Book a call

Episode 21 – Harry Sanders – Studiohawk

Like what you hear?

Apply as a guest

Apply now

Episode 21 – Harry Sanders – Studiohawk

Chris Simmance (00:53.39)
Thanks, VoiceOverGuy. I’m really pleased to have Harry Sanders back on the podcast, hailing from all the way over in upside-down land Australia. How are you doing, Harry?

Harry Sanders (01:02.012)
Good mate, got my Cravity boots on.

Chris Simmance (01:04.326)
Yeah, I know you’re the right way up. I don’t know what’s going on here. Maybe it’s a whole thing in your house where everything’s the right way up for us, Northern hemispheres.

Harry Sanders (01:13.993)
Uhhh, yeah we make it work.

Chris Simmance (01:16.383)
How’s things going in Australia?

Harry Sanders (01:19.368)
Good. The landscape’s a little bit interesting at the moment, similar to what I’m seeing in the UK. Bit of an economic slowdown, but also opportunities.

Chris Simmance (01:31.05)
Yes, although they always are if you’re entrepreneurial enough to look for them, right? So for those who live under rocks, can you give us a little intro to yourself and to Studio Hawk what you guys do as an agency?

Harry Sanders (01:34.578)

Harry Sanders (01:45.488)
Yeah, easy. So I founded StudioHook nine years ago now, which is honestly, holy shit, that’s hard to believe that that’s wild, I was 17 when I started that, I was just a little baby, still am. And so StudioHook is a dedicated SEO company. We have a direct to specialist model, so you don’t really have account managers, you work directly with an SEO specialist. We get about 80 staff around the world. I was named Forbes 30 under 30.

Chris Simmance (01:54.306)

Harry Sanders (02:15.364)
And basically my goal is just to build an amazing SEO agency.

Chris Simmance (02:21.666)
Well, you’ve done that. So that’s, that’s it. Complete tick. We’ll touch on that in a little bit. So you’ve got, um, you’ve got, uh, office, uh, physical space, should we say, uh, or physical footprint, um, in the UK, uh, and in Australia. Um, have you, have you noticed a, if we’re talking about, you know, things that have changed in the last year, things that have developed in the industry,

Harry Sanders (02:24.645)
Still going to do that in America.

Chris Simmance (02:49.05)
Are there key differences between both or is the industry as a whole pretty much the same globally? Because your, your boots on the ground in quite a lot of places, you’re off to the US quite a lot as well now. So you must sort of see something either very different or very the same.

Harry Sanders (02:59.357)

Harry Sanders (03:04.232)
It’s interesting. So the UK is a lot further ahead on things like digital PR where that’s been a core focus in the UK given the media background for quite some time. It’s getting picked up in the US. Australia is still learning what the hell DPR is, still figuring it out. So that’s probably one of the biggest differences in the SEO landscape. It’s all largely fairly similar.

Chris Simmance (03:10.446)

Harry Sanders (03:30.192)
between the UK and Australia. The US, I would say, is different because they’re a little bit further behind. But that’s where I’m seeing the landscape at the moment. There’s, in Australia, there’s a big battle waging at the moment to see who’s gonna command that DPR market.

Chris Simmance (03:46.326)
Nice one. I mean, I remember digital PR back in 2012 when I created a infographic about the history of insurance and got a few links from insurance companies. I’m pretty sure that’s the same thing as it is now. I know I’m going to get a lot of haters on that one. But yeah, the UK, especially with, like you say, with the media background, there’s quite a lot. There’s a, it’s more of an institutional evolution within SEO.

Harry Sanders (03:59.58)
more or less.

Harry Sanders (04:13.588)

Chris Simmance (04:16.482)
pure purist type stuff into digital PR as its own kind of content stream and its own generative area for link building. It’s probably an aspect of it as well where we’ve got a media machine which is just really, really hungry for content and lots and lots of ad revenue relies on clicks. So that regionalized survey about the number of people who take

Harry Sanders (04:35.228)

Chris Simmance (04:44.598)
more steps in a Nike than they do in a Reebok is very much more important to the people in the UK and northern, northwestern Europe, I’m sure. So what’s it what, how’s this battle going in Oz? Is it, is it, is it, you know, proper fists out? Or is it just a case of like, you’ve just got to nail it really well, and be the first one to do so.

Harry Sanders (05:05.46)
I think it’s just starting out. I think in the evolution of DPR, it has happened a lot in the UK. You’ve kind of got, digital PR has been around for a long time, the infographics sort, and then two major companies kind of revolutionized it. One was Rise, who came along with this, bit fancy and nice packaging kind of around digital PR. And then Search Intelligence in the UK as well, who have more productized it further.

