They say that people often look like their pets. But what about their office? Tom Harvey and Steve Duke are the founders of Spoke, an agency that focuses on 'words, visuals, and advice', and is based at Vox Studios. They are stylish and impeccably accessorised – just like their workplace.
We speak in the mezzanine which opens out to a balcony on one side and wonderful views over Oval on the other. They started Spoke only eight months ago; they had both worked in media (Tom at Loaded, The Sunday Times and The Times and Steve at the BBC for a decade on programmes like the Today Programme, the News at Ten and the World Service) before meeting in the corporate communications team at HSBC. After three years, they decided to set up Spoke; 'over a lot of flat whites in Canary Wharf,' Steve says, laughing.
The agency was born from their belief, as Tom puts it, that 'there's a different way of doing stuff.' All their staff have a background in journalism or magazines; they pride themselves on their approach to storytelling, an eye for detail and a good nose.
And it seems to be working. They started with no contracts, no seed funding and no investments. Just money they had saved. And almost a year on, they've worked for smaller clients like handbag makers Olive Cooper, TransferGo and the ebook publisher Brink, as well as MasterCard, Speedo and Sainsbury's.
The most important thing we do is advice.
Tom Harvey, director, Spoke
So what exactly do they do? 'The most important thing we do is advice,' says Tom. 'Our judgement and our background run through everything we do and the things we create. Steve will create films, graphics to help people tell their stories. And the one thing I'll say about working at a newspaper is that it's a very effective, well-drilled team that knows how to work together and towards the same thing – and that is making the paper as good as possible. That's how we see it here. We want everything we do to be polished and be as good as possible.'
They like the mix of working for big and small businesses and the different approach they have when dealing with creative projects. With smaller companies they can talk directly to the chief exec, who'll respond directly to their pitch, while with big companies, Steve says, 'they really want to nail down how things will look. You'll be stripping through different ideas to get a very clear picture before you start. It's a different way of working that keeps you on your toes.' For smaller and larger companies, they want to give the best value possible.
Our goal right from the off was to establish an agency and we had to have a solid base so that clients trusted us.
Steve Duke, director, Spoke
They both started in a small office at Metal Box Factory and have since moved to a more spacious one in Vox Studios. They did consider coworking but as Steve says, 'Our goal right from the off was to establish an agency and we had to have a solid base so that clients trusted us. Getting an office was a way of ensuring we had the right IT infrastructure, encryption, things like that.' They are using the Excell cloud communications service, but as they've grown they've got their own servers. 'Security is important to us, and guarding people's information is important to us. We worked at a bank so we're familiar with security.'
They hadn't been at Metal Box Factory long before they had to expand the team. They employ students on a day rate once or twice a week with a view to hiring them once they've completed their course. They then brought in a designer and producer and a senior hire to help with editorial. They try not to use freelancers and do not outsource tasks. 'We don't turn up to film sets and pull in people we don't know,' Tom says. 'We want to control things – and not just because I'm a control freak – and make sure it's as good as possible.'
It means they have to think of ways of attracting the best talent without paying them 'big bucks'. They do that by investing in, and training up, students and exciting more experienced talent by the jobs they're doing. But they also attract and retain staff by giving them free rein. 'We want people to have fun, to have a lot of autonomy,' says Steve. 'There are unlimited holidays here,' says control freak Tom proudly.
Now they're working with some of our Vox customers
On outgrowing Metal Box Factory, Spoke followed their centre manager Rachel to Vox. But they still retain links with the old building as they've collaborated with businesses based there. Now they're working with some of our Vox Studio customers too. They've just produced a film for Garden Club London who are based one floor below. And they're creating a book about the work that they do with the printers Shades of Colour who are down the corridor too.
They seem to be here to stay. They spend money on the office, their equipment, and of course, people. 'We invest as much in the business as possible, because we want the best people, people who are better than us. And we keep them because there's a lot of trust.’
Trust is a word that keeps on coming up; it's important in their relationships with customers too. 'It's about being in stuff for the long term, the success is in people coming back,' says Tom. 'Repeat customers are the best feeling ever,' Steve adds. 'You just want to run down and hug them.' And you can if they're based at Vox Studios!
Find out more about Spoke at wearespoke.co.uk.
A former Marmite factory, Vox Studios has undergone spectacular refurbishment, with over 65 new studios for New and Growing Companies boasting abundant natural light and stunning city skyline views just 350 metres from Vauxhall tube station. If you'd like to arrange a view of our available units, please don't hesitate to click here.