Episode 37 - Simon Morton - MD Eyeful Presentations

The Transcript...

VO Guy:

Hello. And thanks for coming along to And we have an office Dog, the digital agency podcast where we talk to agency owner/directors and learn more about what makes them tick. From the things that make them similar to the things they’d rather have known sooner, where they’ve had success and where they’ve learned some hard lessons. All will be revealed with your host, Chris Simmance, The Agency Coach, and he’ll be talking to a different awesome agency person in each episode, asking them four questions and seeing where the conversation takes us over the next 25 minutes. Okay. So let us begin. Over to you, Chris.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Thanks voiceover guy. And on the podcast today, we’ve got Simon, the founder of Eyeful Presentations. I’m excited for this one. Hi, Simon.

Simon Morton (Guest):

Hi, Chris. How you doing?

Chris Simmance (Host):

Not too bad, thank you. Not too bad. So the reason I’m excited about this one, and you’ll tell us all in a second why, is you are not a typical digital marketing agency, but you are a digital agency, and I’d love for you to tell everyone why you are so different. Go.

Simon Morton (Guest):

Right. How long have you got? So we as a business are probably untypical for a couple of reasons, (a) we do presentations. So Eyeful Presentations does what it says on the team. More than what most people expect because I think a lot of people go, “Oh, you make PowerPoint look pretty.” And that’s how we started, but actually we figured out pretty quickly that it wasn’t just about tarting up slides, as we very dismissively talk about, it’s actually the storytelling that goes behind it, the messaging, all of the grunty work that needs to happen at a foundation level before you even start thinking about the visuals. And then, naturally off the back of that, training and using IP that we’ve developed over the years to make the presentation opportunity, which is huge, and yes, I might be somewhat biased, but we all work so hard to get the opportunity to present to an audience that you don’t want to fluff it up just because you spent all of your time focusing on the wrong stuff, and you haven’t had that critical friend that says, why are you doing this? Why are you doing that?

So, that’s one reason that we’re untypical because we are a pretty niche player in the traditional agency landscape. But I guess it’s also when I founded the business 17 years ago, I’d never worked in an agency before. My background was B2B sales in the fintech sector. So I had a decent grounding about business, but I had no idea about the agency world. We’ve held onto that naivety and that ignorance quite strongly all the way through.

Chris Simmance (Host):

That’s lovely.

Simon Morton (Guest):

So we don’t really talk about creative directors and we don’t have the fancy job titles because I don’t really understand what they mean. And we’ve kept the-

Chris Simmance (Host):

Nor do the people who have them, in most cases.

Simon Morton (Guest):

Over the years I’ve finally picked up on that. It’s okay. It’s all subterfuge and nobody really understands anyway. So we run our agency the way that you would do a B2B fintech business or software business, and kept it really, really simple.

Chris Simmance (Host):

I mean, never, ever, ever look at any of the recordings of my presentations, by the way, because aside from them being mostly gags, they’re almost entirely just GIFs, full sized GIFs, so your guys’ tarting up department would have a field day, at the very least. So who do you work with? What kinds of businesses?

Simon Morton (Guest):

Pretty boring answers to the question really, but it’s pretty much everybody, typically B2B. So we’re the behind scenes guys for the presentations that you’ll probably have seen from some of the biggest brands in the world. Some that we can talk about, people like Adobe and Microsoft, some that we can’t talk about, all the way down to SMES that realize that presentation bit is really important for them gaining funding or winning that next big contract and want to come to us to really act as a critical friend to them from the storytelling perspective, all the way through to the visuals, how they deliver it and everything in between.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Wonderful. And you say you’ve been going for about 10 years or so?

Simon Morton (Guest):

Oh, about 17 years now.

Chris Simmance (Host):

17? Crikey.

Simon Morton (Guest):

17, who would have thought it. Yeah. Exactly.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Wow. PowerPoint’s been going that long, has it?

Simon Morton (Guest):

Every grey hair I can attest to it.

Chris Simmance (Host):

You could account for. So, go on.

