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Blue-chips drive search firm’s expansion

Wednesday 7 November 2012 6:00

Digital marketing group Mediaworks is on track to increase its turnover from £1.5m to £4m as the number of blue-chip heavyweights on its books grows.

Anyone slightly nervous about the future of the North East’s digital sector in the wake of the collapse of industry body Codeworks would do well to take a step into Brett Jacobson’s world.

The young entrepreneur – still a few years shy of his 30th birthday – is in the throes of his best year yet, having almost doubled his workforce to 40 in the last 12 months and added a plethora of big brands to his already brimming order book.

Mediaworks, which Jacobsen founded in 2007 with backing from Newcastle-based serial entrepreneur Chris Thompson, is on target to hit annual turnover of £4m this financial year, up from £1.5m last year and £900,000 the year before.

The firm specialises in boosting the online presence of businesses large and small through the fast-moving discipline of search engine optimisation (SEO).

Its growth has, in part, been driven by the firm’s sharpened ability to take on London agencies for blue-chip clients and win.

“Being in the North East hasn’t stopped us winning business and it’s actually quite a nice talking point with clients who are surprised when they find out we’re not working in Soho.

“I think it’s an advantage because we’ve got lower overheads but also in London you’re fighting over your graduates, whereas here we can pick the cream of the crop.”

Retail giant Office Depot, the world’s biggest currency conversion brand Travelex and global law firm Eversheds are all among the firm’s retained clients. Other Tesco-sized and John Lewis-shaped businesses could potentially come on board in the coming months.

“We’ve got all our systems and processes focused on winning new business but also we’re not losing clients – we’ve got an 80% customer retention rate which is pretty much unheard of,” he says.

“Currently around 60% of our clients are from outside the region and we’re probably signing 10 to 15 new accounts a month and not losing them. That’s led to us taking on 20 new staff this year and we’ve got plans to add another 35 to the team within 18 months.”

Much of Jacobson’s confidence derives from the group’s increasingly global outlook, with the firm currently involved in marketing to over 30 overseas territories including Turkey, Bahrain and the UAE.

The company has its own multilingual team to facilitate grow in this area, recently adding French, German, Dutch and Mandarin Chinese speakers to its workforce on the Team Valley trading estate.

Perhaps surprisingly, though, it is among the firm’s SME clients where most of the demand for these multilingual-based services is coming from.

“SMEs are increasingly switching on to the value of multilingual websites and there’s nothing to stop any business in the North East spending a few thousand pounds on building a website and campaign to target somewhere like China.”

Another contributing factor to the Gateshead firm’s strong current position, Jacobson says, is the fallout from the ongoing decline in advertising spend in print and broadcast media.

“Everyone’s pulling money out of the papers and putting money into online marketing. Spending money on SEO rather than a newspaper advert enables you to see exactly how many visitors you’ve got and a real tangible return that you don’t get with traditional media.”

Whether or not depressed advertising activity is directly linked to SEO investment in general is debateable. But there is no denying the SEO industry is sat squarely on an upward growth curve.

The recently-published UK Search Engine Marketing Benchmark Report 2012 found that 57% of UK companies surveyed planned to increase their spending on SEO, with 49% planning to up their paid search spending.

The report, led by trusted industry body Econsultancy, was based on a survey of more than 500 client-side digital marketers and agencies.

For firms like Mediaworks, then, the future certainly looks bright. But does that future include following the path well travelled by northern digital firms down to London?

“It’s always been on the cards to have a London satellite office and that would purely be focused on sales and customer relationships,” says Jacobson. “But we’d always keep all the tech, management and admin up here.”