Lockdown baby: The birth of a Rascal

Self-confessed media nerd Rachel Leyland talks exchanging big-agency life for her own indie start-up.

When did the idea of starting your own media agency come about, and why?

It was March 2020, in the midst of the first lockdown. Like a lot of agency folk, I was feeling the grind of being too stretched, under-resourced and racked with guilt that I wasn’t doing my best work. Then Covid hit and shit hit the fan, creating extra stress and work, which was the straw that broke my back.

I’d been marinating on the idea for a while. The thought of putting energy into my own clients and business felt much more motivating, along with the freedom to choose who I work with and on what terms. Also, stress often sparked anxiety for me, so I wanted to prioritise my mental health. 

Looking back, I don’t know how I did it. I started the business from my lounge in lockdown, while navigating a full house reno. Picture me surrounded by plaster dust, dodging power tools, my partner and kids, while taking Zoom calls. It was an absolute cluster!

You position Rascal Media as providing ‘Big agency thinking. Small agency service’. Tell us more about that…

Given their larger overheads, it’s hard for the big agencies to service and make a profit from small to mid-tier clients, so you often end up with junior people running accounts, which isn’t always great. Plus, those young ’uns love to travel, so it can be a sushi train of account managers, resulting in lost IP and continuity for clients. Us smaller indies typically have lower overheads, and we don’t have to deliver profits back to overseas holding companies, so we operate more cost-effectively, which means we can provide more experienced business partners for our clients.

There’s also an extra care factor with us, given we’re often running our own businesses as well. We love nothing more than getting under the hood of our clients’ businesses so we can properly assess what’s going on and how we can help. Our relationships with our clients are everything and it’s more than just work – we love a good laugh along the way.

Rascal’s been in business for more than three years now – what’s your secret sauce?

Definitely relationships. After 20-plus years in the industry, I’ve been lucky to work with a lot of great characters, and I like to think I’ve built up a good reputation. When I started Rascal, I found connecting with ex-colleagues and clients key to drumming up business – as well as getting great advice, support and mentorship. 

We’re also more than just media nerds – we work with a network of fantastic talent, from creatives to PR, social, digi and tech experts, so we act like a conduit for a lot of our clients, pulling in other services as needed. 

I think our clients also value our approach. Our industry can be guilty of gravitating towards shiny, new things, but we’ll always ground ourselves in the data and marketing science of what works, while still applying a creative lens to our media.

What advice would you give to someone who’s looking to start their own agency?

  • Ensure you have savings to buy you time – ideally four to six months’ salary.
  • Get a good accountant.
  • Be savvy with your money. For example, work from home or a shared space, make your own website using free tools like Wix, etc.
  • Tap all your contacts for advice, leads and favours. 
  • Get a mentor.
  • Don’t underestimate the admin involved in setting up.
  • Be clear about your offering and then, you know, use those marketing skills!
  • Just do it. You’ll never look back. 

For more information, email Rachel at [email protected] or visit rascalmedia.co.nz.

This was first published in the March/April 2024 issue

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