The Story of Honchō
In 2008, our founder, Chris Ailey, left his role as Search Marketing Manager at PC World with an impressive portfolio of SEO and PPC results to start up an agency of his own that he called iThinkMedia. His first client was baby retailer Mothercare and was closely followed by several other high profile client wins including Blacks Leisure Group, National Express and ASUS which set the tone for the size of brands we work with.
Within two years the agency had grown to a team of eight and moved to our current offices – a converted barn and Stables in the Hertfordshire countryside. Now well established, we are now a team of 30+ search marketing specialists and have served 100+ brands over the last decade of so improving their presence in search engines and across social media.
However, while we were busy honing our skills and working with giant brands like eBay, Gumtree, WWE and Mothercare, the world of digital marketing was evolving around us at a staggering rate.
We knew that we had to adapt; to push ourselves forward and prevent becoming lost in the crowd of search marketing agencies around us that all looked and sounded the same.
Knowing when to let go
When iThinkMedia turned 10 years old in September 2018 it was time for a change, so we took a leap of faith. We tore down our established brand of over a decade to build ourselves back up again. Literally. To make sure there was no going back, Chris took a sledgehammer to the boardroom sign, symbolising the end of iThinkMedia and the start of something new.
“We all fear the unknown. You can either stay in the shadows or embrace fear and use it to drive you forward. I was determined to create something special, I wanted to create a brand that had meaning; something I could be proud of and excited about.”
Chris Ailey, Founder and CEO
Out with the old, in with the new
A new logo and a website redesign was never going to be enough – we had to think big. We had to create a whole new identity for ourselves as an agency, starting with a new name. iThinkMedia had served us well, but it was dated. We wanted something strong, striking and just a little bit quirky.
For the best part of a year, our Founder worked with Creative Director Kevin Russell to create a new brand and the outcome was Honchō. It derives from the Japanese term ‘hancho’ meaning ‘group leader’; a term brought back to the US by servicemen stationed in Japan during the occupation following the Second World War.
We want our team to show leadership at all times – we never micro-manage. To succeed in business you need a team of drivers, not passengers on the bus. You have to be brave, push outside your comfort zone and take risks.
After countless meetings, good ideas, bad ideas, concepts and designs, we had it. Firstly, we had to get the whole company behind our new brand. Changing our name was seen as a huge risk but once everyone saw the new concept and branding it was clear we were doing the right thing.
The birth of a new brand
On May 22nd, 2019, we officially re-launched as Honchō, celebrating with a garden party for all our clients and friends. There was great food, live music and a fantastic response from everyone who attended as we unveiled our new brand to the world.
It was also a chance for us to show off our newly-refurbished offices. Our location has always been unique, but we wanted to make the home of Honchō even more special, so we joined the adjacent Stables to The Old Barn and styled our reception as a boutique shop, complete with a range of Honchō clothing.
This was a huge milestone for us and the Honchō boutique is a reminder of how far we’ve come in just over a decade. If you’re ever in the area, swing by and pick up a piece of Honchō apparel for yourself!
A learning curve
Becoming Honchō has taught us a lot of lessons, but it’s also brought a positive change that’s left us feeling fresh and energised. With a narrower focus, it’s easy for us to identify where we need to grow, to set goals and exceed our expectations. We took a risk, and it more than paid off.
Find out more about how our specialist services can help your business accelerate its digital growth.
“Rebranding our agency was a personal journey and I learnt many lessons along the way. It allowed us to really break down what was important to our business and what we stood for, but more than anything it was about making us as good as we can be.”
Chris Ailey, Founder and CEO