Simon Morton (Guest):

The reason I can trace it back 17 years is that the catalyst for it was twofold. One was obviously there was an opportunity in the marketplace. I’d been on the receiving end of some really bad presentations and delivered some absolute shockers as well, but got a bit geeky about it and realized that actually there was an opportunity here. But also, in my old life I was flying around left right and center and had a very glamorous business career, but our first child was due about three months before or after I started the business. So incredibly naively, I thought okay, we’ve got a new mouth to feed. I’ll jack in the well paid job. I’ll hand over the keys to the company car and we’ll start a business from scratch. If you ever need motivation-

Chris Simmance (Host):

As is [inaudible 00:05:52]. That happens every time, yeah. It’s normal, right?

Simon Morton (Guest):

Yeah. Set up.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So aside from feeding your child, who’s obviously older now, and keeping the business going, what do you think’s been one of the main successes that you’ve seen over the years then?

Simon Morton (Guest):

In terms of single success, if I look back from today all the way back through the history, this might sound a little strange, but actually probably my personal biggest success has been creating a business now. We’re about 30 people and in those 30 people we’ve developed individuals to a level that’s allowed me actually to start passing the baton on. So the last 18 months or so have just been remarkable in terms of the history of the business, the growth of the business. The good stuff that we’ve done as a business is a lot of that has happened in the last 18 months, and it’s not been down to me. It’s been down to two leaders that both started off in relatively junior roles within the business and are now board directors, and are fundamentally driving the business. That’s why I call myself the founder, not so much an MD anymore, because they’re doing all the MDing and I’ve just pulled in as the gray hair to contribute.

Chris Simmance (Host):

For me, I think that’s the most exciting part of running an agency at that point because if you get out of your own way a little bit and let other people lead in their areas that they’re best at, you can just sit at the top making sure that the vision and the values are followed and the wheels stay on the bus from a financial point of view, but otherwise you can let people fly and do the things they’re great at.

Simon Morton (Guest):

And it’s quite sobering when you realize that you are not as good as they are, and it takes a while to get used to that.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Oh yeah.

Simon Morton (Guest):

Thankfully, I’ve never had too much of an ego and so it’s about celebrating their success. But like I said, the last 18 months when I finally got out of my own way, to use that lovely phrase, that’s when things really started motoring. And then you do say to yourself, bloody hell, wouldn’t I do this earlier?

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah. Yeah.

Simon Morton (Guest):

So it’s knowing when to do it.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So a lot of the clients which I work with in terms of the agency coaching stuff, the why didn’t you do it before, why didn’t you do it sooner, often follows those kinds of revelations of this is great now. But if you’d have done it sooner, perhaps it wouldn’t have been the right time. You might not have been ready. They might not have been ready, something else, but a little piece in that might not be ready.

Simon Morton (Guest):

Well, it’s interesting. We did try it before and tried it for the wrong reasons. So brilliant person that came in as interim MD, fundamentally because I was cream crackered, absolutely shattered, had reached a point. And this person came in and they did a really, really good job in steading the ship, which had… Well, it sounds like I’m bigging myself up but I’m trying definitely not, but we’d as far as we got to based on nothing more than energy and personality from me, just dragging everybody along and cheerleading the whole way through.

And when this guy came in and basically took over for 12 months he did a great job in stabilizing, putting the right things in place. After 12 months he realized he didn’t want to do that job. After 12 months I was ready to take back on that job, but I took over a much more stable business that was a lot stronger as a result. The number hadn’t changed, that’d been pretty stable, but all of the important but sometimes quite boring bits of the business, they were all working a hell of a lot better and it meant that we could then start really pushing forward.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Absolutely.

Simon Morton (Guest):

This time round, really interesting, is rather than trying to replace myself with one person, recognizing that actually you don’t have to find your carbon copy and slot them in. Finding two people that are actually… Luke and Lloyd, who are the two directors, commercial and operations director here, they’re not polar opposites but they complement each other massively. And actually, having two to challenge each other and support each other and all of that good stuff has made a huge difference, and the business has benefited.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So to make a massive assumption, would one of those two guys be more operationally led and the other one be more commercial creative?

