The first BrightonSEO conference of 2015 was the biggest ever, and the talks were of the usual high standard, with insights on link building, PR, technical SEO, mobile and social media filling notebooks across all three stages. As always, huge thanks to Kelvin Newman for organising the event – The Positive team had a brilliant time!
We’ll be doing a roundup of the talks we managed to see later on this week but first, we thought we’d share our thoughts on the final session of the day: Kelvin’s “Fireside Chat” with Mark Wright.
Wright is the 2014 winner of the BBC TV show The Apprentice, whose business plan to start Climb Online - a digital marketing company offering personalised PPC, SEO and social media strategies - won over Lord Sugar in the final round.
Following some criticism in the months after his win, the SEO community was eager to hear what Wright had to say about his experience in setting up Climb Online, as well as his time on The Apprentice.
The Q&A began with Wright giving a brief overview of how business has been going since the final of the show and, unsurprisingly, he’s been busy! He received over 6.5 thousand leads from the TV show publicity alone (which he described as “a blessing and a curse”) and so, with no-one to even answer the phones let alone implement any marketing strategies, quickly began hiring a specialist team. Lord Sugar’s background presence makes it easier to recruit, he said, but some applicants are turned off by the company’s Essex location. Because of this, he has had to allow two of his full time staff members to work from home.
Wright admitted that he “bit off more than he could chew” by offering such a personalised service, since his expertise lay in sales rather than technical SEO or PPC, and this is where the majority of the criticism fell. On the show Wright was presented as an SEO expert, but as soon as his site (climb-online.co.uk) went live there were obvious issues, such as the hyphenated domain and lack of optimised meta data, not to mention that he appeared to be promising page 1 rankings to anyone who hired him:
But Wright claims that positioning himself as an expert was never his intention. Kelvin asked if he was surprised by the SEO industry’s reaction. His response: “yes and no.”
He thought it was partly down to jealously, with other business owners feeling that he was invading the space and taking clients away from them, but that “some of it was fair.” He agreed with the hyphenated domain issue, but went on to say that the public does not understand the restrictions that come with being an Apprentice winner. For instance, during the final stage of the process he gave the makers of the show a list of a hundred potential business names and domains, from which they picked one without his knowledge or input.
In comparison, the runners up could do whatever they liked, and still had the benefit of the show’s publicity. Kelvin suggested that maybe there is some benefit to coming in second place, and Wright agreed that there would almost certainly be less pressure, restrictions and trolling, but said that along with the investment money, the value Lord Sugar offers to his business is definitely worth it.
So, do Apprentice winners actually get much face to face time with Lord Sugar?
“I see him all the time,” Wright said, and they email every day too. He even claimed to have sent Lord Sugar the monkey face emoji via Whatsapp as a joke. Apparently Lord Sugar has taught him a lot about time management too – Sugar’s email replies are very quick, but often short and sharp. Not particularly surprising, given his nature on the show.
Wright also admitted that he didn’t even know who Alan Sugar was before going on the show, which probably helped his confidence as he didn’t feel star-struck like the other contestants. Wright has also made some headway in teaching his new mentor about SEO, who during the show constantly referred to the practice as “getting websites up the pecking order.”
Wright explained that this was deliberate on the part of the show’s producers, as they didn’t think the public would understand SEO. Wright was sceptical, but market research discovered that 90% of viewers had no idea what the acronym meant, so “pecking order” was born. (Thanks guys.)
Many of us probably view the early stages of The Apprentice as more of a light-hearted Big Brother-type personality contest rather than a serious business competition, but Wright’s description of the audition process made it clear that it’s more gruelling than we may have realised.
The first few rounds involve doing lightning quick sales pitches for products randomly pulled from buckets and long, incredibly difficult one-to-one interviews that would make any graduate job-seeker burst into tears.
Once the applicants had been whittled down to the last thousand, they were split into groups and told to build an IKEA desk (that would normally take 3 hours) in 20 minutes. After being assigned as team leader and frantically organising his group to assemble the desk, he recalled how one of the interviewers came round the rooms and destroyed all the desks by stamping on them.
He said that day he learnt that under stress “women cry and men get angry”. While half of the applicants freaked out, the other half (himself included) carried on desperately trying to fix their desks. Obviously, the latter half were the ones who progressed to the next round.
But the stress didn’t end once the show started. Wright described the process as “brutal”, with each contestant having their own personal “baby sitter” who followed them everywhere ensuring that they didn’t watch TV, use the internet or make phone calls. Even carrying a wallet was forbidden.
Wright’s low point on the show was undoubtedly pitching his team’s trifle to Tesco for the pudding challenge . Before he walked in front of Tesco judges (and the hundred or so other people also in the room) apparently someone whispered to him “don’t forget, 8 million people will watch this.” He froze and couldn’t speak – a disaster for the self-proclaimed sales expert.
He thought his time on the show was over, but fortunately, the good outweighed the bad and he wasn’t fired. Despite his peaks and troughs, Wright claims that he was certain he would get into final once he was in final five, as he was so confident in his business plan. Perhaps it was this confidence that rubbed some SEOs up the wrong way? Regardless, it was enough for Lord Sugar to choose Climb Online over fellow finalist Bianca’s hosiery business.
I will be the first to admit that I was not Wright’s biggest fan after The Apprentice, and was concerned that Climb Online was furthering the negative aspects of the SEO industry that the public often latch onto. However, after hearing Wright speak about his time on The Apprentice and the limitations it put on starting up his business I’ve definitely warmed to him, and a number of other people at BrightonSEO agreed that he came across better than they were expecting.
Wright may not be a fountain of digital marketing knowledge but he’s quick to agree that it’s not his forte, disregarding the image that The Apprentice forged for him and giving a lot of credit to his newly hired team members. As with any new business, mistakes have obviously been made and the fact that the SEO industry is particularly unforgiving has not helped, but Wright has taken the criticism in his stride and hasn’t let it affect his growing business.
That much became clear last month when Climb Online turned a profit last month after just 3 months of trading. They currently offer digital marketing services to business of all sizes in all verticals, with clients paying anything from £300 to £10,000 per month, but Wright mentioned that he would like to focus on the medium to large businesses in the future.
We’ll have to wait and see whether Climb Online will continue to thrive in the coming months but, hyphenated domain aside, things seem to be currently looking very bright for Wright.