unLTD’s Ash Birch spoke to Jackie Cook, founder of South Yorkshire-based marketing agency, CQ Strategic Marketing, to talk about her journey from leaving school at 16, to running her own successful marketing agency, receiving a Master’s degree in marketing, and helping shape the future and diversity of local STEM industries…

Jackie is a familiar face on the Sheffield business scene. Many of our readers will already know her as an enthusiastic force of nature, banging the drum for both her day job in marketing, and as an advocate for equality in the STEM industries she works in.

Today’s meeting is held at her office in Moorgate Crofts Business Centre, in Rotherham, and after a brief tour and a few quick snaps with our photographer, we settle down for a chat about what she’s been up to recently. True to form, this morning Jackie is a whirlwind of information and personality, and she’s keen to tell us about an event coming up later this month that falls into all of her roles within marketing, equality, and the future of the industries she’s passionate about.

Jackie Cook

The Get Up to Speed with STEM careers showcase is an annual, one-day showcase event which aims to introduce students, parents and teachers to the world of work in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Manufacturing (STEM) sectors. Organised by The Work-wise Foundation, an employer-led charity who support the development of young people, the huge event welcomes over 5,000 attendees to Magna on Wednesday, 20th March.

Jackie worked alongside Work-wise in a marketing capacity for around four and a half years, from October 2015 up until the pandemic, and tells us they’ve ‘been on a journey’, which continues to this day with their work on the branding of the charity’s events. Part of that work has been to help change what people’s perceptions of manufacturing is. Jackie explained: “I have an issue with the film The Full Monty. The reason being, it portrays a bad image of manufacturing; it’s closing down, there’s no future in it, and it’s grim up North!

“As a film, it’s fantastic, obviously, but we need something that portrays a positive image of manufacturing because since then, Sheffield Forgemasters have had massive investment, so-called ‘mucky manufacturing’ is expanding, and they need skills.

“But then you’ve had businesses like Rolls Royce, Boeing and McLaren come to the city. So, you’ve got all that expansion in new technology in a ‘clean manufacturing’ environment. I mean, some of those you could practically eat your dinner off the shop floor!

“It’s how we shift that perception of what manufacturing needs, and what types of jobs there are. It’s not just the shop floor roles, we also need Project Managers, HR, and Marketing. There’s also diversity in the different types of engineering – it’s civil, it’s mechanical, it’s electrical, it’s nuclear, and we’ve got all of that in South Yorkshire. I get really fired up about this!”

“We need to create role models in order for people to see it to be it. If kids can’t see that it’s possible to be a woman in engineering, we’re not going to get the next generation.”

That passion translates into her efforts to spread this message throughout the region and one way to achieve this is through The Work-wise Foundation and their events. Jackie, along with Gaynor Carr, a Senior Designer with CQ Strategic Marketing, have been pivotal in making the charity’s work a success.

The reasons for CQ Strategic Marketing’s success with Work-wise, and indeed their lengthy list of clients, can be found in their experience and passion for the industries they work in, as well as their desire to learn about their client’s businesses.

Founded in 2012, the journey to Jackie setting up her own business was far from traditional. Leaving school at 16, she signed up at Chesterfield College on a secretarial course and became an office junior at 17 at a manufacturing firm. Here, she learned a broad overview of the admin of a business, which she tells us gave her a good grounding for what came later.

She then moved to Sheffield in her early-20s when she was made redundant, and took a job at accountants PKF, where she worked for nine years. Starting out as a secretary, by the time she left she was a Marketing Exec with two Chartered Institute of Marketing qualifications and a Master’s in Marketing Management from Sheffield Hallam University.

“It was a big thing for me.” Says Jackie, “That’s where I moved into marketing, and the company supported me with all the qualifications.”
Despite still working from the very same desk here in her new office (she baggsy’d it when PKF moved offices and were clearing out), she left PKF in 2008, just after the financial crash, as she felt it was time for a new challenge. This is when she moved back into the manufacturing industry, but this time in a marketing capacity.

“Most kids are like this, but I remember my mum saying that I always asked, ‘but why?’, and I get the impression that I kind of still do. I get to go into businesses and ask why?”

She went from being part of a larger marketing department to being the marketing department at heavy engineering firm DavyMarkham, which was a ‘scary’ prospect and a very different environment to what she had become accustomed.

