The value of a mentor

By Lambros Atteshlis

I founded Glasshead in 1994 with the goal of delivering outstanding quality in television, media and (once the internet was upon us), digital content. Through hard work and persistence we built up a great reputation and have been very successful with factual programmes such as ’My Monkey Baby’ and ‘Stuttering School’ both for Channel 4. We have also won two interactive BAFTA’s again for Channel 4 most notably for ‘Homework High’, a free online service for kids, which also won two BIMA awards.

Our team at Glasshead is highly motivated and very talented. Fulfilling the role of managing director, I was very confident with the quality of creative work the company was doing, however, after we got our feet off the ground I was concerned that my lack of business background was holding the company back and would prevent us from reaching our full potential.

I heard about a mentoring programme being run by Nesta, targeted at creative companies like mine. The yearlong programme delivered by Nesta provides 30 creative companies with the exclusive chance of one-on-one mentoring; with an impressive line-up of well-known names in the industry as mentors, the opportunity was too good to turn down. Furthermore, there was no charge to join the programme – what did I have to lose? I applied with the aim of creating a more formal plan and a clear structure for the day- to-day practice of the company.

After successfully making it onto the programme we were paired up with mentor Alex Graham, CEO of Wall to Wall TV, and one of the leading producers of factual and drama based content. Having worked with him at Wall to Wall in the early 90’s, Alex was able to quickly grasp our goals and vision for Glasshead. He has a successful career under his belt with Wall to Wall, SHED Media (now under the Warner Bros umbrella) becoming one of the most innovative and thriving television producers in the industry.

Mentoring in action

After our first meeting we decided to focus on managing and expanding the business as well as improving various business processes in the company.

The mentoring relationship worked extremely well. I would usually set the agenda for our meetings, Alex then worked through this, offering advice and comments that would result in a set of actions for me to complete.

Going through the day to day activities with Alex really opened my eyes to aspects of the business that perhaps I didn’t pay enough attention to before. For example, I started to make better use of management information – such as company accounts and reports – to help inform strategic decision making.

Talking to Alex also helped me target priority markets. We started the mentoring programme before the recession hit but even then, there were signs that the economy wasn’t heading in the right direction so we identified other potential markets. Alex encouraged me to attend various events in other markets, including Realscreen in Washington, and gave me strategies to make contacts and find potential new avenues of work – all of which proved immensely useful.

The results

As a result of implementing the various strategies and Alex’s mentoring , we have worked with five new major clients in the last couple of years including Discovery, Al-Jazeera, CBBC and currently BBC World. Like many other companies our size, we have been affected by the economy and government cuts but I can honestly say that without the mentoring programme provided by Nesta it could have been a very different story. Ultimately, we’re in business because we diversified at the right time. One possible growth area for us is animation where we’re working closely with Cosgrove Hall Fitzpatrick Entertainment looking for alternative funding models for future content. As we’ve been shortlisted for two children’s BAFTA’s for our previous animation work, this feels like a good fit.

My tips for running a business

As Alex used to constantly tell me, running a media business isn’t brain surgery. Make sure you employ people who can sell ideas as well as hiring excellent creative staff. Relationships with clients are key to success so continuously work on that. Always keep an eye on your overheads and don’t delay in reducing them if the projects are slow in coming in. Set budgets, objectives and goals and then break them down to day to day tasks to make them manageable and achievable. Base important company decisions on information from management accounts and cash flow. Finally, it’s important to combine artistic satisfaction and profitability; this can be accomplished by using commercial projects to fund creative work.

I can’t stress the benefits of mentoring enough; having someone to guide you through the inevitable challenges of running a creative business is invaluable. With 10, two-hour sessions with your mentor over the course of 6-12 months, the Nesta programme helped build our confidence in growing our businesses. Having the ear of an industry guru to support you as you tackle challenges in the creative services can really make the difference between doing the same-old same-old and flying.

About the author and the company

Lambros Atteshlis is MD of TV and Digital Specialist Glasshead.

Established in 1994, Glasshead has built a reputation for consistently delivering to an outstanding quality. From unique one-off documentaries, entertaining childrens drama and accessible returning formats to stunning animation and innovative multi-platforming. Already acknowledged with a raft of awards including two BAFTAs, a children’s BAFTA, two BIMAs an RTS, the Japan Prize, an IVCA and the UK Future Internet award.

At the heart of Glasshead’s success is our people – a highly motivated, multi-talented team, dedicated to producing exciting, engaging and often breathtaking programming, refusing to settle for second best.

About Nesta Nesta is the UK’s innovation foundation, helping people and organisations bring great ideas to life, by providing investments and grants and mobilising research, networks and skills. Nesta is an independent charity, enabled by an endowment from the National Lottery.

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