One Year Anniversary Interview with James Foote, Technical Director at Polaris
One Year Anniversary Interview with James Foote, Technical Director at Polaris
As we enter October, the team here at Polaris have been this week celebrating the milestone event of the one-year anniversary of our Technical Director, James Foote.
Having joined the team October last year, James’ has been a constant positive voice within the business on hand to impart his wisdom, support clients and team members with their queries around all things SEO. This post coincides nearly to the day of James’ first blog post detailing his experience during his first 7 days at Polaris.
So we decided it would be a fitting gesture to sit down and have a chat with James during his yearly anniversary week to find out more about his experiences working at Polaris.
James is not only a seasoned SEO but has a background spanning nearly two decades in the field of marketing. Throughout his career has been fortunate to work with some of the largest DTC brands, public/private sector clients and has been a senior member at a variety of nationwide digital agencies – so James has first hand knowledge of what agencies should be for the team, clients and founders.
So, grab a coffee, sit down, and get to know more about James’ Year 1 story.
Firstly, how has your anniversary week been?
It has been great and as all people working within agencies will know, varied. From strategy vision days away in Birmingham with the senior team, scoping out a migration projects to validating end of month reporting as always it has been full-on but exciting.
Sounds busy, hope you found time to celebrate.
Yes of course, the company away day last week in London for strategy scope planning for the quarter which cumulated in the bake-off event was a great way to celebrate with the whole team.
How has your role changed – as when you started you were Head of SEO?
Great question, the short answer is greatly.
When I joined as Head of SEO my role was more account based, managing the team, clients and setting the strategic direction – with the added scope of working on high-value project delivery when required.
As many will know, I have been a Head of SEO for around 8 years – this role is not new to me, I know how it is done and what is required. The change experienced when moving to a new company is often usually – team, processes and expectations.
However, unlike other places the difference was speed of transition. We have grown exponentially over the last 12 months – this growth at time has needed a hands on approach and to build a capable delivery team to ensure quality assurance is achieved first time.
Moving into a Technical Director role six months into the position means my role has changed quite a bit – which as the start there were some aspects that took some getting used to (I am a pretty hands on director still).
I mainly now work with the senior team to ensure the team have got the SOPs and processes required to deliver outstanding work, while supporting the account team when required and the most important way my role has changed – developing innovative ways for operational/performance efficiency and working directly with the MD on growing the agency sustainably as we move into 2023/24.
Oh and working on complex technical challenges and problem solving (removing barriers/obstacles for the team).
You have had a varied career to date, what made you join POLARIS?
A very hard question to answer. As agencies tend to all look the same.
Having worked at multiple agencies – we all know these companies although doing great work “just blend in” to an outsider looking in. It is very hard from agency A to look different to agency B. It is only when you dig deeper and look into the company closer you get to understand their purpose.
During COVID, many people made decisions based on emotion – I feel that during that time on the Maslow hierarchy of needs I was seeking more “comfort” than “growth”. Sometimes you can be comfortable in an organisation and happy until a trigger one-day prompts the question “where is your career going” and “will you remember this work in 5 years”.
This is why I joined Polaris. To do great meaningful work. I believed in the team, vision and the client growth/personal growth opportunity and I still do.
Ultimately, Polaris has allowed me to progress professionally and understand my true value.
And also the “likability culture” – something that was evident to me even before I joined Polaris but has strengthened over the last 12 months.
How has the journey been so far?
Better than expected. Not all agencies live up to the promise that is why on most people’s LinkedIn profiles you will see less than 12-15 month time of service – this is not just agencies, this is all businesses. The actuality of the role, expectation of you and capability can at interview/role acceptance all seem right. But this is not always the case.
As working with a client this is similar to the pitch stage – it takes 6-12 months working with each other to see if there is chemistry and credibility. Therefore, it is hard for not only employers but also employees to “stick”. The fit and match needs to be right.
I can categorically say that the fit is right within Polaris.
Did you set any targets for yourself at the beginning? If yes, did you achieve any of them?
To see if I can stay at Polaris for over a year without getting itchy feet – goal achieved.
The above can only be achieved with alignment around the factors above for both parties. This is what I say about what it means to fit – it’s has to be bi-directional.
And also deliver outstanding work for clients – over 95% client retention rate achieved, and award recognition based on client work submitted.
Is there anything you’ve learnt (or had to learn) on the job?
Becoming less of a perfectionist, collaboration (not a lone wolf) and directing over doing.
Do you have any goals for next year?
Ensure Polaris receives the fame and recognition for the outstanding work we do (without being biased – the team we have is one of the best in the industry).
While continuing to nurture talent, deliver growth for our clients and the agency as we scale-up into 2023/24.
What has been your favourite memory while working with Polaris?
I have many – from existing client’s feedback based on yearly growth, to winning new business from large B2B global firms and achieving over 100% resign contract renewals for clients we have worked with for over 2 years.
But I think what I enjoy the most is the company culture.
Remote quizzes, pumpkin carving (October is upon us – time to get the stencils out), daily/end of the week catch-ups and giving team members rewards on “great work/feedback” achieved.
Plus the get togethers – London events, end of quarter celebrations, bi-monthly meet ups – the list goes on.
A lot of agencies say they do this - some do it very well and some don’t.
However, it is not just all about “jollys” – its also the culture of Polaris to let people be the best they can. All team members have autonomy to manage their workflow, the directors are on hand all day to ask questions at anytime and as a team member at any level you never feel over worked and underappreciated.
So much so that I don’t put my work emails on my phone – this is never questioned. Anything critical any of the team can call or message me at anytime – this eases my cognitive burden exasperated by work emails out of hours.
How did the actual experience at POLARIS differ from what you expected going in?
I expected a professional, dynamic and structured agency – which is what I got. What I wasn’t prepared for was how much attention, support and growth opportunities I was going to be offered over the last 12 months.
Within 6 months my role was changed to Technical Director – I have been at agencies for years before I was even offered the opportunity to step up.
Within 6 months – not only had I proven myself, but having worked together for that short period the MD could see the value that I could bring to the business outside of SEO. I can do SEO all day, every day – not only am I an advanced practitioner, I have mentored young talent, spoken about it at conferences and done the thinking part as a consultant advising other SEO agencies.
This was different, this was a special gesture of faith, backed by recognition outside of my SEO credentials and something I not only have embraced at the highest level but drives my passion to work with the Polaris team to give these opportunities to everyone.
Even at the moment we have a Project Manager role being promoted – this role title will be short lived and the successful person will have the opportunity to scale-up their career.
This is not just marketing, business promises – this is what we do and I am a testament to this.
How has your experience at POLARIS differed to that of other agencies?
Can be summed up by the phrases below:
Recognition based on experience, not role title
Embraced, cultivated, nurtured to grow
If you could tell someone in 1 sentence why they should join POLARIS - what would you say?
One sentence comes hard to me, but I will lead with the below and finish with a quote:
Self-actualise over comfort, take control of your career and be the best you can be you will do great work. If you show passion, love for what you do and a keenness to support your team members, this will pay 10X. All of this and the chance to work with your future best friends.
In the words of the visionary Steve Jobs:
You’ve got to find what you love. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.
Thank you James, for taking the time today to chat with the Polaris team – it has been most enlightening
My pleasure – it has truly been a great year, looking forward to a very busy Q4 with a number of migration projects going on, plus supporting our ecommerce, B2B transactional and demand generation businesses. From our vision day this week, on top of company update announcements last week based on what we have planned for 2023 its going to be another exciting, game-changing and rewarding next 12 months.