Business · interviews · Sunday Times

How I Made It: Fran Bosan, co-founder of Omobono

FRAN BROSAN had stepped into the lift with her ad agency colleagues Ben Dansie and Chris Butterworth when someone said: “Brosan Butterworth Dansie — that’s a good name for an agency.”
By the time the trio had emerged from the lift, they had agreed to start their own business, called — less of a mouthful — Omobono. They started the digital marketing agency in 2001, winning clients such as BP, Coca-Cola and Shell. “In the end we decided to name it after the patron saint of business [St Homobonus] as it’s memorable and more pertinent to what we do,” said Brosan.
Omobono, which employs 56 in Cambridge and Bristol, posted sales of £4.6m for the year to last December and profits in excess of £1m. “Technology connects everything today and communication connects everyone,” said Brosan, who chairs the agency. “Our job is to combine the two.”
Omobono helps clients to manage their digital presence — whether it’s through engaging staff or retaining customers.“We advise how digital platforms can be used to strengthen those relationships,” she said. “Technology is fantastic but it can be a nightmare to use if people aren’t engaged.”
Brosan, 55, grew up in Godalming, Surrey, and attended Guildford High, an all-girls school, before moving to the sixth-form at Charterhouse. “There were 700 boys and only 30 girls so it was quite an eye-opener,” she said. “I learnt to keep my nerve.”
Her mother had been a medical social worker and her father was an engineer and a pioneer in the development of polytechnics in the 1970s. Brosan has two older sisters who work in accounting and
psychiatry. “I think our parents wanted us to be an accountant, a lawyer and a doctor,” she said. “In Britain we’re very bad at talking to women about careers in business. We never suggest they start their own—it’s all about professions.”
Brosan studied English language and literature at Durham University and joined Charles Barker, then the world’s oldest PR firm, in London as a graduate trainee in 1981. In 1983 she joined the advertising agency WCRS, rising to board director and running accounts such as BMWand Laura Ashley. “It was a blast, a
different world to now,” said Brosan, who was given a new BMW every six months. “The clients were fantastic, the board inspirational, and we built the most successful brands today through print.”
With the birth of her first daughter, Brosan decided to slowdown. In 1991 she workedpart-time as a programme editor for BMW Business Television. Brosan, who now works four days a week, said: “As a
mother you have to balance work and home life, or one part can go off the rails.”
In 1993 she moved to Cambridge to join Warman&Bannister as a business development manager. She was appointed managing director the following year and soon after met Dansie and Butterworth.
“Whenever we worked on a project together we really enjoyed it and so did our clients,” said Brosan. “That seemed like a good foundation for our own company.”
The three partners own all of Omobono: Brosan is chairwoman, Dansie, 45, is chief executive, and Butterworth, 48, is creative director. “We still work incredibly well together, though it happens less now we’re growing,” she said.
In 2001 the trio began brainstorming in Brosan’s basement in the village of Great Gransden to save on rent. They lived off savings, deciding not to pay themselves in the first three months of business. In 2002 Omobono moved to its first office in Cambridge. “It wasn’t actually very inspiring looking out at a field full of sheep,” said Brosan. “We moved as soon as we could to somewhere commutable.”
After a steady start, the agency took a dramatic turn during the recession. By 2008 public sector clients were becoming scarce and Omobono began specialising in communications technology for multinationals. “We realised staff, and the service they provide, are driven by their experience of digital, so we embraced the opportunity,” she said.
Brosan plans to open an office in Chicago next year. “We weren’t successful overnight,” she said. “It took 13 years but now our pace and acceleration is greater than it’s ever been.”
She and her husband Sebastian Brunt, who owns a software company, have four daughters, aged 12 to 24. Her advice to young entrepreneurs is: “Stay at it and embrace change. Your business will develop and may morph into something you hadn’t anticipated.”

PDF – Fran Broson of Omobono

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