First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Jamie Smith: Coping well thanks, initially it was a huge shock to the system, especially for the children (and parents) with homeschooling, as it was for everyone. You had no choice but to adjust, be realistically optimistic as we possibly could, and just keep going. There are people and families who are really feeling the effects of COVID-19, so it puts life into perspective and has made me extremely grateful for what I have.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded FOTW.
Jamie Smith: I’m 43 years old, a father of 2 to Molly and Albie living in Bedfordshire in the UK. I’m originally from Luton (30 miles North of London) and have always loved drawing and painting. I went to college in Luton and studied GNVQ art and design. I then traveled to Malaysia and Australia for over a year before coming home and then going to University to do an HND in Graphic design. I had just finished Uni when FOTW was founded back in 2002. Robin Byrne, my Co-Director, had just been laid off, and after a phone call, we went for a beer, and that’s how the FOTW journey began. We started from a small bedroom and a 5k business loan from the Princes trust, which we used to buy our first computers and software.
We started with a very loose plan as a Graphic Design agency working on anything from brochures, re-brands, adverts for print to building websites. You then realize that running a business is more than just coming up with ideas and drawing pretty pictures, so you learn literally on the job and find yourself in between chasing invoices, setting out loose business plans, managing people while coming up with ideas for the next brief. This is why you start employing people to alleviate you from these jobs so you can really focus. It’s also when our journey started to change 5 years in, and we found ourselves getting more into CG and animation work. This is where Sky Bet & Gaming came up with an opportunity to produce a 5″ full CG sponsorship advert that would go on TV in between the darts program, if I recall. The sponsorship performed extremely well. Fast forward to the present day and FOTW consists of a team of 23 people, working with global brands such as Sky, Samsung, and yes, still Sky Bet & Gaming creating their DRTV advertising for TV and social.
How does FOTW innovate?
Jamie Smith: Innovation is a big word, and unless you’re constantly looking ahead and looking at ways to change the industry you work in, then it’s more like tweaking!! However, I do feel that COVID has changed the way we work forever. This brings in more tech opportunities to help us work remotely, efficiently, and help communicate better internally and externally. Whether that’s a written process such as ways of working that’s digitized or ensuring you’re set up to work anywhere in the world without the costs of office overheads. We’re already looking at using tech to build a platform that could change the way marketers work, where they will be in total control of a campaign from start to finish and will help optimize the creative throughout the process, in short making the creative work as hard as possible, changing the creative during a campaign if needed and ensuring your ad is on the correct channel. This will help the client get the maximum on their ROI. It’s early days, but I feel this could be something exciting and a direction to move into for 2021.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Jamie Smith: Coronavirus has definitely affected the business’s culture, and there’s no getting away from that as we are not in the same building, talking f2f, going out for lunch, and having coffee together. We have been talking over zoom calls for almost 9 months now, which is difficult unless there are 2 – 4 people max. However, the team has done a sterling job adapting to working this way, and we have already said we should be more flexible with working from home or the office. Our IT department has also done a great job ensuring our team and freelancers have been set up with the correct equipment. They quickly upgraded and deployed a new IT infrastructure throughout the business to boost both external networking capabilities by 300% allowing up to 100+ freelancers to work off our servers at one time, along with new best-in-class firewalls to guarantee the best level of security for the business and clients. We also ensured we had the appropriate equipment for remote working along with making Slack, Zoom, and a new VOIP phone system available for all staff and external partners to ensure easy and fluid communication.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Jamie Smith: We’ve had to review and restructure the business. Our Business stopped overnight, and we had little commitment from brands as no one knew what to do initially as this was a new scary scenario for everyone. Over 12 months, we have gone from 45 to 23 FT staff. We’ve lost some good people but fortunately have all gone on to find other work. However, the current team has been absolutely amazing, I must say, with coping working from home in isolation while still managing to create and manage the same amazing work we are known for and not dropping the ball. I have to take my hat off to all of them. I’ve learnt that we humans are much more resilient than we think, and we can, when forced into situations, come out the other side bigger and stronger. I also found that Keeping active on our social channels and keeping marketing spends going on things like hosting our own webinars, which focus on our skill sets, knowledge, and industry insights, has started to open doors. Hopefully, we’ll see the fruits in Q1 of 2021.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Jamie Smith: Well, everyone has or finds their own way to deal with stress. I suppose for me it’s a case of keeping fit even if it’s 20 mins of exercise every other day, eating healthily (but not taking it too seriously that it becomes a chore), and for me, 7-8 hours of good night sleep, helps me cope better with stress and manage my moods. All in all, try new ways to deal with stress and then see what works best for you. Be realistic and think about the situation that makes you stressed, then put this into perspective. Most of the time, your own mind makes the matter seem 100 times worse when it really isn’t that bad or life-threatening!!
Another tip I use is to spend less time on my phone and delete my news apps. There’s nothing worse than getting constant reminders of what breaking news there is throughout the day. If you want to find out what’s going on in the news, choose a time of day to do it, preferably after work…with a beer or a nice cup of tea!
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Jamie Smith: Any creative agency that produces content for brands across TV and digital platforms. As a creative agency, we always strive for the best creative idea that’s suitable for the brand, but in today’s competitive world, we also need to always look to optimize the creative, making it work harder / smarter and in turn giving greater ROI to our clients as well as using campaign asset’s efficiently across multiple channels, making them work harder. We are also looking to use technology 2021 to help push our current offering to another level that becomes more valuable to our clients and our new clients. This will put the Marketeers in better control if they wish, with live data, where they serve their content and whether they need to see how things can be improved mid-campaign rather than at the end.
Your final thoughts?
Jamie Smith: 2020 has not been the best year for most of us. However, I feel individuals, families, governments, and businesses from around the world have learnt so much, and as a human race can take some positives from this year and be better for it. Looking forward to 2021, there will be some challenges, but we are already much more prepared to deal with COVID, and now, with some positive noises about the vaccines that will soon be available for the people who need it most. The light is shining a lot brighter today than it was yesterday. So, always prepare, keep reserves, and plan for the worst; the bumpy days will feel a lot smoother!!
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