Why I recommend a trip to the convivial crowd at London’s Scottish Business Network…
The station guard flashed me a curious glance as I hauled my bag onto Dunbar station at 6.09am. I could understand why – I was making a heck of a jangling noise. I don’t normally head down to London with four bottles of whisky, 200 shot glasses and 30 booze magazines. But it wasn’t a normal business trip that stretched ahead of me. Later that day, I would have my chance to present to the Scottish Business Network (SBN) – and I’d decided it would be a good idea to loosen the audience up with ‘the water of life’.
I joined the SBN last summer and am finding it a very useful hub for meeting like-minded business folk. Attendees are typically a mix of ambitious Scottish businesses looking to develop opportunities in London and well-connected members of the Scottish business diaspora based in England. The atmosphere is convivial and supportive – and there are some very interesting people there (particularly when you get to talk to them in the bar afterwards).
My ploy was to bring the bar to the meeting but I began by telling the story of my Edinburgh-based content marketing agency White Light Media. We originally named the company after the song ‘White Light/White Heat’ by the Velvet Underground. We wanted to be seen as dark, edgy and dangerous. And then we started winning work. Three of our first clients were Co-operative Funeral Services, NHS Scotland and Scottish Widows. We decided to dial down the edginess, and buy a couple of decent suits.
That was all 15 years ago, and we’ve been on a rollercoaster ride ever since. The first few years were brilliant but the global banking crisis hit us hard and I had to learn quickly how to protect and develop the business.
One of the boldest things we did at that time was to launch our own publishing project – a beautiful magazine about booze called Hot Rum Cow. I wanted to showcase the talents of the team to a wider audience – and when the Museum of Modern Art in New York asked if they could stock the magazine, we knew we were on to something good.
That heralded a new chapter in the business, with clients seeking us out because they could see we offered something different to many content marketing agencies. We now specialise in creating genuinely compelling, beautifully designed content that captures the hearts and mind of the target audience – whether the medium is print or digital.
We have also since launched another magazine of our own called Poppy, which we send to a select audience of comms & marketing people in banking. And in 2015, we acquired a very exciting business called World Whisky Day – a global celebration of whisky that last year achieved a reach on Twitter alone of 35 million people, and saw 20,000 people attend 210 World Whisky Day events around the world.
Which is where the whisky came in. After my talk, my World Whisky Day colleague Blair Bowman led a whisky tasting using the bottles and glasses that I had carted onto the train. He talked us through samples of Robert Burns Single Malt, Hibiki blended Japanese Whisky and Four Roses Bourbon from the US. Blair accompanied the drams with popcorn, Maltesers and even cherry-flavoured Tac Tacs. It was undoubtedly the noisiest SBN event I’ve been to yet; followed by two or three hours of very enjoyable and useful networking. I returned to Dunbar with an empty bag but plenty of new friends.