“As a woman in business, there’s a myth that you have to be ruthlessly self-promoting to get ahead,” confides Melanie Gladstone, “but my mantra has always been to put our customers first – without them, there is no business.”
Marketing and Design Director Melanie has recently been appointed to the Board of Directors at Sterling, a £27m UK provider of end-to-end communications solutions. She is currently the only woman serving on the Board.
Building the dream
While Melanie is modest about her achievements: “I see my main strength as pulling together a great team of people and letting their individual talents shine,” the story of how she went from redundancy to single-handedly building Sterling Creative – the Edinburgh-based arm of Sterling – from the ground up, speaks of a lot more.
“Mel’s integrity, initiative and customer focus are qualities that really stood out,” says Managing Director Steve Pizzey, convincing him that Melanie was the woman for the job: “We gave Melanie a very open brief, with complete control to build us a business north of the border.” A daunting task? “In hindsight, yes!” laughs Melanie, “but luckily, I’ve been too busy to pause for reflection.”
Building the team
Building a team was task number one. Creative Director Graham Pringle was first on board: “I knew how strong he was creatively and that he had the tenacity and vision to help me build a successful business from a blank canvas.”
Eight years and three office moves later, Sterling Creative is now a well-established, full-service creative communications agency based in Edinburgh’s West End, with a team of 14, all of whom share the same strong customer focus.
Building customer relationships and cost-effective solutions
However, “doing the right thing for our customers isn’t just about always saying ‘yes’,” explains Melanie. “We pride ourselves on challenging our customers to dig deep for the outcome they hope to achieve, rather than just the output they have in mind.”
Caroline Edwards, Financial Capability Lead at RBS, is a long-standing customer: “Sterling combine great technical skills with passionate commitment. Melanie’s team really understands what we want to achieve, and are always very responsive and solution-focused.”
“We’re always working to improve our customer experience and devise new, affordable solutions,” confirms Melanie. “We’re able to offer an end-to-end service from concept to delivery thanks to our production facility in Kettering, which sets us apart from our competitors.”
It’s a joined-up, cost-effective approach appreciated by a list of well-known clients, including The University of Edinburgh, Citizens Advice Scotland, Tesco Bank and RBS.
Building a diverse portfolio
“Financial services and education account for the majority of our business,” explains Melanie. “Several of our team, including myself, have previously worked client-side in these areas, and we have built up an in-depth knowledge, which allows us to become like an extension of our clients’ marketing teams.
“Our long-standing partnership with RBS is a great example. Among many other things, we manage the communications for MoneySense (www.mymoneysense.com), the bank’s flagship financial education programme for 5-18 year-olds.
“Our involvement with the programme has grown over the last two years to the point where we are trusted with a number of key responsibilities, including project management and programme delivery. Helping to support teaching kids about money has been a fantastically rewarding job to work on – it really makes us feel like we are making a difference to young people’s lives.”
The past few years have also seen Sterling diversify into the public and third sectors: “Last year, we were approached by the Mental Health Foundation with a brief to help create an identity for a new fund to support those who have suffered in-care abuse in Scotland,” reveals Melanie. “The result was ‘Future Pathways’ (future-pathways.co.uk). It’s an incredibly sensitive task to ensure that you get something like this spot on not just for the client but also for every one of the stakeholders they are aiming to help,” she continues, “but we are all really happy with the end result.”
Building a sustainable business
Perhaps, most surprising of all, is that Melanie has led Sterling Creative to its current enviable position primarily through customer referrals. Is this how she sees the business continuing to evolve?
“We’ve developed our creative offering in Edinburgh in quite an organic way so far, but are now gearing up for an exciting period of more targeted growth, promoting Sterling Creative across the UK. I guess that means getting over my phobia of the limelight,” jokes Mel, “so this article is a good start!”
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