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Episode 81 – Paul Stollery – Hard Numbers

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Episode 81 – Paul Stollery – Hard Numbers

Thanks, VoiceOverGuy. I’m really happy to have the other part of the Hard Numbers team here. And we’ve got Paul. How are you doing, Paul?

Paul (00:56.541)
Good pleasure to be here, Chris. Thanks so much for having me. Huge fan of the, well, with the exception of that Giza, that episode of the Giza, Darryl, you spoke to a couple of months back. Huge fan of all the people.

Chris Simmance (01:01.66)

Chris Simmance (01:08.126)
Yeah, one of the lowest listener numbers podcast I think I’ve ever had. I actually got complaints about that one.

Paul (01:17.341)
that it’s not the first. Welcome to my life trying to chaperone that man.

Chris Simmance (01:21.522)
Yeah, I mean, first question I’ve got for you that isn’t a usual question is do you gilet?

Paul (01:30.002)
No, I don’t gilet. I gave Daryl a lot of criticism for gilets early on. And obviously six or seven years ago, gilets were exclusively worn by middle-aged people on hikes. So I naturally gave him a lot of stick for that. But then Gen Z started wearing gilets.

Chris Simmance (01:32.107)
it then.

Paul (01:57.061)
And suddenly, it was like giving meaning to a stop clock telling the right time twice a day. Suddenly, Darrell was in style. And he’s just not letting me forget that. So no, I don’t, G. Lay. I have, when I felt more generous, considered some branded G. Lay for hard numbers. But I’m not. But we’ll have to see how he behaves this year.

Chris Simmance (02:20.766)
Okay, well, let’s see what you guys can get up to do that. So just for the benefit of anyone who doesn’t know, do you mind giving us a little bit of an intro to yourself and what you do and specifically as well, what your role is in the dynamic duo at Hard Numbers.

Paul (02:37.349)
Yeah, of course. My name is Paul. I’m the creator, director and co founder of hard numbers. I can tell I can talk a little bit about hard numbers and then sort of analyze respective roles in that. So we set hard numbers up three, three and a half years ago now to be the PR agency that the sales team loves.

Chris Simmance (02:47.438)

Paul (03:02.853)
And the reason we picked that niche was I was I was running a different agency prior to laundry hard numbers And part of my role there Was to oversee marketing. So this was a different type of agency. It was a influencer marketing agency and Marketing growth was part of my role One of the things we did as part of it We had these content series where we would use them for sort of two things firstly

Chris Simmance (03:25.634)

Paul (03:31.945)
we’d use them for brand building. So we produced these research papers that looked into how certain audiences behave in certain ways, invested in the research behind that. But critically, the outputs were twofold. One, we wanted to build our brand, build our platform as a thought leader. But two, as part of those papers, as part of our content production, we’d get in touch with our prospects, and we’d say, hey, we’ve got this bit of content coming up.

Can we interview for it? Can we treat you as a bit of a steering group, get a few insights, a set us along the way, that sort of thing. And so the idea is it was a content output, but it was also a sort of a hard sales mechanism. And as the agency scales, as often happens, two things happened. One, we got more busy, we had less time to do it. Two, we had a little bit more budget, not loads of budget, but you know, enough budget that we thought, let’s go and try and find an external vendor.

Chris Simmance (04:07.105)

Paul (04:27.037)
And we kept trying to find external vendors to do these things. And what we found was there were really good content agencies that were put out fantastic, you know, compelling creative, you know, drafts and stuff that we wanted. You know, we didn’t want them just to be just another white paper. We want them to be genuinely interesting. So that was really important to us, but those creative agencies didn’t like the idea of selling. You tell them about the, you know, the process we went through or get our ideal profile.

Chris Simmance (04:52.364)

Paul (04:53.833)
We’d reach out to them on LinkedIn. We’d say, hey, can we book some time to chat to you about it? And you’d see them sort of almost like getting a little uncomfortable at the idea of the cold hard sales. So then we went to a couple of lead gen agencies. And they were great. I knew they’d get the meetings. But their creative output wasn’t compelling, should we say. So we really saw a gap there for something that was almost a 70% PR agency.

