What it’s like being inside an agency who have grown to 100 people in two years – Rise at Seven

Last week I spent two days being the work experience kid at the Sheffield based Digital PR/SEO agency, Rise at Seven (Rise) to see what I could learn. To know why this felt a bit special, you only need to know that Rise has gone from two, to nearly 100 people in two years. They […]
Rise at Seven

Last week I spent two days being the work experience kid at the Sheffield based Digital PR/SEO agency, Rise at Seven (Rise) to see what I could learn.

To know why this felt a bit special, you only need to know that Rise has gone from two, to nearly 100 people in two years. They are FLYING.

Their founders, Carrie Rose and Stephen Kenwright are also previous TMM speakers. They both smashed talks on How to Get Links and Press, and How to Get Companies to Buy into Disruptive Ideas.

It’s inescapable to say I had an amazin’ time and Rise is doing a whole lot right. So while I didn’t want to turn this into a ‘smoke blowing’ article, I can’t help but praise Rise for all the good I saw them implement.

The real intention behind writing here, though, is to share the lessons I learned should anyone from the community look to take inspiration from. There are loads to take in!

 

Table of Contents

So, what can you learn from an agency like Rise at Seven? Here are some things I picked up:

Speed, speed, speed.

Rise at Seven move FAST in a bunch of ways. This was the biggest takeaway from my time there. You can’t help but feel it when you’re sat in the office.

Executing fast using tools

They have to execute fast as part of the job is staying relevant and on top of the news. Carrie has already spilled the beans in her talk. They use a combination of Exploding Trends, an in-house developed software, and news tickers to see the news worth reacting to for their clients.

Buzzsumo is also used to see who would be good to collaborate with or is likely to place stories for Rise’s clients.

This ties into a thought David Hieatt lent us in our webinar with him: get the best tools and allow people to do the work.

There is then a phenomenal amount of elbow grease that goes into outreach.

I’ve never felt like I’ve cracked the PR egg. So the thing that impressed me was the amount of work that goes into getting placements and links.

This isn’t a ‘Rise’ thing, I’m sure, but it is one of the most compelling reasons for working with specialists agencies of any kind. They’re there to put the time and effort in you can’t afford to put in yourself.

The meetings move fast

We’ve all sat in meetings longer than they need to be.

A productive behaviour I observed is very little small talk at the beginning of meetings. Instead, people got right down to business. Even if a meeting was scheduled for 30 mins, if it was done in 12 minutes – then it was done and people got on with their work.

I also saw people discuss ideas and throw them out in rapid-fire. If it was a ‘no’ it was never personal – it was an idea, and people moved on. It was all super healthy and refreshing.

How to thinking fast in a growing agency

They think fast but do it smartly. As so much of their work depends on creative ideas that much of it has to be process-ised.

A practice I liked seeing is that everyone has to come to creative meetings with ideas, ready to share.

We’ve all sat in meetings where people come in without any ideas and have to start from scratch. This process gave everyone a head start and lent to a speedy environment. When meetings start – everyone is ready and ideas flow from that point onwards.

Speed of growth

One of the things people love speaking about Rise is how fast they’ve grown on the people front. From two to 100 in just over two years.

On my two days at the company, they mentioned they were hiring nine people for the PR team. They had recently brought on senior hires from companies, including early members of Mother. This feels important. The experience of these people will help them navigate growing pains that will no doubt surface over the coming period.

 

On the junior front, Carrie was super proud of how well they can take a young person and train them up, fast. As I only assumed my ‘fly on the wall’ status for two days, I can’t speak to their journey.

What I can say is I observed a company growing quick. And everyone I interacted with being sparky and curious. There are a few things I think Rise are doing at the moment we can learn from:

  • Learning from others – Rise seems to have friendly relationships with agencies including those which have followed similar journeys, such as Social Chain. This means they’re unlikely to repeat mistakes of the past from other agencies. I love seeing this kind of collaboration and it speaks to a new generation of companies who are more open and cooperative.
  • Becoming ‘famous’ meaning they have the pick of the talent – In their talk for The Marketing Meetup, Stephen spoke about a brand becoming ‘famous’ is a route to share of mind at the point of search and sale. The same applies for employer branding when young talent is on the lookout for a job. Nathan Bickerton, fresh out of uni, is an example of this where he developed an AR app to get the attention of Rise at Seven (see the video below). He was later hired which was fab! Interestingly, as an example of how Rise is ‘growing up’ – they did say that those kinds of applications are now diverted through a formal applications process as it became hard to keep up with the amount of stuff coming through!
  • The velocity of opportunities – Most importantly to Carrie’s assertion about young talent becoming good quickly was the sheer amount of exposure to opportunities they have. By becoming ‘famous’ as they have, pitches are a regular occurrence at Rise. This means young talent gets a lot of exposure. While sometimes there is no replacement for ‘years on the job’ – working at Rise feels like living in dog years. This is due to the amount of exposure young people get to things, early. This means working at Rise isn’t just a flashy opportunity – this is a genuine chance to be part of somewhere young talent will get opportunities not many other places can offer.
 

