• Launch

18 years and one agency

As a business I’ve loved turns 18 (and with ‘love’ comes all the highs and lows as you know), I wanted to capture what has struck me most about 18 years and one agency, an agency I founded in 2001 from a broom cupboard in Islington, that I commuted to on crutches.   I have other businesses now, but Launch has been most of my (serious) adult life.

Over 6,000 days, we’ve inaugurated hundreds of Launchers, won a stack of industry awards, loads of pitches … and lost a fair few, too.  We hold the record for the world’s longest brainstorm (48 hours if you’re interested), named cruise ships, been voted best agency to work for, and I’ve even been voted best agency leader.  We’ve had really riotous times and less good times.  And along the way, births, deaths and marriages.  So, it’s not really been work, more like a drama, involving a very talented cast.

So I hope I’m reasonably well qualified to give some insight in to human behaviour, business and leadership. 

There’s a thought for each year;

You’re toast if you don’t have a point of difference.  When I set up Launch, we were the UK’s first ‘project based’ PR agency.  Almost laughable to think of that now, as everyone offers projects, but at the time Launch was the first in the world to do so.  Today, we’re more integrated and longer term, but the project ethos lives on, through collective understanding around hunger, edge and accountability.  Our differentiation is now fronted by a lateral creative approach, but in business you have to stand for something.  And not contrived, ideally something that grows and builds naturally from day one.  So, whilst you might always freshen up the shop window, stay true to where you came from.  I remember when our offer became a bit generic, the phones stopped ringing.  Never again.   

Creativity is good grind.  I’ve re-arranged holidays due to creative needs.  And have often sat there at weekends pouring over documents and metaphorically staring out of the window, waiting for something to spark, or being with Launchers, for days, sometimes weeks on end, just thinking.  Good creative grind. The words should never be separated (and are a luxury when they are!).  But grind is also bloody brilliant.  After all, it’s why I’m still here, that’s for sure. 

Work with people you LOVE being with.  Let them know it.  I love working with my COO Juliet.  I love working with the Management Team.  I love working with everyone at Launch.  OK, you don’t have to be on speed dial to Inteflora every 5 minutes, but express simple joy and appreciation at being with those you’ve chosen, and who have chosen you.

Celebrate often.  In the first 10 years or so, I was good at the big set piece celebrations, and remember when we hit nearly 50 people and scooped agency Campaign of the Year thinking that that was a moment.  But generally, I was rubbish. ‘What’s next?’ would be my thing.  You need to regularly celebrate success, big and small – for everyone involved, including yourself.  It’s partly why we’re turning our Ground Floor into a pub this year to properly celebrate our 18th (aptly named after Launchers and our clients, All Bar None).

Humility is No.1.  It’s the biggest thing I look for in people we hire, and demand it of myself.  You may have someone with bags of talent, but if they’re smug, it’ll never work out. 

Be bold.  Richard Reed’s book, If I Could Tell You One Thing, is good on that.  Martha Lane-Fox talks about looking for ‘moments of boldness’ in any given day.  I buy that. 

Be yourself. It’s probably the most important thing you can do in business (assuming you’ve got Humility, above).

People are good people, mostly.

Ignore negativity.  Negativity is bullshit and can kill a culture.  Don’t listen to people who say ‘you can’t’ and then offer no alternative.  It has no place in any business. 

Work really hard.  I make no apology for including this, but Launch wouldn’t be 18 without relentless hard work from many.  For me, I get up early, I exercise, I have ‘my time’ before the mayhem starts – that generally helps get through everything. 

Obsess about the new business pipeline. It’s OK to have an off day.  Reset, refocus, and change something, the next.  I’m easier on myself aged 47 than I was when I was 29.  

Real supporters help you succeed.  People with no agenda, not in it for money, but because of love, admiration, respect, or something else (!) – people who will just stick with you, whatever.  I am indebted to so many who have given their time for no ask, and always look for moments to repay that to others.

Never give up.  It’s the most often quoted thing in business, but an extra night or weekend on a pitch might just be the difference in keeping the lights on, paying everyone a bonus, or hiring a new member of the team.  

Work hard at staying fresh.  I’ve stayed fresh by launching two other businesses in different fields.  Yes, I buy all the stuff about holidays, sleep, quinoa and yoga … but what’s going to keep your mind alive? (and ok, two weeks in the Maldives does help).  Before I set up Launch, I remember Graham Lancaster of Biss Lancaster fame used to write thrillers.  I get it now. 

Integrity.  Always.   It’s a small world and you should be comfortable on every level with decisions you make. 

Smile a lot.  I used to be much more serious externally (even if I wasn’t really inside).  People live off your temperature and unless your smile comes from deep within you, there’s no point. 

And finally, be kind.  Life is short and people are with you for pretty simple reasons; to learn, develop, do great work, be inspired, have fun and hopefully, lead.  As I look at all the brilliant people in Launch, I see kindness completely hardwired in to our DNA.  That’s a huge source of personal and collective pride within Launch today.  Businesses should be more kind.

Once a Launcher, always a Launcher.

By Johnny Pitt, Founder of Launch