The Co-Founder and Director of Fountain Partnership, Rebecca Smith, sat down with CEO.digital earlier this quarter to discuss the real benefits business leaders can see if they empower their team with responsibility. She also shared how Fountain’s non-hierarchical structure encourages agility and innovation, and how the company achieved its outstanding and minimal gender pay gap.
Nobody needs to highlight that the past 18 months has caused a massive rethink of how we go about daily life. But while many business leaders are only just asking questions about how they operate and where improvements can be made, others have had a head start.
Rebecca Smith is the Co-Founder and Director of Fountain, a digital marketing agency based out of Norwich that’s a global Google Premier Partner and boasts a non-hierarchical structure. We chatted with Rebecca to find out more about what’s made Fountain successful and how its mentality helped steer it through the pandemic.
Meet Rebecca Smith
Co-Founder & Director at Fountain Partnership
Rebecca co-founded Fountain in 2009, and has worked alongside co-directors Marcus Hemsley, Laura Jennings and Rob Morley to build an exceptional digital marketing agency known for delivering outstanding results. Fountain’s rapid growth has been the result of client successes and approaching digital marketing with outcomes and evidence at the core of its methodology. The approach has received awards from Google, becoming Premier Partner in 2017.
An Unconventional Start
Fountain didn’t start life like many companies. Instead, its four co-founders and directors, of whom Rebecca is one, wanted to build a company that was different. The 50/50 split on gender and a dynamic that would see each director take a rotating seat in the steering wheel of the company paved the way for Fountain to evolve quickly, branching out into all areas of the digital marketing space in a relatively short space of time. Rebecca and the co-founders pivoted and evolved fast, learned even faster, and began helping businesses grow online, driving relevant traffic and converting it when it landed.
At the core of this was an attitude that the company should do things the right way from the very beginning. Although this hasn’t always been the most expedient way to do things – it’s not an obvious way to fuel growth or gain new business, says Rebecca – it has meant that the clients Fountain did attract were of a higher and deeper quality.
That outlook has persisted to the present. Rebecca showed that Fountain do a lot of groundwork to establish whether a new client is right for the company. The result is a high rate of renewed and returning business. Fountain now enjoys lasting partnerships with several train line operators, pharmaceutical companies, and education providers.
Ultimately, the company’s view that doing things the right way the first time has helped it go from strength to strength. It’s not gone unrecognised. In the years 2016 to 2017, Fountain received accolades from Google and became a Google Premier Partner. Senior management from Google even visited the Norwich office to listen to how Fountain was working and to learn where it could improve its own services. “We went from a little agency in Norwich with 12 people to being an international stage,” said Rebecca. “And that started my own journey focusing on organisational culture.”
The question is, why has this digital agency excelled with culture where others have fallen short?
People expect a certain level of support and the ability to fulfil their aspirations within a company. As leaders, recognising that and putting things in place to facilitate people to grow as their whole self and not just the strict skillset you need from them.
Rebecca Smith Director, Fountain Partnership
Dealing with a Crisis
Every business faced unforeseen circumstances in March 2020, but not many were able to pivot quickly and respond in an agile way. Fountain was more fortunate. In January of that year, Rebecca had just finished a new coaching programme for the company, having trained several people to be coaches and rolled out a clear plan for professional development. “We launched the coaching programme just before we went remote […] and we aim to train everyone within the company on coaching so we have that embedded in the culture,” said Rebecca.
The coaching programme at Fountain is ambitious. It’s not just about management teaching juniors how to do things. Instead, the intention is for anyone to become a coach, an expert in their field that can help anyone in the company regardless of seniority to overcome a problem. This isn’t about being a mentor, but about helping people and unlocking their creative problem-solving capabilities.
Deceptively simple in concept, the coaching programme has proven to be essential to maintaining wellbeing within the team, especially over the last 18 months. It’s not only helped to grow expertise within the company, it’s also helped to shape careers that also help the business, and bring people together when global events were keeping them apart.
