Meanwhile · James Cross, Tim Jones and Al Marchant

Meanwhile is a creative agency for people who’d rather set agendas than follow them.

March 2, 2023
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  • Meanwhile
  • James Cross, Tim Jones and Al Marchant
  • Manchester, UK
  • Started in 2022
  • 4 employees
  • Bootstrapped

James, what's your backstory?

Tim, James and Al have been in advertising approaching 20 successful years. Starting as juniors and eventually running out of promotions at their respective agencies. Since then, the trio have been fuelling one another's life ambition of doing it for themselves over the last few years.

From relatively humble backgrounds, all three 'ended up' in the advertising world growing to love it and finding it to be an incredible creative outlet. In that time they have grown, seen the world and their passion for the industry has flourished.

Tim grew up in rural Oxfordshire and spent a few years as a barman, James in Northampton set out wanting a career in music, and Al is from Kent and spent several years trying to forge a career as a DJ, Naturally, the creative industry has become home.

Tim and James are a classic advertising creative team. Tim's a designer who graduated to art director, and James became a copywriter. They teamed up in 2007 and haven't looked back since. Working at several McCann offices in the UK and across Europe, they worked on Harley-Davidson, General Motors, Aldi and Harveys Furniture for the corporation.

Then they worked at Big, where they lead the creative department on award-winning campaigns for Domino's, WKD, Boost drinks and Harley (again).

They really made their name however as Creative Directors for BBC Creative, winning the broadcaster a BAFTA for their Tokyo Olympics campaign, a D&AD pencil for the World Cup 2018 tapestry, rebranding BBC One, and sending Alan Partridge viral with a carefully worded all-staff email at the BBC to promote his comeback.

But it was at Big where they met Al Marchant for the first time in 2007 altogether. After running several accounts including Jewson at Big, Al moved to Birmingham ad agency Chapter, as an account director on businesses such as Calor and Halfords, scaling the heights to become Managing Director following the agency's sale to The Mission Group.

Following a couple of false starts, both Tim and James and Al had separately flirted and come close to starting their own creative agencies until a late-night Facebook message from Al to James in 2020.

That was the moment the agency was born, zoom after zoom after zoom followed and the plotting and planning began. Tim and James worked on several ad campaigns in evenings and weekends for the likes of FootAsylum and Paddy Power in that time, to essentially fund their part in the start-up,

In September 2022, the trio resigned from their roles and launched Meanwhile, with great reception from the trade press, officially in October 2022, the day after Tim's son Max was born. Just to minimise the stress.

Tell us what Meanwhile does?

Meanwhile is a company for people who’d rather set agendas than follow them. We’re a creative agency that believes in exceptions to rules, “what ifs” and “yeah, buts”.

It’s how we approach the work. It’s how we approach the way we work. And it’s how, together, our work will make a difference culturally and commercially.

We turn clever insights into highly-crafted ideas that’ll change perspectives, create noise and drive amazing results for your brand.

We exist because we love what we do, and we believe we can do it better.

"You would say that" you're probably thinking, but we know that the best work requires the closest relationships, so we’re removing every conceivable barrier between you, us and what matters most – creativity that adds value to your business.

We believe Meanwhile is a better way to better work.

How did you come up Meanwhile?

We had the name'Meanwhile' pretty early on, but still went around the houses having not beaten it, and we love it.

It says everything about us. 'Meanwhile' means something different, something else, something unexpected and something new.

It sums up our approach to business creativity. It's the only way to stand out and survive, in our view. It also reminds us every day, 'is this a Meanwhile thing to do?' is a daily question.

We actually nearly called ourselves 'Hinterland', James briefly wanted 'Strange Weather', but not a day goes past when we're not relieved that we didn't choose those! We would've looked and sounded like a re-formed indie band.

How did you go about building and launching Meanwhile?

We spoke for hours, days even, about what we loved, liked, and hated about advertising agencies. The company was formed from those discussions.

Tim and James have a clear vision of what good advertising and ideas are, and Al on how to partner with our clients, and that was it.

The word 'Meanwhile' was the perfect summation.

We then had to climb a financial mountain to give us all security for our first 6 months which we did over two years, only then could we launch.

We've been considered in our PR, obviously called all of our contacts and here we are with a viable and thriving business, looking to the future with great excitement.

How have you grown the business?

We are growing, yes. We expect to be hiring people shortly and we're about to move into a bigger office with one eye on growth. We're currently using a lot of freelance talent and have housed up to 14 people in a week which was humbling, honestly.

But we've got an eye on costs and would like to employ people on a full-time basis going forward. We've also got some new business wins to announce soon and a few projects to unveil too.

Any big failures/learnings along the way?

I think we've over-delivered potentially in some pitches, and that doesn't help the perceived value we add to our clients.

We've also perhaps entertained too many '3-bob millionaires', those who promise the earth and then ghost you completely. So we're holding back a lot more than previously.

We also nearly took on the wrong office space initially which would've been too expensive, we're glad for the patience we've shown and so far we feel we've been very prudent - but then our planning period was incredibly detailed and we took a lot of advice from a lot of generous friends.

No regrets so far.

What's next for Meanwhile?

Growth. Pure and simple. We need more people so we can scale up and offer even better services and ideas.

We won't be reckless, and we need to make sure we're making the best product around too that'll make our clients famous, which is a constant ambition.

Your go to digital tools?

We're developing our own. The Mean Machine is our work platform which is basically Deliveroo for advertising clients.

They can see into the agency, and for us, it streamlines the admin. In all, it keeps the key people in our business close to the key people in our client's business, without the need for layers and layers of admin staff.

Any inspiring books?

We're all addicted to the Do Lectures series of books, particularly 'Do Purpose' by David Hieatt.

'Agencynomics' is Al's favourite, James recently enjoyed Andy Nairn's 'Go Luck Yourself' and Tim's big into 'Giraffes Can't Dance' at 6.30pm every night because Martha demands it.

Any podcasts/websites we should know about?

We've avid readers of 'It's Nice That', 'David Reviews' and Campaign. We all listen to the Unsensored CMO podcast at the moment actually, and we just realised that The Adam Buxton podcast is something else we all have in common.

Quotes you live by

"If you don't shoot, you won't score."

We're not big risk takers by any means, but we're also not shy and retiring either.

What do you love + hate about founder life?

We love the contentment is brings. No job has given any of us such a feeling. The pressure of making ourselves viable is real, but nothing any of us hate.

Any mental health tips as a founder?

We were clear at the beginning that our families come first. We're sticking to that too.

We've all worked in agencies where the culture is about who works the longest and does the most. We've made those mistakes, we've got two divorces between us to prove it too.

What does it mean to be a founder?

Contentment, drive and affirmation that you can do it. The years of doubting seem like such a waste now.

Advice for other founders

Fail to prepare, and you should prepare to fail.

Also, make a plan and stick to it, although the Mike Tyson quote “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” is also one to be wary of.

Your details, socials etc.

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