From the big move down south and finding his place in the industry, through to tips for agency owners just starting out – find out what Chris, our Managing Director had to say when we sat down with him recently.

For the people who don’t know you, tell us a little about yourself.

 So, I’m Chris, originally from Wakefield near Leeds in Yorkshire. I studied Public Relations at university and it gave me a good insight into PR and how to communicate through different mediums. I think that really does help with video production as it’s all about communicating messages through different channels, always keeping the end audience in mind.

While I was at university, I worked at MINI Plant Oxford as an External Communications Executive. That was a really eye-opening experience for me as I got to see how big brands communicated.

So why video production then?

I started to realise that a career in PR wasn’t the path for me. It felt too robotic and limiting for what I wanted to be doing. Video production seemed like an interesting and more creative path as I was always tinkering with things and recording things and people. Whether it was a family get together or watching my Dad; I guess it’s always been in my blood. I loved watching and learning from him as he captured a story at a birthday or family holiday. My grandfather was one of the first people to own an old cine camera in his day too!

That opened my eyes as to what storytelling was about. How it could evoke emotion, how it could tell a story and how it could capture an event. That’s stuck with me throughout.

From a job perspective, I was lucky as my father-in-law introduced me to the podcast department at the University of Oxford. It was my job to record podcasts for different lectures, whether it was quantum mechanics, philosophy or something else I couldn’t pronounce!

As technology progressed, we moved to video recording the lectures. With that came all the specialist kits, which I loved and geeked out on! I was developing my skills and improving my ability both at work and outside of my day to day role. It finally came to be time for me to seek out a different production role, so I moved to a video production company in Henley where I was thrust abroad in my first week to Chicago with some big equipment I’d never even seen before! ‘Just say yes!’ I kept telling myself.

Tell us about being an agency owner and what you have learnt?

One thing that was absolutely paramount for me from the start was client service; always being on hand for clients and being involved throughout. Whether that’s actual client relations or working closely with a team of freelancers. Through that, I learned more and more which allowed me to build and grow Oxford Media Factory

People have always trusted me to do things and I’ve always delivered. This has always been my ultimate goal. It was quite a transition from being a freelancer and doing everything on my own as chief cook and pot washer to then trusting other people on the client’s behalf. As an agency owner, I’d say that’s been the biggest challenge.

I think when you put that much attention to detail, that much care, that much passion into everything that you do personally, to hand that off to somebody that you don’t know that well, you have to trust them to do it on their own.

During the transition to becoming an agency, I found George. He was absolutely paramount in making sure that everything we did had structure to it, it had process, and it maintained passion. He did it with gusto and a lot of care and attention to detail. So, it was the first big hire for me and OMF, the transition to becoming an agency was definitely aided by George. 

How has the industry changed in the last 10 years and how have you adapted?

We’ve adapted massively in that period of time. I’ve gone from being a sole trader to an agency owner and taking on lots of different client briefs along the way. 

We’ve also come a long way from a capacity, a creative and logistical stance. We’ve had to grow, in numbers, but also in skillsets. The growth has brought a wave of outsider knowledge to the table which has really strengthened our production game so we now have a really well-rounded and skilled team

I think the beauty about a small agency is that there are a lot of lateral skill sets that people need to be able to move between. Sometimes things fall outside of job roles but I love that our team can catch something that’s outside of their comfort zone and run with it.

The industry has definitely changed thanks to social media too. People consume videos and media differently, attention spans are shorter! People want to consume things in smaller bite-sized chunks, it’s all quick, fun and attention-grabbing stuff.

Technology has changed a lot in 10 years. Podcasts have kind of come full circle from their inception and it’s great to see their resurgence to now becoming a popular medium to consume content. We jumped on that quite early on and continued to adapt throughout the pandemic. The pandemic was such a smack in the face for so many businesses but we were lucky enough to have the ability to make changes quickly. 

A lot of our business was travelling abroad, going to different events around the world. Offering remote services via our recording kits to our clients during the pandemic was vital. It’s something that’s stuck, as people still see the value in it. Every credit to the team and us as an organisation as we met the requirements very, very quickly. It was a challenge, but we’ve done a great job.

What three tips would you give to new agency owners? 

  1. Be confident with your skillset – Always start with a skillset and double down on that skillset. I think trying to spread yourself too thinly is something that we’ve done as we tried to do lots of different things over the years. I’m a magpie when it comes to jumping on new ideas and sometimes getting distracted by those ideas. While it’s good to have new ideas, I think that it’s the agency owners’ job to steer the ship and keep the ultimate purpose and set of goals in mind.
  2. Keep your offer clear – At the start and certainly throughout the last 10 years, we’ve tried lots of different things, gone down lots of different avenues. This can be a good thing as you discover your fit, but once you’ve found it, don’t waste your time searching for more. Keep that discipline and remain passionate about what you really thrive at. Pick a lane and be really good at it.
  3. Build trust by building relationships early on – One thing that’s really steered our ship well is being good at customer service and being good at educating the client. This has helped us become trusted partners to our clients, not just another agency. We have a good proportion of retained clients who have worked with us for a number of years, so finding people that you like working with is key because the people are the most important part. Don’t always do it for the money and it’ll make your life a lot easier!

My main piece of advice would be to maintain those relationships on a completely open and personal level, through successes, setbacks and failures – it’s so important. 

Any final thoughts for us?

“Stay humble. Stay nice. Stay trustworthy.” – Chris Smith, 2022 

We really enjoyed sitting down with Chris and getting to know more about how he built Oxford Media Factory and his perspective on being an agency owner. 

So now the question is, who is jumping into the hot seat next…? There’s more Q&A content coming soon!