Arron Shepherd and Martyn Sibley have recently come together to found Purple Goat. I interviewed them together to find out more about their previous work and their new groundbreaking partnership.
Arron is a senior investor and entrepreneur with years of experience in the digital marketing industry. Aged 23 he moved to Dubai and became global director of Business Development at The First Group. In three years, the company increased revenues from $25 million to $350 million.
By 2012, Arron had co-founded Sportlobster. He built a team of over 60 staff, onboarded over two million users, and partnered successfully with Cristiano Ronaldo, the NBA, Crystal Palace, Sky and many other major sports brands. Arron then co-founded Goat, which is a leading influence marketing agency with offices in London, New York, and Singapore. Goat works with start-up companies to global brands such as UEFA, Lidl, Malibu and Nivea.
Goat has been named the fastest-growing agency in Europe by AdWeek, and the fourth fastest-growing agency in the world.
Martyn is a business strategist who helps organisations design accessible and inclusive goods and services, and workplaces for the 1.3 billion disabled people in the world. Martyn’s goal is to help companies connect with the needs of the disability community to transform the way everyone lives, works and contributes.
Uniquely qualified to lead this transformation, Martyn is a regular guy who happens to have a disability called spinal muscular atrophy. This means that he can’t walk or lift anything heavier than a book. Nonetheless, he’s the founder of Disability Horizons, the UK’s most rapidly expanding disability lifestyle publication. Martyn’s also an author, keynote speaker and podcaster.
To give the context for founding Purple Goat, Arron first explained the background to Goat, the leading influencer agency globally with 130 people across London, New York, Singapore. Primarily, Goat uses social influencers to deliver advertising value for clients. Arron says, ‘Goat is an advertising agency built for the year that we live in right now and the challenges we face.’
Goat works with a variety of different brands. Its three founders and the majority of its people have never worked at an agency. This gives Goat the advantage of not being bogged down by the traditional ways of thinking.
Arron said, ‘The team comes into pretty much every situation with a blank piece of paper to draw the straightest line if things get over-complicated. We guarantee results to our clients and try to de-risk it for them. We launched organically, we didn’t raise any money and we’ll be five years old in August. We’ve got many amazing people working for us and some incredible clients. We’re very fortunate to be where we are now, right at the tip of the wave, the largest in the space, and one of the most progressive agencies out there.
We’re an agency that delivers business results to our clients. Our clients use us because we make them more money.’
Martyn Sibley and I go back a long way. We’ve known each other for ages, we’ve both got the same disability, SMA. I asked Martyn to talk a bit about his background and how he met Arron.
‘As a teenager, I was more adamant that I wouldn’t work in a job that was specifically around disability. It felt a bit cliched. But the reality of growing up with a disability, going to university to study Economics, plus a Masters in Marketing and having a career, there’s just so many things day-to-day that are still difficult. They shouldn’t be, the solutions are easy, but we’re still trying to raise awareness, get change and more inclusion of disabled people.
After working at the disability charity Scope for about 5 years, I was introduced to the world of blogging and it was liberating. It was a way of having a voice, rather than relying on gatekeepers in traditional media. I and other disabled people would get a bit of the airtime on the media but the narrative was a bit hijacked around triumph over tragedy, or pity, charity, and sympathy. Having my own platform, my own media channel, I was able to just say, “I’m a normal guy that happens to be in a chair, and I’ve got all the fears, all the dreams and ambitions that other people have. Let’s have a newer conversation about how we can have inclusion.’
Martyn has travelled the world as an influencer. The combination of blogging and then social media led him into running communities which built more influence, provided real impact and a great platform. He met Arron and the guys at The Goat about a year ago. They became business partners and launched Purple Goat recently.
I asked Arron and Martyn, ‘Since you have Goat, which is a great name, why create the sister agency Purple Goat?’
Arron explained that Goat’s colour is orange and that purple came from Martyn referencing the purple pound which is the spending power of disabled people. ‘Purple Goat is going to offer exactly the same services as the Goat agency, with the exception that it is only targeted at the disabled community. Clearly, there are sub-communities within this, but it’s such a huge community that is so under-served.
Martyn and I had a conversation six months ago now, where he talked me through the financial situation in the UK with the disabled community, their spending power, the percentage of ads that are targeted at the community, and I was absolutely staggered. I couldn’t believe it. Even now, I look at those numbers with 22% of the population being in the disabled community. Much, much higher than I thought.’
Arron says that the numbers are persuasive. 0.06% of ads are targeted at the disabled community, meaning 22% of the population are only advertised to 0.06% of the time.