Simon Morton (Guest):

Spooky. One’s called the Commercial Director and one’s called the Operations Director.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Ha. Well, there we go.

Simon Morton (Guest):

Look at that. It’s almost how we planned it.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Well, you need a visionary. You need someone to have that energy and the drive for creativity. You need someone else to ground everyone with this is how we get that visionary bit done. And if you are at the top, keeping them from a vision point of view in line, then it works a treat. So that’s how you do it, and you’ve done it.

Simon Morton (Guest):

That’s tremendous, I’ve got to say. And that’s the thing that if I look back on now from today, that’s probably the biggest pride bit. There are other things that are ego strokes and successes, but that’s the thing that’s made the biggest difference to the business going forward.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So then say, for example, PowerPoint came out with a new feature, which was time travel mode, and you went back in time right to the very beginning and you could only give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Simon Morton (Guest):

It’s one. And I think that actually probably having enough confidence in myself and our business to scale at the right time and invest in scaling. So, like I say, we’re 30 people who will do 3 million or so turnover this year, so it’s a nice business. We could be three times our size now if I’d invested appropriately at the right time. But for a number of reasons, most of which were down to my lack of… I was captaining this ship very much on my own and everyone would look to me for the answers. So it would be difficult for me to turn around and go, “What do you think guys? Should we buy that company? Shall we do this and that?” So we didn’t.

Perversely, I actually really like the size we are now. If we were 50, 100 people it would be a very different business, and I don’t know if I’d want that business. I love what we’ve built. Everybody knows each other. Most people like each other. Of course, they’re always going to be some frictions.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah, of course.

Simon Morton (Guest):

And we all know where we are pushing. And as you get bigger I can imagine that’s a bit more of a challenge. We’re all based on the one site although we hybrid work, that makes the difference. Given the choice bizarrely now, would you want to be a hundred strong agency or a 30 strong agency? I’d go for the 30 strong because of the culture that we’ve built up here, but that’s accident rather than by design.

Chris Simmance (Host):

I think culture becomes hard to manage when you get to a large size. And it’s not just because there’s lots more people, it’s because there’s lots more personalities. For it to be that size you end up having to dichotomize the business slightly between different types of departments and it unintentionally creates a bit of a barrier with people and things like that, and that’s where friction comes in and it’s really hard to manage that. You’ve got to have management layers that manage teams, which then things get diluted down slightly. You lose a lot of that cultural aspect.

If you’re in a business of say 30-ish, 30 and less I guess, like you say, everyone knows everyone so it’s easier to communicate rather than being someone faceless 10 miles away or another several floors up, it’s a lot harder.

Simon Morton (Guest):

I don’t know if you’ve ever come across it, it’s a book by a guy called Mike Southern, called The Beermat Entrepreneur?

Chris Simmance (Host):

Oh, no. Go on.

Simon Morton (Guest):

I know Mike, we’ve worked with him on a few projects in the past. But before I started Eyeful, so this is going back 20 years or so, I remember picking up a copy of that book from Waterstones on a very bored lunch time, thinking oh, this looks interesting and readable. He talks about the stages of growing a business and I’ll completely misquote him here, but there’s a stage where he says you hit about 30 people or so. And he said, the big sign is when you start putting a lock on the stationery cupboard, that’s when culture changes.

Chris Simmance (Host):

I mean, it’s not wrong. I guess, it’s quite clever.

Simon Morton (Guest):

Right. And he talks through it, and it’s remarkable how from the small plant all the way, he talks about the mighty oak and growing through, and there are certain stages. And yeah, he’s absolutely right. The cultural challenges that you’ve got are difficult to manage all the way through.

That said, we’re working currently with a brilliant company, name drop, company called Tech Data, huge, the world’s biggest IT distributor. Their culture is extraordinary. They’ve got a gazillion people and every touch point I’ve ever had within that business is culturally resonance. It’s remarkable how they’ve done it. So just because you big doesn’t mean you can’t have a great culture, but I can imagine you have to work damned hard to get there.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah. I think the quarter culture is communication and clarity. Clarity comes before communication, of course. If you have lots and lots of people it’s really hard to communicate clearly, but if you’ve got really super clear purpose and super clear values. A huge part of that size, scale and culture retention stuff is about hiring the right people, and if you’re hiring based on values and the purpose before skills and things like that, you can train someone to be better at their job, you can’t make someone a different person.

