Apr 7 2009 by Jez Davison, Evening Gazette – view article online.
MARK Easby had to face his mum’s cancer and a confidence crisis before becoming Tees Valley’s king of communications. JEZ DAVISON discovers how the Big ‘C’ transformed his life
THE year is 2000 and a young Teessider is caught in a crisis. Former college drop-out Mark Easby had just scraped through university with a third class honours degree before being crushed by the death of his mother Gwyneth from leukaemia.
With confidence and motivation at rock bottom, he decided the only way was up and embarked on a post-graduate qualification “as much for my mum as for myself”.
Career-wise, it was the best move he ever made. His new-found determination yielded a Masters in multimedia enterprise and fast-tracked him to the summit of Tees Valley’s growing mountain of digital talent.
Having been a major catalyst for the growth of Middlesbrough agency Calm Asylum, he left last year to start a new company, Better Brand Agency, which he hopes will break through the £1m turnover barrier in three years.
He’s made one hell of a start.
The Stokesley firm, which specialises in brand, design, marketing and social media campaigns, already has more than 20 clients and recently scooped the Best Social Media Campaign at the North East Digital Awards.
It was symbolic of a 180 degree shift from Mark’s darkest days nine years earlier.
He recalls: “Back then I thought ‘what’s the point of it all if my mum can’t be here to see it?’ But then I realised I’d be letting my mum down – as well as myself – if I didn’t make something of my life.”
Now, though, the Stockton-born entrepreneur’s eyes are focused firmly on the future.
As the business grows he may open satellite offices around the UK but he’ll remain true to his roots by managing future expansion from the Tees Valley headquarters.
He’s firmly behind DigitalCity’s 25-year game plan to transform the area into a world-class creative and digital cluster – and says it could reverse a long-term brain-drain from Tees Valley.
“I’m not distracted by the bright lights of London and Manchester,” he says. “There’s a lot more belief about Tees Valley nowadays.”
Official figures show the sector is worth £1.1bn to the regional economy, employs 35,000 people and is set to generate more than 9,000 jobs in Tees Valley in the next five years.
Mark hopes to speed up this revolution by expanding his client base beyond the North-east and Yorkshire and boosting revenues by helping firms capitalise on the power of web-based communication channels.
His commercial assuredness is in stark contrast to the diffident teenager who found himself more turned on by swimming than study.
A “capable” student, he failed to marry ability with application and was booted out of Conyers School in Yarm before he had completed A-levels in law, English language and design and technology.
He retook them successfully at Stockton Sixth Form College and “did just enough” to gain a media technology and production degree from the University of Teesside, graduating in 1999.
Following his mother’s death he gained a temporary placement at Middlesbrough creative agency Chilli Media, which took him on full time after his postgraduate studies.
When MD Simon Brown started property development arm Chilli Developments, Mark was challenged to run the agency business – renamed Calm Asylum in 2004. Business boomed and by last summer they were running a six-figure turnover business with 12 staff.
Having failed in a bid to buy the company, Mark and colleagues Declan Metcalfe and Peter Jones broke away to form BBA with private investment and support from Lloyds bank.
With the social networking revolution gathering pace, Mark believes that businesses can get more value for their marketing spend.
“Social media channels are a strong digital platform but you have to have a brand conversation across them. Some clients don’t know what tools to use to get their message across.”
His succinct analysis betrays an inner certainty that’s propelled him into the spotlight of Tees Valley’s creative community.
Having jumped out of the shadow of his shyness, he’s now ready to shine.