Lessons Learned: Ian Merricks, MD, Itchy Media

Ian Merricks began his career as a record promoter in 1996, specialising in youth media. In 2007, he raised private equity for the MBO of media and marketing company Itchy Group, for whom he has overseen five acquisitions and several million pounds of private investment. SmallBusiness.co.uk sat down for a cup of tea with him to find out the secret to his success.

SmallBusiness.co.uk asks inspirational entrepreneurs to share their experiences and offer advice for SMEs. With the benefit of hindsight, what do they wish they’d known when they started?

What is Itchy media?

We’re a youth media and marketing company, which publishes the annual Itchy City guides, Itchy City magazine and the Itchy City websites. They’re aimed at the UK student and youth audience and are designed to be dynamic and no-nonsense.

How do you keep in touch with your youth audience?

Setting the right tone for your consumers is essential. It’s a market that is very easy to patronise and taste and preferences can change very rapidly when it’s driven by young people. As a result we make sure we have a young mentality here at Itchy. The majority of our team is under 30, so hopefully the work that we do stays relevant to our audience.

What’s the ethos across the company?

The ethos is to treat everyone like grown-ups, that way we can build a strong team with a sense of shared responsibility for the development of the company. It’s quite a relaxed environment. We have an open plan office and a very social atmosphere, but we have ambitious goals and give a lot of encouragement.

The trick to running a successful business is to make sure there are no passengers on board; people who are just there to take home a salary, and to make sure that you surround yourself with people who are really good at what they do. You need to monitor staff efficiency, because every day of inactivity is a day you’re paying for. No business can afford to subsidise lazy staff lifestyles.

How do you put that into practice day to day?

I make certain that we never get caught up in a culture of attending meetings for meeting’s sake. It gives us the extra time to spend on out-thinking our competitors and developing innovative ideas to drive the brand forward. If you can get your team to buy into a common goal, it can really help to unite everyone and while you share in failures, you can also be proud of your successes across the company. If your goals are thoroughly researched and wide enough, they’ll be able to unite everybody.

Itchy media is a relatively small fish, how do you compete with the big players?

Well, it can be hard to tempt the best staff over from bigger companies, but we’re in a good market that we know well. We’re experiencing growth, we’re profitable and very ambitious – we don’t want to be an ‘also ran’.

The good thing about being a smaller company is that you’re able to move that bit quicker because you don’t have so many chains of command and procedures in place. If we need something approved quickly, we just do it. Sharing information efficiently across the company is key to this.

Any other tips?

Yeah, try to make sure you get the most appropriate backing when you’re raising finance. You have to remember that private individuals aren’t going to be able to fund you forever. Risk adverse VCs are no good either; you get all of the downside but none of the benefits. You need to pick the funding option that suits your business model and growth strategy.

Adam Wayland

Adam Wayland

Adam was Editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2006 to 2008 and prior to that was staff writer on sister publication BusinessXL Magazine.

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