Phenomenal Woman: Founder and Owner of Adtherapy – Gillian Rightford

My guest for this week is Gillian Rightford I met Gillian many moons ago but really started working with her when she was MD of Lowe Bull and they worked on the Redds account when I was at SAB.

Gillian then left to open her own business – those days I mean it was very early days of entrepreneurs so Gillian followed her passion and started a company called Adtherapy – which helped clients and advertising agencies find joint solutions to challenges that they were facing. I used Gillian many a times when I was facing challenges of getting the best out of the agency. I do work with Gillian on her Business Academy when she is training marketing and agency  teams and I absolutely love the work she does. A passionate and committed marketer – very grounded. And gets things done whilst also looking after a family of 2 boys and husband.

Gillian please tell us a bit about yourself?

I wasn’t sure what to study when I left school so went for an aptitude test and they found I had equal abilities on my “science” and my “art” sides. So the two careers they suggested were architecture (I can’t draw) and marketing. I chose marketing, studied  a Business Science Marketing at UCT and swore I would never work in advertising if it was the last job on earth. After working for a marketing strategy consulting firm for a few years I felt frustrated by the lack of implementation, and against my wildest dreams started working for a small ad agency – where I discovered my love for creativity as a business tool.

What made you leave corporate and start Adtherapy?

I had a political tussle with my partner and came second! I was given a settlement after leaving and I had a bit of time to really think of what I wanted to do next – did I just want to go and run another agency? No. So I started exploring some angles. And I was sitting watching TV one night and I watched 3 bad ads in a row. And that was my EUREKA moment. I thought of all the campaigns or ad creation process I had been involved in over 25 years and how few were great. And I thought that’s what I want to do – help agencies and marketers get the best out of each other to do great work, that works better in the market.

What can you tell us about your business?

Adtherapy started out being a pure consulting business where I did Relationship Interventions and developed strategies to help get the relationship on track by identifying where the sticking points were. Very soon it became clear that many misunderstandings arose where levels of experience were not sufficient or aligned, on one or both sides. So I developed a few training courses. Then I was able to finesse one of my courses with the help of two exceptional marketers and a creative director (Sharon Keith, Nandi Scorer and Mike Ellman-Brown) to become the backbone of the Creative Fitness programme – which teaches marketers how best to work with agencies. I also developed the Account Leadership Programme for agency account management and the Business of Advertising programme for creatives along with numerous other training modules to help bridge the gap between agency and client. Three years ago, I developed the Business Marketing Academy which now has 85 modules by many of SA’s best practitioners in their specialised field. The idea of the BMA is that companies can easily create their own in-house academy. In fact we can build a two-year programme in 15 minutes.

What have been your greatest lessons? 

The biggest lesson I had, and I do think it is more a woman-in-business issue, is not taking on too much to the detriment of your own performance. I think we like to help out, so we stick our hand up but in the end we become frazzled. Learning to say NO was an important lesson. The other lesson is the power or relationships. I have a phenomenal professional network. Many of my clients were people who I grew up with professionally and have become great friends. My professional network is a source of support, camaraderie and inspiration..

What would you advise someone who wants to start their own business?

Be very clear on what your value proposition is. I was lucky that mine was crystal clear from the start. With the BMA, the focus has expanded from just being agency-client focussed but it is still focused on the mantra I wrote in the beginning: Better Skills, Better Relationships, Better Results. I love that Venn diagram that looks for the intersection of what you love doing, what you’re good at, and what people will pay for. If you can crack that – you’re good to go. The other thing of course is relentless promotion, which isn’t always easy when you’re working with your head down. You have to wave your flag around – attend seminars, write blogs, have an active profile on Linked In. People need to be reminded of your services otherwise you’re out of sight out of mind. And the last one, which I learned when I started my own agency many moons ago, is to look after yourself. As an entrepreneur, the stress can become untenable and the temptation is to work longer and longer hours. My view (after a near burnout) is that time must be guarded extremely carefully as it is your most precious resource.

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