Interview: Dominic Mills on leading a world-class tech team at digital agency Zone

Chief Technology Officer Dominic chats to us about Zone's rise from a back bedroom in the 90s to running campaigns for the likes of Tesco and Coca Cola
19th June 2017

Bringing creative zest and tech innovation together is a huge benefit in today’s digital world and it’s something that has brought Zone to the forefront as an award-winning digital agency based in the heart of the South West.

Having worked with huge brands including Tesco, South West Trains, Glenlivet and Coca Cola, this is an agency that’s not short of killer ideas.

“James foresaw how digital communications would go from its late 90s dotcom boom to become an integral part of society”

 

To find out more, we caught up with Chief Technology Officer, Dominic Mills, one of the SPARKies tech and digital awards newest judges, to find out what it’s like to lead a world-class technology team in Bristol.

TechSPARK: Tell us about Zone and how it was set up?

Dominic Mills: The agency began in a back bedroom in Belsize Park as a publishing business, when co-founder James Freedman capitalised on the growing mainstream interest in football during the 1990s to launch the official Manchester United magazine back in 1993.

He’d started writing for the magazine and, within, a couple of issues, had taken it over. The title went on to become the biggest-selling sports magazine in the UK and a global success, inspiring other clubs such as Chelsea and Roma to launch their own titles through Zone.

In 1999 James foresaw how digital communications would go from its late 90s dotcom boom to become an integral part of society. He subsequently sold the newsstand publishing business and acquired tech consultancy Quantum to launch Zone in 2000, combining editorial and design skills with the technology required to deliver content online.

TS: So what has Zone Digital grown into today?

DM: Zone helps established brands thrive in a world where digital is mission critical. We are experts in strategy, technology and content. Our digital specialists work in agile, multidisciplinary teams to help ambitious businesses win.

“Our ground-breaking work for Tesco… introduced the first online field trips for primary school children into the UK”

 

The agency’s 250-strong-team work in London, Bristol and Cologne managing some of the UK’s biggest digital transformation projects for clients including Adidas, Barratt Homes, Electrolux, Lloyds Banking Group, Maersk, Pernod Ricard, RSPB and Unilever.

TS: What are the most exciting projects your team is currently working on?

DM: We are using digital to keep the world’s number-one selling single malt whisky, The Glenlivet, on top in a recommendation-driven market thanks to the power of compelling content.

We also target social media influencers to ensure global transportation and energy group Maersk’s voice is heard at the top table during World Trade Organisation summits.

TS: And what are some of Zone’s biggest ever successes?

DM: We encouraged a million children to develop a better relationship with their food thanks to our ground-breaking and multi award-winning work for Tesco, which introduced the first online field trips for primary school children into the UK. One in three primary schools signed up for our live, interactive broadcasts and accompanying resources, ‘visiting’ pasta farmers in Italy, the banana plantations of Costa Rica and the strawberry fields of Kent, to name a few.

“We’ve just been named one of the London Stock Exchange’s most inspiring companies of 2017”

 

We also launched the UK’s first service giving rail travellers unrestricted access to the cheapest fares across all rail journeys nationwide (pictured left) on behalf of Stagecoach’s South West Trains service. The innovative new E and M-Commerce platforms are part of a major overhaul of South West Trains’ digital presence, as Stagecoach aims to lead the UK rail sector in transforming the customer experience of its franchise’s 220 million annual passengers.

TS: So what does a typical day as CTO at a digital agency like Zone involve?

DM: One of the things I like about my role is that there is no typical day. I spend a lot of my time with clients understanding what makes digital a priority for them and talking about how we can help. Every one of these conversations is different.

TS: And what do you enjoy most about heading up a world-class tech team at Zone?

DM: The people. Seeing our very talented team take pride in delivering great work to help big brands thrive in a world where digital is mission critical.

TS: It’s pretty exciting to see you down as a new SPARKies judge for 2017. What made you want to get involved as a judge for the awards?

DM: The SPARKies is a showcase for two things I am passionate about – fantastic people delivering really innovative work in Bristol and the West of England region.

TS: So, what’s next for Zone?

DM: We’ve just been named one of the London Stock Exchange’s most inspiring companies of 2017, which is great. Going forwards we’ll continue to build on our year on year growth and enjoy working with ambitious brands to deliver world class work.

You can find out more about Zone’s team, latest projects, news and more on the Zone Digital website, or follow them on Twitter here: @ThisisZone.