Here’s How A 27 Year Old Female ‘The Apprentice’ Reject Founded The Fastest Growing Digital PR Agency In The World

The success story of the year.

‘I haven’t told anyone this, but we’ve finally been registered as a business in Chicago and we’ll be opening up offices there in the next couple of months!’

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The cat might be out of the bag now, but a few weeks ago when I was interviewing Carrie Rose for this article that was an exclusive announcement – I was just too late writing this up – and it really served to illustrate the impact that her fledgling digital PR and search first marketing agency has had on the industry since its inception just eighteen months ago.

You might not have heard ofRise At Seven yourself, but chances are that you will have come across at least one of their campaigns on the internet over the past year and a half. During that time period, they’ve grown from a staff of two people to over sixty, whilst simultaneously grabbing the title of fastest growing search first agency in the world and securing a whole host of big name clients and industry awards in the process. To say that they’re changing the game would be an understatement.

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I’m not sure when Rise At Seven first came to my attention on the Twitter timeline, but I remember following their CEO Carrie Rose after she shared some interesting insights into the SEO industry and I thought she might be one to keep an eye on. It wasn’t long before one of their Digital PR strategists was then sliding into my DMs asking for a link to one of their campaigns after I had written an article about it (it was this one about the number one dogging hotspots in the country for client DatingRoo FYI) and I slow began to realise that their agency was slowly beginning to take over the internet.

Even Sick Chirpse alumni Joe Goulcher (pictured below) has ended up landing at Rise At Seven as their creative director, and it seems like the agency is going to be here for a very long time to come after speaking to 27 year old CEO Carrie for an hour about how the agency began, her journey in the business world and where they see themselves going in the future. Other than America of course.

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The story of Rise At Seven didn’t start eighteen months ago, but more accurately back in 2013 when a 21 year old Carrie Rose fresh out of university was made redundant after two months working at celebrated Sheffield based SEO agency Sticky Eyes. She had spent the previous three years studying New Media at Leeds University – ‘doing a bit of everything, animation, building websites, digital PR, SEO, very old fashioned stuff’ – and wasn’t really sure what career she wanted to pursue after the initial disappointment of her redundancy, but saw another opportunity at another rockstar SEO agency in the city named Branded3.

‘I actually tweeted the director and told her that I wanted to work for them. I thought that I was gonna stand out and be a bit different, show a bit of confidence, rather than sending in a boring CV,’ Rose tells me and this method clearly worked – and was probably fairly unheard of at the time – as she was hired there and then, although she admits this may have had something to do with her previous association with competitor Sticky Eyes.

From then on she just didn’t stop with the agency for the next five years, eventually being promoted to the role of senior campaign strategist, running creative content campaigns for several huge global brands. More importantly, this was also where she met her future business partner at Rise At Seven Steven Kenwright – who she loving refers to as Kenwright.

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At this point in time, Steven Kenwright was already an elder statesman of the SEO world, who had been there and done that, presenting on stage at massive conferences in Las Vegas and all over the globe – ‘he was my idol’ Rose excitedly chirps – and fulfilled the role of director at Branded3 at the time. There was an instant synergy between the pair and they found that whenever they teamed up for a pitch, they always won every single one of them. They were pretty much unstoppable for the five years that they operated together at Branded3 and found that their successes were never replicated with other members of the team. There was just something about them together that clicked.

However, by 2018 and despite their successes, Kenwright had grown tired of the globe hopping SEO rockstar life following his marriage and with a new baby on the way and wanted a bit more stability in his life, opting to leave Branded3 and instead head up the digital arm of a car retailer that sold BMWs and Mercedes – no doubt encouraged by the offer of a brand new baller car every three months. He attempted to take Rose with him, but at this point she realised that she wasn’t driven by money and cars, instead wanting to start her very own agency – and decided to try and go straight t theo top with her idea for this by applying to appear on everyone’s favourite autumnal television show ‘The Apprentice’.

