Meet Polaris' new Head of SEO - James Foote
My first week as Head of SEO has been completed after joining Polaris in October, and having met and been in contact with Amo and the team daily since I confirmed my acceptance to join the agency, these past few weeks have been a rollercoaster. A fun thrill ride which I have enjoyed every minute.
Without being too verbose, I am a dyed in the wool agency consultant – having worked in various sized digital agencies since 2014 and being in SEO since 2008 I thought I had experienced all that agency had to offer. I was wrong; within 5 days Polaris has exceeded all that I expected.
More on that statement in a bit, since this is an article that needs to be more about me and my introduction to the team, I will do my best to give you a whistle stop tour of my life.
Born in Swansea, I am a true patriotic Welshman – with stereotypical characteristics – yes I played rugby (semi-professional), yes I grew up in an agricultural environment (most of my life at the family home was down the Gower), I can sing (well I am from the land of song) and yes I enjoy a beer!
Having graduated from university with a business degree in marketing, I left my beloved Swansea and moved across the bridge to Ascot – where I had my first “grown up” job working in the marketing department at Pioneer Electrics, a role that I outgrew and was snapped up by Hewlett Packard where I worked in marketing for a period before moving back to Swansea.
Marketing was always my passion; I have worked in many traditional marketing roles when I moved back to South Wales, including heading up the marketing function at a director level multi-million property firm.
During this time, I learnt how to build websites and read up on this new inbound marketing approach called “search engine optimisation” being utilised in the US market and trickling through to the UK - but only a few companies were offering it (usually very badly and mainly non-marketing focused web development companies).
Fast forward a few years: having learnt all there is to know about SEO, experimenting, learning and adapting – I decided to make it a career choice having setup a successful consultancy firm/small agency working with a number of smaller clients I reached an impasse. I needed to decide if I should invest in my own business, build a delivery team, or join someone with an established agency who shared the same vision.
This choice lead me into the path of agency – where I have stayed ever since, building the SEO value proposition working in senior SEO positions.
Working in the agency world has been career defining while at the same time inspiring. I have headed up the SEO teams at multiple agencies throughout the UK, had the opportunity to create SEO strategies and data insights for a range of clients from SMEs to multi-million global firms – working with ecommerce brands such as Rapha, Seasalt, Sofa.com, Neptune, Hampers.com to top London legal firms, SAAS products and hospitality resort hotel and private estate brands (The Pig group, Bowood estate).
The above are just a snapshot of some of the brands and sectors I have helped achieve organic channel growth (it was a running joke at my last agency – “is there anyone/any sector you haven’t worked in/with”).
Working in agencies has also given me a chance to do what I love – that is nurture new talent. Over the years I have trained and mentored passionate young people starting on their career path not really knowing much about SEO but having a passion to learn. All of these individuals are still in SEO, with many managing and heading up teams of their own. Seeing this happen has been my proudest moment.
As a business graduate, I also love helping businesses progress: from small passionate start-ups, SMEs to large enterprises spanning a varied sector profile. Defining their organic strategy, working with amazing in-house teams and being very much a key person in their business growth (something told to me time and time again by founders, owners and MDs) also fills me with pride.
If you remember at the start of the article I mentioned “Polaris has exceeded all that I expected”. For the simple reason, culture, which always comes from the top.
Without culture, processes, and structures, agencies struggle to replicate success and retain talent. The quote by Peter Drucker is true, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. It doesn’t matter how good your strategy is; without the team being accountable, working with each other, and being generally supportive, people won’t get behind your agency.
Actions not words. The fact that even before I officially started, we had a great company day-out in London last week goes a long way.
Working closely with the team at Polaris I am excited to see what can be achieved, a passionate young team to support, with new people being introduced to the team next week (another very experienced agency SEO) – the senior team are investing in the company to drive it forward.
We are working with some amazing clients and winning new accounts (new large ecommerce gifting client signed today!) which makes it all very exciting.
Agency is fast paced, at times it can be a hard graft, but you push yourself for the people you work with, who support you and give your freedom to grow while you create a system of progress to ensure a better future for your clients.