And both ends are trying to do very different things, and it’s kind of unique to see that. In Australia, it’s kind of figuring out what that looks like, and also there’s a lot less journalists in Australia, and they’re a lot less commercially minded, they’re a lot less commercially incentivized, I should say, not minded, around clicks and stuff. So it’s just interesting.

Chris Simmance (05:57.602)
Hmm. You mean journalists that want to report the news? Oh, oh my God. That that’s never let facts get in the way of a good click through rate, mate. Unbelievable.

Harry Sanders (06:01.884)
Chris, it’s wild man. The stuff I’m seeing down here, people want facts? Like actual facts and real data? I mean, it’s ridiculous.

Exactly. Who cares about the facts when you get a backlink? That’s what I always say. Nah, nah, it’s just different here. So you’ve just got to adapt to that. But look, what I say, fist out, probably not really. There’s, you know, only a handful of us in Australia that really have the resources to do that in the digital PR space. I mean, it’s still very new.

Chris Simmance (06:19.355)

Chris Simmance (06:26.827)

Chris Simmance (06:37.25)
Hmm. And you’ve got, you’ve got Anthony running the outfit in the UK. And, and, uh, I’m going to probably get this wrong because of my memory. Lawrence in the, in Australia. Um, how are they both getting on in terms of run steering this, arguably the same ship, but from completely different sets of waters, how, how are things going there? Are they, are you seeing different things in leadership needs and requirements there?

Harry Sanders (06:42.708)
I’m chilling out.

Harry Sanders (06:47.661)
Yep, yep, Lawrence is running us through.

Harry Sanders (07:01.596)
Yeah, it’s different size operation. I mean, Anthony is killing it in the UK. You know, basically, you know, he is just fantastic in how he leads, how he runs, and the footprint that they have already in the UK. This small Aussie company making a name for itself there. And Lawrence is, you know, he’s steering a bigger ship. I mean, there’s a lot of staff in Australia. I mean, for us to have…

Chris Simmance (07:05.638)
Yeah, he really is.

Harry Sanders (07:28.904)
the amount of SEO specialists that we have in Australia between Sydney and Melbourne. I mean, we have double as many SEO specialists as anyone else here. So it’s a big ship and it’s unfortunately uncharted territories because we can’t just go, well, what’s the other big guys doing? You know, it’s we’ve got to steer that ship. So that means, you know, different challenges, you know, at the moment it’s about building recruitment pipeline, anticipating.

Chris Simmance (07:37.386)

Chris Simmance (07:50.958)

Harry Sanders (07:55.792)
you know resignations just it’s a business you know knowing that this probably on average gonna be twelve resignations a year which means we at least need to replace twelve but we need to upskill those juniors and have a career pathway and progression dude it’s like playing Civ 5 maybe it’s like Civ 10 it’s like civilization strategy game on steroids so it’s just you’ve got to you know train your troops and then like build your troops and get new troops and then like I mean I love it

Chris Simmance (07:58.766)

Chris Simmance (08:06.956)

Chris Simmance (08:14.376)

Chris Simmance (08:21.398)

Harry Sanders (08:24.788)
I am both very big strategy gamers. Anthony is more on the sports side, but he’s got his own strategies in the fantasy league. I mean, don’t even get him started on that. But it’s fun. At the end of the day, we’re still having a lot of fun and I think that’s something we all have in common.

Chris Simmance (08:34.861)

Chris Simmance (08:38.73)
Yeah, I always say if you’re not having fun, you might well not be doing it properly. There’s a line in which that kind of needs to be drawn. You’ve got to change if it’s not fun. And some, okay, fine. Sometimes it’s not fun, but on aggregate, you should enjoy what you do when you’re running an agency. And so how do you think the business in general, apart from digital PR and things has evolved in the last, well, since we last spoke just over a year ago?

Harry Sanders (08:43.603)

Harry Sanders (08:54.03)
Yeah, yeah.


Harry Sanders (09:07.74)
Well, Australia’s, you know, the UK’s doubled in size, maybe even tripled in size since we last spoke and they’re on a fantastic trajectory to continue growing and I guess continue doing really well in that UK market. Their offering is unique in the UK market and they continue to get cut through with it. The Australian brand has grown about

Chris Simmance (09:15.438)

Harry Sanders (09:35.708)
30% in the past year, which doesn’t sound like that much, but when you are talking about millions, it becomes quite substantial. You don’t, you almost, yeah, you almost don’t wanna grow exactly. You almost don’t wanna grow too much bigger than that. And there’s so many examples of companies that have done that, that it’s very hard to keep up that high growth. You almost gotta throttle yourself. But Australia’s going through, I guess, that next evolution as we go from a $10 million.

