Why I started itison

Oli Norman , Founder & CEO

We started itison in 2009. Every man and their dog was trying their hand at “deals”, so why did we do it and how the heck are we still around? We get asked that question every day, so here’s our CEO Oli to explain his reasons for getting into the world’s most competitive market.

Fundamentally, I got into this business because everyone else was doing it badly. Obvious (and dull!) PR campaigns littered the papers – who at least had some traction at that time – but all I could see was marketing without purpose, or effect.

With a little bit of funding (courtesy of a royal scandal and Piers Morgan – ask me when you meet me for the full story) I started my PR company, DADA, in 2002 with one purpose: to make PR less boring.

And we shook up the PR landscape across the UK with one simple idea: do things people care about.

Ask any PR or marketing company and they’ll tell you that’s what they’re doing… but are they?

Hilton Grosvenor launch. Who knew nudity was so popular?

We made our name with creative, unexpected approaches to marketing for the companies we worked with. We were best friends with the right editors and gave them stories they could actually work with (and that they couldn’t miss…)

We actually launched itison in 2002, but we were a little ahead of our time. Cast your mind back to 2002… Gareth Gates somehow made it to the top of the charts and most people weren’t too sure about giving their credit card details to Amazon.

We launched DADA events – a platform where you signed up to find out about the latest launch events in your area. We had developed a system to match the right customers to amazing businesses (the businesses we were working with) at the click of a button.

We built our database organically. People started talking about us and word of mouth spread our message further than we could have imagined. Being on the DADA guestlist was suddenly the most desirable option. We were exclusive and cool.

As a PR company, this was incredible – we had a solid database of people who wanted to know what was going on in their city, and we had clients who wanted those people.

And this is where it starts to go wrong. When you’re in demand as a PR company, it’s easy to take on the clients who’ll pay lots of money for access to your incredible database, your amazing ideas or your little black book of contacts. But we didn’t want that.

We had built an amazing community. Of people, of businesses, and of people who just wanted to have a great time and make money (and if we could combine those, all for the better!)

And we wanted to keep giving them what they wanted. So in 2009, I started itison.

Daily deals sites had started to appear – Groupon had started as MyCityDeal in the UK and a few others were cottoning on to the idea. But I knew we could do it better.

So we launched itison. I moved some of my key team over to the new business and took on everyone, from Groupon to some of the media teams we worked with every day.

We went back to the early days, and our members were now a bit more comfortable handing over their details on the web (thanks to Amazon for doing the heavy lifting there!)

We were local, we knew the businesses we worked with and we knew we had an engaged membership.

It snowballed from there – we continued to build our membership through the same targeting we’d always used: female professionals with money to spend who’d spread our message through word of mouth to their friends, family and colleagues and before we knew it we once again had the most powerful database in Glasgow. And then in Edinburgh. And then the whole of Scotland.

We’ve grown a lot since then…

But we still have the same starting point. Finding something that gets people excited, seeding it out to the right people and making sure it’s relevant to people who are local to your business.

I’ve learned a lot in my years of PR (and have loads of great stories to tell…) and when you work with us you won’t just work with my team – you’ll get direct access to me and itison directors.