From student life to luxury

Marketing agency founder Lucy Jackson tells Hannah Langworth how she built her distinctive business and what's new in the luxury sector

Lucy Jackson really wanted to be an actor. "I read English at Exeter, and drama was always my passion and what I thought I'd go into." But doing a master's at RADA led her in a different direction: "I needed to pay for my course and living expenses, so I started doing promotional work for companies sponsoring events. At one I started chatting to this guy about the product and what the company was doing at the event. I was fairly critical, but in a professional way."

Goose that laid the golden eggs

It turned out that he owned the product - Grey Goose vodka - and it was here that Lucid, Lucy's business offering brand consultancy services to companies in the luxury sector, was born. The client suggested they exchange details, and Lucy seized her opportunity: "I sent him some details of what I thought of the brand and the kind of opportunities they should be involved in. I offered to negotiate and run their sponsorship of an event I knew was coming up that I thought would be right for them. That went well, and my business started from there."

Lucy gradually grew Lucid, running it alongside temping and studying for the first couple of years - "working at night, furiously sending emails in my lunch break" - and was eventually able to work on it full-time and start employing freelancers to help out. Today, it's a successful fully-fledged branding agency with some serious big-name clients in the luxury sector, including Cointreau, Emporio Armani and diamond company De Beers.

Along the way, the business model changed. "I was giving more and more strategic advice at clients meetings - who the consumer of a product was, what the brand should be doing, what the marketing plan should be for next year. The senior people I was talking to might have amazing academic qualifications and strategic brains but didn't often go out and see consumer behaviour first hand." So Lucy decided to shift her business to match her strengths, as an agency that not only set up and ran sponsored events for clients, but also came up with the strategic concept behind the client's involvement in these events and their branding in general.

In doing so, Lucy was able to turn what might have been regarded as a disadvantage - her young age and the fact that she had more experience of the arts and media worlds than the business one - into a strength. This ability to tap into the zeitgeist is still at the core of what she does: "It's about going to the areas where things are up and coming, hanging around in bars, restaurants, shops, clubs and concept stores. It's about understanding what's interesting, how it's going to develop, and how it's going to influence traditional stores or bars." Of course, the research that Lucy and her colleagues do involves a bit more than drinking and shopping - you might also find them reading market research or trends reports, or doing detailed analysis of what their clients' competitors are doing.

Made in Peckham

But ultimately Lucy thinks that "you either get luxury brands or you don't. And that's not to do with background, or where you live, or what brands you buy yourself." So how does Lucy see the luxury sector? She thinks it's important to understand that luxury brands belongs to a special category in the consumer mind that transcends their specific product - for example, a drinks company should aim to be seen as "a luxury brand, not a luxury whisky brand, and to treat itself in a specific way that sets itself apart from the rest of its sector."

So how does Lucy put her theory about the luxury market into practice for clients? She uses her work for her first client, Grey Goose, as an example. "We made sure all their staff at events were extremely well-educated, spoke eloquently, and were styled in an elegant and understated way. My view is that for a luxury brand less is more, and the brand should be integrated into a complete luxury experience." More recent work has included setting up a pop-up urban cinema to promote a premium tequila company, and creating a buzz around a new Campari bar in the unlikely setting of a multistorey car park in Peckham.

Lucy tips us off on what she thinks are two of the biggest growing trends in the luxury sector right now. First - provenance and heritage: "You're seeing brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton focusing their ad campaigns on things like artisans in workshops physically making bags." Second is an increased attention to social concerns: "The market's asking if a product is socially and environmentally friendly, if it's justifiable luxury - you can see brands like Stella McCartney responding to this."

And what are Lucy's own plans for the future? She admits that her Lucid work has its frustrating aspects: "The downside is that we don't have any ownership in the end of what we've created." Also, she finds it disappointing that the cutting-edge concepts her team comes up with are sometimes diluted by clients before execution. Lucy is currently looking into a couple of product ideas of her own and, though she's keeping quiet on the details, we're confident that her new website and food sector concept will be distinctive, very cool - and profitable.

Want to set up your own business?

Here's Lucy's advice

  • Be prepared to do everything yourself at the beginning: "I used to do all the deliveries for my events - I didn't want to pay a courier company when I could earn extra income by doing it myself."
  • Find a business partner: "Bring someone on board with complementary skills in a different area - you'll get things done a lot faster and you'll make fewer mistakes because you'll have someone thinking things through in a different way."
  • Find a mentor: "Through working together, I became good friends with someone from another agency who'd also set up a business at a young age - he gave me many words of wisdom and advice."
  • Consider a business course: "Doing so would have helped me at the beginning with accounting and administration."
  • Make sure you're charging the right rates: "Understand that you can charge by value as well as by volume - you could charge £100 per hour you work, but if you manage to make a client £1 million, it might be appropriate to charge a percentage of that instead."
  • Reject work if it doesn't fit your vision: "I turn down work if I don't think a client's idea is going in the right strategic direction for their brand. I want to retain the integrity that's helped me build my business."