Simon Morton (Guest):

So true.

Chris Simmance (Host):

That’s how you get to 100s and 100s and retain it, but it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of effort and you need the people that are doing the hiring and the firing to focus on the values first, that’s the thing. Do they want the job? Do they get the job? Can they do the job? Are they meeting the values? Those are things that you have to focus on. But yeah, absolutely.

So is there anything aside from having the two Lloyds? Or is it Lloyd and-

Simon Morton (Guest):

Luke. It’s very confused.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Luke and Lloyd.

Simon Morton (Guest):

Yeah. And I don’t know why, maybe it’s my age, I constantly get their names mixed up. We’ve worked together for 10 years coming on now and I still get their names mixed up, that says it all.

Chris Simmance (Host):

I mean, not to liken them to dogs, but I do that with my two dogs.

Simon Morton (Guest):

They’re very similar.

Chris Simmance (Host):

My parents did it with my sister and I, not that we look the same because she’d look terrible with a beard, but it happened all the time. It’s just one of those things, I guess.

So other than getting them in place now, is there anything that you’ve done in the past that you think it’s been a bit of a light bulb moment and it’s set you up for the success that you’ve had now? So something that’s worked that way.

Simon Morton (Guest):

I suppose it’s, “to your knitting” is a sort of catch all phrase. So when I came up with this ridiculous idea to start a business just as my daughter was about to be born, I had two ideas 17 years ago. One was presentations and the other one was podcasts, way ahead of the… So lovely to be speaking on a podcast that actually is working because 17 years ago, everyone went what? That will never work. And the technology wasn’t there. It was a strange off thing. So that died a relatively swift death.

Presentations took off, much to my surprise, and it would’ve been really easy and actually some notable examples of it in our very small niche sector of spreading yourself too thin. So just because you do presentations doesn’t mean you can necessarily do live events, for example, or that suddenly you are also going to do websites, or whatever it might be. So sticking firmly to our knitting was really key. And unbeknownst to me at the time, because I was just belligerent and stuck with that, it’s had a number of really long term benefits.

It’s meant that our customers understand what we do and what we don’t do. And so they come to us when they’re ready for the value that we can bring. So they won’t pick up the phone going, “I know you don’t do this, but could you?” Even though hopefully we’re nice people to work with and our customer relationships are very sticky, we don’t have to do a lot of marketing to win new business because it’s about account management. But they know that we do a certain thing very, very well and they’ll come to us for that.

The flip side of that is also that we know what doesn’t suit us. So we have, not to say that we don’t evolve because we’re always evolving what we do and how we do it, but we’ve never fallen into the trap of going, “Yeah, we’ll do you a website. I’m sure we can figure it out.” And then-

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah, it’s just a bunch of PowerPoint slides all stuck together and linked.

Simon Morton (Guest):

Exactly. And you whack it up in the Cloud somehow and that’s how it works, isn’t it?

Chris Simmance (Host):

Something about that.

Simon Morton (Guest):

And so that’s helped us turn away work that would’ve actually been bad revenue, and I think that’s really helped us. Part of that is the services bit, part of it’s also the culture stuff as well. We know that there are certain brands that we don’t want to work with, or certain industries that we don’t want to work with, and being as tightly defined as we are, with a bit of wiggle room, means that it makes decision making very easy. And as a business, we would come to the same conclusion. It’s not just from a high, the creating what we do and what we don’t do, this is a collective responsibility.

Chris Simmance (Host):

And I guess you know when you’ve got this right, when someone calls up and says, “I know you don’t do this, but who would you recommend?”