All in all, what seemed impressive is that this didn’t seem to come at the cost of quality. This encouraged me to move quicker on things with The Marketing Meetup and I’m already feeling the benefits!

Train people up.

On the theme of people is training.

In a previous life, as a marketing manager at Genie Goals, I experienced an excellent six-month training programme called the Genie Academy. It was a comprehensive view into the world of marketing, taught by other members of the team. Fab for learning, fab for skill sharing.

At Rise, I saw a different version of this, probably due to the pace of growth at the company.

Training was CONSTANT and largely informal.

I sat in on four training sessions over the two days, and I got the feeling it wasn’t put on just for me. I got the sense that it would be perfectly normal for a team member to request more information on how to do something, and within a couple of days the training would be created and all the relevant team be invited to also join the call to sharpen their tools, too.

This was driven home for me as I will be looking to hire soon. Naively, I thought if we got the right person they would almost train themselves. My time at Rise showed me that hiring is only part of the equation.

Getting the most out of content

Rise produce smart content. There is no two ways about it.

One of the examples I loved being shown was their work for Missguided, where they created a study into which shows on Netflix got the most ‘chill’.

Below is a screenshot of the study – the purpose of which was to get press and links back to Missguided:

Now, when I first saw the campaign I saw a story or two like ‘Breaking Bad is the sauciest show on Netflix’.

But at Rise, there is approximately 250 potential stories and angles to be sent to journalists at any one time from this piece of content alone. Rise, by preparing this data, has created a library of potential reactive content to be sent to journalists at any one time.

For example, if a journalist speaks about Breaking Bad there is a story about how many hot acts there are.

There is another about how much nudity there was.

There is another about the ‘Chill’ rating Missguided gave the show.

There are more about all three combined, or just two of them, etc.

Multiply this by all the shows in the list and combine the data in any amount of variations – and you can see all of a sudden one piece of content can be sweated for all it’s worth in the pursuit of stories and links.

This was smart, and made me think a lot about how content and distribution can be worked so much harder than simply writing a blog post and hoping it will be a hit!

Again, I need to emphasise the requirement for putting the hard graft in here. It takes the act of noting a trend to be able to react to it, creating the content, putting together a press release and outreach list, sending, following up and more. But, the results speak for themselves.

Marketing as both an art and science

Where do you sit on the ‘marketing is science’ vs ‘marketing is art’ debate?

For me it’s a spectrum, and speaking in generalisations, the ‘correct’ point sits somewhere in the middle of the two. One of the pleasing things I saw at Rise was this mixture in action.

Here’s an example:

  1. A client would like a campaign (that’s one of the big, loud campaigns that Rise have become known for)
  2. Rise kick a search for a trend or insight that is relevant for the brand, using a combination of annual search traffic, Google search trends, SEO insights and opportunities analysis. By the end, they have a strong, data-driven argument, which provides a firm backing to the campaign. This is the science.
  3. Off the back of this insight, they then discuss and brainstorm ideas on the theme. This sounds easy, but the creativity in the room was unreal. Again, this goes down to hiring good people! Art in motion.
  4. The idea is then planned and implemented from a creative perspective. This could be getting a photoshoot, creating a report, etc
  5. At the same time the exec team is also creating and getting in touch with an exhaustive list of journalists and influencers proactively. They also use the same content to create reactive outreach when something starts trending, too.
  6. Quantitative results are then fed back to the client in a quantitative fashion – again bringing us back to the science.

This is a process I’m sure takes place in the top X% of companies and marketing textbooks.

But the reality is that in a lot of marketing departments, we swing between pure art, or pure science. Seeing the two work in harmony was impressive but also nice vindication that the theory works.

Again this is a testament to elbow grease and hard work. All of the above steps take time, energy, and expertise. While things move fast, nothing I saw was half-arsed on the basis of ‘I don’t have enough time for that’.

It’s not just about the big ideas.

There was a tonne of big ideas being thrown around the room.

Some of the campaigns most would be scared to implement.

And it’s easy to get carried away with this, thinking that this is all that Rise do.

But, there was also a much more measured approach too.

Thoughtful, smart marketing applied over the long and short term with proper results. It is the combination of both that creates great moments of marketing. Binet and Field would be proud.