Chris Simmance (05:03.746)

Paul (05:22.825)
30% lead gen agency. And that was the genesis of hard numbers. We launched it in June 2020, which was right in the middle of the first pandemic, which is a very interesting time to launch. So the first pandemic, the first lockdown. Yeah, we were planning it in late 2019. And then the pandemic came along. And we.

Chris Simmance (05:39.958)
Yep, good choices.

Paul (05:51.329)
Looking back, you always sort of, you know, tell yourself a story of why you made certain decisions in a certain way. We believed in the proposition. We, you know, we knew the gap was there. We thought it was very timely. In reality, we were just stubborn and we were like, we’re going to do it. We’re going to launch. So we launched in June 2020. And we built out the proposition, you know, in a number of different ways. Obviously, the name Hard Numbers, that’s really what it stands for.

Darryl came up with that name. I mean, surprisingly creative for a commercial guy, which he still holds over me. And then we built various other proof points and mechanisms around that. So some of that was in the services that we offer. Yes, we’re a traditional PR agency and what we can achieve. But on top of that, we will layer on top lead gen account-based marketing services like that. It gives us what we think is a genuinely unique proposition.

Chris Simmance (06:40.34)

Paul (06:43.817)
And there’s a couple of other proof points around earned media guarantees and best in class measurement as well.

Chris Simmance (06:52.354)
You’re the creative director and appreciate that as an agency grows, you still, as you know, part of the leadership team have to start leading more than creative in this stuff happening. How much, how much are you having to kind of, how much of your team are now involved in the, you know, the higher decision making around creative decisions and things like that? Because I think when from

If you were to sort of split the business and look at the commercial aspect, it’s, it’s a, it’s somewhat easier to delegate things that are numbers based, should we say, they’re, they’re much more objective, but creativity and things like that. It’s quite hard to, to take your hands off, I guess.

Paul (07:35.885)
Yeah, so I think a couple of things here. Firstly, my role as creative director and part of that remit involves signing off and overseeing all the credit that we put out as an agency. And it is really important to us that we do put out good creative. I think in consumer agencies and consumer third agencies, that’s that that’s as standard, they compete on creative, the number of white papers and

Chris Simmance (07:51.018)

Paul (08:03.709)
bits of content I’ve seen churned out from B2B agencies and technology agencies. And in terms of our split, we’re sort of B2B in tech, 70, 80%, and then about 20, 30% consumer. But we’re very intentionally higher from consumer backgrounds to make sure that we can deliver best in class creative, even when we’re working with B2B clients. Because the number of lazy white papers, pieces of content that are knocking around this industry, that have all had well-earned budget.

Chris Simmance (08:13.678)

Paul (08:33.305)
spent on them is something that we really want to address. So that’s really, really important. That’s a really important part. A lot of my job is actually more operational managing director-wise, as is always the case. That’s a key part of my role. But equally, I wouldn’t even say it’s the majority of my hourly time that I spend. In terms of how you delegate, I’m

I know of agencies where every idea that goes out the door will come from the creative director. I know of agencies where every press release, I know of a one 12 person agency where every press release gets signed off by the founder. And I just think what a, what a, what a ridiculous way to run a business. You can’t scale it. The one thing you can’t scale is yourself. You can work evenings, you can work weekends, but you can’t clone yourself. At least not yet. And so that the way you need to do that is you need to hire people who are

Chris Simmance (09:09.87)
It’s hard to scale that kind of product. Hard to scale that.

Paul (09:25.993)
good at what they do, smarter than you, ideally. That’s smart than Daryl, certainly. But, and people who understand media relations, people who understand creative, and if we can get there, that’s how you do better work. So, yeah, we very much try not to be the sort of single point of single bottleneck when it comes to creative. And thanks for hiring, we’ve been able to do that.

Chris Simmance (09:38.606)

Mediaboard_sounds (09:53.436)
Hey, VoiceOverGuy here. Sorry to interrupt. If you’re looking to accelerate the growth of your agency, then check out omg.centre forward slash info. Oh, sorry Chris.

can’t even have a conversation without being interrupted. That must be what it’s like for you at work every day. So you started in the pandemic, but aside from, you know, surviving as a business through that, that very early crucial days, what do you think has been one of the biggest successes that you guys have seen, you know, to date?

