It’s time for a new Behind the Biz interview. This is my weekly interview series where I discover exciting businesses, the people behind them and their business journey.
Today I’m talking to Ian Hills, the founder of Purple Pilchard.
Please tell us about your business
Purple Pilchard is an incubator agency for great brands of tomorrow, a backer of bold, cash-strapped in their daily scuffles against their bland, insincere or over-massaged corporate rivals.
Much has changed since I set up 13 years ago. Today there are any number of nimble-footed agencies that operate from spare rooms or sheds at the bottom the garden, but back in the 90’s the only option was big, self-absorbed agencies with their pompous, name-dropping ways and eye-watering invoices.
Working client side in a variety of blue chips (albeit on their lesser light brands) I found myself having to go to rostered agencies who had no interest in my brand other than to use me as a stepping stone to a household brand with deep pockets. My brands were employed as rusks for over excitable junior executives to cut their teeth on. Just because you have a shoestring budget doesn’t mean you don’t want a strategic solution, with little or no budget to make quick-fire changes, a bad decision can haunt you for a long time.
The artisan food renaissance of recent years means that consumers & retailers now appreciate better than ever that food is so much more than body fuel. Waitrose, Wholefoods and Ocado have been instrumental in giving young, optimistic brands some richly deserved time in the limelight but they need thoughtful and affordable marketing (strategy, PR and copywriting to get over the line)
Where did the inspiration for Purple Pilchard
Always been a fan of alliteration and a little silliness. With brands like Blue Tomato big at the time I thought it was time to give the simple sardine a thumbs up. You worry that people won’t take you seriously however if you align a polished identity the main response I got was a friendly smile and the phrase ‘very memorable!’
My time at Ben & Jerry’s (and agency side helping socially responsible brands like Nature’s Path) was instrumental in helping me realize that approachability and likeability were often in short supply among our corporate rivals. Faceless operations, tucked away MDs and a dreary tone of voice was their staple voice. The opportunity to seek out and assist affable and ballsy businesses was practically limitless.
How did you decide upon the name of your business?
5 second chat in a pub and a friendly designer who scribble my 1st fish logo out on a serviette. Purple has always been a synonym for quality and pilchards (Cornish sardines to many) provides a nice ‘everyday’ touch.
What did you do before starting Purple Pilchard?
A seasoned marketer with a diverse blue chip back catalogue working for a series of inspiring and hopeless bosses (you learn loads from both!)
Did you always plan to set up your own business?
Yes but probably as a food brand. When I received a commission to write a children’s book I took a little time out to write The Toxic Toadburger Conspiracy. When it was time to return to the real world I deliberately targeted small quirky operations. Interviews were easy but that’s when I was told ‘we’d love to employ a marketer but couldn’t afford you – but would you do x piece of work for me?’
There have been amazing and bleak years but overall I wouldn’t change a thing. Entrepreneurs are by their very nature inspirational (occasionally self-obsessed) souls. From these true ‘life innovators’ you learn so much.
What has been the biggest challenge in running your business so far?
Famine & feast – sometimes you have more on your plate than you know what to do with and sometimes it’s a tad lean. It’s all about getting the right blend of meaningful retainers and intriguing ad hoc projects. It’s taken ages to crack the code.
What has been the highlight of your business journey to date?
Being at the cutting edge of so many hot trends from GF and Cold Pressure to RAW pet food. Brands that tick indulgent, engaging and health conscious really rock my boat and I’m currently talking to three clients who I think will be Pilchard’s defining moment.
What role does social media play for your business and do you have a favourite social platform?
Have always done social media for others but not myself I KNOW NOT MY FINEST HR. Only been on twitter properly a few months, but am now a complete convert. Linkedin is always worth a couple of jobs and Instagram is my next mission. Facebook is simply for collating family photos and chuckling at people who take themselves far too seriously.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Believe in yourself, never be afraid to ask questions because you’ll be amazed how helpful the business world can be and constantly revisit what you stand for. Nothing stands still.
Where do you hope to take your business in the year ahead?
More of the same as interesting work not making a mint was always the primary goal (although I’m not adverse to earning a little more). Especially love helping Over The Pond Businesses land successfully in the UK.
Thank you so much to Ian for getting involved with Behind the Biz. I really enjoyed hearing about his business journey and previous career. I also love the fact that he’s written a book, I’m going to have to read The Toxic Toadburger Conspiracy soon.
Ian works with some fantastic clients and has helped me to score some fab interviews with brands such as Beckleberry’s, Huxley Hound, Great British Biscotti and Coldpress. He clearly works with some of the very best! I wish Ian the best of luck with Purple Pilchard.
I hope you enjoyed the interview and if you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comment section below.
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