Stewart Hilton and his partner Rob White set up Zeal Creative, a promotional marketing company, after becoming frustrated with opportunities while working as part of a larger marketing agency. After working together for 20 years, the duo decided to pursue their dream of starting their own marketing agency.
Since then, they have not looked back, and Zeal Creative has grown from strength to strength. In under 18 months they were already providing services for major companies such as ASDA, Bacardi, Auntie Bessie’s, John West and Weetabix. The company now produces national marketing campaigns for a plethora of other brands, such as Nestlé, Kellogg’s, Pringles, and PZ Cussons. Using their existing contacts within the industry, and having had a combined 40 years’ experience marketing major brands, they saw a doubling of revenue from year one to year two, and in early 2017 their team grew from 11 to 28 full-time staff in just 3 months, with the search for more ongoing. Among those workers they are providing careers for four university graduates.
To mark their new found abundance, Zeal Creative is moving from 800 sq. ft in The Landing to 1,800 sq. ft in The Tomorrow building in March 2017 in order to cater for the new recruits, a 125% increase in office space at the heart of Manchester’s Media City. The business was also awarded ‘2017 Breakthrough Agency’ on behalf of the Marketing Agency Association earlier this month.
Co-founders Stewart Hilton, 44, and Robert White, 45, first launched the business from a boiler room based on Chorlton Street in 2014 after securing a £10,000 loan from the government-backed The Start Up Loans Company. The funding was used to purchase office equipment, cover recruitment fees and fund travel expenses to attend client meetings in the initial stages.
Zeal Creative specializes in promotional shopping for major companies, the majority of their partners being located in the North of England. Their Manchester location allows them to be ‘creatively connected’ at the heart of Media City surrounded by the BBC, ITV, as well as app developers and other technical businesses. They also have local partnerships with Manchester Met University and Edge Hill University to get input into briefs from young undergrads.
Zeal Creative have worked with Amanda Holden for Alpen, sampled Quorn at Queens Club and partnered Downtown Abbey with Aunt Bessie’s. They then helped Aunt Bessie’s take over sponsorship of ‘I’m a Celebrity’ 2015 with on pack, in store and social media campaigning. This was a successful campaign that saw Zeal take control of all aspects of the media blast aside from the TV ad. Aunt Bessie’s saw a dramatic increase in sales as a result of the campaign.
Zeal work on a project by project basis with major brands, on the understanding that a successful job is rewarded with further work. Stewart and Rob saw turnover of in excess of £750,000 in year one of trading and in year more than doubled this to £1.5 million. The business now has an annual turnover of £1.7million, which looks to increase to £3.2million by the end of 2017 based on new client wins. This follows last year’s success after Zeal Creative represented UK start ups as an ambassador for the Start Up Loans Company at the Houses of Parliament. Zeal Creative has also previously won the 2014 North West Start Up Business of the Year from the Start Up Loans Company.
Stewart Hilton, co-founder of Zeal Creative, said: “Since launching on our own in 2014, we’ve not looked back. After only three years, Robert and I have gone from sitting on our own in a small boiler room to a large office in the UK’s newest media hub, MediaCity. And we’ve gained 26 people along the way! We’re really proud of this growth, especially since we’ve gone from a start-up to working with some of the UK’s most loved consumer brands.
“Although Robert and I have former marketing experience, we needed the financial backing to put our knowledge and experience into practice. The low interest loan from the Start Up Loans Company helped us put any extra cash into launching the business, which was really useful in the initial stages.”
Tim Sawyer, CEO of The Start Up Loans Company, said: “Zeal Creative is a fantastic example of how to start-up and scale-up. Moving offices in the UK’s marketing epicentre, MediaCity, after just three years of trading is testament to the hard-work and dedication by Stewart, Robert and the rest of the Zeal team.
“We recognise that starting your own business from scratch may be daunting. But with the right financial and mentoring support, prospective business owners can start on the best possible footing. We encourage any budding business owners to remember help is available if needed.”