Ahead of our hugely popular Women in Content event on the 8th March, held to celebrate iInternational Women’s Day, we caught up with each of the five speakers to find out a bit more about how they navigate the industry. Get to know Nicola…
Nicola is an experienced marketing consultant, with a special interest in psychology and human behaviour. After graduating in Psychology, Nicola joined the world of PR working across some well known National brands, then headed up a marketing team at a National Insurance Company before founding Maze Media in 2009. She now co-owns six agencies within The Maze Group.
Maze is Marketing agency who focus is on clever creative campaigns. The agency, pre covid times, held regular events across the country focusing on all areas of Marketing from content, strategy, planning, social media and outreach. Also within the Maze Group are Fluential, a Influencer Agency, who work with influencers and brands to deliver bespoke campaigns, WXVE, who are a film/TV studio, TLNT, who focus on Influencer management and Optimyzd, who specialise in all things paid advertising. Nicola has recently been awarded Business Person of the Year at the Norfolk Mayor’s Awards for her work with Maze and her support and development of women in business.
Nicola Bray, Founder of Maze Group
Read the interview with Nicola…
Hi Nicola, we’re really pleased to have you join us for another Women in Content event, your second year as a speaker! Can you give us a quick introduction to yourself and what you do?
Hi Natasha. Thank you very much for asking me to be involved again. Last year was a lot of fun.
I am Nicola, originally from the Norfolk countryside, surrounded by tractors and fields but have spent a lot of my adult life living and working in London surrounded by pollution and large buildings!
Marketing has always been my specialist area, with particular interest in the human psychology side. After a few years working in marketing, mainly client side, I started my first marketing agency in 2009. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing to be honest and my naivety about everything was probably good as I was very fearless about it all and didn’t overthink it! Over the years we have added new specialist creative agencies to our groups and now have six in the group and three locations across the UK.
A lot of our community are keen to learn how they can get to a position like yours – will you share how you go to where you are now?
I did a psychology degree at Leeds Uni, and I was always interested in people. I spent my first few years working in PR and Marketing at agencies in London before moving back to Norfolk temporarily. I realised there were no real marketing agencies in the town I was from, so saw an opportunity to start one! We put together a business plan, which I had no idea how to do at the time, and pitched to a client I was working with as a consultant. They said they would come on board as a client – so Maze was formed.
We started with 3 clients and made a grand total of £81 profit in our first year!! However after a few years as we grew significantly and our client base grew, and I wanted to move back to London, which was perfect timing as we needed to open a London office to expand our client base and team. We then opened a Peterborough office in 2020 just before Covid. So I am mainly based at the London office but regularly go back to Norfolk too and it’s great for our teams who can work across the different offices.
So you don’t just own an agency, you co-own 5 within the Maze Group! How do you manage that and keep on top of everything going on?
It’s definitely busy! We run an incubator model, so we identify people in the team who have a passion for a particular area of marketing, and then when we set up a new agency with them as the MD. They run it day to day and we help with our experience, clients, support, finance, and HR (we own a management company in the group which takes care of all of this). We have a very good Commercial Director and Operations Director too who help with everything across the group. There are four partners in the group and we are all very different with different skill sets, so we make sure we meet regularly and have our own areas to focus on to ensure we continue supporting and growing the group and agencies.
How do you find running the agencies in lockdown? Working with your team and clients, managing home life/work at home etc.
The first lockdown I did panic a bit during the first week and thought that was it, everything was over. But thankfully I got over that anxiety and the slightly over dramatic thoughts and we just took it a week at the time, reacted to the news coming in as was ever changing, and made sure the team was all set up to work from home. The Partners and our Director teams spoke all the time and kept in regular communication with the teams/clients etc and we adapted our campaign/strategies.
It’s certainly challenging and I personally am someone who likes to be out and about and meeting the team face to face, so making sure we kept doing things that were not just work related with the team, sending goodies to them, giving total flexibility to people, ensuring we were always checking in etc was essential. We were lucky we remained busy with client work so I think that helped keep everyone very focussed. We even recruited and took on five new team members in the group during lockdowns which was a new challenge, and still feels weird I haven’t met the new people in person yet! I am utterly bored of my house now though, and desperate to get back to the office to see people. There have definitely been positives to come out of it and our new working lives/agency life will no doubt look very different in the next couple of years.
How do you find the right people to add to your team and establish a culture there?
We have quite a detailed recruitment process and interview stages. Having someone talented and good at their specialist area is important but also someone who fits into the culture and how we work is super important. I don’t know if you really set out to define and set a culture. I think it comes from who you are and how you act. Our goal is to make sure we have a happy work environment, loads of flexibility, good bonus and rewards in place, regular external events/get togethers, investment in training and development and have fun doing the work we do. We are a very open group and try to foster that in the team and get everyone involved in what’s going on. We already had working at home days prior to any lockdowns and we had every other Friday off to give people long weekends. The wellbeing and moral of the team is our top priority.
How do you generate new ideas?
Read, attend talks, listen to podcasts. I walk a lot to think about things and find I often have ideas then. Chatting regularly to people to discuss things and campaigns we like and don’t like. Trying to sit around a table and force ideas doesn’t work so it’s trying to foster an environment where any idea is a good one is key. Keeping up to date with new platforms and tech so we can try new things and pitch new ideas to clients.
What makes a good campaign?
Something unique, something original. But ultimately something that achieves the goals it set out to achieve.
What inspires you/motivates you as business leader?
Having a happy team and doing really good work we are proud of. Being praised by clients and seeing growth and development in the business is also good. I never like to stand still and always want to be doing or trying something new, seeing progress and challenging myself. I love learning and finding out new things and being able to implement them in the business. Hiring new people is also exciting as they can bring new ideas and value to the group.
On Monday 8th March, Nicola will be joining the CMA’s Women in Content virtual webinar series as she presents ‘The Future of Content Marketing. Post Covid. Post Cookies‘. Join the CMA, Nicola and four other fantastic female content leaders for a discussion about navigating our industry, taking on leadership and other tips for creativity and motivation.