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The one-day-a-month appointment which breathed new life into Future50 firm Creative Sponge

PUBLISHED: 11:32 28 August 2017 | UPDATED: 13:15 28 August 2017

Philip Mann, right, has joined Creative Sponge as non-executive chairman, to work with managing director Alex Tosh. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY.

Philip Mann, right, has joined Creative Sponge as non-executive chairman, to work with managing director Alex Tosh. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY.


Scaling up is a challenge, but calling in help from those who have been there and done it can ease the way, as one Future50 firm told Mark Shields.

Creative Sponge managing director Alex Tosh. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY.Creative Sponge managing director Alex Tosh. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY.

Having survived as start-up, clocked up a decade in business and ridden out a recession, Alex Tosh felt his marketing agency was facing a new challenge - one which was tricky to resolve.

“We had plateaued as a business,” said Mr Tosh, the managing director of Norwich-based Creative Sponge.

“If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got - that was the issue we had. It’s sometimes difficult to innovate by yourself, and I wanted to push the agency forward.”

The business was still performing well but, by Mr Tosh’s own admission, was in need of renewed direction and focus.

His solution was to call in help from experienced Philip Mann, who had held senior positions at the likes of BamberForsythFitch and Wolff Olins, formalising a voluntary mentoring relationship struck through a Design Business Association scheme, which saw Mr Mann become Creative Sponge’s non-executive chairman.

Mr Mann began by canvassing views on Creative Sponge both from inside and outside the client base, building a picture of the Future50 company’s strengths and weaknesses.

Some of the changes which have been made were straightforward, such as bringing in an agency management system, adopting company-wide values and investing more in staff.

Others have been subtler, born of Mr Mann’s role as a senior second opinion – what the pair call their “thinking partnership”. He works one day a month for the company, and travels to Norwich to attend regular board meetings.

“It isn’t some bloke coming in and telling you what to do,” said Mr Mann. “It’s non-directive, so I help Alex to explore his own thinking by acting as a sounding board. Otherwise, people often get stuck with self-limiting beliefs – thinking ‘that will never happen’.”

Using his decades of experience in the industry, Mr Mann has been able to help Mr Tosh plot a bolder course for the company.

“There are three types of company: those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who wonder what happened, said Mr Mann.

“All changes bring pain. It does, and one has to accept that, but one also has to recognise that the pain of not changing is the worst of all.”

“Philip has helped me to go for it a bit more –aiming for bigger and better clients, said Mr Tosh.

“Just because we are in Norwich doesn’t mean we can’t win those clients. We don’t want to stand still and I want us to be the best, and known as the best in the Eastern region.”

The company moved to new offices in All Saints Green in 2016, and has been bolder in its talent recruitment – both decisions taken by Mr Tosh, but with the endorsement of his non-executive chairman.

Clients now include the Daily Mail Group and Warner Bros , with a three-year plan in place to double the size of the 24-strong, £1m-turnover firm.

Having felt the benefits to his business, Mr Tosh now urges other East Anglian firms to consider non-exec support in their own search for growth.

“Philip has really helped us get where we are today. I couldn’t have done it without him,” he said.

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