Chris Simmance (09:42.038)
different sizes, that yeah, a few percent is a big difference, isn’t it?

Chris Simmance (09:55.502)

Harry Sanders (10:04.028)
business in Australia to a $20 million business. And as you know, when you’re doing a hundred thousand to a million or a million to five million, it’s an evolution of the business. So that means we have to have people internally doing recruitment full-time. It means we have to have a head of HR and people and culture. It means that, you know, traditionally our business has been every single person in the business does SEO, works on campaigns and therefore is billable.

this evolution to create the SEO capacity and powerhouse that we need, it means we need a silo off of Rosemore and it means we need more people to take us to that next level.

Chris Simmance (10:43.534)

Chris Simmance (10:48.346)
Yeah, and it’s almost, there’s almost like a logarithmic scale to this in the sense where each of the challenges to get to a point in growth is, it’s the same, but the amount of effort needed is different and usually more. And sometimes that’s more people, sometimes that’s more planning, sometimes that’s more money, sometimes that’s more something. But to get to each step is almost twice as hard as it was to get to the first step. So your first 100,000.

Harry Sanders (11:04.305)

Harry Sanders (11:09.705)

Chris Simmance (11:16.702)
feels like a mountain to climb, but then the next 200 isn’t that hard because it’s actually a million you’re aiming for, which is a heck of a lot harder than 100,000. And you’ve got to put all of these different things in that is almost like, you know, to get from one to two easy to get from two to four, really hard to get from four to eight, really, really hard. And, you know, as long as you’ve got the right people at the top from a leadership point of view, it makes it heck of a lot easier, doesn’t it? Because, you know, you’re

Harry Sanders (11:23.232)

Harry Sanders (11:28.285)

Harry Sanders (11:36.136)

Chris Simmance (11:44.47)
you’re focusing to a certain degree on the right, you’re, you’re focusing on doing the right things and the team beneath you in the, in their leadership roles are focusing on doing the right things, which allow the management layer to do things correctly, things right. Um, and then that’s, then that allows you to maintain that kind of positioning of, you know, the specialists that work with, with clients, even though you, you know, there’s a resilience aspect with, you know, resignations and things like that as well.

Harry Sanders (12:14.648)
Absolutely. I mean, you just have to, you know, you have to realize it’s a career pathway. I mean, we didn’t have people resigning for years. And I like to think we’ve still got, if not the best, one of the best environments for SEO specialists to thrive. And we put a lot of work and a lot of money into that. I’ve always said we’re not going to be the most profitable agency because we care too much about delivering good outcomes for our clients and our people. But they’re the things you need to go through and decide like

Chris Simmance (12:22.042)

Chris Simmance (12:27.296)

Harry Sanders (12:43.388)
for us to go from 10 to 20, profitability is going to take a hit while we scale that. But it is that kind of logarithmic scale as you mentioned. For us to go to 10 to 11 million, I could come back a year later and we’ll be 11 million. I wouldn’t have to lift a finger. For us to get to 20 million without everything breaking, with things breaking, sure, we can go, we can get there, no problem.

But to get there without everything breaking and imploding to make sure that we can get to the next level, yeah, it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of work on things that you wouldn’t have thought was important. In Australia, for instance, Chris, we’ve had to build out a learning platform. Cost us a lot of money to build a learning platform. We’re not making any money out of it. It’s completely free. But we are out of SEO specialists in Australia. We’re out, we’re done, we’re tapped out. We’ve got recruiters working.

Chris Simmance (13:36.523)
Yeah, you’ve maxed them out.

Harry Sanders (13:38.912)
We’ve got to build these guys up now. So our L&D is a big area we’ve had to invest in, getting resources in that, and then building an academy that universities can use so we can almost build this end-to-end pathway of talent. That’s something that we’ve had to do because of the market size in Australia. Now in London, we probably wouldn’t have had to do that. In the US, it’d be between friends, I think we’re gonna have to do something similar, as you know.

