What got me into marketing: Digital Experience Director

First up, confession time, my name isn’t actually Tosh. Not according to my birth certificate anyway. But it is the name I have been known by amongst my family, friends and colleagues since a very early age. No one close to me is quite sure why or when it happened, but legend has it that its use emerged around the time that Toshiba were running their ‘Hello Tosh, Got a Toshiba’ advertising campaigns.

Anyways, what got me into marketing? I think my early inspiration came from my mum. She was a journalist and had spent much of her career working in London on magazines such as ‘Women’s Own’ and ‘Take A Break’ before becoming the Editor of the M&S magazine. I spent many a school holiday doing work experience down in Soho. I guess it was that time making brews for people in the marketing and sales teams whilst absorbing the atmosphere that provoked a desire to study media at university. At that time, it was a popular subject, and I clearly didn’t market myself particularly well during the application process. I applied to six universities and received six rejections. After an enforced year out, teaching at a boarding school outside Stafford, I spent two solid days ringing universities trying to get a place on a Media Studies course. No luck. With a last-minute change of tact (and to avoid my mother’s wrath), I ended up enrolling on a History course at Staffordshire University.

I learned a valuable lesson on day one. Contrary to my previous beliefs, there are very few facts in history, it is mostly based on opinion. History’s really about doing your research, finding as much information as you can and creating a narrative that is legitimate and that resonates with your audience. Not that I knew it at the time, but this advice has served me incredibly well when it comes to work in advertising.

Holding down the fort

So what does someone with an interest in media do with a history degree? Three weeks after graduating I found out. I started working with a one-man band who had a website where you could buy ring tones for your Nokia 5110 ‘s and 3210’s. We had one room, two desks and no windows. My job was to receive email orders, confirm the desired ringtone and request credit cards details before sending out the ringtone. All very high tech and super secure! After my first week, my boss took the time to thank me for my hard work. I appreciated the gesture. He then explained that he hadn’t had a holiday in three years and asked if I would mind holding down the fort whilst he went away with his fiancé. Sure, I thought, that shouldn’t be an issue, when are you planning for? This Monday. For 2 weeks. The Maldives. Gulp.

For the two weeks he was away, I worried on an hourly basis but got into the swing of things eventually. By the time he came back I had worked out how to create our own ringtones (he had been ‘borrowing’ them from a competitor), how to block email spam from people who didn’t really want to order stuff (probably the guy he was ‘borrowing’ from), dealt with a call from the serious fraud squad (unrelated to the alleged ‘borrowing’), and spoke with the director of a company that owned 80% of the fruit machines in pubs across the UK and who was interested in a distribution deal to sell ringtones through their terminals. It was a crazy time, but fun. I was thriving. And so was business. Somehow, amongst the chaos, the daily download figures had doubled from 15 to 30. And we’d had a record day of 38 on the last Friday. I was super proud at the end of those two weeks and got a buzz knowing I could deal with all that stuff by just applying common sense and using my brain.

Five years later we had 100 staff in Leeds and London, worked with clients such as O2, Vodafone, HMV (RIP), Universal and Warner Brothers and our daily download figures peaked at 50,000. Living the dream! Well, that was until advertising took away the dream. In a twisted turn of events, Jamster and a certain crazy frog arrived on the scene and flooded every TV channel and magazine with adverts. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much loyalty in ringtone downloads and business disappeared almost overnight. It wasn’t long after that we had to close the offices. Powerful stuff this advertising, was my thought as I put the office sign on the top of the skip before driving away for the last time.

Intro to agency life

After the frog had taken away my dream job, I spent some time reflecting on what I wanted to do next. My wife had worked in agencies and said my experiences were well suited to that world. I put myself out there and landed a job at Nunwood, a research consultancy agency, as a Project Manager. Much like my first job, I was very quickly thrown in at the deep end. Day one involved me packing a bag, meeting my boss and team at the front door then hopping on a train straight down to Earls Court where I manned a stand for three days at a research convention. I had to meet existing and prospective clients and explain to them exactly what we did and why we would be good to work with, so I learnt a lot about my agency very quickly over those few days with a few hangovers thrown in for good measure. I loved every minute of that first week and the next couple of years. It was a fabulous experience. I made some friends for life and learned a tremendous amount about what it takes to be successful within a thriving, forward-thinking agency.

Finding HOME

After Nunwood, I started working freelance as a Project Manager around various agencies for about three or four years. It was fun working for myself and I learnt a lot, but eventually, the contracts started to dry up and I needed a plan as I had a two-year-old to look after and my wife had recently been made redundant too. I decided I would look for an agency I could join, just for a year or so, which lead me to HOME. That was 8 years ago, and the time has absolutely flown.

So that’s my story, advertising branded me, ruined my job, then became my job. All things considered, I feel very lucky to be involved in a such a fun and vibrant industry where every day involves working alongside amazingly talented and passionate people that constantly push the creative and technical boundaries to delight our clients and their audiences.

Written by:

Tosh Balding Digital Experience Director


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