Touchdown Marketing: Gavan Stewart

Touchdown was started as a standard marketing agency, but evolved into something unique, an agency that puts brands together with other brands

There are niche companies, and then there’s Touchdown. In fact, they created the brand-to-brand marketing niche – or ‘a dating agency for brands’ as Chief Executive and founder, Gavan Stewart called the company. Started in 1998 off the back of a client’s recommendation, the concept is simple: they engineer the intro, broker the deal, and manage the relationship.

Stewart says that “a client I was working with phoned me to say he was moving jobs and said ‘I like you and your team, but I’m not particularly enamoured with the agency so what do you want to do about it?’… So I had a chat with him, and he said that I’ve got some business I can throw your way”. He eventually decided to look after the client independently, and it snowballed from there.

Before he actually started up or even went to the banks for funding, which he likens to jumping out of a plane, he says: “I managed to get some very good contacts and some potential new business opportunities”. He adds later on, that “rather than leaving anything to chance, I made sure that all of my contacts knew what I was doing, where I was and what service I was offering.”

Stewart describes it as “a complete culture shock going from an environment where everything was sorted and taken care of to having to do absolutely everything, as well as maintaining an image of stability and organisation”. He quickly learnt the need to prioritise, and that the most important things were cash flow and finance. At the same time, there was a need to adjust to the realities of business such as having enough available cash to pay suppliers and staff. He stresses that it’s important to pay suppliers on time, because it boosts your reputation considerably.

When it came to starting up, though, he found it incredibly difficult to get any capital from the banks, until “what can only be described as a fairly old-fashioned bank manager” gave him a £7,000 overdraft. Even that came with it’s own constraints, though, and it was the courage of his convictions that gave Stewart the impetus. Because he’d made provisions for getting clients beforehand, however, the restrictions of a small budget were not some harsh.

The forward planning served Stewart well, as he negotiated prompt payment terms with incentives to do so to raise some cash right from the start. He remarks: “that was just instinct, it was a way to survive because I didn’t have the reserves to tap into if people didn’t pay me”.

Although what Stewart was doing at Touchdown was just branching out from the marketing company he was already at, at first, the business evolved into something much more specialist. He took all the advertising and marketing knowledge he had and put it into the company, investing in it to develop the company.

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Whilst leasing office space with a friend from a web design agency, he says: “it was quite a natural fit for me to sell marketing services to his clients and it was a nice base for me to start out from”. A lot of business also came from word of mouth, referrals, and networking, but an alternative way to spread the word is by public relations as “a subtle way of getting across the fact that there was a new service available.”

By 2005, Touchdown had developed into a totally different type of marketing service from the original intentions. But that didn’t happen without a lot of planning, with changes made concerning the type of service and level of service, as well as basic things including pricing. Stewart remarks that “it was a similar type of service, but in my opinion, and my client’s opinion, that it was better run and more cost effective.”

As parting words, Stewart has some encouragement for small businesses: “Bigger companies… quite liked to work with small companies because they know they’re going to get the service, attention to detail, enthusiasm, and importantly, ambition.” So, 2005 hold exciting prospects for Stewart, and for Touchdown with the potential for heavy investing to come good.


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