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‘Blood, sweat and ideas, since 1995’

Alastair Williams, Mark-making*

Fylde College, BA Hons Art, Design and Marketing 1994

Alastair Williams is the founder of Mark-making* an award-winning, creative agency, with expertise in strategy, brand, design and digital. Ali and his business partner (also a Lancaster alumnus) evolved the business from a pure graphic design house, to an integrated brand communications agency. and have been helping organisations make their mark for over nineteen years.

How did your entrepreneurial journey begin?

I met my business partner Steve doing the same course and it was in our second year that we thought well what about if we left here and we set up a graphic design house and that’s basically what we started to prepare to do.

After graduation, we set up an office at my Mum’s house and we applied for a startup grant that gave us £40 a week each for six months which we gave directly to my mum, and we set about trying to generate some interest. One of the first clients we approached was the local village hairdressers because she’d expressed an interest in wanting to have an ad in the Parish magazine.  Steve and I turned up in suits with clipboards and asked about target audiences and objectives and long terms goals and all these sorts of things, I think she was a bit bemused by it! Then we went back to our office at my mum’s house and flipped a coin to see who would call this hairdresser up and tell her it would be two hours’ time at £15 an hour. In the end Steve had to call and she said yes and we thought ‘brilliant we’re off!’

Has your business stayed the same since then?

We’ve evolved. So we started very much as a graphic design house, we’ve got bigger, our clients have got bigger, propositions become broader and we’ve got more people. But perhaps the thing that hasn’t changed is our philosophy from the outset and for us design was always about solving marketing problems, using design to solve marketing challenges and we coined an expression the idea is king and delivery rules.

Your tag line is ‘blood, sweat and ideas since 1995’, does this reflect your values as a business?

Yeah it really does actually. There isn’t a short cut, you just have to keep going and ideas is very much at the heart of it all. Actually in recognition of the blood piece, as one of the twenty things that we’re doing this year, collectively we’re giving 20 pints of blood, so there’s a whole gambit of stuff that we’re doing there!

What are you particularly proud of as you enter your 20th year of mark-making*?

There’s plenty that I’m proud of and actually they’re a real mix. There’s things like I guess we’ve been fortunate enough bar mortgages never to have any debt, we’ve made a consistent profit, we’ve had awards success and we’ve had a lot of people with us for a long time. We’ve also entered the design week top hundred design agencies about five years ago which was always a dream of ours. We’ve set up something called project pledge which was basically a pro bono initiative where we identified not necessarily charities but organisations or individuals who we thought were trying to do something decent, different, and could really help do with some expertise and if we had the time available we just designed it and we packaged it and we set up a website where we try and encourage other people to do the same.  So we’re trying to do different things outside of the core business.

You can view Alastair’s LinkedIn profile here.

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