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What I learnt... about getting old

David Burgman co-founded student marketing agency Raptor with former club promoter Jonathan Edwards in 2015. The business now employs 30 people directly - average age 24 - many of them former students who were paid to represent brands. Dave has decided he is too old to be the face of the business, but acknowledges that letting go is difficult...

I went to the University of Manchester and studied management, marketing, and did everything that a student then got involved with. You used to be able to buy a triple vodka Red Bull for £3. That was the norm every Monday. We’d go to bars on Canal Street and not remember the next day.

When we started the business, brands like Uber and Tinder were coming over from the US and needed acquisition. I was working for an experiential marketing agency in London and knew that I could get brands on board. Jonny, my business partner, knew the places to get the brands in front of students’ faces.

We’d hire brand ambassadors and put them into student nightclubs. They went around offering students free rides home with Uber, or told people to download an app for Deliveroo or Tinder.

When I was ten years beyond university it wasn’t too bad. But I knew my days were numbered.

The moment when I realised I was getting really old for this role was when we did a training day for our new student ambassadors in September last year. We brought them all to London, for ten different cities. I had done every single training day up to then, to meet the students and get the energy across about the agency and everything we do.

It’s the first time I looked out at the students and thought wow, I’m old. I feel old. It’s one of those strange businesses where I’m 37, then 38, then 39 and they’re 18, 18, 18. They never change. It is always constant. It’s an amazing demographic. It regenerates every year – a million new 18-year-olds every year. And you are always getting older.

That was a bit of a moment. I thought, should I still be doing these training events? Should I still be presenting them? Do I still come across as cool? Am I down?

That was the lightbulb moment.

There are little nuances that keep changing every year, like the language and the lingo, and I asked myself, am I going to keep changing with this? Everyone says “That’s peak”. I thought peak was good. Peak, for them, is bad. It means bad luck. Gassed is good, I’m excited, I’m pumped. That language changes every quarter of every year.

It means you can become old-fashioned very quickly in this space. We have event managers who travel about to different cities on a weekly basis to make sure that we’re still relevant with the audience and that we’re getting ambassadors on board who are current and have a good social following. A club promoter who is popular one year becomes unpopular the next year.

The ideals of students have changed as well. Initially there was a shift after lockdown: students wanted to make up for lost time, living for the moment, saying “yes”.

The 2022 students’ attitudes have shifted from carefree to more carefirst. It affects how they have fun. It’s not about nights worth forgetting anymore, it’s more about memorable experience.

I want to stay with it, but am I really authentic? I still eat meat and my idea of having fun is drinking until you can’t see any more. So I don’t conform to the ideals. Authenticity is key and students can see that. I wouldn’t want to put my agency at risk.

Have I been able to step back?

I am a bit of a control freak. It’s my baby. One area I have changed is the new business process. It’s the lifeblood of any business and I have always done it, attending all the meetings to build chemistry with a client right through to actually pitching it.

Now I have brought students through our training academy who have that sales experience. They do those chemistry meetings now. The students are the face, not me, so the brands can see the ideas we present are relevant. If I was a brand manager, I’d much rather be listening to a student who may have just graduated or is definitely within that 18-to-24 Gen Z bracket than me, who is 15 years past that now.

When I speak to other agencies they can’t believe that we’ve got a 21-year-old managing an international client that might be spending £200,000-£300,000. But it’s worked for us.

I know they’ve got the confidence and when speaking to clients, half the battle is confidence. As long as you can arm them with the right information and get a process in place of taking agendas, doing contact reports, your evaluation documents, then it works.

I’ve got no regrets at all.

It was a hard transition. The training days are now run by the lead on whatever the account is. But I’ll never stop in terms of dropping in and leading the bigger ones. It is an indulgence, definitely. I do like the limelight.

But I’ve been at this for seven years and done 60 training sessions. I know how to get the best out of a brand ambassador and know what they should be saying and how they should be presenting themselves. I want to make sure that’s right.


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