Left to right, the Elaine Ball Ltd team: Erin Hull, Sarah Rogerson, Elaine Ball, Elly Ball, Isabel Elliot
Land Journal: What was your route into geospatial marketing?
Elaine Ball: I always wanted to work with horses. So my dad sent me to America to train racehorses but I decided to keep it as a hobby. After this, I ended up in the family business. In the 1970s and early 1980s my dad, Steve Ball, a hydrographer and mine surveyor, ran a hydrography and seismic control firm called Oil Field Hydrographic.
He started his next business, Measurement Devices Ltd, in 1984 and I began working in the business around 1997. We didn't work with land or building surveyors, but we manufactured laser survey equipment for dirty environments such as mining, oil and gas.
When I got to 27, dad said to me: 'You're in your comfort zone, Elaine. You'll be joint MD with me for a year before I move up to chair the board, and then you'll be MD.'
In preparation, I did my Institute of Directors (IOD) exams. From then on I was always going on courses. I also worked in every department in the company. It was a struggle to find marketing and salespeople on the geospatial side. So I ended up having to teach everyone we hired about the industry.
Then in 2007, my first year in the role, the global economy crashed.
LJ: What happened next?
EB: We survived, but we wanted to grow the business, and the company secretary at the time suggested we contact our shareholders because they might want to put some more money in. One of them was John Deere of Renishaw.
Eventually, we sold the business off to Renishaw, which was a great exit strategy allowing my dad to retire. I thought, 'I know the industry like the back of my hand, I've heaps of experience in sales and marketing, plus there's such a gap in the market for a geospatial marketing consultancy to help surveyors/manufacturers with marketing and sales.'
So in 2013, I set up Elaine Ball Ltd. We started off doing workshops, and last year we launched the Geospatial Marketing Academy because I knew there was a need. You pay a fee for lifetime membership of the academy and you have access to lessons on market segmentation, content marketing and sales funnels, for instance.
Get kids into survey London poster, all images © Elaine Ball Ltd
LJ: How did you get into marketing the profession for children?
EB: In 2017, the Survey Association asked whether I would like to put some materials into the packs given to delegates at its annual general meeting. We made a poster for attendees to take home and show their children what mummy or daddy does.
There's some quirky stuff in the posters: we devised the character of Simon the alien, who appears throughout what became a set of different materials. This was the beginning of the Get Kids into Survey (GKiS) campaign.
Other surveying companies soon followed suit: Nick Blakeway of Jacobs took some boxes of posters to careers fairs, for instance. They were never meant to make a profit, they were simply to test our marketing skills. Then I asked the MD of Topcon Positioning Systems, Dave Bennett, whether we could liaise on an Antarctic-themed poster, because his company had been there.
I put that on the website so people could order a poster. But then my postage bill was £1,500 because I was giving the posters themselves away free of charge.
And I thought 'I can't keep doing this, I'll have no money left.' So I had a moral dilemma: 'Do I make this a business?' Because the whole point was not to do that but to give back to the industry.
I decided that Elaine Ball Ltd is the profit-making side of the operation because that's the consultancy, but money for GKiS would be put back into creating new lesson plans, posters and developing the website. The money came from donations, for instance from FIG.
Hydro survey characters
Building site characters
We've designed 20 different posters now, and the website resources page includes lesson plans and other materials that complement these. I think we have now shipped 80,000 posters, and I would say a good 60% have gone to the US.
My sister Elly's a partner in the business, and the latest project we devised is the comic book. It launched a couple of years back. It's set in Middletown and imagines a future without surveyors and my dad features in it as the Last Surveyor. In the future, he's got a robot leg and a cybernetic eye and lives in a sanctuary like the Batcave. We've had some brilliant feedback from children, teachers and people in the industry.
GKiS builds awareness of the work of surveyors and surveying, and the wider geospatial industry, by making the terminology more accessible and commonplace in the minds of children, teachers and parents. We focus on children around eight to 12 years.
At that stage, we don't have to talk specifically about surveying, but it's easy to talk about what's happening in the pictures, which accounts for our international success.
We also work with Alison Watson, whose website Class of Your Own targets 15–17-year-olds and teaches them how to perform basic surveys.
We've plugged a gap in surveying education by catching them young, so that when pupils have to make their GCSE, A level and degree choices, they already understand what a fascinating career surveying is and the qualifications that will get them there.
So that's my story.
Elaine and Elly, signing posters, Orlando, Florida, USA
LJ: How can surveyors help spread the word about what a great career this is for young people?
EB: We have around 120 brand ambassadors worldwide. So if RICS members want to get involved to inspire children, we'd love to welcome you into the GKiS family. All we request is that you are willing to go into schools and be a role model for the geospatial industry. We supply a presentation and other resources, also included is our branding so you can add it to your personal profiles.
We also welcome those who would like to help us create more educational resources. From re-printing of our geospatial exploration posters to keep stock levels topped up to our current campaign of sponsoring a homework project. Do look at our website to see how your company could get involved.
RICS also supports the geospatial surveying sector educational website Geospatial UK which contains extensive teaching and student resources. The RICS' own early engagement team is also working hard in schools and universities to support growth in the profession. Not only to maintain the future pipeline of professionals but also to bring greater diversity to enrolment. Please contact Karen Rogers for further information about how you can support us and read more about the profession.