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Stop talking about trying to get a seat at the top table and just start eating, says Mark Stringer

“Basically I’m just one big contradiction”, says Mark Stringer, founder of marketing agency Pretty Green, as he describes how he is both pleased and disappointed with his achievements in our quick, ten-minute catch-up.

What did you want to be when you were a teenager?
Taller! Joking aside, I struggled whenever I was asked that question, and I still struggle now when I’m asked about the future. 

I toyed between being an astronaut, playing sport professionally and becoming a Royal Marine. The realisation that I was good at sport, but not exceptional, meant very quickly I realised none of those schoolboy dreams were going to happen.

The one dream that remained constant was about running my own business. However, I never had a clear idea about what that would be. I just always wanted my name above a door. 

Would your teenage self be pleased with the way things have turned out
On the one, hand yes. I’ve achieved the one thing I always dreamed of. Combined with the fact that as a teenager I was incredibly ambitious, materialistic and self-orientated. Winning was my driver. Those traits have softened with age, and having an incredibly supportive wife and family has given me a much more grounded outlook on life.

On the other, honestly, no. As teenager I dreamt of creating a brand and products that would be known throughout the world. But people who know me, also know one of my biggest failings is that I’m not very good at is celebrating success.

Basically I’m just one big contradiction.

How did you get your first break?
I was a sponsored management trainee for a kitchen manufacturer as part of my business degree, but my stepfather told me about an opportunity at Buena Vista (Disney), as it was looking for a placement student (I think that translated to, he knew the MD and asked if he’d mind interviewing me for a placement in the marketing team), as he knew I was really enjoying marketing. 

I went along for an interview, got offered the final placement in the marketing department, and seized the opportunity with both hands and never looked back. 

What is the best career decision you have made?
Once I’d decided that I was going to set-up my own business. I asked my wife (who I’d worked with previously) if she would take on the operation aspect of the business. She took on all the aspects of the business that I really didn’t enjoy, which enabled me to have the time to focus on the things that I loved (and was good at), alongside persuading Emma Grace to join me.

Any career regrets?
I struggle saying I’ve got regrets. There are things that I wish I hadn’t done, and certain things that I still cringe at now, many many years after doing them. But I’m the person I am today, because of the mistakes I’ve made, and I spend a lot of time thinking about those mistakes to make sure I don’t make them again. I look at them as a great source of inspiration and learning. 

Possibly I wished I’d have set my own business up earlier. But often you need the stars to align, and maybe earlier in my career I wouldn’t have been ready.

Why Pretty Green?
When I parted company with my previous business partners, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just didn’t want a boss. Just saying that to people meant a lot of doors closed. 

Whilst I was deciding what to do. Red Bull offered me a consultancy role, and whilst I was doing that Red Bull asked if I’d set up an agency to run its business. 

It was at that point that I realised that I could create a business that would enable me to do all the things that I wanted to do. 

What are the greatest challenges of your present role?
As the business grows, you realise that there are certain things that you need to step back from and relinquish control of, to enable people to grow. Whilst also ensuring that you keep doing things that you are good at and enjoy. 

What advice can you give to others in the communications industry?
Listen to your intuition, it’s normally right. Don’t fear failure, take that leap of faith. Stop talking about trying to get a seat at the top table, and just start eating.

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