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9 Dec 2016

Employing the next generation: Gekko

Q: What advice would you give other employers on recruiting and retaining a happy workforce?

A: Be fair. We always apply the benefit of doubt. We encourage an ethos of fair play, and it’s a two-way street. Sometimes people’s lives, through no fault of their own, take a turn for the worse, sometimes for the better and, as an employer, it’s about listening and finding a way in which you can help and support them.

Employers have got to realise that things have changed. The work ethic has changed. Someone like me who runs a business, who is getting older, and is employing ever younger people, has to learn to adapt and change because the ethos and approach to work is different to what it was when I was in my twenties. By no stretch of the imagination do I believe that we’re the model employer but every single day we try to improve. I want to give people an opportunity to develop their CV and their future, and I’m always delighted when people are able to better themselves through having worked with us for a period of time.

Q: How is Gekko different?

A: We’re a field marketing agency, but what makes us slightly different in the industry is that we specialise in technology, we’re not FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) based. So the profile of individual we employ to represent clients’ brands is slightly different. Yes, they need technical and digital skills but also the interpersonal skills - the products that we’re trying to sell are considered purchases, not impulse purchases. Invariably customers have done their research, and our job is to complete that customer journey.

We have around 130 permanent employees who work on client-brand accounts, 36 back-office workers and, at this time of year in the run up to Christmas, more than 500 tactical staff in the field. All our staff are employed and managed by us. It’s very much a career for them and we pay above average. We only have around 8 per cent churn in our permanent staff, which is good within the industry, but you can’t be the perfect employer every time.

Q: How do you recruit the right people?

A: We never glamorise the role. While we work with brands like Google or Apple, we never, ever dress it up. Right from that initial telephone interview we make sure people understand what’s on offer, warts and all.

We have a three-step recruitment process: we sift applicants, then we move to a telephone interview, and then face-to-face. We never use video interviews – I find that’s strips everybody of their personality and you don’t see anybody in their true light. And we consider applicants who have actively applied rather than using technology to find them. We deliver amazingly motivated teams that implement the programmes we create out there in the field. We don’t treat the staff as commodities.

We aim to identify communications skills. We don’t need to see people at the telephone stage because what we want to do is engage that individual, ascertain their personality and test their understanding of the role. What we’re looking for is someone who sees this as career progression, something that adds to their CV and will enable them to move on. We see many of our staff go on to work directly for the brand, and we actively encourage that.

At the face-to-face stage we create roleplays and look for people who are enthusiastic, that can motivate a group of people that they’ve never met before and train them on a new product. It’s an accurate measure of how that individual will interact when they go out there and do it for real.

We will always happily give feedback and advice on CVs, on a candidate’s approach and anything we would recommend that they change. We always keep people on file and it’s not uncommon for us to go back to people if the right role comes up. The key thing for us is that we value every applicant and what has motivated them to apply.

Q: How do you support so many remote workers?

A: All full time employees have a personal development programme. Everyone has a line manager and there’s very much an open-door policy, so whenever something arises, they know that they know who they need to go to and who they can talk to.

In addition to that, field managers or team leaders will accompany staff in the field, either because they proactively asked for it, or we may have identified an issue. They spend time together or make a few calls together. We may do a little bit of show-and-tell, where the manager may get the individual to follow their steps.

There’s always a touchpoint with the individual - someone always at the end of the phone, in the office or in the field. And then we have online portals for the tactical staff. They can go there and find the next pay date or their objectives, or the next campaign they’re working on.

We run training whenever we launch a campaign. We just assisted Google in launching the Pixel phone, so we did a session at Manchester United football ground, two days at Wembley Stadium, and another day at Leicester City. We bring everybody over and they get a full-day, immersive training session, not only to learn about the brand culture, but to take them through the core objectives and the products. We’ll then take them through some soft skills. What we ultimately want to do is make training a fun, engaging and rewarding experience - we don’t ask for business dress, it’s very relaxed and about the ability to sell the product.

Q: Does a diverse workforce matter to your clients?

A: We don’t have quotas. We’re an equal opportunities employer. So everyone is welcome to apply and, in our eyes, as long as they have the correct skillset and the traits we’re looking for, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be put forward. Clients can be unscrupulous but we’re very good at pushing back.

That means people within a typical dedicated team don’t necessarily come from a technology background, but perhaps from a luxury fashion brand or from retail. We actively encourage group learning, understanding and empathy, whereby people mix together to create one amazing team. We will identify somebody who has a huge amount of experience in one area who will become the lead for that. We then assign them with buddies to coach and mentor.

We have people who aren’t UK nationals that have based themselves here in the UK. From our experience, it’s about what we can do with this collective melting pot of great skillsets. Having to check people’s right to work in the UK is quite onerous - it’s another layer of bureaucracy. We totally understand why we have to do it, but if that bureaucracy increases, it will become very difficult. Many of our tactical staff are students, and some of them are foreign students, so if the government imposes more restrictions on foreign students it will have a knock-on effect.

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