A fast-growing North-East digital marketing company whose largest clients are 900 Domino’s pizza stores across the UK is recruiting as it looks to grab a bigger slice of the market.
Just three years after launching, Middlesbrough-based Viral Effect Ltd are on course for a £500,000 turnover, whilst looking to add to their 14-strong workforce.
Experts in social media management, digital advertising, customer engagement and data collection applications, Viral Effect have recruited three new members of staff since moving to bigger premises in Boho Four Gibson House in January this year.
But managing director James Pennington, pictured above (centre) with his team, is already targeting a £1m turnover in the next two years as the business looks to top its pizza base by providing its digital service to other business-to-customer sectors.
University dropout Pennington launched Viral Effect with his Hartlepool-based business partner Mike Racz in 2012.
They initially provided a digital marketing service to Racz’ eight Domino’s stores across the North-East coast, from Sunderland to the north to Scarborough to the south.
Pennington dropped his Teesside University studies in web development two years into the course to focus on the demands of his “all consuming” business.
The Stockton-born 26-year-old said: “My thinking was that I could always go back to university, but I needed to put in what felt like 22 hours a day to set up the business.
“I was working 9am to 4am every day, so there was no way I could continue my studies. It’s only recently I’ve tried to spend more time with my partner but even when I’m not in the office I’m contactable 24-7.”
As word spread of Viral Effect’s success in promoting the eight north-east stores, more Domino’s franchisees asked Pennington to support their business.
Now Viral Effect not only provide digital marketing support to 182 Domino’s stores but they also provide social media management and customer engagement services to 880 of the pizza giant’s stores across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
He recalls: “It was when other franchisees asked if we could do the same work for them as we were doing for those eight stores that Mike and I set up the business. We now have 30 franchisees on board.”
Whilst on a local level, Viral Effect’s work includes pushing sales, they provide a customer response service via Facebook and Twitter to their clients across the country.
Despite covering 91 hours per week – right through to midnight on weekends – they are setting new industry standards in response times.
The efforts of the Viral Effect team means 80% of all of Viral Effect clients’ inbound tweets are now responded to within two minutes, with 91% taking less than five minutes to get a response.
Pennington states: “We’ve raised the bar across the industry in terms of customer response. Not so long ago a well-known airline was crowing about their average social media response time of 34 minutes.
“Our clients expected to average less than half an hour – but I said ‘Why can’t it be under two minutes?’
“It’s down to the hard work and commitment of our staff that we’ve been able to achieve what we have. Naturally, we prioritise staff around high tweet hours. It is often full on but everyone loves it!”
Having already created The Whisper Code app for Domino’s in the UK and apps for Nando’s in India, Viral Effect are now managing the local online sales pages of the Slough, Stroud and Cheltenham stores of pre-owned tech retail giant CeX.
Already in talks with a major drinks outlet, Pennington is keen to create the Viral effect elsewhere and wants to talk to any businesses keen to improve their online customer engagement.
“I want Viral Effect to offer a market-leading service to other sectors. I’m confident we can help anyone who has a big focus on customer engagement, particularly B2C’s who are looking to communicate quickly to their customers who live increasingly in the digital world.
“Increasing numbers of businesses are now realising that they need to communicate with their customers and potential customers via social networks.”
Pennington, who is looking to recruit a business development officer, is keen to drive the business to new heights, saying: “We’ve come this far with no loans and no debts – we’re cash positive. But I’m never satisfied.”