‘I made it into the final 30 out of 40,000 people, but you know what? They said I was too good. I took it as kind of a compliment and two weeks later we started Rise At Seven.’

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It would be very easy for Rose to come across as arrogant or big headed considering what she’s achieved since she started Rise At Seven, but whilst there is an overarching air of confidence around her, she never frames herself as cocky or full of herself in the slightest during our conversation. Even if she did, she would be able to back up any sense of this that may have been transmitted through her results in the last year and a half as their triumphs over the last eighteen months are literally unheard of in the world of SEO for an agency in its infancy.

One key reason that Rise At Seven has seen success after success over this period – landing client after client and award after award – is that they’ve made a conscious effort to actually market themselves as an agency – an area that Rose believes most marketing agencies fail in, despite this supposedly being their speciality.

To this end, Rise At Seven is all over social media. Like I said, I can’t remember when I first heard of them, but ever since I encountered them they’ve been everywhere on my timeline. Each of their employees seems genuinely stoked to be working there and are prepared to shout about it from the rooftops, and they’ve recently taken the unusual step of starting a weekly YouTube television series profiling Carrie’s day to day life as one of the youngest female CEOs in search engine and digital PR marketing.

‘I realised that the more transparent I was with what we were doing, then the more contracts we were winning. People want that insight that you’ve never been able to get before and CEOs and business owners are showing that human approach and this creates fans. I’ve always thought that agencies in marketing are shit at marketing themselves and I think that’s unreal. I needed to change that.’

What she’s saying makes complete sense and is also illustrative of a more general trend that brands have adopted in their social media use over the past couple of years, with the big hitters like Amazon and Tesla using TikTok to give you exclusive behind the scenes looks at their respective businesses. I might not be an expert on digital PR agencies, but Rose assures me that nobody else in the industry is currently doing anything like what Rise At Seven are doing and this groundbreaking and calculated approach to marketing themselves has been a big factor in the exponential growth over the last 18 months.

There’s also a major USP in Carrie Rose herself, as there are hardly any female CEOs in digital PR and even fewer that are just 27 years old and this was another calculated decision by the Rise At Seven founders to build her personal brand in this way. ‘With all due respect, people knew who Kenwright was as he’s spent years delivering speeches on stages all over the world, but nobody knew who I was,’ Rose methodically explains to me. ‘There aren’t many women who have the level of confidence that I do, that can stand in front of thousands of people and do what I did. I knew what this was something that we could market and be different in.’ and once again, it seems like her plan has been executed to perfection.

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You might think that all of this comes naturally to Rose given her strategy and successes over the past eighteen months – or even the past seven years –  but she hasn’t always been this confident. In fact, she can even pinpoint the moment when she realised that she was an authority on SEO and Digital PR and could do whatever she set her mind to in the industry.

‘You know what, it was back in the Branded3 days, and I was just sitting in the audience and someone came up to me and wanted to get a picture with me when they found out I worked at Branded3, I was just a 21 year old graduate and it was then that I realised I worked for the best agency in the world. From there that level of confidence just opened up on me and now I’ll stand in front of everyone and shout about how good we are and what we can bring to the industry. I’ve experienced a lot in four or five years, despite still being only 27’.

It was this level of drive and confidence that eventually convinced Kenwright to leave his cushy job at the car retailer and join her in founding Rise At Seven. After getting over the initial disappointment of being rejected by Alan Sugar on ‘The Apprentice’, Rose realised that she had everything in place to start an agency on her own – and what’s more she also had Alan Sugar’s seal of approval as well. Sort of.

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‘I had to write a business plan and present this to Lord Sugar’s financial partner and they attacked it, but I had answers for everything. And they said do you know what? Your business plan is too perfect. You know what you want, what you’re going to achieve and the forecasting and revenue and you don’t need ‘The Apprentice to make this happen’. Even armed with that blessing Kenwright – who had co-authored the business plan with Rose in the first place – was initially reluctant to commit to her vision of the future and turned her down. However, once an investor heard about Rose’s plans and offered to finance the idea and he had a couple of extra weeks to think about it, he was firmly on board.

