Secrets of Success: Simon Biltcliffe – Executive Chairman, Webmart Agency

Could you change your articles of association to ensure the ESG impact of every decision is considered?

Set on becoming the world’s most sustainable marketing agency, Webmart have. So this means that when they take an integrated approach to each client’s marketing campaigns, they’re also building in their solid values of people, planet and profit. Yes, this agency is BCorp, and they’re bossing it. Aside from designing strategic creatives, they have actively developed their own print carbon calculators to PAS2060 standards and are working with the Scottish government to rewild 164 acres of woodland.

They live and breathe their values, which in turn gives their clients the much needed transparency over their impact to be able to reach their marketing and their ESG goals and an opportunity to offset the emissions through an approved scheme. As consumers are demanding more conscious options of product lines, it’s only a matter of time until they start demanding that those products are marketed to them in a conscious way.

Simon takes the time to share his news and views with Business Matters …

What is the main problem you solve for your customers?

We look at the strategy as a whole and work out which existing areas can be improved, optimising their existing budget rather than increasing it. For example, we recently worked with Pavers, the footwear retailer, and saved over £170,000 by re-engineering their mailing format to qualify for more efficient postage rates. Through this process, we also reduced their CO2e output by 30 tonnes. We aim to make small, logical improvements, rather than overhaul an entire strategy simply because one or two areas aren’t performing as well as expected.

What made you start your business – did you want to rock the status quo, or fill a gap in the marketplace?

Rock the status quo! I built Webmart on Marxist-capitalist principles, which sound contradictory but work together symbiotically. I aimed to build a profitable business where the team could work hard and be rewarded for those efforts, which is where the capitalist principles are important. Where the Marxist-capitalism difference comes into play is what we do with the profits we generate.

Webmart has been built to benefit the stakeholders and not the shareholders. We use our profits to reward our staff, invest in sustainability initiatives, support our local communities and charitable causes. The result is a profitable, sustainable business of 27 years which has created industry-leading sustainable marketing solutions and has donated hundreds of thousands to good causes.

What are your brand values?

We focus our efforts on balancing People, Planet and Profit.

We support our people (our Webmarteers) by including long-standers in our annual profit-share scheme and new starters in the Bonus for Outstanding Achievement (BFOA) scheme to ensure no one is left out. We offer additional family days off per year and free mental health support through The Printing Charity.

Our green efforts are listed below in response to the eco-strategy question.

As well as supporting our Webmarteers with any annual profits, we also ensure that we are consistent with our charitable giving. Charities can apply throughout the year for a one-off £150 grant and just before Christmas we did a £10,000 giveaway to charities close to our Bicester and Barnsley offices. To date, we have given away over £700,000 in charitable donations.

What is Webmart’s eco strategy?

In 2021 we became a certified B Corp, an award that we are incredibly proud of, and the result of several months of hard work. Before we joined the prestigious few UK B Corps that existed, we had already implemented several eco-initiatives to support the environment including:

  • Our Oxygen Farm, which is based in Coldingham, Scotland and home to 164 acres of woodland and a solar-powered log cabin. In partnership with the Scottish government, we are working to rewild the entire area over the next 20 years and create a wealth of ponds and nature trails for future generations to enjoy
  • We aim to be as green as possible in both our north and south offices. We have added a fleet of electric vehicles at both sites and also installed solar panels at our Bicester office
  • We are a carbon-neutral certified company
  • We are FSC and PEFC accredited
  • In July 2021 we launched our postage solution, Enviromail. We calculate the carbon emissions from our client’s postage to PAS2060 standards and offset twice that amount through accredited carbon offsetting schemes, making their postage climate positive.

Do your values define your decision making process?

Our values influence us throughout the business, and whenever making any key decisions we consider the implication for any stakeholders. That could be our team, our suppliers or our customers. And we assess the impact of that decision on our ability to carry on the good we can do as a result of our operations.

Value-driven decision making has always been important to the business, and as part of our B Corp certification in 2021, we further changed our articles of association to legally bind us to consider the impact of every decision that we make.

Is team culture integral to Webmart?

A core part of team culture is collaboration, and this is something that happens day in, day out at Webmart. In all of our client projects, there are several Webmarteers across the different teams who come together to work on that project and deliver results for our customers. Collaboration and sharing knowledge are at the core of the business.

What do you do to go the extra mile to show your team you appreciate them?

