We love our clients. They’re great. One of those lovely clients is The Exeter, a health and life insurance company whose purpose is to provide more people with more peace of mind, in a more uncertain world.

We asked their Head of Marketing, Shelley Walker if she’d do an interview with us to tell us more about her role, The Exeter and what exciting stuff we get to work on together. Here’s how it went…

Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey to becoming the Head of Marketing at The Exeter?

Hello! I live in Edinburgh with my partner, David, and dog, Iggy. And most of the time you’ll find me on dog walks down porty beach, or out and about with my friends and family.

I started my career in Financial Services at Bright Grey (which would later become Royal London) in the customer service team supporting clients with their protection policies. Before this I had little exposure to the world of life insurance or income protection, but I quickly got a good understanding of how powerful these types of policies could be to our customers and their families. I started to become more interested in the communications side and, as I was speaking to customers day in and day out, I began to see ways we could improve how we engage with them. An opportunity came up to join the Marketing team as a coordinator and I leapt at the chance! Having no prior experience or training I felt this was an incredible opportunity to get a good grounding and see if this really was the right path for me. Turns out I absolutely loved it! Getting to be creative and exploring different ways of communicating with our financial advisers and end customers really struck a chord with me. After a few years in the role I was promoted to a Consultant. I then moved to another insurer, Guardian, for a year where I worked in Sales covering Scotland and Northern Ireland, before moving back to Royal London to take the role as Marketing Manager. After a few years I made a sideways move to The Exeter and after a year, I was promoted to Head of Marketing. A year on in the role and I absolutely love it. I’m lucky to be surrounded by incredibly talented and dynamic people, both in the Marketing team and also in the Leadership team. A marketer’s dream is working for a company with a strong purpose and focus which allows them to create a clear marketing strategy. So, I’m delighted to be in that position.

My career path has involved trying different roles, sideways moves, and doing a lot of “on the job” learning. I never had any Marketing qualifications, but instead learned through experience and various courses along the way. Whilst that doesn’t work for everyone, it does show if you’re willing to put in the hard work and take chances it’s possible to go from zero experience to a Head of Marketing in less than ten years. So, if you’re thinking about exploring something new but feel you’ve not got the qualifications, my advice is just go for it! What do you have to lose!

What do you love most about your role at The Exeter?

There’s a fantastic culture at The Exeter that promotes empowerment, accountability, and collaboration. And as the Head of Marketing, I’ve never felt so capable of making positive change, being heard, and that my opinion genuinely matters. We’re a small company with under 250 employees and 8 of those make up the Marketing team. Having worked in bigger corporates, I’d say there is a real advantage to working at a company of this size. Not so much a small cog in a big wheel! I really have the opportunity to influence the business, positioning marketing as a strategic function – not just a team that provides pens, notebooks, or a flashy sales aid! I love being able to say that in my role, and in our business, we put our end customers at the heart of everything we do. This isn’t just something we put in our business plan or on our website. We practise this day in, day out. We make decisions based on customer preference, behaviours, attitudes, needs and wants. We’re able to work across the business to create proper segmentation, agree our target markets, and enhance our positioning. And of course, I get to work with awesome agencies like Guy & Co!

What are some of the unique industry challenges and opportunities you and your team face?

As a company that sells personal protection and healthcare products, we’re definitely not short of industry challenges at the moment! Cost of living crisis and NHS waiting times has had a huge impact on what we do. And then we have regulation to consider, competing against household brands, and general mistrust for financial services. I think one of the biggest challenges we face is helping consumers understand the complexity of insurance products. Overtime insurance products have improved to suit the changing needs of the customer. Which is great. But it also means products become more intricate and require more explaining. I believe we have a huge opportunity to position our products in a much more simple and meaningful way. For example, nobody wants a mortgage – they want the home that goes with it. Nobody wants to pay £20 a month for insurance – they want the peace of mind that if they were too ill to work that they’d still be able to pay their bills, support their family, and be stress-free while they recover. Positioning these products in a consumer friendly way throughout our marketing material is absolutely crucial.

What recent achievements or milestones is your company most proud of?

I’m particularly proud of our recent member segmentation work that we collaborated with the Guy & Co team on. For any business to be successful it’s so important they’re customer oriented. And to do that you need to live and breathe your customer. Understand their wants, needs, attitudes… pre-empting their next step. To help us do this, we underwent a project to overlay our customer demographic data with various third-party data to create six core segments that make up our membership. Our membership profiles detail things like digital confidence, attitudes to different financial products, hobbies and interests, and what the future looks like for these customers. This has allowed us to position ourselves in a truly personal way to our members, serving them with the most relevant messages and support, improving customer outcomes and creating brand loyalty. We’ve only just really scratched the surface on this work and I’m really excited to see what else we’re capable of doing as a business with this new insight.

What were the key factors in choosing us as your creative partner?

