Reflections on a packed 2018… and looking ahead

Jim Bowes at London Stock Exchange

As the festive haze of food, (great) bad movies and reflection resolves into sharp focus, prompted by the reality of a new year, it’s a good time to take a moment to think about how far we’ve come and how much can change in 12 months.

Personally, 2018 was a rollercoaster

When we started the company seven years ago, we had no idea that we’d spend much of the last 12 months preparing for an IPO as part of a larger group.

For me, this had real highs and lows. It meant spending a lot more time with lawyers and accountants; it meant taking something we’ve built with incredible care into a new realm and hoping we’d made the right decision for ourselves, our team and our clients.

Getting there has been tough and doing it as well as running the company meant parts of 2018 were hard. It also meant forgoing some of my favourite aspects of running Manifesto – less work with the team, not quite as close to new business, not as much opportunity to work on client strategy projects.

I particularly remember the end of February leading in to March. I was unwell, I had a muscle spasm in my throat, digestion issues, a cold and had pretty much lost my voice. The following week I was speaking in Oslo, London and Austin. Even in good health this would have been a challenging week, but I felt terrible leading up to it, prompting the question – why am I pushing so hard? For what?

As part of joining The Panoply I’ve taken on the role of Chief Innovation Officer. For the first time in quite a while I’m doing public speaking about the new, the future, and what that might mean for people and businesses. It takes more research, a good dose of imposter syndrome and spending a lot more time out of your comfort zone.

Over the last three years I’d clocked up over 100 speaking appearances by mining a trove of material about Agile – most of which I wrote in Manifesto’s early days. This new challenge meant covering everything from Machine Learning to Fake news, to suggesting that technology could create a second renaissance.

I now faced three completely different talks all in a week and the pressure that comes with writing them. The days leading up to them were my low point of the year but, as I started to get the material together, and got a little excited that the podcast I do with Robert Belgrave (Alexa Stop!) had taken us all the way to a talk at SXSW, the fog started to lift.

Jim Bowes and Robert Belgrave at SXSW 2018

Following my final talk, I spent a week in Austin at SXSW, away from the detail and the day to day. I spent my time hearing about how technology is going to change our lives in years to come, seeing the progress of Waymo, considering the idea of being employed by a bot, and hanging out with other people from the amazing UK digital scene.

As I boarded the plane back I realised that, having spent time around thousands of people wanting to use technology in a positive way, the energy had rubbed off. Returning to London with a refreshed brain, I could see more clearly opportunities to support people across Manifesto more effectively and create space for people to crack on with new ideas.

By the end of this year the positives were abundant – I’d managed to spend a good amount of time with members of the Manifesto team and made exciting plans for 2019. I’d worked on strategy projects for The National Trust and Stonewall. And the agency ended the year being able to deliver work we couldn’t have previously, with reignited collective ambition and an exciting vision for the future.

It was also a pretty big year for Manifesto

Our work with clients was hugely diverse and involved everything from improving digital experiences for the Health Foundation, to helping Alzheimer’s Society deliver personalised content, to energising supporters of The Brain Tumour Charity with a fresh campaign proposition, to helping the National Trust automate email personalisation with Adobe Campaign.

We launched our dedicated innovation proposition, Future Foundry, which has already run design sprints to solve tough challenges with World Health Organisation and The National Trust, with great results. We’ve also hired a Service Design Lead to help develop our practice in that area, in addition to a number of other talented people joining the team.

These services areas, along with expanded consulting services around Agile, organisational change and automation, mean that we’re working on some transformative projects with clients.

The IPO happened successfully at the start of December, so we’re now founding members of a public listed group. And we continued to expand, taking on new office space which gives us 20 more desks in London.

To round off the year, we announced that the agency Deeson would become part of Manifesto (and The Panoply) making us an 80-person business with an additional office in Canterbury.

The agency landscape is ever evolving

2018 did a good job reminding me of this. Through my new group role I met more agencies than in previous years, and also spent time with founders and leaders in the sector at events like Podge and those organised by BIMA.

The year saw the continuing rise of the consultancy groups in the agency space, and a number of deals involving SIs as they look to modernise. We also started to see how some new operating models and companies have struggled. There were numerous deals (our own included) that involved companies we’ve worked with, pitched against and, in many cases, respected for many years.

But overall, there’s plenty to look forward to

We’re entering a truly fascinating period for how technology will change our lives. As companies work to adapt what they do and how they do it, I believe there’s a place for businesses like Manifesto to collaborate on guiding and accelerating those many and varied journeys.

This year is roughly my 20th working in digital. At core, I’m as excited about the industry I work in now as I was when I first started.

Jim x

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  1. Leon Milns says:

    great read Jim, looking forward to seeing how you can top it in 2019! Good luck and enjoy!

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