CEO Secrets: 'Taking risks is how we found our edge'

Jeremy Howell - Business reporter, BBC News
·3 min read

When George James started the social media agency Be-Hookd Digital eight years ago, he thought he and his then-business partner made the perfect team.

"I was young. I had big ideas. I understood social media," he says. "My business partner would win clients with her experience. She could convince clients to work with us and spend money with us."

Be-Hookd Digital works on social media strategies for clients such as musicians and fashion brands, to try and get them news headlines.

"We are the link between artists and their fans," says George, 32. "We turn fans into superfans."

Be-Hookd has worked with the likes of JW Anderson, The Script, Tinie Tempah, Paul Weller, Nina Nesbitt and Emily Burns.

Emily Burns
Be-Hookd has worked with singer-songwriter Emily Burns in social media

For the first six months after it was founded, Be-Hookd prospered. George thought up eye-catching events for the clients while his older, more mature business partner pitched for business and developed the company strategy.

However, she was then lured away to do a more lucrative job elsewhere. George felt that without her guiding presence, clients would desert the agency and it would collapse.

"I was left almost at the brink of thinking: 'Shall I just close this down and go and get a normal job?'" he says.

"The thought of trying to convince the type of clients we were working with to continue working with a 23-year-old with a couple of members of staff just seemed like such an uphill struggle."

Stormzy
George used a social media row between Stormzy and cartoon character Peppa Pig to generate publicity for both

George's problem was that his competitors in the advertising and PR industries were seen as safer pairs of hands than he was. They would spend a long time formulating promotional strategies for clients. George's instincts were to risk everything on the success of a quirky idea which he had thought up on the spur of the moment.

Two years ago, for instance, he had the idea of collaborating with the creators the cartoon character Peppa Pig to draw her with a crown on her head, mimicking the crown worn by the rapper Stormzy. This provoked a Twitter row between Stormzy and Peppa which spilt over onto the TV breakfast shows, gaining publicity for both sides.

However, George feared that many clients would pass up on such quirky publicity ploys.

"Big companies were used to seeing agencies playing it safe," he says. "Process and protocol are everything."

However, George's father persuaded him to stay in the PR industry and continue trying to pitch for clients by making a virtue of the qualities he had.

Be-Hookd Digital's offices
Be-Hookd now has offices in London, New York and Los Angeles

"My father said: 'Maybe you want to look at what makes you individual, and how you might be able to convince people to stay with you and win these clients back.'

"I thought to myself: 'Being small and not being established and being irresponsible and a bit fun and taking risks - these companies want a slice of that.'"

George has since grown Be-Hookd to employ 40 people. It has offices in London, New York and Los Angeles. His gamble - selling himself on his qualities of quirkiness and originality - has paid off.

"I turned what I thought was my weakness into a strength," he says. "It's how our agency found our edge."

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