Meet the Director and co-founder of PB Creative
Hi Pete, thanks for taking time out to do this interview. Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I’ve been working in the branded packaging design industry for about 20 years. I worked at some of London’s top consultancies before setting up PB Creative with co-founder Ben Lambert in 2010.
Who or what inspired you to get started?
Early experiences of agency life were a big factor – as was meeting Ben at my first job. We both wanted to set up our own agency from the outset, with the simple desire of doing things better. Looking at the businesses we were working for, and realising that a key factor in their success was down to our contribution, made us think we should do it for ourselves.
What was it about Ben that marked him out as the perfect business partner?
Ben and I are very like-minded. We share the same core principles, passions, integrity and, most importantly, sense of humour! The ability to make light of less-than-perfect situations certainly helps you get through. Ben and I complement each other personally and professionally; we excel at different things, which makes us a potent team.
How do you set yourself apart from other businesses in your industry?
We place a lot of importance on developing strong, lasting personal relationships with our clients. We also care deeply about who we recruit at PB. For us, it’s more about organic growth than aggressive new business, which gives us time to adapt to client needs and find the very best talent.
We never compromise on any aspect of our business or proposition and we partner best with clients who share our passion for creative excellence. We’re always pushing to improve every aspect of the business.
What’s the single most important decision you made?
Going into partnership with Ben. After that, it was taking the decision very early on to move our studio to Central London. That gave us kudos and gravitas and proximity to clients. It was a big jump after just four months operating out of Ben’s dining room!
At quite a pivotal time we were invited to pitch for the LYNX account with Unilever, which we won. It wasn’t a straightforward decision – we thought long and hard about the size and gravity of the account and the fact that we’d have to grow quite quickly as an agency to successfully service them. But once we came to terms with that and embraced the opportunity, it transformed our business. We then grew from a start-up into an established agency in six months. There was no going back – that was our big break.
How did you fund the launch of your business and what creative strategies did you use to execute a minimal cash flow?
With design, you’re essentially selling ideas. You don’t need large premises, a fleet of vehicles, or lots of staff. We self-funded our launch, each putting £6K into the pot. We worked from Ben’s dining room to begin with and kept our overheads minimal. A couple of Macs and we were off.
Initially we worked for our previous employers as consultants. Our contractual restrictions stipulated that we couldn’t approach or work for any of our previous clients for six months. As soon as those obligations timed out we focused everything on developing direct client leads and building relationships. Our first opportunity came from Unilever.
How did you conquer moments of doubt – what pushes you through?
Being a strong partnership is fundamental. Setting up a business is a bit like doing a skydive – you’re jumping out of a perfectly good plane and that plane is a successful career in an established agency. There are no guarantees, but that’s part of the thrill and challenge of it.
Ben and I had everything riding on PB, financially, reputation-wise, I guess even our friendship. Failure was never an option. It was never a question of not making it work, it was more about what success would look like.
Who is your target audience?
Fast Moving Consumer Goods brand owners. We specialise in everyday premium brands in personal care, haircare, male grooming, craft beer and spirits, among other products. We resonate best with everyday premium brands that have personality and passionate teams behind them. Again, the client relationship is key here – get that right and it’s the beginning of a highly rewarding collaboration.
What is your top tip for young entrepreneurs who are ready to launch their own business?
Ideally, don’t go it alone. Find a partner you respect and trust, ideally someone with similar aspirations and a complementary skill set. Split everything 50:50 – risk, shares, finances, concerns, pay, holiday…
Ben and I talk about the business every day – challenges, issues, opportunities, how he’s feeling, how I’m feeling. Continual, organic, open conversation about whatever’s on your mind reduces the potential for conflict and disagreement. Nothing Ben says surprises me because we are already in tune with each other.
What’s first in the morning: phone, book, laptop or me time?
Breakfast! I’m hopeless on an empty stomach.
What plans do you have for PB Creative over the next 12 months?
We’re planning to grow and to continue to develop our client base, expanding into some new sectors. The next year is all about diversification for us, while continuing to deliver world-class creative for our existing clients.
What’s the most important question entrepreneurs should be asking themselves?
Why are you doing this? Is it about lifestyle choice or world domination? There’s no right or wrong answer but it will shape how you move forward. And if you’ve got a business partner, you need to be on the same page.
How do you recharge?
I’m an active person; cycling gives me the headspace I need. Also, spending time with my family. I come to the office early and I work hard, but I like to go home on time to put my kids to bed. The idea that if you’re not sacrificing your whole life for your business, you’re not a true entrepreneur is outdated. You need a balance. You don’t want to get to the point where you’re hugely successful, but your kids barely know who you are.
What habits do you think helped you to become successful?
Daily communication. Ben and I sitting together every morning over a coffee is a habit that has made us more successful. Also, not accepting that things are just the way they are. As a business owner you can influence pretty much everything that happens in one way or another, and it’s important to continually re-evaluate and improve.
What are your thoughts on networking to build your business?
You’ve got to put yourself out there for people to know that you exist. Our business is founded on relationships and we work hard to establish and nurture these. The best relationships often produce the best work, so even though networking can feel frustrating at times, it’s important.
How did you build such a great culture at PB Creative?
PB is a family. We recruit talented people who are at the top of their game but who are also the right fit for our culture. In a smaller business, that’s crucial – the balance of people and personalities is fundamental.