The Ri5 interview: Claire Herriott, White Label

 

When Claire set up White Label four years ago, she had modest aspirations. Yet her commitment to faultless client service, developing the people around her and sheer hard work, has meant her business has grown from strength-to-strength.

You’ve been running White Label for four years now. How’s it been?

It really is great. I think, professionally, I've never been happier and more content and more excited than I am waking up every morning and knowing that I run my own successful business.

How did it all come about?

I’d got to a stage in life where I started to realise that I knew lots of ‘stuff’. Then I started to realise that other people really valued this ‘stuff’, my knowledge. It gave me confidence. Throughout my career, I hadn’t always been the biggest self-promoter. I’d just put my head down and worked diligently, servicing clients, whilst building up teams of talented people. But these people moved on. Slowly, it occurred to me that I didn’t want to keep developing people for other companies to benefit. So I thought, "If I have my own business, I can develop people and give them a reason to stay: with me, with my business and with my clients. This way I can really help them forge a career with a small, growing business.” It was a prospect that really, really excited me.

It fast became very clear that when I started to recruit people, they truly bought into what I was doing. They believed in my values and what I wanted to build. Those people have very much been by my side and stuck with me all the way through to where we are today.

What challenges have you faced?

The thing about being in a small organisation is that there's nowhere to hide. Whatever role you're doing, you're fully accountable. But right from the start I’ve always had values, behaviours and accountabilities baked in. Even when there were only three of us.

Everyone knew what their purpose was, what excellent looked like, what exceptional client service looked like, what great teamwork looked like and what being commercial looked like. They all knew what behaviours those were. And I have always interviewed against and recruited against those behaviours so you're getting like-minded people.

It’s what makes us collectively successful. White Label isn’t just about the one person, it's about all of us. We're all in this for our clients and to do great work and to make our clients’ lives, and ultimately the people that they're attracting and recruiting, better.

You’re a huge advocate of developing your people. How do you put that into practice?

I've always had a deep-held belief that you pass your experience on. Cascading knowledge, guiding people, so they make it on their own, making it something different and often better. I believe in that level of nurturing. It stops us thinking about ourselves.

I'm all for progressing people; I'm all for developing them; I'm all for promoting them and for rewarding them. But it needs to be done in a considered way. If you expose people when they’re not ready, you expose yourself, your business and your clients. We ensure our less experienced people learn from the best in the industry, so that they serve an apprenticeship of sorts. We want them to have the skills to succeed, not fail. At the heart of that is client  service. We’re all used to working in 140 characters and firing things off really quickly, but there comes a point where actually, you have to just claw it back and say, "Let's go back to basics. This is about client relationships. It's about client service. The client is at the centre of everything."

We encourage our people to have opinions, so that when they’re communicating with our clients they’re able to add-value; to contribute. I want our people to show clients that they understand the challenges they face. So that when our clients put down the phone, or come away from a meeting they’re saying “Yeah, those guys at White Label, they know what they're doing. They're committed to us. They've got our back. They want us to succeed.”

How has White Label changed since you set it up?

I recognised for a while that media strategy, media planning, and buying and negotiating weren’t being invested in as much by agencies. It felt that I could carve out a niche for myself, by taking my skills and ‘white label’ this expertise to partner with agencies – so they could sell my services on.

I started out by myself, but demand slowly grew. It meant I could build up a small team and take on some premises. It felt great to give my people an environment where they could succeed.

But reasonably quickly word spread. And we grew. And whilst we were still working as an extension of various agencies, we were beginning to do more client-direct work. It was around this time that Gemma Goode joined. She’s fantastic with clients. And once she came on board, we won more new business.

We started working on more than media planning and implementation. We did some creative. Branched out to take on some larger, more integrated campaigns. That really started to change how we viewed ourselves at White Label. Organically, we’d grown into a talent attraction and employee comms agency.

What sort of clients are you working with?

All sorts. We were up at Christmas against some of the most prestigious agencies in the industry in a competitive pitch. It was for a huge account. And we won. It’s the stuff of dreams – something I said to the client, to which he said, "It is meant to happen because you've worked hard and you've wanted it and you were the best on the day. You put the best proposal forward and you were the best.”

The belief in us has been amazing. I tend to use my son as an analogy. When he was 12, he said he wanted to be a doctor. He won’t mind me saying, he wasn’t a straight A student. But we gave him the environment to do what he wanted to do and he was quietly determined and worked hard. He graduates next year as a doctor! I suppose White Label’s a bit like that.

We’ve created this space where people thrive. It means we’re all committed. We’re all team players. And clients see that. That’s what they buy into. So, we’re getting to work on a real variety of exciting work. From EVP’s to large volume, complex resourcing solutions on an international level.

How’s the team shaping up now?

Cathy Hyde, recently joined as a Client Partner. She's very well-known and respected in the industry. We're the sum of those two parts, Cathy and I. Talent attraction is very much my area of expertise. And employee communication is very much Cathy's area of expertise. Add Tracey Anderton into the mix as our People Consultant and the support of Gemma and her team. We’re at 10 perm full-time. Plus, what sometimes feels like, an army of interims and freelancers, talented people we’ve worked with over the years, all who add an important flavour. It’s all shaping up nicely.

What’s your elevator pitch?

You get strategic expertise, proficient planning and impeccable implementation because we're a committed, diverse, dedicated team that’s steered by a group of industry-leading experts. Our strength also lies in our size. We’re small, but incredibly agile.

What’s the culture like?

Whilst I’m obsessed and often work long hours, I don’t expect others to be the same. After all, it’s my risk. But behind my drive, energy and enthusiasm are people who love, advise and support me. And that runs throughout White Label.

If someone needs to bring their dog into the office because they haven't got someone to look after it, then that’s what happens. If someone needs to work from home because they can't get in that day because their child's got chicken pox, well, so be it. It’s less about work-life balance and more about integrating everything together so that it all works together as a whole. Something doesn’t always need to win. Work and life is integrated, so it balances out.

I'm a big believer in that. You don't have to be sat at your desk 24/7 doing your job if you don't need to be. It's all about ultimately not feeling guilty, not feeling like you’re being split when you don’t need to be. As an employer, it’s about providing that positivity constantly: so that people feel confident, listened to and are able to be the best they can be. In and out of the office.

And what about the future?

In a way, I’m kind of looking forward to getting beyond having to talk about our story. To stop explaining where we’ve come from and justify our background, but to simply ‘be’. It’s about being established. That only comes with time and by continuing to provide excellent client service, so that our work, our reputation and our people speak for themselves. We have so much to give and I can’t wait to share that expertise and experience with more clients. That’s what I'm really looking forward to. Continuing to build the business and grow the team without looking back, only forward.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

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(Showing 1 - 4 of 4)

Colin Barnett Date: Sep 8, 2017

Love this girl. Great article.

Peter Rice Date: Sep 8, 2017

Ditto what Colin said. Best of luck Claire.

Deborah McCormick Date: Sep 8, 2017

Congratulations, Claire - a well deserved achievement! "I hadn't always been the biggest self promoter" ... somewhat of an understatement I think. Keep on building, you're clearly doing something right!

James Dalton Date: Sep 11, 2017

It's so nice to see a business giving such value to the people who contribute to its success. But with Claire at the helm, it was always going to be a phenomenal success. Like Richard Branson says - look after your staff and they will look after your customers. Ditto Colin.

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