Setting up your own digital agency is no mean feat, but growing that agency to a 25-strong team, building a knockout client list including world-renowned brands such as Audio-Technica and TIME and steering the agency through over six years of highs, lows and a curveball pandemic… well, we think that’s some cause for celebration. As we sit down with Flaunt Digital’s CEO, Lee Fuller, we’re looking forward to chatting more about what the agency has achieved and what’s coming next…
Flaunt Digital’s boardroom epitomises everything both clients and colleagues love about the agency. It’s casual and cosy yet sharply efficient. The snazzy projection screen is accompanied by an old school whiteboard for those ‘Eureka’ moments. A rustic wooden table in the centre of the room has clearly seen its fair share of brainstorms, client meetings and interviews – and Lee looks right at home.
With over a decade of digital experience, Lee cut his teeth in web development before moving on to work in SEO for some of the city’s most prestigious agencies. Lee explains: “My SEO career benefited from having that technical experience. Being able to interpret web development and then look at how we put that into a growth strategy seemed to suit me quite well. So that’s how it all started. Web development first, then specialising in SEO.”
Having seen what worked (and what perhaps didn’t) at other agencies, Lee decided to go it alone. “Having been in the agency environment, we identified what could be done better. We felt we could set up a better environment, and provide a better service on behalf of our clients. And I think we’ve achieved that,” he says, emphasising that it isn’t all about client results – it’s about the team behind the magic too. “On the internal side, I think we’ve created an environment here at Flaunt that people like to be a part of. We put a great emphasis on the team – finding the right people and treating them well. In my personal experience, that’s something other agencies don’t focus on as much.”
Setting up a start-up agency must have been a terrifying challenge? When posed the question, Lee gives a confident chuckle. “It wasn’t scary as such – daunting, I guess – but because it was something we knew very well we were pretty confident we could do it.” Still, setting up a business doesn’t happen overnight. Lee explains that he was already building a content marketing platform while working full-time in SEO, which he then sold to fund Flaunt. It comes as no surprise that setting up Flaunt Digital involved a carefully thought-out strategy.
“Surround yourself with the right people”
For Lee, setting up Flaunt Digital wasn’t a solo venture. Jamie Shields (CTO) also took the leap and co-founded the business, with Chris Ayres (CFO) and Chris Hodgson (COO), joining the leadership team soon after. So how do you choose the right people to join you on such an important journey? “I always try to surround myself with people whose talents complement my own skill set,” Lee explains.
The respect he has for his colleagues is ever-present as he reels off the vast amount of knowledge the other board members bring to the business. “Jamie, for example, has a massive amount of development experience and I know how to weave that technical expertise into the marketing side so we complement each other in that way. And Chris has a massive amount of experience in media that I don’t have. I’ve always tried to surround myself with people who build that skillset.”
But, when we get down to the nitty gritty, is it ever worth setting up a business with people you just don’t get on with? Lee doesn’t think so. “Myself and other members of the board go back years and years – ten plus years. They’re all people I’m friends with outside of work so I trust their judgement. I think that’s important.”
“We built the agency around skills we knew inside out”
Lee’s people-focused approach extends to the Flaunt Digital team – and its clients. Finding the right fit, and being brutally honest as to what that ‘fit’ means seems to be the winning formula. “My favourite type of client is a client that wants to move as quickly as we do,” Lee explains. “It’s so frustrating when you work with a client that drags their heels or perhaps in an industry where there’s a lot of bureaucracy and you can’t get anything done. I won’t turn down a conversation with a potential client, but only if there’s a need for our services and there’s a cultural fit between Flaunt Digital and the business. We’re always looking for clients who really want to get stuff done and go after those results.” It seems this ethos has paid off. Flaunt Digital boasts an impressive roster of clients including New York Times, Audio-Technica, Ideal Heating, DUSK and Joe Browns.
With business booming, it might be tempting to begin building new departments and pushing boundaries to become an all-singing, all-dancing full service agency. It’s the pattern so many other agencies have followed. But Lee’s adamant that the key to Flaunt’s success is the emphasis on providing support across specific specialisms; being a master of a select number of areas rather than a jack of all. “We first built the agency around the skills we knew inside out so we could establish ourselves as specialists in those key areas. We’re not just brief grabbing – we don’t just go after whatever we can get. We know where we can deliver the best service and the best results and we stick to that.” Will this change in the future as the business grows and brands’ needs change? Lee shakes his head. “We really don’t feel any necessity to diversify away from that.”