‘That breaks down as one day a year, brands advertise to 22% of the population and the rest of the year, they ignore them. As an advertiser marketer, I see this as such an open opportunity. If you speak to people in the disabled community they say, “Just treat me like anyone else. I’ve got money like anyone else. Why don’t you want me to come and shop there?”
There are 1.2 million people who are wheelchair users. I want to go to, say, supermarkets and say, “If you change your stores and make yourselves properly accessible, change how people shop, you can get more customers. All brands want that. The whole pitch for us is, how do we get brands to see the economic value from advertising to this community?’
Arron is clear he sees no merit in talking in a PR way about what a company is going to do for the disabled community. ‘For 10 years people have been talking about, “We’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do that.” I, for one, I’m bored of these platitudes, and I’m not even in the community.’
I asked Martyn to give his perspective. ‘What do brands gain from working with Purple Goat and what does that look like?’
‘The key is that we understand what your audience, your market needs and wants. We help you give it to them and tell them that you’re offering it to them. It’s that simple. Attention will be paid to segmenting around impairments, visual, hearing, mobility informed by research insights. At the end of the day, it’s getting those real-life insights, not what some random person thinks a community wants.
The influencer side is also important. There’s a lot of disabled talent, people who’ve not been given opportunities in an economic area. So for the influencers, the Instagramers, the YouTubers, that have already got good content and built up a good following, there’s an opportunity as well as a chance for them to get paid at the rate they should be.
So, yes, absolutely the point Arron makes about making money for the clients, but there are some really good economic benefits beyond that for the community and beyond.’
Martyn acknowledged that the lack of everyday accessibility understandably pisses people off but believes it’s from organisational ignorance, not malice. He’s also aware that brands might have fears about trying to reach the disabled community.
‘Once brands are aware of the opportunity, they tend to think, “Okay, what could we do? Let’s have a look.” Then I think there’s the real fear of saying the wrong word. Political correctness has almost become an enemy of inclusion. I think that’s a big thing that we’re trying to work on. Brands fear doing the wrong thing. I think it’s as simple as that. We can help clients navigate a newer world. And the benefits are there for the taking, really. As well as winning new customers, another area is brand loyalty. Some brands already have disabled customers, but maybe they won’t have ever felt represented or spoken to. So you can also get higher retention, higher lifetime value of customers.’
I asked Martyn if he’d ever seen any brand blunders to be avoided, as well as great practice that brands should strive towards for disabled customers.
‘The biggest blunder that I’ve experienced, and I know others have, is when airlines drop wheelchairs worth thousands of pounds. So in air travel, the message is don’t damage vital mobility equipment. In finding the solution to that, more people would fly, there’ll be less compensation paid out on damaged wheelchairs and less stress for people that do still dare to fly with their wheelchairs.
There are other travel industry blunders: wheelchairs having to go in the hold, language and basic customer service. If a staff member feels comfortable, confident and empowered to serve disabled customers, you wouldn’t get those awkward moments of turning people away because of a guide dog or saying something that’s just totally insensitive. For any business, the solutions come back to insights and training, and confidence.’
To conclude I asked both founders what inclusive growth means for the agency itself.
Arron said, ‘To move everything forward, we have to do it based on financials. However, once that’s happened, it means there is a huge amount of wider benefits. My role here is to make sure that Purple Goat has all the same insights and live reporting, market-leading tech that the Goat agency does. A key part of this is nothing about us without us. When it comes to saying what we should actually do, it has to come from not just Martyn, but the entire disabled community. So we will build a team of marketers from that community. Not because we want to be seen to have that, but because they will be better at marketing to their community than people that are not within the community.’
Arron also cited the recent changes facing the world. ‘In my firm, everybody has gone to the office every day. We’ve never had a working from home policy, we’ve never had a flexible working policy. Now 100%, we will. For us and other firms, it helps people with disabilities get into the workplace because it removes the barriers around commuting. I think that’s a big, big positive.’
Martyn also reflected on the inclusive growth question. ‘If you have a workforce that understands the culture of what it is to be in that community, but also knows how to help a brand and a global business take those insights and translate them into some quick wins and long-term strategy it will bring results and growth. Having disabled people in our business DNA will bring more results and growth. Business grows because of the inclusion of talent and the inclusion of customers that were previously ignored.’
To find out more about the businesses and their founders look at Goat’s daily vlog or head over to Martyn Sibley’s LinkedIn. Martyn shares a daily live stream, featuring consumer perspectives from disabled influencers and many well-known brands.