Creative Industry Spotlight: Jonathan Leafe [Strawberry]

As Strawberry approaches its twentieth year in business, we have a chat with founder Jonathan Leafe about what factors have made his company a success.

Strawberry is one of Hull and East Yorkshire’s leading creative and digital agencies. When opened in 1993, it had a total of two team members. Twenty years on, the company has a team of 28 talented individuals. Indeed, its digital and marketing sides have grown by 40 per cent over the last four despite the effects of recession, and the brand is still growing. It helps many businesses around the UK become more successful through creative means, has always done its part to fund-raise for charity, and always invests in people to achieve success.

Using skills in design and marketing, the agency can get a client noticed using a range of tools, from web-based design, to PR, advertising and branding. Clients include a range of organisations from MKM, Arco, BP, Beal Homes, Bishop Burton College and the Church of England. In light of the success Strawberry has achieved, Jonathan touches on one of his company’s core values, “We treat our clients well – we consider them to be friends. That working relationship always has to be strong.”

Over the course of our conversation, we are eager to hear more from Jonathan about the core values of his business and his insider’s knowledge to the secrets of doing well as part of a creative business, but first, we learn that he didn’t jump straight in to the business world from the start of his working career, “I was a professional musician when I left school – I think that’s what fuelled my interest in marketing and design,” he says. “As soon as I got involved in music, I was doing a lot of the marketing, design and the management for the band I was in, it kind of led me down the path I’m on now.”

Jonathan goes on to explain that his first company started in 1989 which then led on to the development of Strawberry. Reflecting, the director explains how in 1993 when he got his first e-mail address, it was actually pretty pointless: I didn’t know anybody else who had an email address.” Jonathan adds, displaying a great attitude towards business, “It’s been easy to adapt because we were always looking for the best tool to use and make our clients more successful, whether that be using traditional media, whether it’s the web, whether it’s PR or it’s advertising; it doesn’t really matter!”

Moving forward, Jonathan reflects on the changes that have happened within Strawberry over the period that it’s been in existence, “You can see just how fast things have changed in a short space of time. There’s no way I could’ve even considered [when starting out] that in twenty years time I would have 16 people in our digital team alone.”

Going a little bit more in-depth, we examine the core values that are at the very heart of everything that Strawberry does, “Number one in our values is integrity; you’ve always got to be honest with the staff and obviously the clients as well. We want to do the very best that we can and be honest about that as well. We are a service, not a commodity. Our clients pay us for our expertise, so therefore we should very much give our opinions.”

Continuing on, Jonathan references Strawberry’s charity work. “I encourage everybody within our business to volunteer. We need to do it.” He adds, speculating, “Over the years, I’d guess we’ve raised over £150,000.” Indeed, Strawberry have made Whizz Kids their charity of the year in 2012, helping them with the design of their website free of charge as well as fundraising, and Strawberry has made plans to work a lot more with that group next year as part of their 20th Anniversary.

Jonathan talks to us a little more about his plans for 2013, next and shares some of the key figures and plans to develop new marketing strategies. “We are definitely in a very big growth period. In the last four years we’ve grown by 40 per cent, and that’s considering we’ve had a recession.” He adds, “We’ve really kicked on, and we’re going to do more next year, and it’s all going to be focused around digital marketing – that’s a really big growth area.”

While Jonathan’s business is constantly growing, he is happy to admit that he’s still learning stuff about himself. “I’ve matured, changed a little along the way, and probably become a little bit more diplomatic.”

As we close, Jonathan moves to offer some great advice for budding entrepreneurs. “You have to have an unbelievably strong work ethic. You can’t just be motivated by money because you probably won’t get any at first. Forget holidays, I don’t think I had a day off for the first two years after starting my business. You have to be prepared to put absolutely everything in to it.” He adds, “You need to latch on to mentors. They can be anybody; they can be your friends, other business people, your parents, they can be anything – constantly ask their advice – it gets you through the difficult times, and there will be difficult times.”

We think Strawberry is a great creative business, and we think Jonathan is a great creative entrepreneur. We’re sure the future holds even more success for Strawberry and we could all stand to learn a thing or two from Jonathan. We admire their work, and their charity fundraising, and here at The Creative Condition, we wish the best of luck to Strawberry in its 20th Anniversary year.

Josh Saunders

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