The pair were supremely confident from the beginning of their partnership, as Rose explains to me that a search first creative marketing agency had never really existed before – ‘people in creative didn’t know search and people in search didn’t really know creative’ – and the fact that the two of them saw this shift in the industry meant that they could position themselves at the forefront of it. Indeed, it only took two weeks for Rise At Seven to make big waves in the SEO world, managing to secure both the US and UK contracts for one of the biggest retail brands in the world: Missguided.

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Rose and Kenwright procured the Missguided contract with their typical disruptive out of the box thinking, by showing up to the pitch with a bunch of their friends who weren’t even working for Rise At Seven at the time – it was just the two of them at this point – to make themselves look like a more professional and bigger agency. This could have ended disastrously, but they ended up hitting it off with Missguided so well that they came clean about what they were doing before the end of the pitch and their team absolutely loved it. ‘They’re quite bold as a brand and by doing that I think we mirrored them – it was almost like a match made in heaven’, Rose gleefully tells me.

The reason that they were able to secure Missguided’s business wasn’t solely because of these extra people and this slight blag though, but more because of Carrie Rose’s hard work, dedication and creativity again. Although she had been in th SEOe industry for five years, she had never worked directly with a fashion brand before and realised that she needed to show them something that illustrated how she could adapt and apply her knowledge to Missguided.

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This manifested itself in a campaign that Rose devised around ‘Love Island’ – something that Missguided’s customer base would obviously be interested in – that she ran to illustrate the results that she could achieve. It ended up being picked up by major world news services in under a week. ‘We used a report explaining how much people could earn via Instagram posts depending on their following and applied it to the Love Island contestants. It went viral and was featured on Daily Mirror, Lad Bible, BBC World News you name it. I did that in one week and Misguided absolutely loved it’.

In fact, Misguided had already decided who was going to be handling their marketing for the foreseeable future and only decided to meet with Rise At Seven as somewhat of an afterthought, but they were so impressed with Rose’s enthusiasm and results that they cancelled that contract on the spot and awarded both the US and UK contracts to Rise At Seven. Talk about nailing it.

The ball had started rolling and the hype train was well and truly leaving the station. All the big brands wanted to know who this new agency that had just landed Missguided were and in the next few months, Rise At Seven had a plethora of clients coming straight to them to see what they were all about – and they won the business of every single one of them, including Halfords, Cath Kidson, Go Compare and Odeon. Incredibly, at this point in time 100% of Rise At Seven’s clients have come to them – which is unheard of in the industry – and there’s now a lengthy waiting list for their services as Rose tells me that she’s now forced to tell them, ‘Sorry we can’t work for you for another few months, you’ll have to wait. And they wait. Every single time.’

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Whilst it might seem like this has all been easy for Rose and Kenwright, she is also keen to emphasise that it hasn’t been a complete and utter breeze over the past year and a half for Rise At Seven and there are some difficulties in growing an agency to this size in such a short space of time – ironically pointing to the fact that they’ve expanded so rapidly in this period as being a major problem in itself. Although it’s undoubtedly a positive result that they’ve achieved this level of growth, it has also meant that the internal processes that are essential when expanding a company from two to sixty employees have often been slow to be implemented and these have cause their own teething problems.

Rose is honest about this – describing them as ‘the boring parts that nobody cares about when we’re delivering insane results and campaigns and winning more and more business’ – but realises that it is important and necessary for the team to focus on issues like health and safety, legal affairs and sign off/chain of command. She also recognises that it’s been very difficult to execute this increasingly more bureaucratic culture to staff who are often reluctant to follow new processes when they weren’t necessary for the previous year and a half or whatever, but she is hopeful that they’re on their way.

