Rebecca Howard, Managing Director, Cynergy

Rebecca Howard has missed out on a small fortune by turning her back on the private sector.

Rebecca Howard

‘DIFFERENT THINKINGLY’ is a grammatically jolting company strap-line to parade on your marketing literature, but Rebecca Howard couldn’t care less.

In fact, she says, that’s exactly the point: she wants people to know that her growing communications and events agency, Cynergy, is thinking outside of the box.

That’s not a bad strategy to adopt in the turbulent ocean of agency work, where point of difference keeps competitor sharks at bay.

But not many agencies have proactively turned away thousands of pounds of business by shunning Britain’s entire, sprawling corporate sector.

Stokesley-based Cynergy refuses, point-blank, to work with private companies, preferring to position itself as a social enterprise champion that can leverage positive change in Government-led organisations and local communities.

This ethos means that Cynergy will not carry out a project unless it changes lives or, at the very least, delivers a tangible, social benefit.

"Our work has to make a positive difference to people’s lives," says Rebecca. "We wouldn’t change our values - our driver is to create change."

And it’s a strategy that seems to be working for the company.

Established by Rebecca in 2002, Cynergy now has more than 300 clients and generated annual revenues of £2.2m in the year to March.

Turnover next year is projected to hit £3m, even though client budgets could be hit by swingeing post-election public sector cuts.

Rebecca will be hoping Conservative Party plans to strip £6bn out of the public sector - with cuts to Whitehall spending on consultants a key component of the plan - won’t come to fruition.

But even if they do she will stick firmly to her tried and trusted strategy.

"The corporate sector isn’t on our radar. We know the public sector like the back of our hand.

"We go against some of the biggest agencies in the country - yet we win because we’re a specialist agency."

Her remarks belie a bullishness engrained in her by parents Jennie and Patrick, both serial entrepreneurs who never quite made it.

The latter ran a transport venture and a notice board business; the former dabbled in clothing agencies.

"They were always trying something that didn’t quite work. But I was told not to be fearful of failure."

Her academic record gave her little cause for worry.

A competent student at school, she went on achieve a combined degree in business law, French, economics and politics at Newcastle University.

A postgraduate qualification in business development and business management followed before she jetted off to the Seychelles for a year, working as a marketing manager for a textiles firm.

On her return to the North-east she cut her teeth in agency work by launching Diamond Dental Design, a marketing firm that produced print and promotional material for the dental industry.

The company became a small but established fixture in the jaws of Teesside’s economy, delivering six-figure annual revenues from its Middlesbrough base.

But Rebecca and business partner Yvonne Wallace went their separate ways in 2002 after a difference of opinion over strategy.

"I was interested in marketing and strategy, she wanted to do print-based stuff."

Almost immediately Rebecca was starting up her current venture with a £10,000 Tesco loan while dealing with a divorce from her previous husband and frantically house-hunting for new digs on Teesside.

Working on the mantra that cash is king - "we’re a liquid company, we’ve never had an overdraft" - she quickly set about winning work from public sector health bodies, not-for-profit organisations and charities.

Rising revenues allowed her to take on extra hands and now she has 18 staff on her books, including her first employee.

In 2006 she oversaw the £750,000 design and build of Cynergy’s current home, a 5,000sq ft premises on Stokesley Business Park with capacity for future expansion.

Now she’s set on persuading more public sector bodies to think differently (or should that be different thinkingly) about their communications activities - for example, by turning one-off events into ongoing educational campaigns in local schools.

She has also introduced off-the-wall pastimes for her staff including a stress-busting office drum kit and Well-being Wednesdays, a healthy initiative where workers are encouraged to eat fruit and mellow out.

Unusual, maybe, but her methods are beginning to get recognised.

Cynergy took the Tees Valley Small Business Award at the recent nebusiness awards while Rebecca was crowned North-east Woman Entrepreneur of the Year at last year’s Women Into the Network awards.

Despite championing unorthodoxy in the workplace, Rebecca enjoys a relatively ordinary home life, chilling with her family at weekends and training for this year’s Great North Run.

Even for off-the-wall creative types, normal is sometimes just fine.


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