“We educate and inform our clients about doing something good with their business and we’re helping to change their lives and create a better future…”
This week, we were introduced to Max Freer, Founder of OOK. A true entrepreneur, Max is a multi-award-winning Business Owner, Brand and Creative specialist who has launched her latest business based on purpose and passion. OOK aka One of a Kind is a new breed of Creative Agency for Mankind who use their business as a force for good, with a non-profit mindset, creating purposeful work for humanity and planet.
Max’s ambition to succeed has taken her on an exciting journey throughout her career and led her up to this point today. However, her route into business wasn’t as straight forward as it may seem. After failing all of her school exams, drifting between retail and hospitality jobs, and also dedicating a lot of her time to caring for her older sister, Max says her prospects were not looking so good. However, her attitude and willingness to succeed has meant she’s had an impressive career and we’re sure her story will inspire many of our readers.
Max, tell us about your earlier years.
Well, I failed all of my school exams, so my route into business wasn’t straightforward, and at the age of sixteen, I wasn’t a young adult surrounded by people in business. I have an older sister who is severely disabled and I was a council estate kid growing up as a child career. I was caring for my older sister a lot of the time and also dealing with my dad battling cancer too – I admit on paper my prospects did not look so good at this point! We do not live on paper, but sadly society can judge people what they read on a CV. However, the way people assumed my childhood and surroundings would have a negative impact on my life made me determined to be on a great path and succeed. I was lucky enough to have great parents who were really loving. My Mum and Dad instilled a belief system that whatever I wanted to have or achieve in life, that it was within our reach. I always have and always will believe this is true which is why I am where I am today. Sometimes when I look back at my younger self, I’m astonished at what I have achieved. I can’t believe it’s me.
How did you get into business and discover your passion for the creative industry?
I’ve loved art from a young age, my Mum is creative, my Granny was – it was the only qualification I left school with. My school art teacher got me accepted to Northern School of Art then CCAD based on my portfolio and skill, but I found myself lacking confidence to go to college – it felt overwhelming. After numerous jobs and a good stint working for Topshop where I acquired sales and conversational skills, I hit a crossroads at the age of 23. I’d drifted between jobs, travelled and worked abroad. When I returned home, I was back living with my Mum and Dad, I had no formal qualifications, no job, and no money. As I was on the dole at the time, the dole office helped me to enrol onto a Business Course at Teesside University. Part of this course was learning about Marketing, although I didn’t understand it at the time, I excelled at it and knew it was my passion. I then secured workplace experience with the Evening Gazette, which led onto a full-time employment offer as their Promotions Executive. This was fantastic as I had the chance to work on so many great projects and delivered a number of marketing first campaigns for Trinity Mirror’s Newspaper including Free Flights for Every Reader, and a campaign with Walt Disney to take a class of kids to America. It was a hugely competitive hard environment, but I enjoyed it massively and won a Newspaper Society Award for my achievements.
When I look back, there was a lot of peer pressure and people looking down their noses at me. When I first started I didn’t even know how to turn the computer on, but what I did bring to the table was a great attitude and willingness to learn. I just had a will do/can do attitude to learn and to succeed and would turn my hand to anything I was asked, not shy of asking for help and direction where I didn’t know something. I believe this is what set me on my path to success in the creative industry. I hungered for the challenge. As a kid from an estate, I knew I could do this, and I made plenty mistakes which is the best ways to learn.
I’m sure many career highlights followed on from this, can you name a few?
One career highlight I’m particularly proud of is my time working for Whitbread & David Lloyd Leisure. I was their Sales & Marketing Manager with a target of £1.1 million. Their club in Teesside was ranked 42 out of 42 when I started, and I ended up taking it to number 1 in the group.
After 18 months I was ready for another challenge and moved on to Metro Radio where I was brought in to transform their charity. I created ‘Cash For Kids’ which was, and still is, such a large and profitable success for Bauer Media which makes me feel really proud. This was such a challenging role at times, with targets and in particular the Managing Director at the time quipped that the previous Manager had tried but failed to secure Ant and Dec as patrons of the charity, and if I achieved that then this would be a significant milestone for the charity. From that moment forward I was razor focused, determined in my pursuit to bring the boys on board with the charity. I did secure them as Patrons to take an active role, often meeting them in person to film or record charity initiatives I had developed which they were endorsing.
Further down the line, I was headhunted by Heart Radio (Century FM at the time). Capital had very recently bought them out and I was brought in alongside a team of people tasked with turning the radio station from an underperforming station to a high performing brand which they could go on to sell within five years. Again, this was another highlight as I had the opportunity of some amazing national work alongside such talented people which included being part of the brand team when we were shortlisted for media brand of the year by Media Week. When Capital went on to sell this station to Global Radio, I made the decision to move away from commercial marketing jobs and move back home.
After ten years in the industry working at a fast pace and accelerating rapidly in my career, I was ready for a change.
This sounds like it was going to be an exciting new chapter in your life, tell us about that.