Coronavirus has obviously had a massive impact on these internal processes as well – mainly due to the fact that everyone was no longer operating in the same building to implement them more easily – but Rose ultimately notes that when these sort of matters are your biggest problems then you should probably be celebrating, not complaining. She just wants everyone to know that it’s not been quite as plan sailing as it might seem to outside eyes and there are massive structural that may be ‘boring’ but are essential and sometimes overlooked.

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So how have Rise At Seven managed to grow so quickly over the past six months? Carrie points to the relationship between herself and Kenwright, their hiring policy and their strictly adhered to company values as three of the major factors in their swift ascension to the top of the pile in the creative search world.

‘Sharp As A Tack, Enthusiastic As Hell and Experts In Our Field’ is the Rise At Seven strapline and Rose is keen to emphasise that if you don’t meet these values then you won’t be getting employed at the agency. Prospective employees have taken a line out of her own book when searching for a job and have started tweeting both her own personal Twitter account and other high ranking employees at the company to try and get themselves noticed, sending them examples of their work in an attempt to make themselves stand out from the crowd and new hires are regularly recruited in this way. However, Rose also explains that it isn’t quite that simple and only about 50% of people that pull stunts like these end up with jobs and the bottom line is always the same: if they don’t meet the criteria, then they aren’t getting in.

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This is another problem that Rose admits to experiencing more than a couple of times in the last eighteen months, as some of the people she originally hired over the course of the growth of the company may well have been excellent at their jobs, but they just weren’t the right fit for the value system in place at Rise At Seven. ‘They’re no longer with the company and we’re now very strict about all new employees adhering to our values. I won’t be making that mistake again, but you learn it all on the job, don’t you?’ Again, Carrie seems to have reacted quickly to any issues and the company is clearly benefitting by having everyone on the same page, both in terms of their results and the fact that they’ve even recently been awarded a commendation for being one of the happiest places to work in the UK.

Although they currently have a 99% happiness rating, Rose also explains that this has been another problem associated with their rapid growth – ‘it’s incredibly important to make sure that everyone is happy in the office environment’ and another policy that they’ve gone to great lengths to implement. Again, even though very few employees are in the office at the time of writing this, it sounds like they’re making all the right moves in this regard, as she revealed that they’ve recently invested in hammocks, chill out areas and a Playstation corner for when everyone is back and there’s a small lull in the fast paced world of agency life for the staff. It might be clichéd, but it also sounds a lot more fun than your regular workspace or working from home doesn’t it?

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Carrie also points to the fact that the average age of their staff is currently twenty six as another big reason for why they’ve been able to make such a big impact on the current SEO landscape, as younger people are more likely to be aware of and capable of using new technologies to drive engagement than their elder counterparts. A great example of this is how Rise At Seven have recently partnered up with TikTok to deliver content to the masses; Rose doesn’t think that an older calibre of employee would have been able to see its potential as a platform and create the content that brought them to this position – ‘older people don’t like change and don’t know how to adapt. We’re the antithesis of that’.

Rise At Seven have also made a point of hiring people that have already made an impact in the viral world off their own backs and that’s why you’ll see people like Thea the ASOS girl and Mark Rove from the DATE MARK billboards in their offices. Not only does this give them an advantage in terms of creative drive when devising campaigns, but it also help them achieve that extra X Factor when they go into pitch meetings with clients. Those kinds of people combined with the Rise At Seven ethos really serve to deliver that WOW factor that everyone wants to be associated with these days and again, the results from this streamlined tactic are already paying dividends.

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Staff members are also encouraged to share their big wins within the agency on their own respective social media platforms and this isn’t something that generally seems to happen in the creative agency sphere, as it’s often only the Creative Director that receives the credit for a major campaign. The fact that Rise At Seven are allowing less senior members of staff to shout about their achievements in these mediums is again pretty much unprecedented in the industry, and this once more counts massively in their favour as it only serves to promote both their work and how happy their staff are working for the company.

