Mark Russell is a busy man. Very busy. He is CEO at Optimus Performance Marketing in Plymouth and has additional business interests with Marshall Motors and Jollies Sweets in Crownhill. He even has his own football club, Bar Sol Ona, at the aptly named Optimus Park in Plymouth.
And today he is meeting with OM at his offices in Derriford, Plymouth.
Walking through reception, we’re aware of his team busying themselves, behind the scenes, as they continue to live and breathe digital marketing for their impressive range of national clients.
It’s a young team with an average office age of 25 (Mark is 36) which means that the offices have a youthful “buzz” about them – the staff rest area has a full kitchen, pool table, leather sofas and even an X-box to help keep their creative drive at its peak.
A key element to Mark’s success is the focus on his team and making sure they are happy and fulfilled – not hard to achieve when the company’s driving force is a man with both zeal and focus.
It means the company provides life and critical illness cover for employees who manage campaigns in 12 different countries – from Ireland to Spain and Poland to France.
And it is in France, some 19 years ago, where Mark’s story really begins. He was born and bred in Plymouth and is still fiercely proud of his hometown.
But it was at the age of just 17, with a BTEC in catering, that Mark ventured to France (just north of Lyon) where he worked as a waiter before he transferred into the kitchens and started working with chefs.
It was a hectic environment and one, he says, which saw him mature very quickly as work in a foreign country, where he had to speak French, led him to become his own person. Returning to the UK, Mark quickly left home and, just a few days after turning 20, he found himself tying the knot with the love of his life before beginning work in a mobile phone store. It was two years later when he entered the world of door to door market research.
The maturity and confidence which Mark gained from his time in France had continued to develop and soon he found that not only did he enjoy the work, but, he was so good at doing it, that he quickly achieved one of the best success rates for door to door research in the country!
With his talent for talking (and listening) Mark soon moved into the world of internet marketing via an old boss.
With confidence and communication as key leadership qualities, it was a natural step for Mark to find his entrepreneurial streak, and so, in October 2006, he launched an affiliate management company.
Its success meant it turned a profit each year since its inception and, in 2010, Mark sold a small percentage of the company which finally led him to launch Optimus Performance Marketing in August, 2010. It was a bitter sweet moment in Mark’s life.
He had invited 80 guests to its launch night on one Friday night. They came from all over the country.
His father passed away on Saturday morning.
“I was buzzing at the new company branding and its look,” recalls Mark. “Then it was the complete opposite when my father passed away. He never understood what I did but he was always my ‘go to’ person as we were more like friends than father and son.”
“It hit me hard as I didn’t expect to lose my Dad at 31 as he was only in his sixties. It was a point which I could have let it get to me but it drove me forward and pushed me to be as successful as we possibly can be.”
From just eight members of staff at its rebranding through to 25 today, the company has experienced tremendous success in just five years.
Mark says they are now recognised as one of the leading agencies of its kind in Europe and, in 2014 alone, they generated an incredible £60 million in sales for clients.
It’s a wide array of marketing specialities that the company can provide for the client. To name but a few: from pay per click searches to search engine optimization and social media marketing then Optimus PM is certainly leading the way.
One of the key areas for the company’s success and growth has been in customer satisfaction which has led to recommendations and its work being praised by happy clients – all providing “word of mouth” referrals to fellow business contacts.
“Networking is really important,” explains Mark who spreads the word at various conferences and meetings (which also includes recently inviting 80 people to a pub where the relaxed surroundings help to create an informal atmosphere).
“Talking is crucial. It’s the secret key to being a successful entrepreneur in London as the industry is based in the capital.”
The capital may be perceived to be a vital place for any high tech company to base itself but Mark is proud of his roots in Plymouth and sees the city as great place to work and a good environment for his staff.
Part of the good environment has been his leasing of a football park at Ernesettle Lane which saw the creation of Bar Sol Ona (he is Chairman). A number of his colleagues don boots and head onto the field at the weekend.
It’s a great bonding experience and continues his belief in having a strong and positive working relationship with staff. “We call it The Optimus Family. I get texts from staff at weekends if they have questions about situations at work.”
And it’s not just football which has captured Mark’s heart. He has also focused on developing Marshall Motors, which has become a RAC approved garage, and has received huge positive feedback on its website from satisfied customers.
If the motor trade, football and, of course, his key business of Optimus PM weren’t enough then Mark also invested in Jollies Sweets (where he rebranded the logo and ran a large scale marketing campaign).
He’s also invested in a scaffolding company where he was able to bring in new equipment, lorries and vans. It’s a varied business portfolio and one to be proud about.
As Mark says, “Looking back on life, I think ‘Wow!’ I have thoroughly enjoyed it. The majority of the time, I get up and I think, ‘I’m going to work and I like it a lot.’”
“I have been lucky and successful through hard work and by being in the right place at the right time but you do have to work hard. When I started I would work from seven in the morning to two to three the following morning.”
One question that OM wants to know is what would his 17 year old self, a teenager working in France, make of the man who has gone onto to create such a successful company? Mark pauses and looks deep in thought and contemplation. Eventually, he looks up at OM and says, “That person would have been really impressed and surprised and shocked as I was never the cleverest at school.”
“My grades were C / D and everything in business has been self taught. My wife refers to me as ‘The Sponge’ as I never stop absorbing information and am always learning.”
Earlier this year, the team launched Type the Hype, a publisher network that makes blogger outreach simple, powerful and measurable. A blog post is an evergreen piece of marketing and is an authentic brand ambassador, there to endorse a product every single time a potential customer searches for the brand.
Optimus are offering brands the chance to work with their database of great creative talent who are experts in what they write about; who write credible and unique content with real value to their brands: www.typethehype.com
With so much achieved for this Plymouth entrepreneur then it looks like Mark Russell is the name to keep an eye on as his businesses continue to expand and grow.