Paul (10:26.921)
So I think I want to answer this in two parts. Firstly, what’s driven our success, and then secondly, what that success has looked like. As much as I’ll give him stick for his gilet-wearing ways, I actually think that the key to our success, and certainly my personal professional success in running the agency, has been picking the right business partner. I think it is critical.

Chris Simmance (10:33.538)
Hmm. Yep. Please.

Chris Simmance (10:53.518)

Paul (10:56.561)
when you launch a business to get the right business partner. And a good business partner is ultimately two things, right? You want them to be good at the things that you’re bad at, and you want them to be somebody that you’re comfortable crying in front of. Now, what do I mean by that? If you know the things you’re bad at, when you look at launching an agency, there’s a couple of skillsets that are really important if you do want to scale, say, seven figures. And not everyone does want to scale that far. A lot of people are perfectly happy with it. Six figures.

Chris Simmance (11:10.135)

Paul (11:24.641)
And sometimes when I’m working on resourcing and cash flow analysis and forecasts like that, sometimes I think smaller is better. But if you do want to get to that seven figure, Mark, a lot of people think that if you’re good at PR, you’ll get there. If you’re running a PR agency or if you’re running a content agency, if you’re good at content, you’ll get there. But in reality, that’s one of about six or seven skill sets you need to launch and run your agency.

Chris Simmance (11:39.566)

Paul (11:50.289)
Dalai are both fans of the phrase, business, all businesses are fundamentally about two things, making things and selling things, right? When it comes to agencies, you unpack those a little bit more on the selling things side, that’s prospecting, that’s marketing, that’s pitching, and then on the on the doing things on the making things side, the delivery that that’s your people that you’re hiring, that’s your client services. Now, if you want to get to say a six figure set of revenue, then yes, just being good at the thing that you do, you can build to that.

Chris Simmance (12:11.31)

Paul (12:19.333)
But you need those skills. And I like to think I’m good at certain things. But for my money, Darrell is the best salesperson, the best the best prospector, and one of the best pictures in the industry. And it’s a joy to watch. Okay, you watch that man on a sales call is one of the, one of the wonders of the servicing world. But he in all seriousness, I’ll give him, I’ll give him stick.

Chris Simmance (12:33.166)
or he’s going to love listening to this, this bit specifically.

Chris Simmance (12:43.787)

Paul (12:48.989)
but I’m privileged to be in business with such a talented person. And he brings so much to the table on that sales and specifically the prospecting side of things. I like to think of myself as someone who’s good in the pitch, but going out and dragging those briefs into your, into your business is really, really difficult. And that’s something he’s extraordinarily good at. He’s good at, there’s a couple of other bits as well. And I like to think that some of those other areas I bring to the table, but really importantly, and I’d love to say that when I picked my business partner, I did this intentionally. I got lucky. And I picked my business partner.

Chris Simmance (12:52.605)

Chris Simmance (12:56.715)

Paul (13:18.749)
I’m kind of lucked out on the fact that we kind of matched up on all the skills that we needed. Between us, we’re either we’re either great, or good, or maybe quite good. All of those things. And that’s what’s got us to where we are. In terms of what that success looks like, we’ve I’m genuinely one of my favorite things to do in a in the business. It used to be running business, but it’s actually now hiring good people.

Chris Simmance (13:25.133)

Chris Simmance (13:34.572)

Paul (13:45.869)
I now get more of a boost out of bringing a talented person into the business that I do bring in clients in, because it’s just so hard to find those right people. And when you do, it just really, really unlocks not just commercial growth, but it makes your day to day life so much easier and more pleasurable to come to work. So yeah, so I think the biggest success has honestly just been building the fantastic team we’ve got.

Chris Simmance (13:57.622)

Paul (14:14.741)
And it’s just, it’s also a joy to watch when you bring somebody in it, say a junior to mid level and you see them stepping up to a senior level. We’ve got one or two folks stepping up this month and just seeing that team take shape and really knowing that actually, yeah, your team is one of the best in the business. I’d say that that’s one of our greatest successes.

Chris Simmance (14:34.182)
Yeah. There’s a, there’s a maternal paternal feeling when you see your team grow. Um, so I completely, I completely understand what you mean there. Is there anything that you guys, um, either did early doors that has been a really, that set you up for current success or anything that you did early that you realized, oh crap, we should probably stop doing that and do this instead.

