The making of Jam: the social specialist has spread well under Engine

By Arif Durrani, campaignlive.co.uk, Tuesday, 21 June 2011 08:45AM

It's been little over a year since i-level's Jam was rescued from the administrators, and certain oblivion, by a savvy Engine Group, and the social media specialist has thrived under its new auspices to more than three-times its previous size.

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Based on the deceptively simple premise of helping brands take advantage of the ever expanding digital world, Jam was the only division of i-level to be rescued before Zolfo Cooper reminded us all just how hard-nosed administrators can be.

In a week that sent shockwaves through the media and marketing communities, 10 year-old i-level fell into administration and then liquidation within three days, more than 90 jobs were lost.

Jam was acquired by the Engine Group during that same crazy time in May, sealed within the 24 hours between administration and liquidation.

There has since been suggestions that Engine chairman Peter Scott had tabled a deal to acquire more of i-level’s operations, but the move had been rejected for being less attractive and commercially secure than outright liquidation.

I-level’s chief executive Stephen Rust said at the time: "On Tuesday we had two solutions on the table that would have been delivered within the next couple of weeks. Tuesday the administrators were appointed.

"Tuesday someone entered the madhouse, picked up a large gun and delivered effective and total destruction."

Through the acquisition of Jam, i-level’s only standalone division, Engine was able to save 23 jobs and gain an exciting business responsible for social media campaigns for the likes of News of the World, Renault, Comet and Next.

One year on, using whatever yardstick you like to judge the business on, the conclusion must be that Jam has continued to prosper as an individual entity within Engine’s broad church of agencies.  

Testament to the success of the transition is that not one member of the original team has left the company. Furthermore, and of more tangible value, not one client has left Jam either.

In fact, during the last 12 months, Jam's managing director Alex Miller and his team have extended relationships with tech giant Samsung to include its global duties, as well as add new business from both Sky and Odeon, and gain project work from Microsoft.

It has resulted in revenues rocketing by more than 350% and Jam's team expanding from 23 to 70 people.

By focusing on the role social media can play across the entire customer journey, from first contact through to purchase interaction and post-sales service, Jam’s services today span social local, social commerce, social mobile, social search, social TV and social gaming.

Those within the agency remain resolutely optimistic ahead of its four year birthday this year. The only warning, if any were needed, would be in finding parallels with its ambitious forebearer, and one-time trail-blazer, i-level, a decade earlier.

Alex Miller, managing director, Jam

"Wednesday 5th May 2010 - the day i-level went into administration, shocked all of us. I’d spent nine happy years there and in the last three years had started Jam.

"We had a new model; a business built for social media and we were doing great work for some big brands such as Samsung, Renault, News International and Next. We had built up a team of 20 brilliant people, all from very non-traditional backgrounds who not only got social media but who were a big part of it – influential bloggers and commentators in their own rights.

"So in the next 48 hours, whilst the administrators were crawling all over, we received lots of offers from agency heads. But one offer stood out from the crowd – Engine. A genuinely unique proposition that would allow Jam to flourish; maintaining it’s own identity whilst benefiting from working alongside some of the best agencies in town. 

"We signed the deal with Peter Scott on Thursday 6th May, gave everyone Friday off and then started in our new Engine offices on the Monday.

"And it was the right decision... Our proposition has moved on significantly. We have developed our own proprietary technology called JamTrak, a tool that our team of customer services experts use to manage client’s reputations online. 

"We have a PR and blogger relationship team who ensure we have the best contacts with influencers on the web. We have invested in Mobile and have a brilliant team who explore location based marketing and the link between social and mobile for our clients. And we have a very talented team of developers who spend a lot of time playing around with code and creating IP for us. 

"And on top of all this we get to tap into the wealth of experience and expertise that sits within Engine, whether that’s events, sponsorship, production, DM or management consultants. Jam’s mission is to continually reinvent - in the space we operate in we can’t afford to stand still. This means the next 12 months at Engine is likely to be more exciting and challenging than the last."


Where are they now?

As the UK's economic recovery remains fragile, and redundancies and group restructures still loom large over many in 2011, the resilience and re-emergence of i-level's wider staff is proof that life continues.  

Below is just a cursory list of those we know still in the industry. If you are a former i-level employee and would like to be included here we’d like to hear from you.

Andrew Walmsley – founder of I-Level – now non-exec director of MediaEquals & Cognitive Match, as well as contributor to Marketing magazine.
David Pattison – formerly non executive chairman of i-level – continues to consult and most recently got a ring on Maxus' chief executive Lindsay's (nee Weedon) finger.
Stephen Rust – formerly CEO of I-Level – consulting for TBG.
Mark Creighton – formerly managing director of i-level – now COO of Mindshare UK.
Martin Lawson – formerly head of data at i-level – now global data & insight director at Maxus.
Nik Holgate – formerly group finance director at i-level – now CFO of Fjord.
Natalie Mead – formerly new business and marketing director at i-level – now new business and marketing director at Manning Gottlieb OMD.
Tom Dunn – formerly planning associate at i-level - now digital strategy director at Maxus.
Kirsten Miller – formerly account director at i-level – now digital client director at Maxus. 
Steven Ray – formerly account director at i-level – now digital strategy director at Starcom Mediavest
Oli Newton – formerly head of emerging platforms at i-Level – now head of emerging Platforms at Starcom Mediavest
Ed Turner – formerly head of media at i-level – now managing director of Gum (part of Grand Union)
James Miller – formerly HR director at i-level – now vice president of Human Resources at MTV
Sarah Pace – formerly a GAD at i-level – now a business director at MEC

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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