Johnny Pawlik’s dad told him as a teen that to succeed in business ‘you have to be a shark, and you’re not a shark’.
But with Mantra Media he has become a pretty big fish in a lot of ponds, locally and internationally.
Operating with clientele in four continents, and offices in Sheffield, Kyoto and Tokyo, Mantra delivers digital marketing for businesses, charities and third sector organisations across the globe.
“My father was in business later in life when his company was taken from under him through no fault of his own, and I always remember that conversation we had and it’s probably why I stuck to consulting for so long,” said Johnny.
“Coming from a working class background, making money was difficult, it was case of make do with what you’ve got. So I had this kind of mental block about it which I had to challenge, and understand that if you’re making money, you can also make a difference.”
After spying opportunities for businesses with Facebook early doors, he set up Mantra with business partner Masatsugu Kuno, who runs the Japanese offices, in 2015 and has gone on to do just that.
“I was promoting brands and creating online communities in 2006 before social media really took off. No-one else was doing it, creating content talking to people as a human being. If you don’t see metrics, but see people you can communicate much more effectively.
“Other agencies were missing a trick – they weren’t thinking about the human aspect. They sold SEO and web services but would outsource because they didn’t have the technology, skills or knowledge to manage it themselves.
“That doesn’t sit well with me from an ethical point of view. Companies given the opportunity to improve the local economy by driving growth were wasting it because it was all about the money, not about the people. The impetus for me was to do something that was both and involved positive social change.
“First and foremost, put yourself in your customer’s shoes. If you can’t empathise with people how are you going to understand what resonates with them? If a company gives Mantra their money we want to ensure we have the people, skills and structures in place to not just deliver those services but monitor and maintain them, too and create a difference.”
And that ‘mantra’ starts in the workplace.
“I don’t like the word ‘job’,” said Johnny. “If you’ve got purpose and you’re doing something creative that you enjoy, it becomes a lifestyle rather than a job. If you can align someone’s role with a purpose, give them opportunities for training and growth then you’re doing a 360 in supporting people in life. Who you are outside the office should be who you are inside the office. There’s no difference.
“Some people might question some of my business decisions and say you’re crazy! But putting profit before people doesn’t work. Put people first and the profit will follow. It’d be hard to find another company that would turn down a potential client offering lots of money but whose values they didn’t agree with. The fact that we live by those values sets us apart in our sector and in the corporate world generally. You attract what you are.”
Which goes for the recruitment policy at Mantra, too.
“Our ambitions are very big but I’m mindful that it’s not growth at any expense,” said Johnny. “You can’t just be motivated by growth because it’s never ending. Similarly, the recruitment process can’t just be one more member of staff coming in. They have to be the right cultural fit.
“I liken our interviews to being a bit like Big Brother! Because just as you can’t keep up an act in front of the TV cameras 24-7, if the interview is natural and unscripted people start to forget the artifices of the set-up and instead relax and become themselves.”
An experience that social media manager Ellie Rogers can relate to.
“It was not like any interview I’d had before! I dropped all pretences, because it was very natural.
“Culture can be so hard to change but at Mantra the culture is what it is because of the strong foundations Johnny built it on from the beginning – those values are embedded, the culture is part of work, part of home. Everyone who comes into the office is valued, respected and trusted.
“You’re seen as a person not as a number, we all work together – it’s not a case of Team X are based in X Department. It’s totally collaborative, everyone working together, getting passionate about idea generation and sharing those ideas and the end product that is created is inspirational.
“I know from previous experience that’s extremely hard to find – the culture here is pretty special.”
New starter and social media executive Ally Boldan agrees:
“The interview was a really friendly atmosphere – instead of asking me what I can do, they chatted to me about what I’d already done with my photo portfolio and the ideas behind it.
“My first week was not so much dropping me in at the deep end but was ‘here’s your first client – take it and run with it and then we’ll see how we can help you improve and grow’.
“At Mantra they want you to be creative. They give you direction and support but also let you think for yourself.”
Independence is a recurring theme when I chat to mental health and wellbeing trainer and practitioner Dave Kneeshaw, too, who visits Mantra once a month to work with staff – or as Ellie puts it: “Dave works his magic! He helps you become your most efficient, most productive, best self.”
Said Dave: “My job isn’t to create the culture but to instil it and the culture at Mantra is not down to good fortune. The only thing you can’t train is values – you can’t train people to care about people.
“I hate wasted potential. When you’ve got a good team, the best leadership is to let people lead – the more you’re telling people what to do, the less independent you’re making them. Getting staff to be independent leads to greater creativity – they will bring ideas rather wait to be told. It’s not a process of dependence, it’s a process of INdependence.
“My work is a very organic process and it’s a trust thing. I’ll visit for maybe two hours and sit with the team and then decide whether the strategy should be personalised or unified for the group.
“It’s a two-stage process – one: believe in yourself. And two: application of that belief. Trust yourself that you are capable. And importantly, it’s not a clinical process – it’s fun!”
Johnny added: “It’s about listening to people, finding out what they enjoy and what the challenges are. How can we make things better for our clients and our team? To me it’s common sense, but, when it comes to staff development, common sense isn’t always so common.”