PUBLISHED: 10:10 05 January 2016 | UPDATED: 10:10 05 January 2016
Gina Long talks to Erika Clegg, founder of Spring, the Southwold based design and advertising agency
You launched Spring in 2006 after a decade in London. Why the move to Suffolk?
It’s simple – I love Southwold. I’d been involved with community regeneration projects in London, and it was clear that in setting up a business here I could support the sustainability of the town.
Digital innovations meant I could see a shift from the traditional design industry hubs to more inspiring places. It’s also a wonderful place to bring up our children, and magic to come home to.
How will you celebrate your 10th anniversary?
Really excitingly, we are coming of age at the same time a campaign we have donated to Age UK goes live. We’re setting out to reposition later life as the collation of everything that’s happened to someone – the most complete phase of life in which we become the sum of all our parts.
It’s a creative strategy I’ve been working on quietly for over three years, and we’re incredibly excited about the launch this spring. We’ll be expending some of that energy at Spring’s tenth anniversary party, which we’re going to have on the night the clocks spring forward.
How does working in Southwold differ to your years in London?
In London, we used to joke that clients always took an hour and a half to get to, so that’s not changed! What’s fabulous here is that when things get hugely pressurised, I can run round the harbour or chuck myself into the sea – sure beats sitting in a garden square. And there are few places in London where you get that happy sense of community that you do pottering up any High Street in Suffolk.
What do you miss about London?
I’m lucky that my role allows me to spend a lot of time there. I miss my networks in town, but keep them up through my board directorship of the Design Business Association.
As I used to live round the corner from the Royal Albert Hall I could say I miss the culture, but things like Dance East, Aldeburgh Music, the Theatre Royal in Norwich and our own Southwold Concert series amongst many other brilliant cultural providers in the east provide my fix.
I do sometimes miss the visceral energy of the city. I try to bring that into our daily working life and know plenty of inspiring people in the region who have similar ambitions to grow their organisations globally. It’s a pleasure to be able to spend time with them.
What do you love about working in Suffolk?
We’re just a hop and a skip from London, but also intrinsically linked with the continent. Being in Suffolk supports Spring’s position as an international business – there’s a mix of regional and global brands on our client list. Suffolk also allows Spring’s staff to enjoy a fabulous quality of life – it inspires health and wellbeing. The vast sky, wild sea and space available to Suffolk’s people nurtures their creative spirit.
How would you describe the business world in Suffolk?
Full of hidden gems, though I disapprove of hidden gems and wish they’d allow themselves to be uncovered and glorified! I would like us to have a much stronger regional profile, with a clear view of the assets and character of this part of the world. Locating a communications agency in this creative, innovative place should be as obvious as locating a tech business in Palo Alto. It isn’t, and I find myself marketing the east with the vigour I apply to marketing Spring, simply to explain our location.
What type of manager are you?
I aim for Spring to be a meritocracy. Our people are our assets, so it’s important to nurture them and, rather pleasingly, we’ve won awards for our employee care. I am, however, a stickler for quality and impact. Spring’s people respect that and we all work hard for the same goals.
You’re a British business ambassador for UKTI - what does that entail?
I’m in the Catalyst network, a group of British business people involved in international work. Our role is to champion the UK as the world’s best international business partner as we go about our business overseas. I’m due to provide a similar role for Suffolk as an Invest in Suffolk ambassador.
Tell me more about the new tourism initiative you’re heading in 2016.
Look Sideways - East is the brand we’ve created for an Arts Council England, New Anglia LEP, county councils and arts organisation funded cultural tourism programme for Norfolk and Suffolk. Our role is to draw together the cultural and tourism sectors and foster collaboration, provide them with a toolkit to underpin their own marketing, and create some high profile campaigning to raise awareness of the amazing arts and tourism offer in this exceptional place.
It’s ambitious, and to create the change of perception that we’re aiming for will take time and energy. Luckily the assets are in place, so we’re starting off with strong foundations.
You’re a Trustee of the Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon – how did you get involved?
Well, it’s rather strange. I’ve always been told that I’m related to Oliver Cromwell through his brother. So when I saw the museum advertising for trustees I thought I’d apply, and be able to exchange my skills for the opportunity to learn more about Oliver Cromwell. To my utter shock, the first thing I learned is that he had no brothers and in fact the Cromwell to whom I am more closely related is Thomas. I wish I’d watched Wolf Hall now.
What is the secret behind your success?
I have a very clear sense of climbing up a large hill, and there’s a lot of it still ahead of me.
Your relaxation time is spent doing what?
I love to cook and adore walking. I don’t get much time off but it’s possible to wrap those two things up with other duties. My fantasy winter’s day would be having the time to listen to Woman’s Hour whilst making a huge pan of soup and then heading off on a good long walk with a picnic.
What ambitions do you still have?
Spring’s in Design Week’s top 100, one of about only six agencies headed by women. I’d like us to hit the top 50.
Do you prefer holidays at home or abroad?
I travel a lot for business, and don’t get to enjoy Southwold as much as I’d like despite working in the town and living just outside it. So for a week or two in the summer we rent a house on South Green and a beach hut and spend happy days flopping in and out of the sea, enjoying the conviviality of the local pubs, visiting the circus and catching up with childhood friends and their families.
Most valued possession?
I’d have to say my classic yellow convertible Saab 900. My last internship at the agency KHBB on Charing Cross Road allowed me to work on the Saab account and I fell in love with this Monte Carlo special edition. So it’s lovely to own one.
The best advice you’ve been given?
Since whatever you decide becomes the life you lead, be bold and true in your decisions.
And a big secret you’re willing to share?
I once climbed up my university bell tower from the outside and touched the lightening conductor. It was rather late at night. I’m lucky to be alive, quite frankly.