Let me rewind 15 years to 2005. Tony Blair is elected for a third term, Johnny Depp is the new Willy Wonka, Charles gets his bride Camilla, London wins its bid for the 2012 Olympics, Disneyland celebrates its 50th birthday and Britain finally implements The Civil Partnership Act.

And in amongst all this, a 32-year-old Account Director is plotting his future.

The jump

Working for TBWA\Manchester (nee BDH – Bowden Dyble Hayes) was a dream.  Eleven fantastic years of working with some of the best advertising, marketing, planning, creative and design talents in the country. Producing effective, disruptive, award winning campaigns for some amazing brands and partnering with fantastic clients and suppliers to make lifelong friendships, some sadly no longer with us, but many are.

So why did I leave, when staying would have been the safe option for myself and my young family?

Well, I felt I had gone as far I could with my own personal development, and it became clear that I was way down the list of contenders to become a future leader at TBWA. So, when I arrived at a point when I felt I would do the job differently or dare I say better than my peers, my personal ambition kicked in and it became clear that I had to jump.

Coincidentally, it transpired my business partner at 438, Andy Whitmore who was second in command of Nissan Dealer Marketing Services at TBWA\Manchester had arrived at a similar conclusion.

Did we have a chance?

The dream

Our vision was straight forward, deliver big brand and big agency experience at a competitive cost that an agile, new start-up company can offer.

Having run the Henkel account for many years, gaining experience on brands like Solvite, UniBond, Loctite, Pritt and Sellotape, and Andy having vast experience whilst working client side for BMW and Nissan and agency side at TBWA offices in Paris, London and Manchester, we could be a challenger brand and a new force in the world of advertising and marketing.

In our very own Field of Dreams moment we had a simple belief… Build it and they will come. We’d borrow some money, set up an agency and take on the world.

Sat in our newly rented 2,000 square feet office in Knutsford, Cheshire. Andy and I and two newly appointed Directors were ready.

Did we know what we were doing?

The name

In advertising, a large majority of agencies used the names of the founders –Tragos, Bonnange, Wiesendanger & Ajroldi  (TBWA) James Walter Thompson (JWT), Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn (BBDO), Barrington, Johnson, Lorains (BJL) , Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB)…we wanted to do it differently.

With three original founders born in April, March and August… We took the numerical birth months… and 438 was born.

Wanting to attract local and international clients. We could be Vier, Drei, Acht, Quatre, Trois, Huit, four hundred and thirty-eight or four thirty-eight.

Did we have an ice breaker on our hands?

The call

During November 2005, six weeks or so, after we opened our doors, came the call. A call from a Managing Director of a £100m turnover business that meant we could rip up our plan and re-write our future.

“Hi Paul, it’s Kim Walker, how are you? Listen, I’ve given notice to our agency…can you handle it?”

“Hi Kim, errmm, well I have run your account for best part of 10 years. I know exactly what you need.”

“Good, you’re on a 6-month trial.”

15 years on, we are still on that 6-month trial. Providing above-the-line and digital asset management services to Henkel UK.

A slice of luck, good fortune or recognition? I’d like to think a little of all three.

Did we have enough people to service the account?

The recruitment policy

A pillar of our brand has always been and always will be, that we take a person’s positive attitude, willingness to learn, work hard and play hard above all.

So, after the call, it was clear we needed an Account Executive. We ran an ad in the local rag (yes, we are that old) and we were inundated with CVs.

Two candidates stood out. One in particular. A bright yellow CV with a couple of typos. The fact she was a Man City cheerleader, and I am a lifelong City fan, had no influence on our first hiring whatsoever.

Sophie Meggitt, now Sophie Dickens (but still ‘Megs’ to us) became our first employee.

Our second pillar of our brand is loyalty.

Megs is now a wife, mum of two, a winner on Million Pound Drop and a Senior Account Manager on our most important clients.

Megs is joined by Josh (now a Senior Designer) and Helenka, (now our Client Services Director and Shareholder) who have loyally served 438 for over 12 of our fifteen years.

The team grew steadily, and it was a real landmark when, in 2012, we secured the recruitment of TBWA\Manchester’s Creative Director, Mike Willig – one of the finest creatives in the business. Certainly, their loss and our gain.

Did we have the best agency people in the business?

The blue door

If you’ve ever walked along King Street, WA16 on your way to Tatton Park or maybe visiting The Angel or Pizza Express, you will have walked past a blue door, closely located by a long-standing Art Shop owned by the infamous Omar, a Knutsford celebrity.

Behind the blue door is a Tardis style office that has been our home for 15 years. Beyond this door, the magic happens, for years we’ve been producing effective, award-winning, creative marketing solutions for some of the worlds’ biggest brands including, BMW, Element, JD Sports, Jeep, Acer, Isuzu, Loctite, PepsiCo, Subaru, TNT Express, Willis Towers Watson…to name a few. Yep, all this goes on in Knutsford.