In a similar vein, Flaunt Digital also breaks the agency mould by allowing its experts to communicate with clients directly without the need of account managers acting as an intermediary. “Our operating model works really well. We’ve all worked at big agencies with account managers, and we don’t feel there’s a need for that at Flaunt Digital. Allowing the specialist to work with the client directly builds better relationships, provides a higher level of service and in our experience that’s something that resonates really well with clients.” Clients may work with Flaunt Digital’s PPC, SEO and Web Development departments, but they’ll have key points of contact across each of these specialisms which offers an unrivalled level of transparency and accountability.
“We put genuine care high up on our agenda”
Of course, having this level of trust in the experts requires hand-picking a team you have total faith in. It’s not only about choosing people with talent, but the right personality too. “We place a lot of emphasis on bringing the right people into the business and making sure that new hires fit with the people they’ll be spending the most time with day to day. You can only go so far in an interview, but you can get a gauge of someone’s personality and we make a real effort to try to understand people as much as we can before we make them an offer. The first three to six months of someone being in the agency is where you truly learn who those people are – I think we’ve got our hires right so far.”
It appears that kindness has gone a long way in building the Flaunt Digital brand. Not only does the agency have a fantastic client retention rate, its staff stick around too. The vast majority of the team have filled newly-created roles as the business has grown, creating a tight-knit group of creatives. Flaunt Digital’s unique atmosphere has attracted some of the best talent in the industry. Is it all down to Lee’s people-focused approach? “It’s about having genuine care,” Lee says earnestly. “Not having a list of benefits for benefits’ sake. It’s thinking about the team, it’s thinking about what’s actually going to provide some value. Looking after our team is something that we put very high up on our agenda and it’s something we look at on a regular basis. It’s not crafted out of any motive other than wanting to provide value for the people that work here.”
Lee ensures he spends regular time with every single person in the business, however experienced, and empowers each member of the team by delivering them every opportunity to progress with their careers. With their ambitions listened to and personal goals understood, it’s not only a place where people come to work; they come to grow, develop and be the best versions of themselves. Employees enjoy all the “stereotypical” agency perks too. From 4pm finishes to regular team lunches, there’s a vibrant sense of fun that buzzes throughout the business. As Lee says, it’s all about having genuine care and it’s clear that everyone within Flaunt Digital believes in the agency’s values.
“Looking back… would I do things differently? I don’t think so”
So far, so good. But it can’t all have been plain sailing. The foundations of Flaunt are built on hard work, respect and a genuine love for the industry, and though Lee mentions there may have been some mistakes along the way, there’s nothing notable he would have done differently if he were to do it all again. “We all make mistakes – we’ve learned from ours and haven’t repeated them – it would be naïve to sit here and say we’ve done everything absolutely spot on. But, again, it goes back to surrounding yourself with people that you have confidence in.”
We move on to life outside of Flaunt Digital. Lee’s often accompanied to the office by his gorgeous dog Charlie – a firm favourite amongst the team. With a one year-old daughter keeping him even busier, Lee’s certainly got his hands full! Lee laughs, “It’s a new level of intensity. But it’s wonderful in the same breath. I’m very grateful for it.”
“AI isn’t coming to take your job”
As we wrap up the conversation, we turn to the future of search marketing. Flaunt Digital prides itself on being at the forefront of technology. If a tool doesn’t exist to solve a problem, the team will build it. From bespoke survey tools to the group’s natural language processing tool, Goose, there’s a myriad of internal projects bubbling away to help clients stay one step ahead. “Staying on top of the changes and being able to interpret them properly so that you can give actionable advice never becomes any easier. When it comes to things like AI, agencies are most likely to add value by being able to interpret new tech and being able to utilise it in a way that drives results,” Lee explains.
The team has recently placed a lot of focus on AI, having conducted a series of talks and webinars on the subject matter. From discussing how AI might impact paid media to whether AI can really write your website content, Lee insists that AI is here to help, and the trick is to harness its capabilities rather than shying away from it. Is AI really something to be nervous about? “No, AI isn’t coming to take your jobs,” Lee says with a smile. “We’re going to start seeing clients use AI as part of their ongoing strategies, and we can help to make those strategies effective. But ultimately marketing won’t stop being about people. Whatever specialism you’re in, think about where the attention is and who you’re trying to speak to. And then craft the strategy to match that.”
Lee finishes off our conversation with one last piece of advice when it comes to running a digital marketing agency: “Know your craft, surround yourself with the right people and try to work with the right kind of client.” It seems to be a recipe for success so far.
5 Keywords with Lee
In our ‘5 keywords with’ section, we ask our brave interviewee to answer our quick-fire questions with just one word. Sounds simple? Let’s go!
- What makes a great digital agency?
- Why is SEO important to a business?
Search. Because everyone searches for everything
- Where do you see Flaunt Digital in five years’ time?
- What’s the best way to measure success?
- And finally – what matters most to you?