Lockdown Economy UK in Animation for Businesses with Christine MacKay
The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Grace Holloway
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.
In this interview hosted by Rosie Allison, we meet Christine MacKay, founder of Salamandra.uk which specialises in animation for business and visual problem-solving. Christine discussed the many initiatives she had put in place at Salamandra.uk in order to ensure the active communication and vibrant working environment she had created continued during the lockdown period. Christine and her team have enjoyed virtual coffee meet-ups, video streamed yoga classes and many more activities that have helped boost morale and maintain high working standards. With her clients, Christine has continued to network on platforms such as LinkedIn in order to bring in new customers and encourage existing customers to refer her company to others. By maintaining ‘human to human’ communication rather than ‘business to business’, Christine has been able to make it through the difficult lockdown moths and is has a positive outlook for the continued success of Salamandra.uk animation studios.
Tell us a little bit about Salamandra.uk and what you do as a business.
Christine: At Salamandra.uk, we’re visual problem solvers. We convey complex messages for a number of clients using animation on any platform; additionally, we work in some entertainment elements. We work with multinational start-ups, brand marketing teams, agencies, etc, using a whole plethora of animation, including 2D, 3D, stop motion, augmented reality, virtual reality, and live film footage. We’ve got a very passionate, high calibre team of 12. We work in over 17 industries, from children’s book illustrations to corporate training videos or immersive virtual presentations. Our skill team produces unique and really powerful multi-faceted visual assets. We do this by creating products that really resonate with our client’s target audiences, that are really memorable because they’re so visual. We’re based in two places: Eton, Berkshire, England, in a tea room of Eton College, and Dundee, Scotland, in the Vision Building.
So it sounds like you’re mixing some very historical settings with a very modern business, working with visual problem solving and animation. Tell us a bit more about what happened to you, Salamandra.uk, and your team during the lockdown, as the UK experienced a strict lockdown starting in March. How did that impact your business, and what did you do to stimulate it during this time?
Christine: We were very lucky to already have two studios that collaborated virtually. It wasn’t too hard to set everybody up working at home with all the right equipment and keep that communication going. There have been some dips and troughs with people, especially as they feel isolated. People change through the lockdown. We already had a lot of systems for communication set-up, such as a stand-up meeting every morning, and evening rushes to make sure everyone’s aligned, and no one feels lost or unsupported. We also introduced things such as “virtual coffee catch-ups”. We used to do a lot of this communication face-to-face, and now it was all virtual, but it is still a lot of fun. We also introduced virtual yoga. We used to do yoga in the fields in Eton, and now it’s all virtual.
We never stopped. We really believe that at any time, but particularly in difficult times, marketing shouldn’t stop. We hired a digital marketer during lockdown who has helped us rework our marketing strategy, and boosted our presence on all platforms. We have a brand new website that we just launched last month. We’ve been focused on keeping our positive brand on social media, as well as engaging either prospects or existing clients to keep in touch. We didn’t take any time off, and I didn’t have to furlough anybody. Going digital meant that we worked crazy hours, but we love what we do.
Networking has also not stopped. I belong to the Lunch Club, which I highly recommend. You meet the most amazing people and get to have amazing conversations. I link people up a lot on LinkedIn, and it’s fun to see what develops out of that. I’m also involved in a number of industry agency groups which have been very supportive and helpful. We also never forget who has helped us in the past: we give them shout-outs on social media to make sure that they’re supported, as they are also small businesses. I’ve also been invited to local and international speaking opportunities, which has been helpful to evangelize about animation.
We also run a couple of meet-up groups: one is a tech and SAS meet-up group, and the other is a pharma group for marketing. Since going virtual, we have doubled the attendance rate at these groups. I think that going virtual has made us more human to human, and I love that. I love that there is more authenticity; people help each other more. The business community has become warmer and more self-aware, and ready to help one another.
It’s nice to hear that though we have lost face-to-face contact, the human side of your business has been increasing. You mentioned many things that worked for you during this time; were there any things that you tried to implement that were less successful?
Christine: There are always technological nightmares. We’ve had a few zoom meetings which have been interesting. For example, we’ve caught clients in their pyjamas when they weren’t expecting a call. We’ve had complete nightmares on our meet-ups, where the platform just wasn’t working. We had all these people trying to get in, and it wasn’t working. I had my team behind me, frantically contacting and everyone to communicate it would be recorded. There’s always a way around the technology issues, though it is not the ideal situation. Most of our issues are technical glitches. One major issue is related to Eton; being an old town, it has a lot of power failures. When we have a power failure, it knocks our whole system out, and one of us has got to go in and reconnect everything. I’d say technology is the part that has tripped us up, but we’ve thankfully found ways around it.