Not a great layer of there’s a great layer at the top of SEO specialist, but the middle and the bottom Needs a bit of work. So we’ll have to figure that out

Chris Simmance (14:13.022)
Yeah. And a lot of that stems from, in the US in particular, a lot of that stems from it being so massive. And almost everything to a certain degree, I know that this isn’t the case across the board, but almost everything to a certain degree is essentially local SEO realistically, because local SEO is actually for an enormous area, but it’s all very localized. So it makes getting that kind of expertise and specialism you have in Northwest Europe.

Harry Sanders (14:22.833)

Harry Sanders (14:31.761)

Chris Simmance (14:42.538)
a lot harder to come by because competition is so much more spread out. And I know that you’re, you’re a shy retiring type. You don’t like to talk about yourself very much. You’re not, you know, you’re not all that confident. So forgive me if this makes you feel, you know, I know what you’re like. You know, you retire away from the camera. You don’t like the limelight. Um, how, how have you developed in the last, last year or so, um, from a leadership point of view, from a personal perspective, what, what’s really sort of changed for you?

Harry Sanders (14:44.628)
Mm. Absolutely.

Harry Sanders (14:54.946)
Ah, you know.

Harry Sanders (15:09.124)
Yeah, well, I’ve realized a few things. So one of the things that, you know, we need to go on this as part of this next stage of StudioHawk is we have some fantastic leaders, both emerging in current places and there was a decision made about a year ago for me to focus more on strategic projects rather than that traditional CEO role, which is like managing all the people, the KPIs and stuff.

the leadership team Anthony Lawrence are exceptional at people management, at pathways, at KPIs and all that stuff. I’m not very good at that. And in life and in business, I believe if you’re not very good at something, let me correct that, if you’re not the best at something, you shouldn’t do it. And I’m not the best at that, not by a long shot. So…

The concept is called zoner genius. It’s not an original thought that I had. It’s someone much smarter than me, but you should always be operating that zoner genius. What are you really, really good at doing? And for me, I’m really good at identifying blind spots of the business, whether it’s, okay, digital PR is gonna be a big emerging thing in Australia. We need to have an offering for that that’s productized that we can then bring to the UK at Australian prices, right? That’s something we need to look at doing. This learning center is something we need to look at doing if we want to have a…

continuous stream of people. So I’ve been doing a lot of that and then outside of that, trying to do some nice things, Chris, I became an ambassador for a youth homelessness organization, obviously that’s very near and dear to my heart, so raising money for them and that’s been fantastic, just for the soul, you know? It’s great to help clients, it’s great to help the staff we have, but getting kids off the street, I mean, that’s always gonna be super rewarding.

Chris Simmance (16:27.095)

Chris Simmance (16:36.502)
Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Chris Simmance (16:43.244)

Chris Simmance (16:51.794)
Yeah, and it kind of goes back to the psychological thinking Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You need a roof and some food first. And then underneath, above that, you need, you need to feel like you’ve built something and earned something and grown something. But then above that, right at the very top, there’s this kind of self-actualization bit, which is where you’re kind of working on helping other people to do something. Because it feels good to do good. And sometimes.

Harry Sanders (16:59.007)

Harry Sanders (17:07.614)

Harry Sanders (17:18.085)
Yeah, it does.

Chris Simmance (17:18.486)
Sometimes that doesn’t have a pound or a dollar sign attached to it. From your point of view, it does for someone else perhaps because of the way you’re helping them, but, um, doing good things for, for people who ultimately really do need a bit of a hand, uh, it feels incredibly good. Uh, and I think that, you know, if you’ve got the opportunity to do that as a leader and any business, you know, once you’ve got an opportunity to help people, if you can do it, you should absolutely do it. So if you’re listening to this now and you’re thinking of the agency,

Harry Sanders (17:22.706)


Chris Simmance (17:47.91)
Uh, is, is doing okay. Uh, it doesn’t need me day to day or anything like that. Do something good. The world needs people to do something good for a change. Um, so if we got a chance, uh, get on with, uh, get on with doing that. Um, so the way you explained that a minute ago about, um, kind of, uh, you’re looking for the blind spots you’ve, you’ve almost stepped away from the.

Harry Sanders (17:53.756)

Chris Simmance (18:12.002)
the majority of the day-to-day leadership aspects of things. That’s where the true magic comes in, isn’t it? Because you can almost zoom out and see an entire industry as opposed to just your business. And at that point, that’s where you’re seeing digital PR, that’s where you’re seeing larger macro trends in economies and things like that. Is that helping you make decisions on a…

a longer term scale as well. So like not just looking six months into the future, but maybe a couple of years.

