In 2012, two years after being made managing director of Pigsback.com at just 29, Jenny Taaffe decided the time was right to start her own business. iZest Marketing Group now employs 12 people across two brands and is looking for opportunities to increase its team internationally, with a sizeable portion of its business already coming from overseas.
About Jenny Taaffe
Tell us about your educational and career background
I started working in the hotel industry at a very young age, so studying hotel management was my first choice. My ambition was to be a general manager of a 5-star hotel. Around the time I was finishing my degree I realised there were very few female general managers and the main reason for that was the unsociable hours, particularly if you have a family.
It was about then that I decided I should get a master’s to specialise in another discipline. I had always been creative, so marketing was a natural choice. I completed the MBS in Smurfit in 2001, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
During one of the guest lectures close to the end of my MBS I met David Bunworth, who had just taken up the role of marketing director at the Gresham Hotel Group. He asked me to call him and within a week had offered me a job. It meant that before I completed my final exams I had landed my perfect job – marketing exec for a large hotel chain.
I spent a fantastic couple of years working with Dave and Una Ryder, who are still to this day the most impressive marketing people I’ve met.
During my time with the Gresham group, the online world was starting to take off, and in the hotel industry I could see a fundamental shift in where the bookings were coming from. I had admired the Irish company Pigsback.com, which launched in 2000, and when they offered me a job I jumped at the opportunity. The job they offered me wasn’t that appealing (call centre manager), but I loved the brand, and within a week they had moved me into the job I really wanted, which was as an account manager. I thrived in Pigsback, and I got great support from the owner Michael Dwyer and my boss Gareth Lambe, who is now the head of Facebook Ireland. In my six-plus years with Pigsback I changed roles regularly and ended up as managing director of the Irish business at the age of 29.
Tell us about your decision set up iZest
I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart, and I think that’s why I did so well at Pigsback: it had a real ‘start up’ feel and attitude, and once you were delivering on your KPIs you had a lot of freedom. The environment really suited me as I’m very self-motivated. I think the only right time to start your own business is when it’s right for personal reasons. Economically, things were still very weak, but when you’re starting from nothing the only way is up.
What does the company do and how is it different from other marketing companies?
iZest Marketing Group has two brands – iZest Marketing and iZest Influence. At iZest Marketing we are a strategic marketing agency and we advise and support brands in the travel and retail industries on marketing strategy, creative, digital and social. About 70pc of our business is international and we now have clients in Qatar, Dubai, Copenhagen, London and New York.
Earlier this year a number of high profile people started contacting us for advice on their digital profile. As clients they didn’t ‘fit’ under the iZest Marketing business so we thought there may be a market for an agency that is specifically dedicated to their needs.
In May we launched iZest Influence, an agency that assists high profile individuals, including celebrities, sportspeople and business people, create or manage their digital profile, develop commercial opportunities and manage their reputation. We are the only agency that is offering these exclusive digital services to celebrities. The response we have received in the past few weeks has been very promising: everyone we have met so far has signed us up. We now manage fashion and beauty expert Pippa O’Connor plus a number of other well-known sports people, entertainers and business people.
How has the company progressed since you set it up?
We had steady growth in 2011 and 2012 and between 2013 and 2014 we grew 100pc and we are predicting 150pc growth this year. We have grown to a team of 12 based on Fitzwilliam Square, and we are looking for opportunities to grow our team internationally. My husband, Alan McGovern (BComm 2000) joined the business in 2012 and adding his technical expertise has been a big reason why the business has grown so much.
Do you have any other immediate plans for iZest or new sister companies at the moment?
We have another very big digital idea, but there aren’t enough hours in the day right now! We are always looking at digital opportunities, particularly ones that will disrupt a traditional industry.
How has your role changed over the last four years?
The last four years have been a whirlwind, and I’m still involved in most areas of the business. Alan handles the technical side of each project, and manages the finance and most of the staff. My focus is on sales, marketing and managing our client relationships, but as with all business owners, you end up getting involved in every area each day.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I’m a typical entrepreneur full of ideas, I move at a very fast pace and I’d hope I inspire some of our team with my energy and focus on giving the best customer service possible to every client. I don’t do detail or micro-management: I don’t have the attention span for it!
What is your philosophy in business and in life?
Always look on the bright side. Even after a bad day in the office, I’m very good at putting things in perspective and refocusing on the future. I’m annoyingly positive about everything.
Who or what are your greatest influences?
I’m really influenced by interesting people who take risks and I’m influenced by things I see when travelling for work. I go to London a lot and I always come back buzzing with ideas – I find London one of the most inspiring cities in the world. I’m also pretty influenced by my husband, because we spend almost every second of the day together!
What are your main tips or advice for success?
One of the biggest additions we made late last year was to take on a business advisor who we meet once a month. It has really focused our minds on how we grow and improve our offering. It’s great to get a trusted outside view of your business; it has helped us to change our business in so many positive ways.
What would you define as your main achievements to date?
Most recently iZest Influence has been a surprise to us all. It’s not a business we had in our plans in January, and it really shows how quickly things change in business. Creating and growing the iZest brand and the team over the past few years has been fantastic, and I’m very proud of what we have achieved. To be honest it doesn’t even feel like we have really got started, we have a lot more to achieve over the next few years!
Do you have any future plans inside or outside iZest?
I have so many plans I can’t keep up with myself! I’ve lots of other business ideas, in various industries, and they will all happen when the time is right. I’d also like to do more travelling as my boys get older and possibly live abroad.
What are your main interests outside of work?
My kids! They are two and four, so they are full on, and every second that I’m not working is spent with them. I also adore hot yoga and try to go twice a week – it’s my little bit of sanity in an otherwise hectic life.