Suspend a global pop star from a helicopter. Check. Dress 100 sheep in cardboard costumes. Check.
When it comes to pulling off creative ideas, Marie Owen is your go-to leader. Founder of the award-winning production services company, LS Productions, she is the advertising and film industry’s real-life dream-maker.
Since starting the business in 2006, Marie has worked with the likes of Harry Styles, Meryl Streep and Marcus Rashford. But it hasn’t all been celebrities and glamour. “I’d never run a business before,” she says. “And there were some steep learning curves. I didn’t take a wage for at least four years. But there was always a hunger within me to do more and be better.”
Learning from experience
This mindset is what’s brought Marie and LS Productions to where they are now. The UK’s largest production company with three offices, 31 employees and a wider team of around 1,000 trusted freelancers. It’s a far cry from the kitchen table where everything began.
“Back then it felt like we took one step forward and three steps back,” says Marie. “Initially, I had a business partner involved but it quickly became clear that, when it came to running a business, our values weren’t the same. So that was quite messy for a while. And I made some silly decisions, like having four equal shareholders, all with 25% of the business. That meant it was really hard to move things forward. But although it was difficult at the time, I wouldn’t change those experiences for the world because I learned so much.
“Once I was in charge of my own destiny, it seemed to get easier. There were still big decisions to make, but I was making them and taking things in the direction that I wanted them to go.”
Not only was Marie making the decisions, but she was also involved in the nitty-gritty. From marketing (in her words “put everything out there and don’t give up”) to project delivery, she was getting her hands dirty, and learning about her customers and their demands in the process.
“I loved that time, the good and the bad. I’d get so excited by every enquiry, every project we delivered. But I lived through the pressure and the stress too. It means I learned what it’s like out there at the coal face and got to understand what my customers really wanted.”
With a background as an air hostess, Marie already appreciated the importance of good customer service and her stint on the front line cemented what she knew. “Excellent customer service is vital, at all levels. Your team is the face of your business and you have to be able to trust them to deliver.
If things go wrong and are put right, a customer is something like 65% more likely to return to that business than if things went smoothly in the first place. That ability to rectify a situation builds trust in a brand.”
It’s where the company value ‘we are sh*t hot’ comes from. Marie explains: “Being sh*t hot isn’t about being perfect. It’s about striving to be the best every single time. It’s pulling out all the stops and delivering even when the odds are against you. It’s about being able to sit back at the end of the day and be proud of what you’ve achieved.
“That’s what I’ve wanted right from the start. I’ve always been acutely aware that we’re only as good as the job we’ve just done, so we have to excel on each and every project. That’s success for me – not working with the biggest budgets or the most famous stars but creating an end result that’s the best it could possibly be.”
Being sh*t hot isn’t the only bold statement that Marie stands by. There are four other company values, all equally forthright, including ‘we are people people’ and ‘don’t be a dick’. “I wanted our values to mean something,” she says. “Lots of companies say they’re honest and have integrity, and to me, those are the absolute basics not something to aspire to. Our values might be blunt but they get to the heart of what we’re about and they are woven through everything we do.
“We even have the ‘Bare LS-ities’, which were developed by the team to explain how the values manifest themselves in practice. ‘I’m a friend’ or ‘I will listen’ – they’re real and tangible.”
This sort of straight-talking epitomises the culture of LS Productions, a culture which Marie says she’s worked hard to cultivate and now works as hard to maintain. “Tweaking and communicating our values is probably the biggest part of my role now,” she says, “because our personality must show in every part of the business, at every point of contact, in every piece of communication.
“I found it hard to step back from the project delivery at first, but I’ve seen first-hand how someone can stifle a business by being too controlling. I have an outstanding team and I know that if I want to get the best from them I have to allow them some autonomy and to make their own decisions. So my job now is to paint a picture of my vision, share my plan of how to get there and then let them get on with actually doing their jobs.
It’s this approach that has allowed LS Productions to deliver 70 different productions in the past year, despite the whole team working remotely and with Covid restrictions in place. “That was only possible because we had the culture, communication and connections already set up,” explains Marie. “I didn’t have to worry whether people were being productive, I knew they were – because they want to be sh*t hot just as much as I do.”
Having weathered the Covid storm, Marie is now preparing for the next phase of the pandemic and beyond, and she is anticipating exponential growth as travel restrictions lift and business booms. “We’re already having conversations with some big names,” she says. “There are huge opportunities out there, and we’ve got a very clear roadmap for further success.”
Now that’s going to be one exciting journey and it sounds like Marie and her team are more than ready for what’s to come…