We recently managed to persuade our MD to sit down and answer some questions on what it’s like running and co-owning Single Malt. Rob works to ensure all of our visions align and that we push the ambition for Single Malt. Encouraging us all to feel empowered and own our roles in the way we want to, Rob is responsible for the overall running of the team and the Single Malt strategy (as well as all the boring stuff like invoicing!). Rob loves to talk about Single Malt, but putting him on the spot like this about himself is wayyyy out of his comfort zone, so let’s see what he has to say…

What’s your background and where does your expertise lie? 

Some people who know me might laugh at this but, believe it or not, I actually don’t particularly like talking about myself! Here goes…..

My background is predominately in marketing, technology and business support. I decided quite early into my A Levels that University wasn’t going to be the path for me and knew I wanted to get into the world of work. My first job was at 17 in the Marketing Department of a specialist travel agents, I spent 4 great years learning everything I could about travel and marketing there and realised I had a passion for both!

From there I moved into a Business and Community Support role at Lancaster University for 3 years and then onto large digital agencies in Manchester and Lancaster. I also had a return to Lancaster University to set up a Technology Innovation Hub and did so successfully for 2 years before deciding to go it alone and become self employed.

Whilst employed I moved roles quite frequently (every 2 – 3 years on average) as I often found I wanted to do something new and different. Now I know why that really was, I was pretty much unemployable and unmanageable!

How did Single Malt start and how has it evolved into what it is today?

Single Malt was founded in 2011 by my business partner John to enable him to become a full time self employed Designer. Back then it was a joint venture with our now digital consultant, Tom, but as Tom went onto pastures new, John continued with the Single Malt brand.

In 2016 I left the University to finally fulfil a dream of being self employed. I had built up quite a good network of contacts during my agency days and a few old contacts had been asking me to help them for quite a while. The timing felt right and my marketing and digital design business, HYPE36 was born.

Soon after leaving, John and I were working together quite closely and, having known each other for years and having worked on other small business ideas together, (we created a coffee subscription company called Porters Coffee) we decided it felt like a good time to merge our two business into one. In 2017 the Single Malt you see now started out.

It has evolved to where it is today through hard work, an incredibly talented team and lots of fantastic clients who trust and believe in us to help them meet and exceed their business objectives.

What has been the biggest achievement so far?

This is a tricky one! I think we have had a few key achievements. In under 2 years, the team growth and working together is a genuine achievement. Winning two awards in our first year gave us a real sense of recognition and then in late 2018, being part of a Drum Award win with Channel 4 and Rouge Events was a fantastic feeling!

Finally, I would add our realignment as a brand consultancy and design studio has been a particular achievement for me personally, something we have been working towards and understanding for a good 12 months.

What has been the biggest challenge so far?

The biggest challenge has probably been our realignment discussed above. Bringing two business together saw us grow quite quickly and suddenly, it also meant we were offering two or three different services.

Finding our place and bucking the trend to focus more on brand development has been a challenge but well worth it. We have had to work hard to prove that small, specialist studios are the way forward in our industry, we are not quite there yet but take a look at our blog on why we think this.

Is there anything in particular that you find frustrating about the design industry?

Tricky one! Historically, and as digital boomed, agencies adopted a “full service” approach and grew rapidly as a result. We are finding now that this is coming back full circle to smaller, more specialist and approachable agencies. We are not quite there yet so this can be a little frustrating sometimes. Studios can often be judged (in awards or tenders) on their size and turnover, but often this doesn’t tell the full story.

Alongside this, it can be frustrating that creatives, in particular, are often judged on their time served in industry rather than their skill and leadership abilities. Lead designers are often seen as needing 5-10 years experience and are often promoted over someone with fewer years in industry but more relevant, natural abilities. 

Finally, I would say the lack of senior female leaders and in fact women in the industry is frustrating but hopefully this is on the turn. It certainly is in our office, 5 of the 7 in our team are female! 

What’s your favourite aspect of the Branding process?

I particularly enjoy exploring a business’ core needs and then helping them to work this out into a new brand purpose and values. I love developing naming routes for a new business too!

I also love to see the reaction when all of that comes together with the brand identity, seeing people’s reactions and realisation as to why we go through a much more extensive process than many studios.

If someone wants to work for Single Malt, what advice can you give them for standing out?

Be yourself and show us who you are. Skills and a clear creative eye are important but when showing us through your portfolio, talk to us about the WHY. Why did you do a piece of work that way, what was your thought process? What did you want it to achieve? 

Our studio is built around the brand and design process, designing things for a reason and not just because a client asked for it. Even down to a simple advert, what is that advert trying to achieve and why have we done it a certain way.

We class ourselves as a consultancy as much as a design studio after all.

What did you want to be growing up?

Growing up I actually really wanted to be in the Police! Specifically as a dog handler, I even considered the RAF police at one point. I think what I really wanted though was to do something different, traditional education was never for me but at that point, starting your own business seemed well out of reach and only for certain people. 

What are you passionate about? What motivates and inspires you?

I am passionate about change! Changing a business or a brand, changing and challenging perceptions of an industry. Not just because I want to challenge, but because I can see a reason for change. With this, branding in particular motivates and inspires me as this is one place we can genuinely affect change, be it in a market place or a client’s business.  

I am also passionate about using our business and our skills in particular to help others who maybe couldn’t engage with a studio like ours. Over the last 12 months, I have particularly enjoyed our work with Children of Hope and I am inspired by the work they do in Uganda.

What is your personal Motto?

I don’t have a particularly solid motto or quote you could attribute to me but I do have a strong belief that age, gender, background or education don’t automatically equal success. It might sound a bit cheesy but hard work and an ability to empathise with and understand another person can beat all of these – in my opinion.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

I think I have had several over my career and life. I’ve been working for 18 years now, someone kindly reminded me of this recently…

I always remember my Grandad Ron once told me it was OK to be a bit different and that everyone has different paths. I’ve never forgotten that. In fact, my first LTD company was named after both of my grandads, Ron and Eddie Ltd!

A friend and mentor (and client) has taught me, although he probably wouldn’t know this, that the key to business and leadership is that you need to understand the person to understand the objective. The well known phrase, ‘People buy from people’ couldn’t be more true.

And just for fun…what’s your favourite

Takeaway food? – Tough choice, Pizza or Chinese! I love a buffet so maybe both!?

Place to relax? – I wouldn’t call it relaxing right now but probably following my football club Morecambe FC is about the only place I stop thinking about Single Malt!

Book? – I have a strange fascination with books about organised crime! Killing Pablo is a particular favourite right now. From a business perspective, I love books on modern day leadership. 

Movie? – I’m a sucker for comic book action films, anything from Marvel probably. At the other end, the Godfather films!