Did we become a challenger brand?

The reason why

Propositions are our passion point. Helping brands really cut through to their target audience and helping them to create distinction from their competitors.

When we were asked by a mentor “Why 438? And why not the agency across the road?” We didn’t have the answer. We offered great client service, but no doubt the agency across the road did too.

Why did TNT’s Global marketing team based out of Hoofddorp, Amsterdam and Pritt Stick’s Global marketing based out of Dusseldorf, Germany work with a young, boutique agency in Cheshire?

The answer was effectiveness. The work that we produced for these and other brands worked. It delivered and often exceeded their expectations.

The answer Why 438? could be answered in three words…Work that Works.

Did we have a point of differentiation?

The work

In 15 years, we’ve turned Mr Pritt into an Alien, helped build the multimillion dollar turnover Element brand from the inside out, produced the first ever e-cigarette TV commercial and at the same time created the 6th most complained about ad of all time! We’ve covered Carl Fogarty in custard, branded the Welsh RFU team, used Japanese proverbs, brought back hard man Grant Mitchell, laughed out loud with Rob Brydon (no more name dropping now). Produced some of the most effective sales events and made them virtual when we couldn’t get people together, with the help of guest speaker Tim Peake (come on, let me have that one he’s an astronaut …that’s the last one promise). We won International gongs when nobody had heard of us and made a sell-out pension product. We stuck a man upside down with superglue, conducted parcel deliveries, helped develop woman’s netball, learnt from Ada Lovelace (here I go again!) and we went all Wolf of Wall street with our brothers…

Did we become an ad agency?

The bumps in the road

To quote Chris Martin “Nobody says it was easy.” And running a business always has its challenges.

In 15 years, we’ve had legal threats from our former employer, experienced two recessions, had big fall outs – yes, we can vouch that friends and business don’t mix. We’ve been ripped off and we’ve learnt to love thy neighbour, even when he takes you to small claims court for a burst waterpipe. And recently, we’ve learnt how to survive a global pandemic.

Our key to overcoming these challenges is communication, make decisions together and spot the problems before they become even bigger headaches.

How did we fuel our growth?

The biscuits

We’re renowned by our clients for our love of biscuits.

You bring the brief, and we’ll bring the biscuits.

Why biscuits? Well there’s nothing more comforting than a brew, a biscuit and a good old natter.

This sums up 438 and our 438’ers perfectly…we’re down to earth, friendly and we love nothing more than finding out your needs, objectives and pain points over a cuppa and a Kit Kat.

Did we love what we do?

The “I love my job” days

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life” Confucius once said.

I love the sentiment. Truth is we love what we do, but we work our socks off.

A saying we have within the team is, it’s an ‘I love my job’ day. These are the days when you think, this isn’t really work. I’m sat in the sunshine on location in Mexico, I’m embracing the elements in a Quarry in Welsh countryside, I’m recording a voice over with a celebrity…

The opportunities that our clients have made available to us, are remarkable.

It is so important to take a moment on each of these days and smile.

Do we have the best job in the world?

The next 15

In recent years key team members have blossomed in to mature, experienced, talented colleagues.

They are the future of the next 15 years and beyond.

A succession plan is already in place and with guidance from Andy and me over the coming years, the agency will continue to work with the biggest and best brands…some we know… many we can’t wait to meet.

Did we become business people?

A note to my 32-year-old self

You are about to ride a rollercoaster and learn a lot about running a business, things that you don’t even know exist. But you will love it. Every day will be a learning day.

You will make mistakes; the important thing is to learn from them.

Remember when a client asked you “While you’re running the account, who’s running your business?”

You shrugged it off “me and Andy.” But whilst you are working across six brands, Andy will be working tirelessly on new business and growing the agency.

So, you can both forget weekends for the first few years. Catching up on admin on Saturdays and Finance on Sundays.

Don’t worry though, your passion and drive to make 438 a success will see you through. In time, you’ll grow the team and weekends will be yours…mostly.

Spend time recruiting the right people, don’t jump at the first candidate because you’re busy. This will help you build a loyal, talented, committed team.

Invest time in the team, the progress of our people both personally and professionally will be one of your proudest achievements.

Try to enjoy downtime a little, I know it’s really hard. You’ll worry, are we running out of cash? Where’s the next job coming from?

When you’re maxed to capacity two weeks later, you’ll think what was I worried about? I should have taken some time out.

You will have lots of ‘I love my job’ days, you will travel, and you will meet some inspirational, brilliant people along the way. Some of whom will become lifelong friends.

Have fun!

Ps. The agency is 15 years old and the brands you work on are some of the best in the world.

Pps. You’re about to become a Grandad!