I wanted to be home more, so I decided to set up my own marketing business from home with £600 in my bank. It was called Love Marketing. I still can’t quite believe this myself but a stroke of luck meant SYCO Talkback Thames were my first client. This was around the time Journey South had brought Simon Cowell to Middlesbrough with The X factor and they were looking for a marketing and PR agency to assist and I had been recommended by an old colleague. I actually ended up turning down a job offer from Simon Cowell off the back of this project. It still makes me laugh to this day that I turned down Syco. But I was on a mission with my new business and it was already starting to grow.
Before I knew it, it was two years later and an old colleague of mine came back to our hometown too and together, we created ‘We Do Brand Communications’. In the ten years of partnerships we had some phenomenal achievements, including the creation of Baker Street, which led to concept of the Orange Pip Market and the launch of Digital City – to name a few. We won the North East’s most outstanding small consultancy, along with other multiple awards and it was a journey I will be forever grateful for. I had the pleasure of meeting and working alongside the most amazing clients. In 2015 I made a conscious decision to part ways with my business.
I was intuitively aware how the world was changing. We are in an age in which many people crave a deeper sense of connection to their work, the place they live, the brands they choose. Society wants business to demonstrate a greater integrity and accountability and I was ready to reinvent and create a new way of living and working.
To make change you have to be the change. Walk the talk. So that’s what I did. I upped and walked from my first multi-award-winning creative business in pursuit of change to redress society’s imbalance between life and work.
That all sounds amazing, and now this has led you up to the point of launching your creative agency, One Of A Kind. Please tell us more.
I had been toying with an idea to create an inherently light on its feet creative agency that had a tool kit unlike any other agency, that put purpose at the core of the ethos and worked with clients to create meaningful work. I wanted to nurture a community of co-creators who I could employ on a freelance basis. I was aware of the inequality and unfair disadvantage independent freelance experts have when working in isolation against larger agencies – they never get the opportunity to work on large scale complex projects as often these go to the same old agencies time and again, so I wanted to redress this by creating a company that would manage the best freelance experts we could bring to a client journey and create a super fluid work environment that would not be physically defined by an office or location, hours or gender. It would be defined by a purpose.
The idea, in short, was this:
No set team.
Untapped team of talent.
New technology which can move with all of that.
And that’s how OOK was born. We use our skills to create purposeful and playful work for humanity and the planet. We educate and inform our clients about doing something good with their business and we’re helping to change their lives and create a better future for their business. OOK is a state of mind, that is both real and influential. We’re not saying by doing good, we’re the agency to help you stand out from the crowd. That’s just bad.
OOK is essentially an agency for the 21st century. We devise holistic solutions to today’s business challenges and offer co-creation as the process interlinking with freelance experts who we bring in once we determine the problem and solution as opposed to just selling you a marketing service you may not need – our experts are far and wide and across multiple disciplines plus we hook up with some of the most up and coming tech, digital companies too. It’s a great fusion of ideas and energy with the client front and centre the main focus. OOK’s agenda is Health, Science and Technology. This underpins our knowledge of how society is changing and what brands, and businesses need to do about it.
Tell us about your company values and the message you want to put out to people who may be interested in collaborating with you.
I believe you can run a profitable business but do it in a way that is more meaningful, playful and soulful for your staff, customers and wider stakeholders.
OOK categories businesses as sitting in one of three types SLEEPERS, TAKERS and CREATORS. The SLEEPER business tends to be blissfully delivering on their business, but working to deliver better social impact goes unnoticed, ignored or there is little consideration for it. The TAKER business is self-focused putting their own interests ahead of society’s needs, trying to gain as much as possible from their interactions while contributing as little as they can in return. The Taker will contribute back to society via charitable causes, but often there is a self-focused motivation behind their charitable actions. The CREATOR business, on the other hand is Worldly and understands profit and purpose can work hand in hand with a greater societal profile they choose to place purpose at core of their business delivering a company that is a force for good, ethically and morally right – and this is the category OOK sit in.
The era we are in right now is shaping the future for the next generation. It is the future consumers, buyers, owners, managers, creators, makers, go-getters, trendsetters, and change makers who businesses need to nurture now, fail to focus on this group of young people and in a few years, they will be the Generation who be unpicking the mess regardless. So, don’t wait. Use your business to be a force for good.
For example, I may work with a not for profit housing company and the first question I would ask is “what are you doing to help the community other than putting a roof over their head? Are you helping to give them a brighter future?”
This is what I mean by purpose and changing lives. My main value is purpose over profit, and we need the Tees Valley to have more companies like this. I am putting OOK through a process to become a B Certified company, which means we use our skills, products, services, etc. to be a force for good. Much like companies such as WeTransfer and Innocent Smoothies who are focused on global communities and empowering the planet.
We want to help more clients look at ways they can make a positive change in the world and we’re starting in our hometown of Teesside.
You can connect with Max on Linkedin at: Max Freer.