Simon Morton (Guest):

Absolutely. And we’re very lucky, we’ve got a sister company, a company called Sales Engine. Very quick aside, so we were getting a lot of people saying we need help with bids. So a lot of the big B2B companies that we work with they’re going through this long bid process and sometimes they’d say, “You get storytelling,” Because that’s what you do. “Can you help us tell a story in our bid?” And horrible, horrible idea, but thankfully our sister company, Sales Engine, excels at that. So being able to go, “That’s not for us, but we know some great people that love that stuff.” And surrounding yourself with good partners and on this occasion, assist the company means that we can stick to our knitting, but still be a reference point, a trusted advisor to our customers that can go, “Yeah, speak to those guys. They’re great.” And that helps.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So assume people have managed to listen this far through the podcast, and they’re just about to get to the point where they’re waiting for Simon’s one piece of advice. They’re starting an agency, they’ve just started an agency-

Simon Morton (Guest):

[inaudible 00:21:52].

Chris Simmance (Host):

What’s your one pearl of wisdom that you could offer someone?

Simon Morton (Guest):

At that startup phase, this is going to be a peculiar one, but trust me, it is so, so powerful, which is embrace your naivety.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Okay.

Simon Morton (Guest):

And I’m so glad I did. I’m so glad I didn’t know what I know now when I started the process.

Chris Simmance (Host):

That’s nice.

Simon Morton (Guest):

I’d think I’d probably still go down that route, but I’d almost be flinching before I got hit. There is something really empowering about not really having much of a clue about what’s around the corner and going around the corner anyway. Obviously, you’ve got to have a plan and a strategy, and thankfully we had those things in place.

But sometimes stuff just comes at you. One of the stories that I’ve shared before is where in the very early days we had a phone answering service where one of those simple things you just sign up and it’s an 0845 number. They pick up the phone, answer as Eyeful Presentations, take down the information and then you get an email saying call this person back. Unbeknownst to us, that company had messed up somewhere in their database and our 0845 number had also been printed on a million Tesco yogurt pots as their helpline.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Oh, no.

Simon Morton (Guest):

Yeah. Hadn’t seen that one coming. There’s nothing in the planet that says this is what you do when suddenly your number becomes the Tesco yogurt and smoothie helpline.

Chris Simmance (Host):

In the words of Donald Rumsfeld, “That’s an unknown unknown.” You do not know that you do not need to know that. Wow. Okay. Carry on.

Simon Morton (Guest):

And so there was this weird protracted period where they said yeah, we’ve messed up. And I said but it’s on our advertising, it’s on everything, so what are we going to do?

Chris Simmance (Host):

It’s everything. Yeah.

Simon Morton (Guest):

One of the solutions they came back with is, good idea, get through to the number, and then press one if you want presentations or press two if you want to talk about your yogurt. I was like, how’s that going to work? So we managed to get ourselves through that, but that’s an example of, and I now laugh at it, but I do remember holding my infant daughter and chatting to her and her looking at me and going, what the hell do I do with this? And that’s been part of the joy of it. You can only start a business and grow a business if you absolutely live it. Live it and love it. And I still now, 17 years down the line and the guys are running the business not me, there’s not a day goes by where I’m not thinking of a new angle or something new to bring to the party. But it’s by choice because I love it, not because I have to do it. And that’s that.

Chris Simmance (Host):

That’s lovely. I mean, that’s a lovely bit of advice to end the podcast on. Embrace your naivety. Final snap poll question, PowerPoint, Keynote or Slides?

Simon Morton (Guest):

No, none of those until you know what your story is.

Chris Simmance (Host):

There we go. Perfect. And every single digital agency owner right now is, as they’re listening to this, looking up your website to get in touch to build presentations to win their pitches.

Simon Morton (Guest):

We’re here to support you in whatever way we can.

Chris Simmance (Host):

And our number is 0845 something, something, something, and press one for yogurt pots.

Simon Morton (Guest):

Problems with yogurt, give us a call.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Thanks for coming along, Simon, it’s been lovely to have you on.

Simon Morton (Guest):

Thank you, Chris. Been a really enjoyable chat. Thank you so much.

Chris Simmance (Host):

And in our next podcast, we’ll be talking to another agency leader to talk about the things they’ve learned and the stuff that they’ve taken away from it along the way. Thank you.