Having seen previous work from Guy & Co I knew they were bold, brave, and their campaign execution was always slick and professional. But for me it’s more than that. When I work with a creative agency I need it to feel like a partnership. A two-way relationship where you feel like you can be open, honest, and constructively challenge each other. It’s about cultural compatibility. And that’s exactly what we’ve found in the partnership between Guy & Co and The Exeter. You can see our vision, understand our identity, and share the same enthusiasm and passion as we do for helping our customers. Strong communication, collaborative ideation, and energy are qualities I value the most in our partnership.

What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?

When I first became a people manager I attended a ridiculous amount of “leadership courses” that talked about the importance of strategic planning, and communication. But nothing around emotional intelligence. I explained to my line manager at the time that I wasn’t getting it… surely there’s more to being a leader than just good planning. And he gave me advice that has stuck with me since. “Be the leader you always wished you had.”

I’m very fortunate to say I’ve had some great leaders and line managers over my career that have helped me get to where I am today. But I’ve also seen some not so great leaders. And they’re the people who have shaped my leadership style more than anything. Yes, being a good leader is about clear vision, transparency, communication, planning… But for me it’s also about being human. Showing empathy, integrity, flexibility, understanding and compassion. I’m much more likely to be productive and positive for a manager that I feel understands me, empowers me, and is available. So that’s what I try to be for my team.

If you could describe our agency in three words what would they be?

Fearless, dynamic, fun.

Where can people follow your company’s journey or get in touch for more information?

We’re working on some big things at The Exeter so follow our journey on LinkedIn or through our website. Or connect with me directly!

There’s a lot of reputational baggage for agency account handlers – the Roger Sterling figure, with a first-class degree in wining, dining and all-round shmoozing. And in the modern-day procurement-hefty marketing world, we’re faced with more RFPs, SoWs and SLAs than ever before. Don’t get me wrong, those will always be key functions in Client Services, but I don’t think anyone would say it’s what gets them out of bed in the morning!

Reflecting on my own career and journey at Guy & Co, from starting up as a lean team in 2013, it was inevitable as an account director I’d write strategies and pseudo-direct creative work, especially when we used a large freelance network. But now with a robust team including top-notch Creative and Planning Directors, it begs the question – where do we add value in Client Services? And how can we elevate beyond the old Madmen stereotypes or modern-day-to-day hygiene factors?

Here’s some things that I think come into play…

1. Understanding what keeps our clients up at night

It’s an obvious one, but our clients’ business really should be our business. Which means understanding the metrics that really matter to them – the short-term results, yes, but also the long-term vision. Understanding how you can help them shift the dial and challenging them if what they want isn’t necessarily what they need. We’re advisors, not ‘yes men.’

It’s about working collaboratively and leaning in closely to what success looks like for each client – not just a similar company or challenge you’ve worked on before. It’s easy to fall into the agency trap of reporting on vanity metrics, which they’ll never pass upwards in their organisation. But what are the stats or sparks which can really be transformational?

I believe in the rhetoric that you should never ask a senior client how business is. With a laser eye on effectiveness, we’re helping drive it, so we should know it. If we don’t, how can we get closer to results?

It’s also naturally about finding ways to make our clients’ lives easier and to make them look good in their roles – to their boss, their company and industry. They’re people, after all. And whilst there’s a time and a place for small talk, what are their pressures that day, week or year?

2. Adding value by defining value

The perception of value is finally changing in adland, and at Guy & Co we’re shirking our old-school agency habits and shifting our focus from services, deliverables and ratecards – to outputs and outcomes. What’s the point in what we do, if it doesn’t actually deliver?

We believe in bravely effective results – and that can’t just be all talk. We try to understand how we’re really contributing to a client’s bottom line, and use performance-based models to put skin in the game. (As an indie, it’s nice to have that freedom).

And value isn’t just derived from quant metrics – the business, marketing or channel outcomes. It’s also the qualitative side – what the client (or indeed, procurement team) values from the agency relationship. Have we exceeded service levels, synced our ways of working effectively, freed up internal capacity, or upskilled their team?

For agencies, it’s vital we know and price our value – not just our time.

3. Be the voice of the client

Finally, within the agency cogs, it’s the account handler’s role to champion what the client needs and expects throughout the project lifecycle, and to challenge colleagues if we go adrift. (Vanity projects have no place). To have empathy for the commercial priorities and pressures, and to spend a client’s budget as if it’s our own.

We can also be that voice within agency rosters – what’s in the best interests of the l project and client, not just our own? We can be the champions of integration and effectiveness, coming back with truly joined-up thinking. In what can otherwise be the ‘murky, messy middle’ (as Campaign quite rightly calls it), between creative and media. Our clients value collaboration – not silos, and it always leads to much better results.

To round off, I asked some professional pals from both client and agency sides how they value the role. Here were their musings…

“Being an advisor. A trusted partner who collaborates, listens and challenges. Challenges their clients, their colleagues and partners to drive demonstrable results whatever the agreed objective may be. And being accountable for it.”