We offer a range of things to support our employees, including £500 for them or someone close to them to receive counselling and free mental health support through The Printing Charity. A popular one includes free visits to stay at our Oxygen Farm up in Scotland. In terms of the way the business runs, we keep the team small so that everybody knows each other. Senior management have developed a support system, through which they are aware of family commitments and childcare/elderly care so that we can try and accommodate the needs of every Webmarteer and provide a more flexible work/life balance.

In terms of your messaging do you think you talk directly to your consumers in a clear fashion?

The term ‘integrated marketing’ can often cause confusion. There’s a lot of similar names that essentially mean the same thing; multi-channel marketing, full service, omni-channel etc. We aim to take the mystery out of this when talking to consumers by being clear about the benefits in a simple yet helpful way. Everything we do, from social posts, to collateral, to webinars, aims to explain clearly and concisely how to improve your marketing campaigns, whether that’s by working with us or not, though of course, we hope people do!

What’s your take on inflation and interest rates – are you going to pass that on to your customers or let your margins take a hit and reward customer loyalty in these tougher times?

Every business will approach this differently. At Webmart, we’ve worked closely with our supplier partners to mitigate these rising costs so that we minimise the impact that these have for our customers. However, it’s impossible to avoid increased costs overall, so our unique approach to marketing is how we can best support our customers’ budget during times like these. When we assess the full marketing mix, we uncover opportunities to improve and refine their approach and find cost savings via this route.

How often do you assess the data you pull in and address your KPIs and why?

I think this depends on the KPI, however one of the things we do is run client surveys twice annually to see how we are performing for our clients, with our last survey results giving us 96% for both customer service and quality satisfaction.

Is tech playing a much larger part in your day-to-day running of Webmart?

Tech has played a huge role at Webmart for many years. We created or TPM, which as the first of its kind, allows suppliers to log on and generate instant prices for print across millions of specifications. Since then, we’ve brought on numerous platforms and technologies to better measure our customers’ marketing strategy and support across the full marketing mix.

What is your attitude to your competitors?

I don’t believe we have any true ‘competitors’, we can all work together one way or another. It’s a collaborative approach that we work with; we want to understand them, we want to help if we can, and then in return they will help us when we need it. We feel there are always ways we can collaborate.

A lot of our suppliers are our customers as well, because if you treat people with respect and decency, and listen to them, then opportunities come from all places.

Do you have any advice for anyone starting out in business?

A business’ success is down to its people, so invest in your people and get the best people you can afford. And that includes considering if they will not just be an experienced fit, but also align with your ethics and morals. If you get a great bunch of people, and you train them, nurture them, care about them and align them with honesty and a sense of purpose, you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve. A business is successful because of the quality of people that you have, and the respect that you give them drives the quality of the business you have.

It can be a lonely and pressured place to be as the lead decision maker of the business. What do you do to relax, recharge and hone your focus?

One of the things I’ve done over the years is taking part in extreme events. I’ve done this for a few reasons; one is that the training creates a good level of discipline. Often you get wound up in work and never get a chance to prioritise exercise, but if you have a big event, you have to make the time. It’s also so important to exercise more than just your brain – you have a body to look after too.

However, the main reason for putting myself through extreme activities is that it puts everything into perspective. Every other issue you face in everyday life is nowhere near the physical demands of these gruelling challenges, so you can deal with them better – it makes everything else seem relatively easier.

Lastly, make sure you keep your outside interests. Don’t be that person who only has friends within their industry, it’s important to have friends and spend time with others from other walks of life.

Do you believe in the 12 week work method or do you make much longer planning strategies? 

We believe in much longer planning strategies, we have a three year plan. But we also work in 90-day ‘bursts’ to evaluate and assess the businesses’ performance. So it’s both long and short term.

What three things do you hope to have in place within the next 12 months?

A new government, Barnsley being promoted to the championship and our sustainable, integrated approach to marketing being recognised as the future of sustainable business growth.

Cherry Martin

Cherry Martin

Cherry is Associate Editor of Business Matters with responsibility for planning and writing future features, interviews and more in-depth pieces for what is now the UK’s largest print and online source of current business news.
Cherry Martin

Cherry is Associate Editor of Business Matters with responsibility for planning and writing future features, interviews and more in-depth pieces for what is now the UK’s largest print and online source of current business news.