You mentioned a lot of the ways you were trying to stimulate your clients, employees, and networking. What kind of feedback have you had from your clients and employees regarding the measures you’ve put in place for communication during this time?
Christine: We’ve had some great feedback from clients and contacts on what we post online. One of our contacts in the U.S. messaged me and said they appreciated our posts, and the positive stuff we’ve put out there, which improved their day. That made us feel great. We post other people’s work, and stuff that we love, trying to keep upbeat and share inspiring things. That’s what we all need right now.
I recommend LinkedIn highly. Everyone should be using it. There are so many things you can do with it. Just getting your presence on there, as well as posting and sharing stuff, can allow you to meet some amazing people. The more you mix with people, the more you get alerted to people you might want to meet or introduce to someone else. Though people don’t always engage with our posts, they acknowledge that they’ve seen them and appreciated them, and encourage us to continue. Sometimes you don’t get engagement and get discouraged, but it is working.
Regarding our team, they’ve all shown each other amazing support. Everyone checks in on one another, and are very supportive of one another’s work. If a creator is unsure about their work, the comments from colleagues can be very impactful. I’ve found that has really helped knit us together. In the process of redoing our website, we redid our core values. This was a group exercise, and everybody had input. We had four designs done by four different creatives, which everyone had a hand in. Now we live those core values every day. On my weekly one-on-ones, I will ask my employees how they have lived the core values this month. It’s good to remind yourself of the ways you have done that. This emphasizes who we are and what we stand for, and builds our reputation as a brand and as a high-calibre animation studio.
How is your business going now, in the current climate?
Christine: We’ve had some pretty hairy months, and did go very quiet. Some clients closed up shop, others carried on but a bit quieter. We’ve also had a lot of new clients and referrals, which is absolute gold. We are in such a fortunate situation that for the next couple months, and into the first quarter, we are booked up. We are very grateful to be in the industry. We know a lot of our colleagues are suffering, and are not in the same position, and we don’t take that for granted at all. We realize that it’s a very fortunate position to be in an industry that still requires us to add value. There’s so many different elements in which we help clients, such as a virtual 3D auditorium with multi-screens to be used during their zoom meetings, to make you feel that you’re in an international conference. We can create a whole virtual stand and demonstration if you want to. Augmented reality has really taken off; QR codes are more common so you don’t have to download the app, you can download it off your screen or something printed. Software and hardwares are falling over themselves to keep up and continue innovating and getting communications out there. For us, we’re able to go along and try new things ourselves.
You’ve mentioned so many things that I think will be very useful to small business owners watching, but there are always things that a business owner needs help with. In the current times, what things do you need help with, if you could name three?
Christine: We would love to get help with getting in front of the really big brands, particularly those overseas. We’ve got clients in the states, Canada, and in Europe. It’s quite exciting to do work overseas. I think the British way of doing things is appreciated, we’ve got a different slant. We would love to get the Kickstarter Scheme, a UK government initiative where the government supports the cost of taking on people who would normally be applying for universal credits, and putting them in a working environment. They are supported for the first six months, and then you either keep them on or the contract can be finished. We want to take five people for both studios with a view of keeping them on. We’d really like to grow, and there are a few roles we really need some help on. Lastly, getting in touch with big agencies; we are 60% brands, and 40% agencies, because often agencies don’t have animation in house and we love helping out.
Do you have any final words?
Christine: No, just thank you for having me on, and keep it up; this is an amazing platform. I love the international side of things, and hearing other people’s stories; we’re all fragmented, but the same. Back to the whole humanity thing, it really binds us as a species in a business environment.
About the Guest
Christine MacKay is the founder and CEO of animation studios Salamandra.uk, serial entrepreneur with experience on three continents, has been named in fEntrepreneur’s #100 2020, holder of a SmallBiz100 title and current winner and nominee of 30 different business and arts awards. Christine MacKay founded salamandra.uk in 2014 which specialises in animation for business (B2B) and visual problem-solving. Christine also has the expert knowledge, having worked client and agency side on three continents, in building collaborative frictionless teams, building a strong company culture and as a serial networker, business development and cross-pollinating businesses.