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Let’s Talk… leveraging digital marketing for a traditional industry with Dr Steffan George

“A lot of consumers tend to rely on search engine adverts, not realising that this is simply a demonstration of a company’s marketing budget, rather than how good a company they are”


Today, we’re joined by Dr Steffan George, Managing Director of Master Locksmiths Association and Sold Secure to chat about marketing challenges and the future of a traditional-based business. Dr Steffan George of Master Locksmiths Association and Sold Secure

Steffan’s successes include the complete turnaround of Sold Secure from a failing test house into one of the UK’s leading security product certification companies.
In more recent times, Membership of the MLA has grown despite challenging times, with approved company members in particular benefiting from work they are winning due to their MLA-approved status. The digital promotion is paramount to this success.

Government awareness is particularly high, especially since the law on the vetting of locksmiths back in 2009, following debates in the House of Commons and House of Lords, the MLA was added to the Exceptions Order for the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. 


Door4: Hi Steffan – thank you for taking the time to chat with us! For those people who don’t yet know your work – can you please give us a rundown of your journey so far?

Sold Secure is a test and certification agency for security products such as locks, wheel clamps, chains, padlocks etc.

The Master Locksmiths Association is the main trade association for locksmiths in the UK. With the absence of any Government regulation of the industry, anyone can call themselves a locksmith, buy locksmith tools, or come and change the locks on your property. We don’t believe this is appropriate and so have our own locksmith company licensing scheme whereby MLA Approved Companies have been vetted (we changed the law on the vetting of locksmiths back in 2009), inspected (to check they are a bonafide locksmith and not a call centre and can do work to the calibre expected of MLA members) and are qualified (an exam based proof of competence, which is the highest level of nationally recognised Ofqual regulated qualification you can get).
So if anyone ever needs a locksmith then make sure you visit to get the details of your nearest MLA-approved company.

You mentioned having a passion for digital performance. What ignited this passion, and how has it influenced your approach to marketing for the MLA?

What’s the first thing you do these days if you need something? You go onto your favoured search engine and look for it online.
The same goes for trade services. Digital promotion is vital for tradespeople these days and it’s something that we take very seriously at the MLA. Ensuring our website and our members’ pages rank highly organically is extremely important for us and we have had a team member dedicated to this important area for coming up to 14 years.

Add to this the importance of social media platforms these days and digital marketing is something that, as a business, we simply cannot do without.

We’ve discussed the importance of promoting the Master Locksmiths Association (MLA) to both potential members and end users. Could you share some strategies you’ve implemented to achieve this balance? Can you elaborate on the challenges and opportunities you see in promoting the association directly to consumers?

Whilst we use trade journals to help get our message across to the industry, our main focus for our digital marketing (which is by far the majority) has been on promoting the MLA to end users. The idea is that if non-member locksmiths see all this promotion, see the SEO benefits that members are getting, see their MLA web pages ranking very highly, see the adverts we place etc. then they will want to join so as to not lose out. A bit of “pull” rather than “push” as it were.

That way our members get the maximum benefit, whilst we get the benefit of attracting more members.

The difficulties tend to be firstly that a lot of consumers tend to rely on search engine adverts, not realising that this is simply a demonstration of a company’s marketing budget, rather than how good a company they are, or where they are located for that matter (as in our industry a lot of them tend to be call centres who then outsource to anyone).

The other difficulty is that, unfortunately, consumers still don’t take security seriously until it’s too late. It’s vital for people to take the necessary precautions and upgrade their security to avoid becoming the victims of crime, but all too often our members are called out after a property has been burgled, and only then are people willing to pay for decent security.

Maintaining member credibility is crucial for the MLA. Can you share some specific examples of how you leverage digital channels to reinforce the reputation and trustworthiness of your members?

Correct, our members’ credibility, assisted by their MLA approval, is crucial, especially when it comes to security.
Consumers must be comfortable with somebody who not only has the keys to their front door but more importantly, doesn’t need them!
To help consumers we regularly try to promote general security messages that our members can also use in their own marketing. So for example what’s the first thing you should do when you move into a new property you’ve purchased? Change the locks! You never know who’s got keys to the original locks so you should always change them. Whilst doing this it’s worth getting your MLA locksmith to check the level of security and upgrade where possible. It’s also worth checking your insurance details to see whether there is any “small print” when it comes to security that you need to meet in order to be covered.