Another win win for the agency in what might seem like a no brainier to an outsider – but as Rose said earlier ‘marketing companies are shit at marketing themselves’ – and Rise At Seven really seem to have turned the industry on its head with this approach. Just like they set out to do.

Of course, these values and hiring policies are the result of the combined vision of Kenwright and Rose, so it’s hard to look at Rise At Seven’s successes without identifying the pairing as the key reason that the company has developed in the way that it has over the past 18 months. It’s here that Carrie gives perhaps the most important piece of advice about teaming up with someone to run your own business that she’s imparted during our conversation, revealing that her and Kenwright are completely different people and that’s why their partnership works so well:

He’s the complete opposite person to me. His personality is the complete opposite to mine and he can do the things that I can’t and I can do the things that he can’t and it means that we fit.

A lot of business owners get that wrong and partner with somebody who’s the same as them, their best friend or whatever and you should find someone who’s the complete opposite so that you can lean on one another.

We’re both 100% on the same path and sometimes we’ll be looking at what decision we have to make and the decision at the end is always the same no matter how we look at it. We might get there in different ways but we’ll always end up in the same place.

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Another massive factor in their success was that their decision to start a search first agency came exactly at the right time. It’s easy to say that with the benefit of hindsight, but Rose believes that this wasn’t a case of blind luck though and rather a sign that the pair again knew exactly what they were doing:

We were so confident that it was the right time and the right people and the right decision.

We saw a change in our industry where the big media industries were being consolidated into one and brands didn’t want to work with an agency that could say they did everything, they wanted to work with specialists and there was a massive shift when it came to creative.

Outdoor advertising has massively declined – especially because of covid – and digital was on the rise.

We saw this happening and knew it was the right time and this gave us the confidence to do it.

People are trying to do it now,  but they don’t really know what it means to be creative in search yet. We’ve had a year and a half of owning it so I don’t think that people can really touch us at the moment.

Every day someone talks about it, we win because we’re owning it. Whenever anyone talks about digital PR and content marketing, Rise At Seven is the agency and we’ve created that for ourselves within a year and a half.

That’s insane. It normally takes ten years for someone to get that far.

‘Insane’ really is the only way to describe their growth in such a short period of time, as it’s famously hard to make an impact within the SEO industry and this kind of rapid rise (sorry) would have been almost unfathomable to think about a couple of years ago. Indeed, Branded3 – the agency where Kenwright and Rose first met all those years ago – doesn’t even exist any more because the landscape has changed so much in the SEO world over the last couple of years. This wasn’t all down to Rise At Seven – and obviously the global pandemic has played a massive part in the decline of traditional outdoor advertising as well – but the agency’s impact on the SEO space can’t be denied and it seems as though Rose and Kenwright’s foresight has been fully vindicated at this point.

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Whilst Chicago is on the immediate horizon for Rose and Kenwright and everyone else at Rise At Seven – Carrie even says that she’s already built a whole bunch of connections with potential hires over there,  obviously through her Twitter account – and this was always an ambition for the team, Rose admits that their goals have developed since the agency first started.

‘When we first started, I was just solely looking at the numbers, but now we’re focussed on making the biggest cultural impact in the world. I want to be the first search agency to win a Cannes Lion. I want to be famous and make a difference because I’ve created a great place to work.’ These sound like some lofty ambitions sure, but given what Rise At Seven have already achieved in the last eighteen months then you really wouldn’t put it past the agency nailing them in the near future – maybe even this year the way things have been going for them. That just seems to be the way things are going for them right now.

With that mission statement, my time with Rose is over – bear in mind that our chat has only lasted for about 45 minutes, yet she’s managed to cram in enough content for a podcast that would be at least three times that long, as you can see by the length of this article – and it’s time for her to go and put out some more fires at Rise At Seven. It won’t be too long until she’s doing the same in Chicago.

Give it a couple of years and who knows where she’ll be. One thing’s for sure – she almost certainly won’t be needing Alan Sugar’s help anymore.


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