation moves on from what we can’t do anymore or what could be lost, and that we acknowledge this is what is best for all of our online experiences ”.

“But I think it’s going to be interesting to see how creative businesses can get with personalisation. There will be a lot of further chat around that, and also around interesting ways that businesses are going out to their consumers for the data exchange,” Sleaford concludes.

*Incubeta is a client of Bluestripe Communications, owned by Bluestripe Group, owner of NDA