Tuesday 21 November 2017

Your Business: A creative career ... by design

Conrad Jones tells Sean Gallagher how Steve Jobs and Apple helped him go from Letraset to the digital age

Sean Gallagher with Conrad Jones, owner and creative director of Conrad Jones Creative.
Picture: Damien Eagers
Sean Gallagher with Conrad Jones, owner and creative director of Conrad Jones Creative. Picture: Damien Eagers
Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher

One of the most challenging aspects of running any business is understanding how best to promote your company's brand and clearly communicate your message to your target audience. In today's fast-moving world of social and digital media, this has become more complex than ever before.

This week's entrepreneur knows more than most about these challenges because, for over 30 years, Conrad Jones has created and designed marketing and advertisement campaigns for businesses all across the country. His company, Conrad Jones Creative, which he set up in 2008, employs 10 staff and has an annual turnover of €1m.

I caught up with him in his Pembroke Street office in Dublin's city centre. In his 50s, Conrad looks cool and fit - someone who would be as equally at home in tech-trendy Silicon Valley as he is in his native Dublin.

"Much has changed in the industry since I started out," he says. "In the beginning, 80pc of what we designed was for use in the traditional print media, while today that trend has been reversed and now 80pc of what we do is focused on digital and only 20pc on print. Much of our work now includes offering services such as CGI (computer generated imagery), responsive website design, 3D animation, photography, videography, augmented reality and app development," he adds.

A significant number of his clients are from the real estate sector, including leading agency names such as Savills, Knight Frank, Cushman Wakefield, and Colliers as well as many prominent housing and commercial developers including McGarrell Reilly, Gannon Homes, Bridgedale, Castlethorn and the Comer Group.

"We are usually appointed by a developer or agent months in advance of the launch of a new site. We then work with the client to research a name for the development as well as deciding on all the branding, print and digital imagery involved in promoting it - essentially everything the public will see," says Jones. "It's like a first kiss where you only get one chance to make a good impression with the target market or you're not going to get a second date." The company is active in a number of other sectors. These include: hospitality, with clients like Bellinter House, the Temple Bar Hotel, Brambles Restaurants and Bombay Pantry; retail, where they work with Pinergy, Canon, Medipharm, Bold Bunny and Waxperts; the corporate sector, where clients include Brompton Recruitment and Career Compass and the education sector where they count GMIT among their growing customer base.

"Our key focus is on making our clients look good and helping them position, present and promote themselves to their target audience so that they can engage better with them as well as winning and retaining customers," says Jones.

"Central to this is making sure that we provide a high level of service and hand-holding to our clients as well as ensuring that the host of services that need to come together do so within the agreed timeline and budget."

Around the open-plan office, there are a variety of graphic designers, digital advertising specialists, web designers and app developers at work. In the background, classical music plays quietly. "We have a great team and it is their perfect blend of talents and age spread that enables us to create campaigns that seamlessly marry traditional print designs with the latest in digital formats," Jones adds.

Growing up in Ranelagh, Dublin, his father, Karl, worked as property editor for the Irish Times. "Ink and concrete were both in my blood from an early age so it's not surprising that I ended up in a business that included both of these influences," he says. After school he became a motorbike courier with Doherty Advertising Agency and during lunch, could regularly be found in the art room helping out the production team as they worked away with old-style Letraset.

"I realised that it was really the creative side of things that interested me," says Jones. In 1982, he got a job in property management with Gilbert Leon White where he quickly noticed that the quality of the advertisement material and flyers used to promote sales and lettings was poor. "I knew I could design something much better," says Jones.

"Then, in 1985, when my father showed me a press article about a new technology called desktop publishing and how a clever chap, called Steve Jobs, had launched a new machine, called the Apple Macintosh, to make the design process easier, I knew that this was for me. I signed up for a training course and was immediately hooked."

Spurred on by his love of design, he decided to try his hand at designing marketing material for builders and estate agents but the business simply wasn't sustainable due to the recession in the mid-1980s. His time was not wasted however, because he was able to use his experience to set himself up as an outsource design consultant for a number of independent print companies. Later he was offered a role with Nissan Motors managing the advertising and marketing for five of their biggest car dealerships.

By 2008, however, he was again itching to do his own thing and set up Conrad Jones Creative, this time with more experience behind him and a strong design team around him. "While we started out purely as a creative agency, we quickly went one step further and became strategically focused on developing fully integrated marketing strategies that would help our clients achieve their objectives," says Jones. "With the advent of digital services we saw that as a further opportunity to expand our services and become leaders in this space."

In 2014, Jones merged with Byers Marsh, a dedicated digital agency run by Michael Byers and Fiona Marsh. With Michael taking on the role of managing director of the combined entity and Fiona as studio manager, the move served to strengthen their position in the market while freeing up Jones to become creative director.

At this point, Michael drops into the studio to say hello. Having spent over 25 years in the business, he is excited about the future. "We are focused on doubling turnover over the next 30 months through a combination of new business development, acquisitions and breaking into the Northern Ireland and UK markets," he says.

After all this time does he still enjoy what he does? I ask Jones. "It's constantly changing and always challenging but I love it. In particular, I love when we meet a client for the first time and sit down with them and a blank sheet of paper to work up designs and campaigns. There really is nothing more satisfying than helping clients grow their business. That's the reason we exist. Only by helping other businesses become successful can we, ourselves, become successful" he adds.


Company: Conrad Jones Creative

Business: Marketing and graphic design

Set up: 2008

Founder: Conrad Jones

Turnover: €1m

No. of Employees: 10

Location: Upper Pembroke Street, Dublin 2

Conrad's advice for other businesses

1 Commit time and effort

Like everything else in life, being successful in business requires investing a lot of time and effort in making things happen. When starting a new business, you have to ask yourself one important question: "Am I prepared to commit the amount of time and level of effort required to succeed?"

2 Ensure you have adequate funding in place

Getting a business up and running usually takes longer than most of us ever expect. For that reason, it is important to make sure that you have enough funding available especially to get you through the first six months.

3 Employ people who are better than yourself

Some people always want to be the smartest person in the business. That's a big mistake. Don't be afraid to employ people who are better than you are. That way you can achieve significantly more than your own experience might otherwise allow.

For further information: www.conradjones.com

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