14 Nov Looking back at 21 years of RONIN Marketing with Director, Steve Lipscombe
In celebration of RONIN Marketing turning 21 later this month, we sat down with one of our directors, Steve, to find out more about where it all began.
Let’s start way back in 2001, when RONIN was just a glint in your eye… what made you decide to set up the business?
I was working as a director for a magazine publisher, and one of our customers, who I’d previously had little to do with (and who I thought might be a bit of a chancer), arranged a visit to my office through one of my sales reps. He wanted to know why he was getting nothing from his advertising in our magazines. I agreed to the meeting on the basis that I could be honest with the client, accepting that we may have already lost his business. After an open and frank exchange of views, he said, ‘well what should I do, then?’ It was the opportunity I needed.
So, he became RONIN’s first client?
Exactly, the work gave me enough money to set up the company. I subsequently won another couple of clients quite quickly and I was off and running. That first client sold his business five years later for £5 million, we became great friends and worked together until he sadly died suddenly a few years ago.
Were there any other companies around at the time that inspired you?
There was an advertising agency in Greater Manchester who I’d worked with for some time as a publisher. The two owners had come through the ranks at one of the big agencies and they were doing a great job for their clients; the level of creativity and integration was extraordinary compared to most others. They were also great guys and when I set up they gave me access to their designers on a freelance basis, but more than this, they taught me a lot about the type of business I wanted RONIN to be.
Obviously, there was no social media or digital marketing back then…
No, the internet was still in its relative infancy and many small and medium sized businesses didn’t even have a website! There was no digital photography, no social media and mobile phones weren’t exactly very mobile.
It’s almost impossible to imagine a business not having a website. How were they promoting themselves?
Most of them advertised in newspapers and magazines, where you had to wait six months or more before you knew what results you were getting, and even then, you didn’t know who to thank or blame. As John Wanamaker said in the late 1800s (just to be clear, this was well before my time): ‘Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is, I don’t know which half.’
So, there was no way to know what return on investment you were getting from your advertising?
Not really. Even if you picked up business afterwards it was near impossible to tell whether it came from advertising, unless of course you asked the customer. This uncertainty often resulted in a reluctance to spend money on advertising at all. It sounds bonkers that some businesses were doing no promotion but it was understandable because people were spending a lot of money on ad space but unless their agency was Saatchi or JWT (and it was usually nothing like), there seemed very little intellect put into the design and messaging.
Things must have improved dramatically when websites came along?
Initially, things actually got worse with the advent of B2B websites, as in the land of the blind the one-eyed man was very much king. For me, the key thing was that there was usually no apparent cohesion between advertising design, sales collateral and PR. Companies tended to use different suppliers for each and nobody seemed to have a plan or a strategy.
Which is where RONIN came in…
I saw it as a massive opportunity to become the place to go where you could get everything you need in-house. This became (and remains) a big USP for RONIN. When I was operating out of my back bedroom, my tagline for the business was ‘Design, Marketing and Common Sense’. The old saying that ‘common sense isn’t so common’ was very appropriate and, in any case, with no formal design skills, I was happy to trade on the ‘common sense’ ticket.
Luckily you’re not in charge of doing the design anymore.
Thank goodness! 21 years later and RONIN has a whole team of talented designers, writers and marketing people whose stock-in-trade is ideas, problem solving and innovation to get results for our customers. Our clients like us because they can work with one team for all their marketing and because they feel they are getting objective advice rather than being pushed in one direction or another – this is not least because we charge the same day-rate for all our services. It makes for a positive and profitable relationship for both of us.