Viral Effect digital agency seeks to double turnover as it targets new sectors

Teesside firm to take on more staff, including a business development officer, as it hones it customer engagement services

Doug Moody Photography Managing director of Viral Effect James Pennington (centre, front row) is looking to expand his company further, having already recruited additional staff since a move to Middlesbroughs Boho 4
Managing director of Viral Effect James Pennington (centre, front row) is looking to expand his company further, having already recruited additional staff since a move to Middlesbroughs Boho 4

A North East digital agency that launched in 2012 has its sights set on doubling its turnover within the next two years.

The Middlesbrough-based Viral Effect Ltd moved to larger premises in Boho Four Gibson House in January and has since taken on three new members of staff.

This year, the company - which concentrates on social media management, digital advertising, customer engagement and data collection applications - is on track to report revenues of £500,000.

Managing director James Pennington, however, is already targeting £1m turnover while growing the firm’s 14-strong headcount as it moves into new business-to-customer sectors.

Mr Pennington, 26, set up Viral Effect three years ago with Hartlepool-based business partner Mike Racz.

At the time he had been studying web development at Teesside University, but dropped out as he found himself working 19-hour days to get the business off the ground.

Initially, the Viral Effect provided a digital marketing service to eight Domino’s stores across the North East, but when word spread of its success, more Domino’s franchisees turned to the company for support.

Now, it provides digital marketing support to 182 Domino’s stores, as well as social media management and customer engagement services to 880 of the pizza giant’s sites across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Other clients include Nando’s and the pre-owned tech retail company CeX.

Mr Pennington is also in talks with a major drinks outlet and is keen to meet with businesses looking to improve their online customer engagement, both through pushing sales and providing customer response services via Facebook and Twitter, an area in which Viral Effect is becoming known for its efficiency.

Currently, 80% of all of its clients’ inbound tweets are responded to within two minutes, with 91% taking less than five minutes to get a response.

Mr Pennington said: “We’ve raised the bar across the industry in terms of customer response.

“Not so long ago a well-known airline was crowing about their average social media response time of 34 minutes.

“Our clients expected to average less than half an hour, but I said: ‘Why can’t it be under two minutes?’

“It’s down to the hard work and commitment of our staff that we’ve been able to achieve what we have.

“Naturally, we prioritise staff around high tweet hours. It is often full-on but everyone loves it.”

Mr Pennington added that he now wanted Viral Effect to offer a market-leading service to other sectors.

“I’m confident we can help anyone who has a big focus on customer engagement, particularly B2C’s who are looking to communicate quickly to their customers who live increasingly in the digital world,” he said.

“Increasing numbers of businesses are now realising that they need to communicate with their customers and potential customers via social networks.”

To aid expansion, the company is looking to recruit a business development officer.

“We’ve come this far with no loans and no debts - we’re cash positive. But I’m never satisfied,” Mr Pennington said.

“Maybe when we have 100 staff I will be, but probably not. There’s always room for improvement in terms of sales and growth.

“Nothing’s ever good enough – my personal goalposts for the business are constantly moving, just as social media is constantly evolving.”

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