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Opinion: Launching a Start-Up Agency in Lockdown

Adam Raincock, Co-Founder at the newly-formed sports and entertainment marketing agency The Space Between, argues that now is the perfect time to launch a new sports marketing business.

Tuesday, 23 March marked one year in lockdown. If you had told me a year ago that in the next 12 months nobody would attend a sporting event, there would be a pandemic, and we would set up our own business, I would have laughed you out the room.

Fast forward and there are still no fans attending sporting events and with the full financial impact of Covid-19 still unknown, I, together with my colleagues Lisa Parfitt and Tom Gladstone, have set up The Space Between sports marketing agency.

Despite the turmoil sport has been through this year, I’m extremely optimistic about the future of sports marketing and would even go as far as saying that now is the perfect time to start up.

When you start a business you’re likely to have more questions than answers. Below are a few of the questions we asked ourselves and some of what we have learnt along the way.

Why now?

While lots of things remain the same, the last 12 months have been an accelerant on the fire of change in numerous areas. People’s love for sport endures, resulting in a sponsorship market that’s remained relatively buoyant. It’s still a great brand play for companies looking to add another dimension to their marketing.

However, Covid-19 has made people take a critical look at the value they are getting. This will create difficult questions for rights-holders and agencies and how they respond will determine their success or failure.

Every new business should start at the end and yet few do. We made sure we know where we want to get to. It’s not only easier to plot the journey when you know the destination, it ironically gives you more flexibility to evolve and adapt the business. The last year has already shown that the agencies with a strategic plan in place were able to adapt quicker to the changing landscape, and it’s those businesses that will thrive in the future.

Is freedom the answer?

Yes and no. The best thing about starting your own agency is you can do exactly what you want. No private equity squeezing you for every last penny, nobody to report into, no-one else to have the ultimate say. It’s the biggest opportunity for a new start-up, but it comes with its own set of threats.

As a leader, the decisions you make and where you spend your time determine the success or failure of your business – no safety net, no sounding board. That’s why we set the agency up with three co-founders, so we can hold each other to account on every decision we make and the areas we focus on. Having companions on the journey makes it far easier to achieve the freedom you crave.

Faith or fear?

Any start-up is a combination of both. Running other agencies, I didn’t realise that you take a subtle but massive leap when your job title changes to ‘founder’.

Taking that leap brings a mixture of fear and faith. It fuels you with energy and drive that you never knew you had. It also suddenly means more – particularly if every news article or social media post you read tells you how apocalyptic the financial fallout is going to be. Which is where the faith comes in. Switch off the noise and focus on what you can influence – your business and your sector. So, while we know there will be challenging times ahead, we have faith in ourselves and our model.

Great companies aren’t built overnight, they are a result of consistently executing a great strategy and building a great culture. As for us, we have a great set of founding clients (Vitality, Mitsubishi Motors and Principality Building Society), some great new business wins, and the ability as a collective to have many more interesting conversations with brands and rights-holders in the sports industry – which I believe will recover better than many others.

In summary, the industry is solid and the winners will be the ones who ask themselves the difficult questions and make the changes required. Our belief is that agency start-ups are uniquely well placed to do just that.

Sport Industry Group
Sport Industry Group

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