Category News & Work

Q&A With Robert & Giles – Chalk & Ward Directors


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Robert & Giles

Established in 1998, Chalk & Ward Advertising has grown into the largest independent full service agency in the South West. Now in our 17th year, we took the opportunity to speak with founders and directors, Robert Chalk and Giles Ward about Chalk & Ward and the current state of advertising and marketing.

  • As directors, who has impacted or influenced the way you run the business?
    • Robert: For me, much was influenced by a couple of poor man-manager MD’s I’d experienced when an employee. They had a closed door approach and didn’t treat me or anyone else in a decent way – I promised I wouldn’t do the same!
    • Giles: All the people present in my pragmatic northern upbringing inter-twined with an admiration for anybody who approaches business in a new and inspired way.
  • What are the most important decisions you make as directors of C&W?
    • Robert: Obviously financial decisions will make or break a business but that aside, knowing when to call it a day with time-wasting new business prospects (and there are plenty of them!) is a skill I’ve been forced to learn.
    • Giles: How to balance the needs of the business with the wishes and demands of our clients to ensure one never dictates the other and that we remain honest and impartial in our advice.
  • What does a typical day look like?
    • Robert: Rarely (or am I being positive here and should actually be honest and say ‘never’) managing to clear my daily ‘to do list’ –  but I love it anyway. The thought of having two days the same terrifies me!
    • Giles: No such thing!
  • As a Full Service agency how have you seen the advertising and marketing environment change since C&W was established?
    • Robert: When we started the business, advertising was what it was all about. We bought high volumes of traditional media, wrote many conceptual creative ad briefs and had voucher copies everywhere! Now this discipline is a rarity and we have hardly any true advertising competitors in this part of the world. We now employ far broader skills and offer more varied services. The strategic side of marketing was always important for us but now it has risen to the top of the tree. Advising in a more consultative, full-service way is where we now differ.
    • Giles: It’s changed rapidly and dramatically. The client is more empowered now to make decisions about marketing and that’s a good thing. They can see if someone’s trying to pull the wool over their eyes. Agencies are more accountable as well. Again that’s a good thing, there’s less room for industry navel-gazing.
  • Where do you see the focus for advertising and marketing campaign trends in the future?
    • Robert: There will always be a place for traditional advertising but the migration to online advertising and digital marketing will continue to gather pace. More and more targeting, with specific messaging to specific individuals, is the way forward and marketing will be data driven.
    • Giles: More and more the emphasis will be on the idea. The quality of the creative and strategic thinking that ties the messaging together. Marketing will need to become more sophisticated as the customer becomes more empowered. Everything else – online or off – is implementation.
  • Are these changes far away or signs they are happening now?
    • Robert: Definitely here already. You only have to look at Sky Adsmart to see how incredibly targeted marketing is becoming.
    • Giles: They are all around us now.
  • Creativity is important within agencies, how do you encourage creative thinking with C&W?
    • Robert: We’ve always tried to encourage thinking first, then resorting to the computer – so opening the mind to creative opportunities. Genuine creative thinking is an even rarer skill than it used to be, as too much emphasis is now placed on the medium rather than the message. Do them both well and that’s where successful campaigns are really created.
    • Giles: It’s all about ideas and freedom of thought – it’s about making sure you don’t get bogged down in the how before you’ve understood the why.
  • Having formed C&W back in 1998, what campaign/s are you most proud of and why?
    • Robert: A number of years ago we creatively pitched against three London agencies for Ascot Shoes and two of their brands. We won both with daring creative work. They were fabulously simple, yet powerful concepts and proved the point that bravery on the part of the client, if managed properly of course, can lead to massive success. They were even spotted by a London art gallery and exhibited!
    • Giles: All of them. Alright, not all of them. Most of them.
  • What have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced?
    • Robert: Difficult one this. I’m blessed, or cursed depending on your viewpoint, with being positively-minded. There have been loads of little things but I’m not really aware of anything I’d say was a difficult or an awful challenge.
  • In three words, how would you describe C&W?
    • Robert: Honest, Decent, Strategic.
    • Giles: Echo Robert’s comments.
  • As a company based in Exeter, how has the business landscape changed and what made you choose Exeter?
    • Robert: The city has become more professionally minded. When we first opened our doors, clients with what we would call ‘proper’ in-house marketing people, were few and far between. Now, the opposite applies. As for why here, Giles and I both lived here and loved the place. Also, formed as a breakaway from the regional Saatchi & Saatchi network based in Bristol, we couldn’t stay there!
    • Giles: Exeter is a wonderful city that continues to expand and develop. It’s a great place to live and run a business.
  • What would you say is C&Ws unique selling point? How do you differentiate from other agencies?
    • Robert: Our ability to challenge clients strategically at Board level, for their genuine benefit and growth. Lots of agencies think they can do it and it’s a difficult thing to measure, but when clients who have tried other agencies tell us how much better we are, then we know it’s true.
    • Giles: By genuinely being impartial in the advice we offer. We think creatively and strategically about what our client’s business really needs… not just what we’d like to do next!
  • What are your ambitions for C&W going forward?
    • Robert: We never aimed to be the biggest but we did aim to be the best. Ironically the latter led to the former! So for the future, it’s managed growth but only with clients who are committed to doing marketing properly and who value what we can bring to the party. Basically working with those who see us as a partner, not a supplier.
    • Giles: To continue to build and develop a respected reputation for our work.
  • What one characteristic do you think every director/leader needs in order to be successful?  
    • Robert: Enthusiasm – In my view it’s positive, infectious and creates drive, ambition and the desire to get things done properly with those around you.
    • Giles: The ability to listen, consider, then act decisively.
  • Finally, what tips/advice do you have for people looking for a career within an agency?
    • Robert: For working in this business, a relevant qualification and desire to be in marketing is a good start. Too many people see it as an easy option when they don’t know what they really want to do following say University. Being truly effective in this business is not easy – the variety of skills needed to be a rounded professional is vast. If it’s in Chalk & Ward specifically, then having these skills is important but nothing is more vital than a can-do attitude.
    • Giles: Question everything.
  • Thanks both. Any final words? 
    • Giles: Life first. Work second. Oh, and giraffes can’t yawn.

Click on the following links to find out more about Robert and Giles.