Ten years of Hitch through the eyes of Gary Wootten

In a rare slot in the diary, Nick Godbehere, Director of Behavioural Insights, gets to ask Founder, Gary Wootten, ten questions on life at Hitch, to help mark Hitch’s tenth birthday.

1. So, you set up Hitch. Why?

Ha. Yes, I might have asked that question too, along the way.

The mission from the start has always been about a deep desire to enable organisations to fulfil their social missions. I have always called it ‘Behaviour Changed’, using social marketing best practice to enable the right social outcomes.

At the time, 2011, I was at a crossroads, leaving a social change agency with all the stripes, and war wounds, and thinking about my next step. I was an unusual blend of marketer, community worker and social activist. Throw in a business background, spending time with inspirational entrepreneurs, and a deep sense of what company culture should look like, and Hitch was born.

2. Where did the name Hitch come from?

For me, Hitch means a few things. A marriage, partnership, or a coming together of brilliant minds to solve social problems. It also means offering something to enable potential to be realised. A leg-up if you will.

‘Technical hitch’ pops up every now and then, with me correcting people “it’s technical glitch”. Today, it’s all light-hearted fun.

The name is pretty distinctive, upbeat and positive, which is how we like it. 

What the name Hitch means to our stakeholders is perhaps more important than what I think. Hopefully, it means something along the lines of ‘quality, ambition, results, fun’. P.S. tell us if it doesn’t, and we’ll try to fix it.

3. Do you think you have achieved what you set out to do?

And some, if you take a look at the original business plan! Our mission has stayed the same, even finding itself enshrined in our articles of association when becoming a BCorp a few years back. It goes along the lines of ‘funds sourced, projects managed, itches itched, behaviour changed’ and we find a way to evidence that more and more each year.

In the original business plan, the word ‘international’ had a question mark against it. That question still remains today. Do we go international? I think we’ve settled on being a UK agency, with services of international relevance, working on international issues. We’re keen to work with anyone, anywhere, that recognises that.

As for the finances, year 1 had us (me) on a £20k target (it felt ambitious at the time in the thick of a recession, believe me). Since then we’ve turned over £7m and the briefs are more ambitious than ever. I’d like to think our work has just begun, as there’s A LOT to do!

4. What have you learnt along the way?

So much! How to boil a kettle and eventuaaaallly end up with a tea round for colleagues…that’s a win for me. Getting my head around how on earth to recruit someone…that was scary…and fifty staff later the emotions are still there. Then managing an office, building culture, and that buzz you need that energises creativity. Overcoming stage fright at a team meeting, let alone as a keynote speaker at a UK social marketing conference. The journey has been immense.

Then there’s the day job. The way my time has changed over the years is no small thing. Full-time consultant to full-time business leader. None of it is easy, and a lesson comes with each and every experience.

Perhaps my biggest lesson has been linked to managing cashflow in a growing company. I’ve been resistant to being over-obsessed with money, trying instead to focus on the social mission with the belief the money will take care of itself. I probably flip that a little more these days. Investing in ourselves whilst fulfilling a social mission is a team thing that we all own and shape.

5. Sounds good. So what next for Hitch. What will the next ten years hold?

If we had a bucket list, it might include an office in Washington with a team working with the UN, or a longboat stationed on the Thames for staff and client use. Perhaps a team abseiling day bouncing off Liverpool’s Liver building in aid of charity (is that even allowed?). Whatever the list, the bucket will be big.

As for a plan, it’s always held with an open hand (the past ten years have taught me that) and, as a fine colleague once told me, ‘We’ll work it out’.

I’ve never written a ten-year plan, but if I did, it would be staff, partner and client ambitions that shape it. Here are ten pointers that I think would feature:

1. It will be an adventure;

2. It will be emotional;

3. Our work will be life changing;

4. We will enable communities locally, everywhere we choose to work;

5. We will co-design and create better;

6. We will play upstream (policy) and downstream (individual);

7. We will refine and always want more;

8. We will experiment;

9. We will do it together;

10. We will change behaviour for the social and sustainable good.

6. And achievements. Give us a Hitch high five, or ten?

There have been a lot. I’ll give you one high five, for starters:

1. Launching Hitch at the World Social Marketing Conference with a behaviour changed conference quiz. Professor Jeff French shared his score from the stage. The challenge was set, and Hitch was born (incorporated at 12 noon that day).

2. Flying from a focus group in Inverness to help win the Scotrail franchise, to a House of Lords gathering to celebrate the successes of Dry January. I was ready to retire at that moment.

3. The whole team travelling to London for a national awards evening and witnessing a client, with an award in hand, on the stage singing Hitch’s praises. It was emotional.

4. Looking back after eighteen months of pandemic and wondering ‘how on earth did we get out of that one’…team intact, business as usual, albeit virtual.

5. Travelling to mid-Wales to pick up a small box of snow. We gave it to an intern from Reunion Island who had never seen, never mind felt, snow before.  The snowball imprint on the wall created a special moment for all who witnessed it.

Everyone at Hitch has their own high five…or at least if they haven’t, they will do soon.

7. What makes Hitch different?

Tenacious. Competent. Enlightening. Intentional. Extensive. Consistent. Persistent.

Our clients tell us we ‘walk it and don’t just talk it’. And I’ve heard it across such a wide range of projects. Insight. Digital Intelligence. Branding. Social Marketing. Consultations. Engagement. Service design. Digital. Campaigns. So, it’s probably true. 

As for me, I think we try to keep ourselves pretty humble, very ambitious, with a social mission that keeps us focussed, pioneering, dynamic and grounded. A great recipe for partnering with clients and their stakeholders to enable social change.

8. If you could meet yourself ten years in the past, what single piece of advice would you offer?

“Just do ittt”.

9. And your biggest surprise?

Plan A has and does happen. We’re still going strong and are as ambitious as ever, on an adventure. Credit to the team! P.S. the last bit isn’t a surprise.

10. How would you sum up the Hitch story?

Well written. Educational. Highs, lows, twists and turns. On to the 10th edition. Next edition out soon.

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