Harry Sanders (18:42.96)
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the job’s always been, even Lawrence’s job, Anthony’s job is to look a year in the future. But my job is kind of like, you know, even further than a year, you know, we want to be around for a long time. And when you’re thinking about a business further than a year or a lot of business owners get caught in this trap of thinking about exits. Next year I’m going to exit, in two years I’m going to exit. You know, stop thinking about your exit. Think about where you’re going.

Chris Simmance (18:48.878)

Chris Simmance (18:55.191)

Harry Sanders (19:10.392)
Right. And when you start thinking about that, when you start thinking about macro trend in the industry, how’s AI going to affect things? How do we make more people client facing if AI is taking all this backend work, all these kinds of things, it really gives you a lot more headspace. And I chat to a lot of agents here and it’s like, oh, I’d love to do what you do, get out of the weeds, you know, it bothers me. It’s like, that’s not why I do it. I still love the day to day stuff, but I’m better at this kind of blind spot stuff. But if you’re the kind of person that thinks that

Chris Simmance (19:36.43)

Harry Sanders (19:39.136)
an easy way out, or you just sit back and chill in Thailand and relax. No, as Chris knows, I travel to the US constantly to go to conferences, to see the SEO scene there, travel to the UK constantly, chat to the people on the ground in Australia. All around the world, I’ve got my ear to the ground of what’s happening in the industry, what’s happening in SEO, what am I seeing with our clients, what are we seeing in the affiliate scene right now with this March update, what about backlinks that are getting hit hard? You need to know the industry better.

Chris Simmance (20:06.351)
Mm. Yeah. Yep.

Harry Sanders (20:08.412)
than ever and you have more data and more resources to do it. So that’s what I kind of bring to the table.

Chris Simmance (20:12.138)
Yeah. And, and, and aside from, um, the digital PR aspect in, from a business functioning point of view, what’s the kind of the core focus for the next 12 months? Is it, you know, get set up and get feet on the ground in, in the U S is it something UK related or is it, you know, solving a big issue in, in Australia? What’s, what’s the, what’s the focus?

Harry Sanders (20:35.092)
I think there’s always going to be multiple focuses. If you ask the Australian team, they’re going to be focused on different things. The UK team, they’re going to be focused on different things. Cause they’re all, you know, I try and let them all do their own thing. The UK needs to expand and grow and it doesn’t need to focus on digital PR. It needs to focus on the other offerings it has. Being really good at SEO in that UK market. Proving out that direct to specialist model is still what we need to do in the UK. Australia needs to focus on

Chris Simmance (20:36.726)
Ha ha.

Harry Sanders (21:04.924)
building out the structure and the offerings. And then obviously, yeah, I’m doing the US at the moment in the midst of some exciting news that I can’t talk too much about, but yeah, so the US is looking very promising. And so I’ll be focused a lot on kind of getting us up and going in that market. But again, it’s almost like three different businesses in different stages. The Australian entity is well-established, well set up.

well commercialized discos got a scale. The UK is in that fantastic scale up phase and the US will be in that startup phase making that first $100,000.

Chris Simmance (21:42.478)
That’s exciting. That’s super exciting. So if we talk in about a year’s time, we’re gonna know what happened in the US in terms of getting that hundred grand kicked off, probably even more than that, I’d imagine. Day one, day one, easily. UK, I speak with Anthony a lot. I know exactly where you guys are, and I know what you mean when you say scale up phase. It very much is that fun part of…

Harry Sanders (21:54.779)
Hopefully we get 100 grand!

Chris Simmance (22:12.194)
building. Yes, there are, there’s troubles and all the growth pains that you get, but that’s the inflection point from start up to scale up and scale up onwards. And then obviously, you just need to, to start them young and start teaching those OZ pre school kids backlink building and SEO, get them get them super young mate.

Harry Sanders (22:22.344)

Harry Sanders (22:32.66)
Exactly. I’m waiting for them to let me do the preschool curriculum.

Chris Simmance (22:38.706)
You’ll get there. You’ll get there. Just a couple of years time, you’ll be advising government on education policy. That’s what you need to do. That’s the macro thinking. That’s the big picture stuff. Harry, it’s been great to talk to you again. Thanks so much for coming along. I know you guys are going to be doing great things.

Harry Sanders (22:47.208)
That’s it.

Harry Sanders (22:57.736)
Thanks Chris, appreciate you having me on.

Chris Simmance (22:59.49)
Thank you. And in the next episode, we’ll revisit another agency leader to see how the last year has been going for them. Thanks very much for listening.