Hi Kevin, so tell us, where did it all begin for IMS?
Well like all good start-ups we began in a converted attic! But the story goes back a bit further. I had been working for around 10 years in different international sales and marketing roles for Medtech and electronics companies. At the time I was doing a lot of travelling – about 2 of every 3 weeks was spent overseas – and I knew I wanted a change.
I had also experienced the challenges we met any time we needed a B2B marketing agency, so I had this niggling feeling in my mind that there was a gap there that needed filling. The agencies we worked with were primarily B2C focussed and were stretching themselves to understand our world. I could see that there was an opportunity for a dedicated B2B agency which could support industrial type companies, e.g. in the manufacturing and engineering space, especially those with an export ambition.
So, in 2007 the attic was converted, Industrial Marketing Solutions was born, and I basically lived up there for about 18 months working hands-on with local B2B companies in Galway.
Things were going well and I soon realised I needed an extra pair of hands, and you can’t really bring an employee into your attic…so I converted the garage!
A garage is much more inviting than an attic to be fair!
Well, we didn’t stay there too long either. In 2011 we moved to our first dedicated office space in Claregalway with space for up to 9 people. Growth was steady and every year we managed to add one or two people to the team until we outgrew the space.
In 2015 we moved to our current office in Oranmore and rebranded from Industrial Marketing Solutions to IMS Marketing. This allowed us to broaden our focus to B2B technology companies as we were already working with many companies in MedTech and software sectors at that stage and a couple of years later, we doubled our office space in Oranmore to accommodate a team of over 20 people.
What would you say has been IMS’s biggest strength over the years?
One thing that has never changed is our ability to relate quickly and bring value to our clients. This comes from our focus on B2B technologies, and after 15 years, we have built up so much experience in 4-5 sectors that it’s a big thing for clients when they first talk to us.
I believe everything starts with this Business Understanding, really getting under the skin of their business if you like, and ensuring the right strategy underpins the tactical marketing work that follows. I believe that approach is now part of how everyone in the team engages with clients and is one of the reasons why we have grown successfully and also why we work with most clients for several years.
And has that growth been steady, or could you pinpoint any pivotal moments along the way?
Believe it or not, we have grown the business every year since 2007. The financial crash happened just 18 months after I started the company and even during 2020 when Covid-19 hit every business hard, we grew a little, so I am really proud of that resilience.
There have been a few things however that I would describe as step-changes in our journey. I fondly recall the rebranding project we did for Advant Medical in our early years. It really stretched us. The project was a big success and put us on the radar of many other MedTech companies. In the past five years, we have designed and delivered some large Government-led programmes, including Enter-the-Eurozone, and they have also brought us to another level.
I would say overall however, the biggest step-change was around five years ago we made the decision to hire more experienced staff, rather than bringing younger people in and training them up. Don’t get me wrong, there is always a place in IMS for young talent, but going the extra mile and investing in more experienced people had an immediate impact for us and our clients.
And that would be the biggest piece of advice I would give any business owner: get the best people you can on board.
What have been the biggest changes that you’ve noticed over the last 15 years?
The obvious one is the continued rise in the importance of digital. Even 4-5 years ago, many companies saw it as optional but now it is a core part of every marketing strategy we deliver.
Another big change has been the increased international focus for earlier stage companies. Ireland has always been a big exporter but 10 years ago, my experience was that only companies who had strongly established business in Ireland looked abroad and it was nearly always the UK by default.
I think the landscape has changed a lot and today we are working with so many companies whose primary strategy is export first; to the US, Germany, France, etc, and Ireland is completely secondary. I think that type of ambition is fantastic and says so much about the mindset of Irish entrepreneurs.
And what does the future hold for the marketing industry in Ireland?
Well I’d love to have a crystal ball to see what “work” will look like in five years’ time. But I don’t think anybody really knows. At IMS we have taken the decision to go remote-first and it has been huge for us. As well as having a very happy group of people working here, it has allowed us to seek out the best talent from across the country and bring them on board. We’re reaping the benefits of that already with the team we have put together and the range of experience and skillsets we have been able to attract.
The other big focus for us recently, and I think this is going to be something which more agencies latch on to, has been a move to an “Agile” approach to project management. We have been working closely with an Agile consultant and over the next six months our plan is to transition to a completely new way of planning and executing our work. It is going to result in a lot more cross-team collaboration which is so important. Many of our clients will already be familiar with Agile as a methodology for delivering work which will help us to implement it here too. I am really looking forward to seeing where this takes us.
I feel proud when I think about the team we have put together, the client relationships we have built, and the work we deliver. It has been an incredible journey over the past 15 years, and yet in so many ways it feels like we are only getting started. It makes me very excited to see what the future holds.