This idea of bringing people together extended beyond the company itself. Rebecca said that some of the client relationships Fountain has have improved since the start of the pandemic. Granted, something’s been lost by not being able to see people face-to-face for lunches and the like. However, it has broken down barriers, allowing people to appear more human, and for Fountain to connect with its clients on a more human-to-human level – anyone that’s had a Zoom meeting commandeered by the kids will know what we’re saying here!
“The pandemic took away the whole business-to-business, professional-to-professional thing and suddenly it was human-to-human. I think some of the relationships we’ve built with clients during that time meant we got through it with them, they got it through it with us,” said Rebecca.
This has also brought some positive news for parents working in the technology sector, with particular relief now people are more accepting about having kids around. Given that women provided two-thirds more childcare than men during lockdown in the UK, this acceptance is surely also good for women – but again Fountain has been a trailblazer.
Listen to Rebecca’s Culture: Awesome Podcast
In 2019, Rebecca teamed up with Emily Groves, the Founder and Executive Chair of energy consultancy Indigo Swan, for a series of podcasts on all the things they’ve found useful while building, maintaining and improving their company cultures.
Across the series, the duo shared thoughts, tools and inspirations about building a company culture that helps take the business forward. They discussed vulnerability, motivation, networking and much more across the ten episodes, and we highly recommend giving it a listen. You can find the full series now at the link below.
A Clear Focus on Fairness
As we highlighted earlier, Fountain started life with a 50/50 gender split. Rebecca pointed out that while there are a lot of women working in marketing, when you get to the C-level that representation vanishes. A part of Fountain’s strength comes from the fact it bucks this trend, helping the company when it comes to equality and fairness.
It’s been important for the Fountain Partnership to maintain an equal gender pay gap from the very beginning, and Rebecca was keen to demonstrate that any good marketer would be able to do the same. The first step is to monitor it. Just as with any marketing-based task, if you choose to monitor it, you’ll naturally act in a way that helps improve the numbers. Likewise with the gender pay gap. Fountain proudly has a close to 0% gender pay gap.
Naturally, this skews every time there’s a new hire or promotion. But Rebecca argues that knowledge of this helps inform every decision for the company. For instance, if a new hire and market rates mean an incoming employee would be a higher rate, Rebecca says that Fountain considers what the rest of the team is on and ensures it has budget to level out the salaries in the field to accommodate the competitive rate.
Rebecca believes that just because one person had the courage to ask for a raise, or a higher salary during the hiring process, that others shouldn’t be penalised.
It’s this attitude of fairness that plays to Fountain’s gain and bleeds into its entire corporate culture. Anyone could put a few bean bags and a foozeball table into the office, says Rebecca, or to tack arbitrary values on the wall. To build a true culture, every thing you do has to reflect those values. It’s behaviour, not furniture, that makes a company culture.
Elsewhere, Rebecca said that Fountain is keen to empower its team with responsibility. Each person is encouraged to become an expert in what interests them most, with Rebecca saying that the company takes decisions that will empower people to be their best selves at work, because “the moment you put in people’s hands the responsibility to make something work that benefits them, they will make it work better than you could have possibly designed from afar.”
“The big thing for me when it comes to being a leader,” Rebecca closed on, “is thinking about how to build a team that’s sustainable and will drive itself forward instead of you having to drag it forward. Taking decisions that will empower people to be their best self at work [is crucial …]. People expect a certain level of support and the ability to fulfil their aspirations within a company. As leaders, recognising that and putting things in place to facilitate people to grow as their whole self and not just the strict skillset you need from them.”
Perhaps it’s these kinds of thoughts and attitudes that other, larger organisations could learn from and try to implement. The prize may well be true agility and innovation.
Learn More About Fountain Partnership
If you’d like to learn more about Fountain and its unique approach to business and how that helps its clients reach a wider, more engaged audience, head to their website now. There are helpful videos on digital marketing to be found on Fountain’s YouTube channel, too. Alternatively, feel free to connect with Rebecca on LinkedIn here.