My first ten years at Deep South Media…

It’s 10 years to the day since RON WAIN joined Deep South Media from his job as business editor and a former newsdesker at the Southern Daily Echo in Southampton. Headhunted, he arrived as a senior account director before promotion to director, commercial director, joint managing director and, from this January, managing director. Ron, pictured here on the front left with colleagues, shares reflections.

One of my greatest satisfactions to date is helping create new jobs through organic growth. There were four of us when I joined in September 2006 – there are now 14 of us. There is no reason why we cannot profitably grow the team to 20 or more because we genuinely have some of the best communication professionals in the country working for us. The commercial demand is out there because we offer companies a cost-effective solution – most have a genuine requirement for professionally produced content.

I’m an inveterate seller of Deep South Media’s services. So here’s us in a nutshell: We are the UK specialist in outsourced press office services and multi-media content. Our talented and proactive team of professionals provide high-quality written and visual content for your company or organisation. On your behalf, we project and protect – online and in print and broadcast. For three-quarters less in cost than a full-time equivalent position on your payroll. Without any tie-in contracts. With hours to suit your budget.

During the severe recession of 2008-09, and its long aftermath, we kept our heads above water. That’s because our clients stayed with us. They knew we added value to their business, that it wouldn’t make sense financially to dispose of our retained services. In turn, we are commercially loyal and won’t work for any of their competitors in their city or town. Indeed, we’ve turned down bigger money from their rivals. Many of our clients have been with us for 10 years or so. That speaks volumes in an industry where client churn is the norm.

We have a unique selling point. We only employ professionally-qualified news journalists. It has always struck me as an anomaly that businesses wanting an excellent media relations service, as a key part of what we do, are somehow happy to pay for people who have never worked in a fast-and-furious newsroom and have no idea what news sense is.

Make sure your news release meets the requirements of hard-nosed journalists. When I was a business editor, the vast majority of email content from public relations people was unusable in its original form. It did my head in. Why were perfectly good businesses happy to pay money for dire content being produced in their name? Things haven’t changed much – That was a turning point from me – I nearly bit off the hand of director Andrew Diprose when he invited me to start up the Hampshire arm of Deep South Media from scratch.  It unleashed the entrepreneur in me.

We have expanded into all sorts of work for companies and organisations, complementing the media relations aspect. My colleagues are digitally astute, generating and curating highly professional written and visual content. Content that is used for social media channels and the news sections of client websites, as well as mainstream and B2B media. Digital content is an essential part of any marketing strategy and has to be embraced. Beware the ‘analogue’ mindset of some business owners who fail, or fear, to grasp the nettle on content, dismissing it as a luxury. They do so at their financial peril. Look around you – so many of us are voracious consumers of online content. Why wouldn’t you want your brand name out there, with all those potential customers?

Time is a sneak thief. Don’t agree? Then write down exactly how you’ve accounted for each hour in your working week. You’ll be surprised how time, that most precious commodity, leaks. Switched-on businesses utilise our services because we free up their staff to focus on what they do best. They can make more money that way. For instance, a firm outsourced its press office activity to us because it had a key player spending 20% of his time on PR activity every week – one out of every five working days. He now brings in a heck of a lot more money because he was freed up to do what he is brilliant at; the extra revenue generated greatly exceeds the modest cost of our service.

I still recall with pleasure seeing the faces of clients who have just had superb returns on investment through us. A commercial developer was better off by £600,000 after a news release by us caught the eye – and wallet – of a business owner looking to buy a freehold new office through a self-invested pension plan. Another client received £250,000 of new instructions after its work, detailed in a news release which was widely published, impressed a multi-national corporation. One client tracked £200,000 worth of new business to an award entry we did for them, which won them a national award.

We’re a close-knit bunch at Deep South Media. We share a humble first-floor office, filled with natural light from large dual-aspect windows. The kettle is always on, the atmosphere energising. From this operational nerve centre in Bournemouth, we cover a patch which stretches from Essex to Cornwall and in a geographical line below the M4 and M25. Our commercial heartland is Dorset, Hampshire, Wiltshire and West Sussex. We also have nationwide clients because digital connectivity means remote working is now de rigueur. Indeed, it is rare for all of us to be in the office at the same time. We’re regularly on the road, in Southampton, Portsmouth, Bournemouth, Bristol, London, Chichester, Exeter and many other places as well. Sometimes we base ourselves at home, writing, writing, writing.

I’m staggered by the array of work my colleagues do – they are an inspiration. For example, we’re providing successful stakeholder engagement work for £250m worth of mixed development in southern England. As I write, a colleague is drafting a complex bid for a proposed multi-million pound development and, next month, three colleagues will be putting senior management figures at a private school through their paces in a simulated, hard-hitting crisis comms exercise involving TV cameras. Our creative services team are always busy as well, designing and publishing all sorts of material, from e-newsletters and staff magazines to marketing collateral such as pop-up stands, banners and information leaflets.

Last year we appointed Paul Collins in a newly-created post of head of visual. We’ve never looked back. Paul, who was picture editor at the Southern Daily Echo in Southampton, is one of the most gifted commercial photographers in the country and he is ahead of the field with professional videography that meets the training and marketing needs of clients. We anticipate growing Paul’s department as well, given that video is set to comprise 75% of online traffic next year.

Do I have any regrets in the 10 years at Deep South Media? Yes, that I didn’t join sooner. We’ve got a great company, with a fantastic ethos and, thanks to mutual respect and trust, we all run our own diaries because we act in the interests of what is best for our clients. We don’t do presenteeism, which can be a sinkhole for productivity.

I’m fortunate to be surrounded by people who are better than me. One of my many roles as managing director is to bring out the best in colleagues. I want them to be at the top of their game, doing work that fulfils them, that plays to their strengths. I only want people around me that I can rely on. Which is why everyone at Deep South Media has been handpicked.

Any advice for people wanting to join us from university or a vocational course? Definitely. If you have a strong news sense, and are good with people from all walks of life, you’re already in pole position. But don’t waste time contacting us if you don’t read the papers every day (online and/or in print, national and regional), watch the TV news at least five times a week, tune in to Radio 4’s Today programme and have a genuine interest in current affairs. If you’re not engaged by a breaking news story then you would do well to consider another career.