Will, Rise’s Director of PR explained to me that clients will often want to see results from both kinds of campaign. Short term wins and long term big pieces that take months to create.

The power of momentum and personal brand.

From a business development perspective, clients in the first instance seemed to come to Rise because of Carrie Rose, Stephen Kenwright and other in house influencers (in a similar way to what Social Chain did with Steven Bartlett I guess!). Carrie and Stephen are by their own admission not everyone’s cup of tea – but isn’t that just indicative of any good brand?

Rise have an internal ‘influencer’ team. These are folks who are happy to put energy behind building their own personal brand with the help and support of the business. This has two benefits:

  1. I’m sure many a marketer reading this article has asked the question ‘how do I get my team to post on Linkedin/engage in personal branding?’. The balance Rise seemed to have found is rather than getting everyone to do it, they have found a group of keen team members who are happy to work on their personal brand. Therefore, they get the backing of the company to do so.
  2. Over time, Rise will become less dependent on Carrie and Stephen, and will yield the benefits of personal branding many times over.

For those wondering how to get started on Linkedin, here’s my guide to posting on Linkedin, and another about personal branding.

Getting personal brand and company confused

One thing I’ve worried about in the past is if my personal brand got bigger than the company brand, would this mean people would think any value came from me, rather than the company?

In Rise’s situation, this would be ‘would people only want to work with Carrie and Stephen, and no-one else?’

I was pleased to see that this wasn’t the case. Almost by definition, if you’re hiring 100 people – you know this to be the case. But to see people coming to Rise, for Rise, rather than just Stephen and Carrie was encouraging in showing you can build both brand and personal brand in parallel.

One example of this in action was Rise’s vlog, The Sauce. The Sauce features a range of team members. While I can’t speak to the ROI on the activity – I can say that I heard a load of ‘Oh, that will be on The Sauce!’ shouted around the office. Which also shows branding works on both internal and external levels!

On Carrie in real life!

Stephen wasn’t in the office for the duration of my time at Rise. I did, however, get to spend time with the imitable Carrie Rose.

As soon as Carrie enters the room, she’s the light of the office. She’s just one of those people with an amazing presence and gravity about them.

A perfect example is when we went to dinner as a group after my first day, our waiter asked… ‘So, who’s the boss then?’. When prompted to guess who… he pointed at Carrie. It’s that obvious!

Carrie and her team are friends, but also colleagues. At the same dinner I loved seeing how they all interacted. The conversation demonstrated that this is a group of people who are all different, but are all drawn together by something they enjoy doing. There wasn’t any laboured discussions about work or weird silences I’ve experienced in the past with colleagues. They were there because they wanted to be.

My biggest learning here is about the boss also being the embodiment of the brand.

Rise is divisive, quick, young and bold. Everything Carrie is. I left thinking about how a company is so often a reflection of the people who lead it. For me, that was some to lean into with The Marketing Meetup, and something I’ve shied away from in the past. I was grateful to learn that.

A quick word on momentum

Momentum is one of my favourite words in business, and Rise’s growth is only gathering pace. When momentum gets behind you, everything becomes easier. Rise are riding a wave of momentum.

Momentum only comes about by doing the hard work at the beginning to get the ball rolling. Do the best you can in your own world today, but don’t worry about comparing yourself against anyone else who is years into their journey.

In summary, some lessons on growing an agency from my time at Rise

Two days at Rise taught me an incredible amount. Here’s the summary:

  1. Implement a process around idea generation and a criteria for accepting good/bad ideas.
  2. Have no-one come to meetings without ideas already in place. Also give folks the space they need to generate this ideas.
  3. Get the best tools you need, then trust your people to implement them.
  4. Don’t make meetings any longer than they need to be.
  5. Don’t make it personal. Discuss and debate ideas. Cast them aside when need be.
  6. Sometimes there is no escaping the fact that things need time and effort to implement. Avoid half arsing at all costs.
  7. Learn from others, and don’t be jealous of the knowledge you have. Share.
  8. Become famous!
  9. Expose young talent to as much opportunity as possible. It’s the best way to learn.
  10. Train people up.
  11. When creating content, do it with purpose. Do it smartly. Find multiple angles.
  12. Find data to show your assertions, but also realise human ideas are required to bring those insights into life.
  13. It’s not about big ideas or consistent activity – you need both.
  14. Build your personal brand. Build the personal brand of those around you!
  15. If you’re the boss… be the personification of the company. That doesn’t mean loud or brash – it means be what you want the company to be.

My time at Rise was brilliant, and I’m proud to have spent a couple of days there. They are only growing and growing, so watch this space! Thank you again to everyone at Rise for being so kind and open to me over those couple of days.

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