Interview: Sian Gaskell, Managing Director at CubanEight
- Credit: © Thousand Word Media
From a barn conversion in rural Oxfordshire, some of the biggest tech companies are driving their growth. Lucy Parford meets Sian Gaskell, the woman behind the magic
From a barn conversion in the heart of Oxfordshire, an award-winning agency is working with some of the most exciting tech companies from all around the world.
Founded by Sian Gaskell nine years ago, CubanEight was crowned PR Agency of the Year at the UK Agency Awards last year. From just two people in the early days, the team has grown to ten and is continuing to expand as technology develops and continues to transform how we live.
Sian, 47, worked in PR in London for many years, for big international agencies, but decided to move out of the city 10 years ago. She now lives in the village of Bloxham, near Banbury, with her husband who is a Bid Director for Vodafone Global and their twin 11-year-old boys.
“I founded CubanEight because I wanted a more flexible option with my kids, but also I wanted to take that leap into starting up my own agency,” Sian explains.
“It was founded on the principle of combining that big agency experience with a more flexible and responsive sort of team. We’re based here, not as a regional agency, but as an agency with national and international capability as well, working with global businesses, market-leaders and challenger brands.”
When Sian took the leap in 2009 her children were two-and-a-half and it wasn’t always easy, but she says she was lucky to have a great support network around her when she was getting the agency off the ground.
Originally based at Upper Heyford, CubanEight moved to its own office space in Chesterton two-and-a-half years ago and also has an office in London, as well as working with a network of partners around the world.
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“My background has been in technology PR for most of my career and I’ve often worked on international campaigns, so I brought that very much to the agency when we started and that’s been the case ever since,” says Sian, who is CubanEight’s Managing Director.
“We do work with a lot of clients that are Silicon Valley-based tech businesses that are coming here to Europe. The UK is their first port of call and we help launch and establish them in this market, then we run campaigns for them across Europe.
“We’ve also run global campaigns for clients as well, so it gives us an additional dimension for an agency of our size.”
As well as American companies, CubanEight also works with many British tech companies including Chargifi which is leading the way in the drive for wireless power and recently received funding from HPE and Intel. It also works with IT services business MCSA and customer engagement provider Rant & Rave.
Sian became hooked on tech early in her career, working on the European launch of a new device which would revolutionise the way people worked – the BlackBerry.
“It was really an interesting time because BlackBerry wasn’t really well-known when we first started working with them, but by the time we’d finished, about four years later, it was firmly on the map as a device to have,” she says.
“It was before the iPhone, obviously, but the device really made a difference in the way that people work. It had a real impact on people’s daily lives.”
Technology has advanced at an astonishing pace since Sian started her first job at Channel 4 after studying for an English degree at the University of Birmingham. Originally working on the publishing side for Channel 4 Learning, she got involved in marketing moving her way up to Head of Marketing and PR.
“PR has changed dramatically with the prominence of digital,” she says. “It has forged itself a real place because there are other ways a brand can get its message out there. But at the heart of it, you’ve still got to have a good story to tell and something that’s going to make a difference.
“Ultimately, we now live in this whole sharing society where people are sharing opinions and content and what they love, and building campaigns that will actually become part of that is really important. So it’s definitely got a more important part to play within companies than ever before, a way in which they can become successful and resonate with customers.”
CubanEight’s success in its field over the past nine years has been recognised with a string of awards. Last year, it was named Small Consultancy of the Year at the PRCA Dare Awards Midlands ceremony with the judges describing it as a “small agency with big ideas and big heart”. It went on to win PR Agency of the Year at the UK Agency Awards in London in September.
“That was the first one we’d won on a national basis, so it was fantastic, a really good milestone for us,” says Sian.
“You often hear it said when you talk about agency life or a PR career, that it gives you a huge amount of variety and no day is ever the same,” she adds. “You’re doing everything from storytelling to reputation management, building credibility for a brand, dealing with the commercial side of the business and helping to create campaigns that will support that.”
This year, CubanEight has been shortlisted for the B2B Tech PR Agency of the Year award at Computing’s Tech Marketing & Innovation Awards 2018. The Awards celebrate the marketers, teams and agencies that have produced exceptional marketing, delivered outstanding results and exceeded business targets throughout 2017 and 2018.
“We have a really deep understanding of tech, we are working with companies across that spectrum from cyber security, to ad tech to fintech,” Sian says. “There are other tech agencies out there, but we are coming to clients from a point of knowledge, whether that’s with regards to the industry or with regards to the media, and then build bespoke integrated campaigns that will really drive results and deliver what they want to achieve with the business.
“So it’s not just PR for PR’s sake, it’s actually making a difference to the business, whether that’s to do with downloads, driving sales or brand awareness or getting traction on certain vertical markets. The campaigns are built to support that.”
CubanEight has clients from around the UK and locally it has previously worked with OxLEP, Venturefest Oxford, Clearview Intelligence and Nominet.
Since the beginning of the year it has had new client wins and is focused on building up the team, as well as strengthening its links within the Oxfordshire and regional business community. The team, which is based at Bignell Park Barns near Bicester Village, has been attending various business events to build up its local and regional network.
“It’s a lovely setting and a great location because you are only 40 minutes from London on the train, from Marylebone to Bicester Village,” Sian says. “One of the team is in London at least once a week, but then we are right by the M40 and A43 - we’ve also had clients in Warwick and we’ve got clients in Northamptonshire.
“Getting into Oxford is easy and there’s obviously a huge amount going on with businesses in this region, in the science and technology sector.
“We’re able to have a really great office space where we are. We’ve attracted staff who have moved out of London because, similar to what I did, they want that different type of work/life balance. That was very much part of our ethos from the very beginning, about working smartly and efficiently, so people can leave on time and go and do what they want to do with their families and have that definite work/life balance.”
After growing up in Watford and living in London for many years, Sian is enjoying village life while still flying out to New York and Germany to meet up with CubanEight’s partners. While it may be a juggling act sometimes, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“When I lived in London I was very London-centric, you are in that bubble, but from the point of view of running a business and living the life you want to lead – right here is a great place to live,” she says.
“I think as an owner of a business you’re never really not working, but I try and be disciplined and have a day at home per week. I did it because I wanted to be able to have that control over what I was doing.
She adds: “I’m lucky to have a great team, the people that I’m working with have a real passion for what they do and we have a great team spirit. A real kind of collaboration goes on within the team and that’s definitely one of the things I enjoy most about my role.”