Jamie Maple was the the first through the door at Wilderness HQ, brought in on day one by Founder and CEO Tom Jarvis to bring his social strategy expertise to the fledgling companies first client Sony Pictures.
Eight (8!) years later, Jamie is still the heart-beat of the agency and having just as big an impact on our team and clients in his new role as Client & Creative Director. Here he shares 8 lessons from his time at the agency and working closely with Tom building and growing an independent agency.
I’d never been in a pitch before working with Tom. It was always just the cringiest part of The Apprentice as far as I was aware. Going to pitches with Tom was a crash course in how to sell your services, your team and yourself and it’s fitting that today - on my unofficial Wilderness anniversary - that the two of us are doing a ‘How to Pitch’ workshop with the team. Being in those meetings with him taught me how to take the stress out of the exchange, how to create an informal and friendly atmosphere and to reset the balance so it shifts from a client passively waiting to be impressed by slides full of well presented waffle into a group of individuals all seeking a solution to a particular problem and deciphering whether or not we’re the ones who can help.
In those pitch meetings I also saw first hand how to approach a difficult question. Tom has an innate ability to take a curveball question and stop it dead in its tracks. Part of this is preparedness - he’s always ready to respond with an insight or a fact or an example of how we’ve either tackled a challenge before or how we’d approach it in the future. He is also just really friendly, confident and empathetic - he’s able to hear a question that would rattle most of us and simply see it as another person in need of clarification. In this way he is able to essential ‘see through’ the ask and get to the core of the issue. This is what it looks like, anyway. For all I know he may enter a fugue state when asked a question and never know what it is he said. Either way I’ve always been very impressed and so have the others in the room.
I’ve always said of Tom that he took a massive risk taking me on. I’m very confident in my own abilities (and my ability to learn quickly) but he made the decision to have me handle his clients from the very first days of Wilderness without having worked with me before. In fact we’d only met each other on a couple of casual social occasions before working together. I like to think that he saw something in me and knew that he could trust me (which I’m sure is part of it) but he also knew that he could trust himself. In the early days of a startup you need people around you that are as single-mindedly committed to the cause as you are. In many ways it’s not unlike a cult. What Tom did during our first discussions was to sell me on his vision so thoroughly that he knew I would pursue success for myself as doggedly as he would for himself (and collectively for the agency). This ability - to see an opportunity in someone and trust your gut to commit to it - has continued throughout our eight years together. Tom is a world class delegator. He often thinks that I’m being shady when I say that but I don’t mean that he’s good at pushing things off his plate to the rest of the team - he’s amazing at giving people opportunities to deliver. That takes trust.
Tom’s a believer in candour. Both with clients and team members. I’ve improved my ways of working and my attention to detail because of Tom’s frank mode of giving feedback which manages to be directive without being harsh. He has also shown me - and the rest of the team - a better and more honest way to communicate as a business. We never bluster or hide behind invented metrics. We don’t present fractions or percentages without context in order to make our results seem better. We’re honest with our clients when we fail (‘we tried this, it didn’t work) and when we succeed (‘this was great but we want to do even better next time’). We’ve walked away from clients that weren’t right for us (or when we weren’t right for them) and we’ve won new business by being prepared to have some hard conversations tempered with a proactive and solution-based approach to tackling challenges.
Tom’s a lifelong sports fan. Both watching and participating. This makes him a lover of teams and bringing people together for a shared goal. It also makes him driven to win and to continually strive to achieve. Whether that’s pitting yourself against others or digging into improve on a personal best he brings that level of ambition to everything we do. As someone who is basically allergic to sports this is not something that is baked into my psyche. I have personal ambitions and drive but I have felt in the past that I have avoided competition because I lack a killer instinct. In fact what Tom has given me is a fresh perspective and appreciation of what it means to be ambitious. It isn’t a single minded pursuit at the expense of all else. It’s a vision and a drive that is based on bringing as many people along for the ride as possible.
I mentioned above Tom’s empathetic approach to answering questions when put on the spot. This empathy powers a lot his decisions and is at the route of his (and our) success to date. This emotional maturity allows him to lift up others, see their value and give them opportunities. He has built an agency based firmly in the idea of kindness. The employee package that Wilderness offers overpays into our pensions, offers an incredible mental health partner with courses of therapy and support for all employees and allows for - and encourages - charitable giving (of both money and time). He was determined from day one to make sure our work-life balance offered us space to recharge - he has always been the type of manager that values actual productivity over arbitrarily ‘seeing’ people doing busy work. The last few years of lockdowns and quarantines has been hard for everyone but it’s Tom - and the team that he has built with kindness - that led the charge on making sure everyone had what they needed, that they were safe, that they were getting the support they needed and that people didn’t feel alone.
It’s Tom’s ambition mixed with his trust and empathy that gives so many people opportunities within the agency. He is a big advocate of playing the pass (see above; sports). He knows his own strengths and weaknesses and revels in surrounding himself with people that can come in and contribute their unique viewpoint and expertise to any particular challenge. Tom sets high expectations and gives people the space and the scope with which to meet those expectations and go beyond. At any moment we might be pulled together and asked to pitch in to win. Tom knows that to go it alone and not use the full range of experience at his disposal he won’t get very far for very long.
Something that Tom has always been great at is sharing in the successes of the agency. He is determined that people be seen and celebrated for their contribution to our wins. When we land a client that we’ve had in our sights for months he will make sure that we all know what a big deal it is and highlight the effort and the teamwork that got us there before we dig into the actual work. This may sound obvious or trite but as we’ve grown over the last eight years communication has become one of our biggest challenges. It is simple to align on a direction and share our ups and downs when there’s only two of us. But when we’re 30+ and across 3 continents (and working remotely most of the time) it becomes even more valuable that Tom is an open, honest and eager sharer of our progress as an agency and cheerleader for the team that work so hard to keep us growing.