Other security messages may relate to certain times of the year such as the clocks going back and evenings getting longer, summer security and spending time out in the garden etc.

We also promote any printed media, TV and radio coverage obtained to try and help get the message across. So for example when I was on Sky News live a few months back, we used footage of this in our digital comms to help highlight the security message and raise the profile of not only the association but the industry as a whole.

You mentioned concerns about ‘rogues’ using online advertising to mislead consumers.
How is the MLA addressing this issue, and what role can digital marketing play in protecting consumers from such deceptive practices? 

Yes, we are unfortunately seeing a lot of “bait and switch” type schemes being perpetrated online, where rogue locksmith companies are advertising on the main search engines, thereby coming top of search listings, with very low prices mentioned, only to then charge 10+ times that figure for shoddy work done! There seems to be a lack of understanding by the general public that the top of search engine locations are adverts and as such are more a demonstration of the marketing budget rather than the technical abilities or reputation.
To help address this we have a load of information on our website and often work with the media to highlight the issues including rogue trader-type programmes, but also more recently we featured on Ian King Live on Sky News, which was a great platform to help get our message out to consumers.
Obviously, we can’t favour only certain members or certain locations with search engine adverts but we can, and do, put a significant amount of time and effort into ensuring our pages rank highly organically. I think there’s a learning point for consumers, to understand how search engines work – they are businesses at the end of the day (and extremely large and lucrative businesses at that!). So it’s important to know the difference between an advert and an organic search result. Digital marketing has a big role to play in this and is something that we will be doing more of in the future to help raise awareness of the matter and promote the use of professional, local “vetted, inspected and qualified” locksmiths.

With the increasing prevalence of smart home security systems and digital locks, how does the MLA promote cybersecurity awareness among its members and the public to address potential vulnerabilities in modern security practices?

This is actually a very interesting issue, and particularly timely for us. Yes, you’re absolutely correct – so-called smart security is indeed becoming more and more popular. (Although we have heard comments about mechanical keys being a thing of the past for many years and yet they’re still here – and will be for some time yet!)

Whilst most are used to electronic access systems at work, the use of similar kinds of devices, operated by phone, fob or in some instances biometrics such as fingerprints or retinal scans are becoming more popular for domestic properties. This is on top of alarms and CCTV systems that can be set and monitored on your mobile phone. This is all good and well but how secure are these products?

Interestingly the MLA owns and operates a subsidiary company called Sold Secure which is one of the UK’s leading test and certification houses. Whilst traditionally specialising in mechanical security such as chains, padlocks, wheel clamps and mechanical door locks to name just a few, we are currently looking at developing a new test standard specifically for smart locking products. This standard would ensure that not only do the products have the necessary “digital security” (i.e. resistance to hacking) but also the necessary mechanical security (as there’s no point in having something that can’t be hacked but can be opened with a screwdriver!). It’s approval to standards such as this, including the BSI IOT Kitemark, that consumers need to be looking out for. That said – professional specification and installation is vitally important. Experience shows us that smart locks tend to be very susceptible to issues caused by poor fitting or doors that are dropping etc. So whilst in theory you could buy something and fit it yourself, we always say that Security is very much a matter of DIFM (do it for me) rather than DIY. Get a professional locksmith in to discuss your needs, take their advice and get them to specify and fit the most appropriate security for your requirements.

Looking ahead, what is your vision for the MLA’s digital presence in the next few years? Are there specific goals or milestones you aim to achieve to further enhance the association’s reach and influence?

I think it’s best summed up in one word: “more”. We’ve recognised for a while now how important a digital presence is for the association, but more importantly for members. Having had a team member dedicated to it for so long it shows the emphasis we put on it and this will not change. We will be continuing our investigation into the success of various promotional strategies including looking at advertising on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn. We will continue using these same platforms to help get our messaging across to consumers and we will be continuing and doing more work on our website. I know I don’t need to tell you Leon how important it is to continually invest in websites. Some people seem to expect a website to be a one-off cost with an annual hosting fee and not expect to put anything more into it. This is simply far from the truth with a need for constant innovation and improvement in the customer journey. The detail that Chris, who looks after our site, goes into is phenomenal, even down to looking at the difference that a colour can make on a call to action button on a page!

So yes: more. More web presence, more links to and from other authoritative sites, more social media presence, more advertising – all with the ultimate goal of more promotion of and awareness generation for our members.


Thank you so much for your time, Steffan! You can connect with Steffan George on LinkedIn.

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