Paul (14:58.805)
Um, so I think in terms of what we, what we’ve got right, I think, and something I would have liked to have done earlier is around a year and a half ago, when we started to see the tech sector contracting and we’re quite heavily exposed to tech, we made a very conscious decision to start going after bigger, more established blue chip companies and that.

But we really we made that decision to do that around two years ago, but the work really started in earnest about 18 months ago. And for 12 to 15 months, we had loads of little signs of victory, but no big wins. Oh, last three months, I think things have started to click in. Over the last three months, we won three sort of big blue chip companies, one of the biggest e-commerce companies. They’ve all started recently, so I can’t actually say who they are annoyingly.

But one is one of the biggest e-commerce companies in the world. Another one is a major, a billion dollar valuation company in the US. And the third one is one of the most significant technology players in the British ecosystem. So really excited to be working with all those. The advice I’d give myself on the professional side of things would have been to start doing that earlier, because those sorts of shifts in who you’re targeting takes a very long time. We set ourselves up to go to earlier stage technology businesses.

And I think because it was a right decision at the time, but had we had that crystal ball, we probably would have tried to move up the food chain a little bit sooner. I think on a personal level, the advice I’d give myself would be to try and stress the losses less or to try and stress the difficult and complex bits less. Running an agency is not just as a stressful or a hard work, it’s that it’s…

Chris Simmance (16:40.063)

Paul (16:51.433)
For a small business, it’s very complex and a lot of moving parts. You’ve got, because every single one of your clients are unpredictable and every single one of the people who works for you is unpredictable. And a service is business. You obviously have more clients and more people than you might say in a technology business. And it’s like spinning some very heavy plates where when one of those plates drops, it’s not just something you can shrug off. When one of those places people.

That’s their careers, right? That’s their, there are 20 people who, and sometimes when I stop to think about this next bit, it really, I really find myself stopping to think of it and kind of pinch myself a little bit, but there are 20 people who come to work every day. At the end of each month, they rely on the business that I’ve set up to pay their rent, to pay their mortgages, to pay their bills. And that weighs really heavy on me because that is a real, it’s a privilege that they’ve chosen to come.

Chris Simmance (17:21.214)
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Paul (17:47.461)
um uh and work for hard numbers but it’s also real responsibility so you can find yourselves really stressing having said all that i think over the last um six months i’ve had some sort of some more context uh sort of greater context forced upon me in the um of experienced some um a couple of pieces of trauma which are really i think put the personal professional

Chris Simmance (18:03.487)

Paul (18:14.941)
balance into a greater life. And that’s the, so around six months ago, I found out, or we found out, my wife and I found out that we were pregnant. And it’s, we’ve been trying for a little while, and it got to the point where we were thinking, is it going to happen? Are we going to need to look at other routes? And then just as we were thinking, OK, this might not be happening naturally, we found out that we were pregnant.

Chris Simmance (18:16.834)

Paul (18:42.833)
And it

Chris Simmance (18:52.159)

Yeah, that can be quite traumatic. Yeah.

Chris Simmance (19:01.692)

Paul (19:10.929)
And we went through treatment with that. But a few weeks later, the one of the reasons so dangerous is because the fallopian tubers are designed to stretch if the if the embryo fetus continues to grow, that can rupture and cause internal bleeding can be very dangerous. And that was that was basically what happened. We were we were getting treatment we were normally when you know that you’ve got an ectopic pregnancy, it could be managed and when

Chris Simmance (19:25.911)

Paul (19:40.253)
it’s much more likely to happen if you weren’t aware that it was an ectopic pregnancy to begin with. Despite all that, there’s never any guarantees, and a couple of weeks later it ruptured and we had to rush my wife to the hospital. And well, I say rush, we, not to go on a tangent from a tangent, but we called for an ambulance in owing to the state of

Chris Simmance (19:45.07)

Paul (20:07.153)
where the NHS is nowadays that there weren’t actually any ambulances to send out, which is one of one of the scariest moments of my life. It was it was the scariest moment of my life. It was it was it was it was the saddest couple of weeks in my life. And it was topped up by the scariest moment of my life when I knew that my wife was potentially dying and you phone 999 and there’s no ambulances. And

Chris Simmance (20:14.074)
That makes it terrifying, doesn’t it?

