dgtl Concepts: Nottingham University’s creative media specialists

Meet the pioneering Notts students who have balanced their degrees with setting up one of the fastest growing media companies in the East Midlands

Nottingham students have got a reputation for spending most of their free time either drinking, sleeping or watching daytime TV. With some students struggling to even make it to their six weekly contact hours, it’s fair to say that proactivity isn’t our strong point.

But while the idea of ditching FIFA or How I Met Your Mother re-runs to start your own creative media company seems a bit far-fetched for most, that’s exactly what these pioneering UoN students did.

In just four months, they have trebled the size of their team and begun the Nottingham takeover which has seen their name pop up all over campus and at the biggest social events in town.

We met Sam Wordsworth and Atilla Arslan, two of the five founding partners at dgtl concepts and Nottingham third-years, to see what all the hype was about.

sam words dgtl

Managing director Sam Wordsworth

Sam, the managing director, only started putting the idea of a company into action this Christmas, having run SJW Photography for three years. As a student photographer, he originally worked at low-paid weekly nights like Oceana and CRISIS before moving onto the University formals and balls.

“The idea began when I started taking on more jobs than I could handle,” he said. “I had to start sub-contracting – I would accept a gig and then pay a different student photographer to come and do it.”

Eventually, alongside Web Development Director Leo Mercier, he had formed a team of keen, talented photographers, all of whom wanted work. With a core group of five original members, the company kicked off at the start of the year and hasn’t looked back since.

Chrissy Edye

Photo by Chrissy Edye

It’s not just photography, though, as creative director Atilla Arslan quickly pointed out.

Having taught himself to code and design at a young age, Atilla had started a clothing brand last year but, in his own words, “it never really took off.” He said: “Sam approached me towards the end of 2013 and I wasn’t doing anything else with my time.

“I don’t do any photography myself, my job is effectively to promote the brand, be it photography, videography, graphics or whatever.”

This versatility seems to be the company’s greatest strength. Whilst local photography agencies are limited to just covering events with a camera, and graphic designers are limited to working online, dgtl managed to quickly acquire a range of specialists in different media fields.

From video production like this epic clip of a helicopter-mounted camera flying around campus, to the creation of Karni’s St Paddy’s Day poster, dgtl has it covered.

Photo by Tim Rand

Photo by Tim Rand

“If you see an image, a graphic or a video, we can produce it,” Atilla said. “The majority of the stuff we cover is photography because that’s where the majority of the work is, but the idea is that when a client comes to us, we can give them the complete media package.

“We’re trying to develop a brand which people can identify with at each different level of media. By providing a range of things, we streamline the entire process for clients. They won’t have to go through various different agencies to get photographers, and then another agency to get video, for example.”

Within four months, the team of five had become a team of twelve dedicated specialists.

“Pretty much everyone we have taken on so far has a different speciality,” said Sam. “We have people like Martin Sylvester who is brilliant at very natural looking photos, for example, and we’ve got Chrissy Edye on a year abroad in Madrid who is great at the travel and food photography.

“We’ve also got Jose Pope, an ex-student down in London who is really big in fashion – he recently did a shoot for Zara clothing line.”

Photo by Sam Wordsworth

Photo by Sam Wordsworth

With the company expanding at such a rapid rate, more and more students interested in media are going to be drawn in, especially with the hugely competitive nature of the student photography business.

“The thing with the industry is that there is an atmosphere where people try and take work off others,” said Sam. “For example, I used to get work at a night for a couple of weeks before I’d get a call saying it had been given to someone willing to do it for cheaper.

“Everyone gets undercut by each other and as the prices get driven down, it reaches the point where people don’t get paid what they should be getting paid.

“By bringing as much of the talent as possible under one roof, we can ensure that everyone get a fair wage for their efforts. It also has the added bonus of standardising the quality and helps people to share their skills in different areas.”

With the end of term so close, what is the future looking like for dgtl?

“We’re already looking at getting some offices in London where we can work full-time. We will become an agency where everyone is signed under contract and we can send them out to different jobs under the dgtl name.

“We want to create a formula where we have a small group of people ideally working full-time, one person who is managing the student side and a team of students doing what the current group is doing right now. We then want to replicate this at different universities across the country.”

Photo by Martin Sylvester

Photo by Martin Sylvester

dgtl Concepts is providing a springboard for students. Photographers or designers can approach them and know that – if they’re good enough – they can be helped financially and professionally by an existing group of people who have been there and done it in the student circles.

But, after expanding at such a remarkable rate so early on, Sam, Leo and Atilla aren’t limiting themselves to universities.

“We are students, but we don’t just cater to the student side of it. We also cater to the professional side.”

In managing to balance running an entire company alongside finishing their degrees and the near-irresistible lure of Jagerbombs, Made in Chelsea marathons and endless lie-ins, dgtl Concepts are on the road to professional success, and they’re busting some long-standing student stereotypes on the way.