“Building a relationship that is based on trust and communication. Working together to foresee challenges and opportunity. That also means having the difficult conversations, being the person in the room who disagrees.”

Do you agree? We’d love to hear from you!

If you’d be keen to chat with us about our ambitions and how we can add value to your brand, get in touch!

We’re thrilled to announce we’ve won our biggest ever pitch to be appointed as lead creative agency for the esure Group across their two iconic insurance brands, esure and Sheilas’ Wheels.  

We fended off competition from global networked agencies, and will be responsible for creative strategy and integrated campaign delivery across the both brands. VCCP Media have been appointed as media partner and we look forward to working with them to bring our campaign ideas to consumers across the UK.

David Guy, Founder at Guy & Co, said: “esure is all about giving their customers confidence in how simple their brand of insurance is, and we’re thrilled to be appointed as their lead creative agency to deliver bravely effective results. It’s been a while since the Brands’ most famous work and we’re looking forward to the ride ahead.”

Gareth Haggerty, Head of Brand Marketing at esure Group, said: “Guy & Co share our excitement about the huge potential within our two sleeping giant brands. The team’s drive to create bold, brave, impactful work is a fantastic fit with esure’s desire to shake up the insurance sector and reinvigorate our iconic brands.”

Who wouldn’t want to work on a global mega brand? When people ask, “so, who do you work for then?”, they nod enthusiastically and share a story about swooshy trainers, high-flying airlines and sweet brown carbonates.

But if you don’t it doesn’t matter, because getting to work on truly ‘super-creative’ work is a vibe that can come from anywhere.

We love that maverick clients are alive and kicking across the full spectrum of brands. We see it in wi-fi to whisky, car insurance to carbs (potatoes!), pickles to pensions and all the way to the end of the line in funeral care. We love working with Marketing Directors who ask us to solve stuff, that like all great challenges, start out as rather big and un-figure-out-able.

The emotional intelligence of a brave Marketing Director fused with a joint desire to push for genuinely meaningful and distinctive ideas is what we crave. Open to setting a clear value on what success looks like – they embrace our counterchallenges and share one of our agency values – hard on the work, easy on the people.

These are the personas who push us to do our best work and share their ambition on where they want their brand to go in the near and not so near future. And when it all comes together, we get to the commercial value results we aligned on together – and that makes everyone happy – especially Finance Directors.

As we look ahead to brighter economic times, we gauge new client relationships and potential pitches way past the budget and the brand name. For us, it’s more about challenging each other to do things together that positively changes the game. That’s what really matters.

Want to chat to us about your ambitions?

Just give us a shout – we’d love to help give you the confidence to challenge for bravely effective results. The more un-figure-out-able the challenge, the better.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since we first opened the doors of Guy & Co.

October 2013 was filled with nerve-wracking onboarding meetings with our founding clients. We owe a debt of gratitude to Albert Bartlett, Edrington Group and Scottish Fine Soaps. They took a risk on us, and I hope we’ve repaid that debt with dedication and marketing ideas that worked. Those early days were the start of our agency journey, and lead to the bravely effective work we make today.

After surviving the first few years and achieving steady growth, we had a good look at ourselves. We wanted to know what was driving the great bits of work around the agency. Turns out, it was down to our innovative streak and curiosity. We were always hungry to learn what was effective and why. And forever looking for different ideas that could build momentum for our clients.

This came from our experience with innovation system thinking and productive creativity techniques. They lead me to the idea of integrating these systems into all aspects of our work. By 2017, we’d nailed how to be a creative and research agency. It’s been great growing a culture where we have the confidence to challenge anything. And have fun doing it.

Now, in this milestone year, I’m proud to look back at what we’ve accomplished.

We helped Edrington test, and bring to life, innovative new brands across the pond in Rhode Island. We helped to celebrate the fieriest Border Biscuit of them all on TV. We took a deep dive into the secret life of pensions with Royal London. And empowered Smokehead whisky to embody its brilliantly rebellious positioning.

Oh, and we produced Albert Bartlett’s most extraordinary TV campaign yet. Our cinematography needed to live up to our epic idea, so it only seemed right to use the same camera that shot the original Star Wars. Most recently, helping Go Fibre on the way to becoming Scotland’s leading full fibre telecoms network. Bringing Digby, a hardworking minty green hardhat wearing gopher, to life.

Of course, we all did it together. I need to thank our amazing team of strategists, creatives and client services. They share an innovative spirit and love for making challenging work that gets brands bought. A special mention goes to Cat Summers. Since day 1, she has been my right-hand gal and the Yin to my Yang.

Lastly, thank you to our incredible clients. You made it all possible. Each of you put your trust in us to crack marketing challenges year after year.

As we move into our 11th year, we have exciting projects with old and new clients on the horizon. There’s lots of gas in the tank and we’re raring to go.

If you’re scratching your head with an un-figure-out-able challenge, then get in touch at See how we can confidently bring brave effectiveness to your brand.