She said: “It was a big change, but I fell in love with it. I really enjoy finding out about what they did. The beauty of working in manufacturing is they’re making things, so you get to go out and talk to the guys and go, ‘what does that do?’, and ‘why?’ and, ‘how does that work?’.

“Most kids are like this, but I remember my mum saying that I always asked, ‘but why?’, and I get the impression that I kind of still do. I get to go into businesses and ask why?, what product or service do you provide? Who to? Why do you go that route to market? Why do you stand out from your competition?”

When DavyMarkham was sold, she took a job at a valve manufacturer, which was part of a large international group. The role was based in Staveley, and as a result, Jackie felt removed from the Sheffield community she loved being involved in. That combined with a culture that didn’t suit Jackie’s style, led to Jackie taking the bold decision to set up her own marketing company as a sole trader. She spotted a gap in the market to help SME manufacturing businesses in South Yorkshire that didn’t have their own in-house marketing, and after discussions with people she had worked with, she went for it.

“It was scary”, says Jackie, “but I did it with enough behind me that I knew I could cover my bills for a year and give it a go. I set out, and this is what we’re still doing, working with owner managed SMEs across South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire, who haven’t got in-house marketing.

Jackie Cook

“We try to work on a retainer basis, so it’s businesses that need that ongoing support but don’t want somebody full-time. I’ve been on the other side of it, where we’ve had marketing consultants, or PR consultants working for us and occasionally you get an invoice at the end of the month and go, what did we really get for that?

“I didn’t want to be in that model, where we set up a marketing agency, we get an office and have meetings with clients. I wanted to be on the ground, with the clients, understanding their business.”

Initially, she worked from her dining table, which is now home to the kettle in her office, and physically worked from the company’s sites, a practice she continues to this day. Clients appreciated this proactive approach and it also meant Jackie got a real feel for each business.
Jackie continued: “Clients don’t always remember to tell you what you need to know. By working on site, you get to know them better and vice-versa. You become part of the company, and from their point of view there’s a transparency.

“It’s worked really well. One of my first retainers was Rollem in Barnsley, and I worked with them for nearly 10 years. I was happy that I’d made the right decision and quickly got back into the Sheffield business community that I loved.

“There were a few months of slogging it out, but I was putting the plan together, I built myself a website and figured out what it was I did.

“I still had major doubts but fortunately, I had a great network behind me that believed in me and supported me, and that helped massively.”

Around 18-months in, Jackie decided she wanted to become a limited company and needed a rebrand as she wanted to add ‘Strategic’ to the name of the brand, in an effort to help clients understand the strategic thought processes that came into the marketing that she was offering. This is when she met graphic designer, Gaynor Carr.

“That was another big part of the journey”, says Jackie, “We met in Caffe Massarella, in Meadowhall, and we actually went back for lunch for our ten-year anniversary. We do like a tea and cake – it’s fundamental to our creative process.

Gaynor Carr, Senior Designer,

“We really hit it off, so we began going out as an offering together, with Gaynor doing the design and print work.”

With a team beginning to take shape, another strand of the business developed; equality, diversity and inclusion became more and more fundamental to what Jackie wanted to do.

“I’ve always worked in male dominated sectors,” says Jackie, “so when I set up in business, I joined Barnsley and Rotherham Chamber, and they recommended I got in touch with Jackie Freeborn, who was chair of The Women in Business Committee.

“That was about trying to put more women on boards and senior management positions. I’ve had it in previous roles where I was one of only three women in a senior management team of 15. Even now, I can quite often be the only woman onsite.”

“We need to create role models in order for people to see it to be it. If kids can’t see that it’s possible to be a woman in engineering, we’re not going to get the next generation.

“I try to raise awareness of the issue. Last year, we did an event and raised £700 for the Master Cutler’s Challenge, which was all about putting more into equality and supporting disadvantaged communities.

“Diversity is not just about gender, it’s also about neurodiversity, LGBTQ+, race. I started with gender because as a woman in STEM, I know what problems I’ve had, but five years ago I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, so I have some understanding of the issues that people with neurodiversity might have.

“Traditionally, engineering, manufacturing and construction have been very white male dominated sectors with a stereotypically lads culture, that is changing. I am passionate about our manufacturing and construction sectors which have interesting and varied range of career opportunities and a skills shortage. We need to continue to attract more diversity to continue to grow and innovate UK engineering, manufacturing and construction industries.”

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