Chris Simmance (20:32.747)

Paul (20:34.229)
not to get too political here, but when we do go to the polls later in the year, if you want to get a government where if a loved one of yourself, if a loved one is dying, they’ll send an ambulance, vote Labour. I’m not sure they’re going to put that on a billboard, but that is sadly the kind of state of where we are. It’s true, it’s true, vote Labour, don’t vote Tory.

Chris Simmance (20:48.075)

Chris Simmance (20:53.898)
shouldn’t laugh but it is true. They put all sorts on buses though.

Paul (21:02.665)
But back onto how that’s impacted me. So over the next couple of months, it really did put my work into context a bit more. Sadly, we then found out just before Christmas that we were pregnant again. And then earlier this month, at the start of January, sorry, just give me a minute.

Chris Simmance (21:26.03)
Let’s take a moment there.

Paul (21:30.069)
Um, at the start of January, we then found out that we had a miscarriage, um, which is when, uh, no heartbeats found, but the baby hadn’t passed yet. And then there was, there was various treatment, um, for that as well. Um, now, now the reason I bring this up is, is TOEFL firstly, to, to answer your original question, what, what advice would I give myself? Um, stressing less at what the person I want to be at work is somebody who

who really brings my whole self to work every day, who really brings my A game, works my ass off to grow the business and really sort of, you know, celebrates the wins, right? We had a huge win yesterday. That’s one of the three clients that I spoke about and it was amazing. The team had worked really hard on it. We found out pretty much straight after, we went straight to the pub, got a round of champagne in and it was amazing. I still want to enjoy those things but I do want to get to the point where you stress the, you stress the difficult things a little bit less.

Chris Simmance (22:22.766)

Paul (22:27.737)
And to answer your original question, everything that’s happened over the last six months has really given me the context on why that’s important. The other reason I want to speak about this is because I tried to be quite open with the people that I know and that I work with about what happened. And the thing that really surprised me was the number of people who when I talked about the ectopic pregnancy, or I talked about the miscarriage.

would say something along the lines of a very similar thing happened to me, whether it was a miscarriage, whether it was problems conceiving. And when you look into the, into the data behind it, I think it’s between one in five and one in four pregnancies end in a miscarriage or some form of early pregnancy loss. And what I realized as I was talking about this was that people were very comfortable talking about this topic once they knew you’d gone through something similar.

Chris Simmance (23:14.594)

Chris Simmance (23:24.042)

Paul (23:25.381)
what I try to whenever I can talk about it, because I’m sure there are people right now listen to this podcast, who are trying, and who are having difficulties or who have got pregnancy and have experienced some sort of an early pregnancy loss. I think the more it’s talked about, the easier is to talk about yourself. And that has been one of the key reasons that we’ve been able to get through it.

Chris Simmance (23:32.845)

Chris Simmance (23:49.102)
I can only empathize, well, in a non-callous way, I’m glad that I can only empathize, if that makes sense. I think those are the sorts of things which often it’s easy not to have a huge depth of perspective when it comes to lots of agency or business or person, or…

personal stuff. And, and I don’t know, I don’t know what it is about being a person. But it’s often that you that a jolt is required or some kind of knock is required to teach us the thing that we should probably all kind of known in the first place, which is it’s that that’s not sweat those sorts of things so much that bring us down because there’s probably something bigger.

and more important out there that is way, way more worthy of our energy and our love and our time and our effort. And that’s not to say that, you know, having a team that rely on you for their food and mortgage bills and things like that isn’t important and worth worrying about because, you know, naturally, that’s not just a responsibility of running a business. But when it comes to real life.

things, and by real life things, I mean, things that impact personal life. It helps to make you a bit more resilient in the business stuff. But at the same time, you, you’re now more capable, I guess, of being able to help other people when they have similar kinds of problems, because you’re able to

see the way to step back and help and keep an alternative perspective perhaps that might well help someone else through those sorts of things. And it’s quite important, especially to build empathy as a leader in a business. It’s really important.

