How we built Barcroft Studios -Alex Morris and Sam Barcroft on THE BIG SWING podcast

  • - The FIVE most brilliant quotes from our podcast episode - *

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Listen to our full conversation by pressing play above ⬆️

Back in 2008, I was really struggling to cope.

I was five years into running Barcroft Media, my own photographic press agency.

But running Barcroft Media was incredibly challenging, and I knew I needed someone amazing to help me run the business.

By huge good fortune and persistence, I managed to convince the Picture Director of Closer Magazine, Alex Morris, to join the company.

And over the next decade, we worked together to pivot, build and sell the business.

I was the CEO - setting the direction of travel and pushing our team to achieve great things.

And Alex became Chief Creative Officer - driving our editorial and commercial growth, and creating the successful digital brands that led us to 70 million online followers and 500 million video views per month.

Having sold our business to Future Plc, both Alex and I left to pursue other projects in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

So it was a delight to come back together again, to reminisce on our amazing shared journey and to record this podcast.

Here are my five favourite quotes from Alex during the episode:

You can check out our conversation on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen

When Alex joined Barcroft Media, we made all our money from licensing words and photos to news media. But we then decided to open a TV production arm, and the industry didn't welcome us in with open arms:

In the press world, we were well respected. We knew everyone, we were well liked. In the TV world, we didn't have any of that, and all that press stuff counted against us somewhat.  At the time  the TV world was not particularly keen on us because of the way that we operated, which was so different to TV. That difference wasn't seen as a benefit or a virtue. It was seen as, they don't really know what they're doing. I always felt like we had to fight so much harder.

Once we started filming documentary footage of our exclusive news stories, we earmarked licensing to American news and entertainment shows as a key strategy, and it was down to Alex to develop them into key clients:

You'd go into these big New York offices and you'd see all these random people and they'd never heard of us.  It was exciting, but a bit soul destroying. And one of those trips... we had a video from Indonesia of the Smoking Baby. And it was this mad video... At four in the morning, my phone started ringing off the hook. All these people that I'd been going to see, it was just lucky timing. All these people I'd been seeing in New York were like, Oh, you've got that story.. So as a result of that, we had clients

And when we opened our very own TV production company and started winning documentary commissions, we took the big decision to move into a much bigger office space:

It changed our whole mindset; from a kind of hold on to what we've got mentality to a real growth mindset... Everyone was excited. It was quite a cool looking space... I remember walking in there.. And it lifted my spirits... Oh, we're really doing something.  The fact that it was too big and there's all this open space and we had to fill it.

When we committed to uploading one original documentary to YouTube every weekday in 2013, we knew it might cause us issues with cash flow later down the line. So we eventually decided to raise money from external investors:

At the time I couldn't see the positives, but in retrospect, it helped us learn how to communicate our business better. up until that point we'd found it quite hard to describe our business, like, what were we? We did all these different things, you know. We learnt how to financially report our business better, which became hugely valuable when we went entered the next process around selling the business. So I think there were there were lots of good things we got out of it. It just was a very hard.

And our unique business strategy became to leverage our original journalism and short-form content as an exclusive resource to grow our television production company:

At the beginning, linking short form to long form as a kind of structural or creative process was a black mark. It was considered low value, low rent, low quality and didn't really speak to to our creative potential from a client perspective. But actually, it then became one of our strongest suits. Maybe if we were of television backgrounds and we'd set up a conventional TV production company, we would have developed shows in a different type of way. But that's the business that we were.

Alex's insights were wonderful to hear - and if you're interested in how to disrupt an established industry, then I think this episode will be really useful.

Thank you so much to Alex Morris - get in touch with him on LinkedIn

Sam Barcroft

Sam Barcroft

Creative entrepreneur and strategist with over 30 years experience of building media businesses