November 2014 marks my 10 year anniversary in digital marketing, so it seemed fitting to tell the story of how my career began, and how I ended up where I am today.

It all began in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 2002…


For regular readers of this blog, you’ll know I spent a year abroad during University, in North Carolina (Wilmington). I lived in an international house, and got my first taste of different cultures, independence, and living abroad.

My roommate was Mexican, the guys next door were from Finland and France, the guys the other side were from Germany and Ecuador….it was just the best mix of twenty-something years olds from around the world, and as a result, it was one of the best years of my life.

The UNCW International house crew - Wrightsville Beach - 2002
I know, I know, it was a shocking sandles and bandana choice

During my time at UNCW, I chose two marketing-based modules which would end up shaping my career to this very day.

The first was a Personal Selling module, where I was taught the sales process in detail. Everyone who took the module participated in a selling role play, which was recorded on video and given to us as feedback. This was invaluable for me.

The second module was all about International Marketing. It was in this class I learnt about some of the best international marketing examples of global brands. And it was here that I also first discovered online marketing.


One of the other Brits in the international house was a Scottish drinking machine called James. Fast forward to the end of our time in the US, and James and I decided to travel to New York, Boston and Chicago, before flying back to the UK.

Being students – abroad – and freshly 21 years of age, we didn’t hold back the spending. We went to see the Goo Goo Dolls. We got into the audience for the David Letterman show. We did the tourist things in Boston. And by the time the last day in Chicago came around, we barely had a penny to our name. My credit card was maxed out. I had £1 left in my overdraft. We simply had no money left. So much so, we had to walk the majority of the 16-mile round trip from our hostel, into central Chicago on the final day.

That day, I remember distinctly, was the worst off financially I’ve ever been.


I returned to Hull University, finished my four-year degree, got the 2:1 I wanted, and started looking for jobs. After learning about personal selling and international marketing at UNCW, I aimed for sales roles. Me being me, I went after pharmaceutical sales – arguably one of the most competitive sales sectors.

Despite getting to the final rounds with the likes Pfizer and Merck, Sharp and Dohme, I kept falling at the final hurdle. After graduating in the June, it was now late August. I was working for my dad, landscaping and grass-cutting, but I desperately needed the post-graduation job.

Former girlfriends encouraged me to go for jobs that just didn’t resonate with me, and it looked for all the world that I was going to remain jobless.

Then, out of nowhere, I got a call from James. “Hi pal, have you heard of a company called bigmouthmedia? They are looking for business development managers. They are based in Edinburgh, but If you get the job you’re more than welcome to crash on my couch for a while.

I looked them up. ‘Search engine optimisation‘ specialists. Online marketing. International marketing. And the role was a sales role. Given my experience in UNCW, this looked ideal. So I applied.

After a few email exchanges, I headed to Edinburgh for the interview. I thought it was going pretty well, until I was thrown a curve ball.

See that glass? Sell it to me.

I tried to recite what I learned at UNCW. Figure out why he wanted the glass, whether the size of the glass was suitable, and go from there.

That approach got tossed out of the window.

After all the final round interviews from the previous six months, I was low on confidence. But I also had nothing else to lose, so I took a risk, became more me, and tried again.

Well…it’s incredibly ergonomic for the lips, and it’s ribbed for your pleasure. I mean, who wouldn’t want to drink out of this glass? I bought two for myself yesterday!

It was a risk. But it worked.

Two days later I got the call saying I got the job, and needed to start in Edinburgh the following Monday.

On 11th November, 2004, I started working at bigmouthmedia, on a salary on £16,000. I stayed on James’s couch until the following February, when I finally saved enough cash to rent an apartment.

I was employee number ten at bigmouthmedia, and the company was booming. SEO was little known back then, and with a client roster that included PlayStation, British Airways, Starbucks and Sony Ericsson, bigmouthmedia was growing at an incredible rate.


By 2006 we had grown to 36 people. But the rapid growth came at a cost. Myself and other colleagues worked countless times until 2am, working on pitches and client projects, bringing every possible penny in the door. Relationships took a back seat, and the close knit team we developed became not just colleagues, but good friends.

Looking back, I was a confident 24-year old who was walking into big company offices such as T-Mobile and Samsung, and walking out with their search budgets. The experience was second to none.

The success kept coming. In 2007, we were double award winners in the National Business Awards for Scotland.

Winning a National Business Award in 2006

We won several more industry awards over the next 18-months too. In addition, we were now expending at a crazy rate. We merged with a company in 2007, that led to major celebrations.

With the joint company in tow, we were now one of the biggest search agencies in Europe, and my role started to become international. I was helping set search strategies and best practice operations across Europe. It was hard graft. I managed to find an old post which showed what a typical week looked like in 2007.

We were a young agency. Some of the oldest members of the team were only 36 years old. Throw in alcohol, and that led to some outrageously fun Christmas parties at Scottish castles, merger parties and more search award parties. It truly was a work hard, play hard agency.

Balloons with names at the merger party in 2007


Fireworks at a castle in East Lothian, Scotland in 2007



My role became officially international in 2009. I travelled everywhere – from Dubai and Doha to New York and Nice. I was taking over 100 flights a year. It was exciting, adrenaline-fuelled and a brilliant time.

With five years of experience now under my belt, I had risen through the ranks. In August 2010, I received a lovely bonus that I used to buy my current car outright. The hard work was paying off…although the increasing number of lines around my eyes told a different story 🙂

With all the flying around, expenses became quite a task. I eventually used a BA Amex card to buy only my travel, and the agency agreed to pay it off at the end of each month.

As you can imagine, I accumulated A LOT of air miles. Air miles that eventually paid for a first class flight to New York. I finally managed to get rid of the air miles earlier this year, using them on a group skiing trip to Mayrhofen in Austria.


In late 2010, bigmouthmedia merged with LBi. In 2012, LBi was acquired by Publicis Groupe. The digital economy was booming. The team was in high demand.

By the time I left LBi in October 2012, I had been through three mergers and acquisitions, worked with some of the biggest brands on the planet, worked with some of the most talented people in digital, and grown the seeds of bigmouthmedia into what eventually became an agency that had over 3,500 staff globally. What a journey.


In October 2012, after eight years of hard graft, I decided I needed a break. All the work travel was great, but it was never on my own time.

As for relationships and a semi-normal life at home, travelling all the time made it near impossible.
It took me at least three weeks to finally switch off and realise I didn’t have emails to check, meetings to prepare for, or a day case to pack.It was just me, my backpack, and a world of fun.
Simon Heyes in Shanghai, China
In Shanghai, China

That five month break around the world gave a new lease of life to this blog. It became my platform for telling travel stories to friends and family.


I returned to the UK with a new lease of life. After my international experience in Wilmington 12 years earlier, I finally had a sense of fulfilment.

And a now had a new work plan.

After all the experiences of the last ten years, there was only really one big itch left to scratch: starting up a new company.

In 2013, 8 Million Stories was born. A new chapter in my digital marketing career book. Co-founded by four of the other bigmouthmedia old guard, we wanted to take all our experience, all our contacts, and put everything we had learned into a new agency.

The first 12-months have been a big brand building exercise, but with some solid foundations, some good clients on board, and with some top talent, we’re looking good.

Here’s to the next ten years of my career! 🙂

2 replies
  1. TravMonkey
    TravMonkey says:

    Great read, how did I not know any of this??

    Business travel isn't quite as good as being able to do what you want when you want… Such a luxury to have that free time!

    Sounds like quite a journey so far!


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