Paul (25:53.673)
100% and something that Darrell said to one of the PR publications, I think it was PR week, they spoke to a number of agency founders and they asked them what they were doing to support their, their team’s mental health. And he gave a really, a really thoughtful answer, which was beyond the policies, the best thing that you can do to support your team’s mental health is to talk about the Rome.

Because if you talk about your own anxieties, if you talk about your own struggles, if you talk about that one time you had burnout and crashed and burned and you know, all that sort of stuff, your team will feel more comfortable talking about it either with you or with their peers or with their loved ones. And it’s a cliche now to say that it’s important to talk about it. But what I’ve learned over the last six months is learning how to talk about it and learning how to communicate about it.

is often how you process it. And that is critical to recovery of any sort. And it’s also critical of making sure that if you do have a trauma in your life, whether it’s mental health related, or that’s a health, physical health, something that’s happened to you, communicating, being able to talk about that with the people it’s also affected, helps them, helps them process it, helps them feel less lonely as well.

So it’s not just about the communicate about talking about it. It’s learning how to talk about it as well.

Chris Simmance (27:25.586)
Yeah. And it’s very hard to have the mental equipment, should we say, to talk about things unless you have, unless you learn how to do it. And like you say, it’s, it’s almost something that comes from an experience or, or being around people who have a certain experience. And I think that your, your team will only benefit from, from your

um, new sort of, um, uh, way of being able to articulate these things and support other people and, and your, and your wife as well. Um, but you know, I think these are the, these are the, these are the kinds of, um, sad parts of life, which ultimately, um, you can, you can almost choose to a certain level, how you, um, how you manage them in the long run. Um,

You know, you could take it in one way and it go very negatively for you and everyone around you. You could take it another way, which, you know, helps you learn and helps you to grow and helps other people. And I think that, you know, the way you’ve explained that it sounds very much like it’s a sad way to learn a important thing.

Paul (28:46.905)
Yeah, absolutely. It’s really strange. Grief is strange. The last six months, I’ve felt angry, I felt sad, I’ve been in deep depths of despair. But then, once I processed those things, when I’ll be back at work, I was noticeably, I physically felt less anxious. And I’m not a medical professional, so I don’t know. But I believe there’s a reason that we feel stressed from like an evolution standpoint.

And sometimes you need to be both sort of consciously but also subconsciously maybe physically go through that Process to remind yourself that actually that Meeting that you’ve got with a client that’s really angry about a set of results that Isn’t going to kill you So therefore you can deal with the first thing you can deal with the next thing. It definitely does give you that context Yeah, which does help

Chris Simmance (29:45.578)
I hugely appreciate your honesty and, you know, willingness to talk about this on the podcast here, Paul today.

Paul (29:54.717)
No, thank you for giving me the platform to talk about it. It’s something that I’ve wanted to be more open about and for various reasons, personal, professional as well. So I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about it.

Chris Simmance (30:06.742)
Um, and anyone listening to this podcast at the moment, um, you, there’s almost certainly someone that will be willing to listen, even if they don’t necessarily understand, um, and that’s probably a good starting point, um, and that’s across all areas of everything. It’s not about business growth or agency growth or anything like that, but things that, things that are tough are often things that, um, are hard to articulate. And

just kind of dealing with all of any of those things on your own is often, oftentimes sabotaging yourself in some way or another. Um, but thank you very much for coming on the podcast today, Paul. And, you know, naturally we’ll have you back in around a year’s time. Um, hopefully not with the G Leon. We’ll, we’ll see how that goes.

Paul (30:44.809)

Paul (30:56.981)
see you never know look as i said my been through a lot recently been through a lot of changes who knows maybe this time next year i’ll be wearing a gilet we will find

Chris Simmance (31:06.114)
I’m not gonna, I’m not gonna sound callous and say that, that trauma does funny things to a man, but, you know, if you put a gilet on, we know that you’re not quite right still.

Paul (31:18.417)
Yeah, yeah, that’s when you really know I haven’t been processing it. Yeah, well, God forbid.

Chris Simmance (31:27.394)
Thanks very much for coming on. And in our next episode, we’ll be speaking with another agency leader to hear their story and the lessons they learned along the way. And thanks very much for listening.

Paul (31:36.677)
Thanks for watching.