The Indie Series – Paul Hart, managing director of Cargo

Paul Hart, managing director of Cargo, has been delivering brand experiences and digital solutions with the team for more than ten years. He discusses the short and long-term plans for the business, the advice he would give for anyone with a business idea, and how Cargo has adapted in light of the coronavirus pandemic

Tell us about Cargo.

We’re a team of creative designers, developers and digital marketers based in North Shields. We’ve been in business for more than ten years now, working with local and national clients to develop their brands, websites and online activity, and are really proud about what we do.

We like to think that our honest approach sets us apart and clients enjoy working with us as a transparent and no-nonsense agency. With a ‘work hard and be nice to people’ mantra, our team are tight-knit. Many have been with us for more than seven years, which is rare in an industry where staff regularly move. This, coupled with our expertise and a desire to build close client relationships, helps us deliver a high level of work.

With a ‘work hard and be nice to people’ mantra, our team are tight-knit and many have been with us for over 7 years which is rare in an industry where staff regularly move a lot.

What is the most rewarding aspect of running an independent business in the region?

Being situated in the North East is something that’s important to us and runs throughout the agency. There’s a sense of community between other agencies and us that you don’t find in bigger cities around the country. We enjoy celebrating the success of the North East and regularly shout about what others are up to in our Cargo Curates updates – whether competitors or not. This sense of community also extends to networking events, monthly meet-ups and training days, which pull us closer. There are a lot of experienced businesses and individuals in the region and these events give us the opportunity to learn from them.

And the most challenging?

We see two key challenges. The first is location. The North – in particular the North East – is still seen very much as an ‘outpost’, highlighting that, sadly, there is still a North/South divide in our country. While we work largely with clients within the region, we do look to work across the UK with clients in a range of sectors. This gives us good insights into varying national viewpoints. The challenge for us is to promote and be visible outside the region.

The second, closely linked to the above, is budgets. The bright-lights, big-city effect of doing business outside of the North East is attractive where project budgets are more realistic, resulting in the resources to enable us to produce the depth and quality of work we always aim to.

Both of the above challenges could very well be eased in coming months and years as more businesses and organisations become comfortable with carrying out meetings online, avoiding potential travel restrictions.

What are the short and long-term plans for the business?

Short term is obviously to adapt to the new norm, and hopefully get our team back together under one roof as soon as possible. When necessary, we have been able to work socially distant within our studio, but we’ve also looked at plans to enable people to continue working from home for a proportion of the week.

Longer term we will look to develop our own presence and reputation again outside the region with the aim of becoming a nationally recognised creative agency. This in turn will result in a scale up of our team and therefore employment within our region.

We have also been developing an offering to enable businesses who may have put rebranding, developing a new website or digital marketing strategy on hold to engage with us for a 6/9 month period with the aim of working across these three areas to get their business back to – and beyond – where it was prior to the pandemic. The financial structure of this offering will be spread across the period of activity to ensure it is manageable and offers maximum return on investment for the company.

What advice would you give to anyone with a business idea?

Go for it.

If you have an idea, our advice would be to talk to others about it with as many people as possible, starting with friends and family. There are lots of other start-ups in the North East and networking events (some of which have moved online in recent weeks) where you can speak to others who could help grow an idea or offer advice. During lockdown, many business development consultants have been offering their services for free and this could be a great opportunity to get some valuable advice on how to get started.

You must have can-do attitude – especially in these times – staying positive is key, and despite what the news may say, there are opportunities and audiences out there.

How has your business been affected by the coronavirus pandemic?

As an agency, our clients have to be operating for us to do our jobs, which has proven difficult with some cutting back on operations. While our advice to all clients has always been ‘don’t go dark, stay visible’, we fully understand that everyone’s situation is different, and in some cases we do have clients who have paused activity.

At the same time, it has been amazing to see how some of our clients have pivoted to offer new services in the light of the pandemic, which we have then helped them promote.

We don’t operate to a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Every client and project has individual needs and it is important to us that we work with our clients on that individual basis.

Internally, we have had to furlough some staff. This is nothing to be ashamed of – many of our upcoming work, or projects we had proposed on, were understandably put on hold. People are at the heart of our business so we need to protect them any way we can.

As with every other business we have embraced online meetings and were already using online softwares such as Slack and Basecamp, and Trello for communications.

If only we had bought some shares in Zoom!

At the same time, it has been amazing to see how some of our clients have pivoted to offer new services in the light of the pandemic which we have then helped them promote. We don’t operate to a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Every client and project has individual needs and it is important to us that we work with our clients on that individual basis.

Have you adapted your service in light of these challenges?

The services that we offer remain the same however the way that we provide them has had to change. Increasingly over the last 12 months, our three -pillar services of creative design, digital development and digital marketing have become further engrained within each other, meaning that our clients are seeing even more value from each and every member of our team becoming involved and understanding their requirements.

Client conversations and internal meetings now take place remotely, which has some challenges but we’ve still been catching up as usual and keeping clients and the team in the loop with projects. Virtual meetings are the new norm that we all have to get used to, but this does help with the visibility of project requirements.

In light of the challenges that COVID-19 presents – and using the recent Government changes in messaging as an example – it is more important than ever that your brand, messaging and content are consistent across all channels. This is where we can help.

Cargo
www.cargocreative.co.uk
@cargocreative

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