Alex Brown is the CCO of Campfire, an agency that works with clients including Missguided, The INKEY List and MyProtein. We caught up with him to find out how he spends his days, and how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted the company as a whole.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
I’m Campfire’s chief creative officer, meaning I’m responsible for the creative output of our clients, be that the look and feel of the brand, the marketing or content production – at least that’s my role on paper! The truth is as an owner of a company still in its start-up phase, I get involved with every aspect of the business along with our CEO, Joe.
The list is slowly reducing as the team expands (we’ve recently made three more hires that we’re thrilled about). However, I absolutely love working in all of these different areas of the business. I feel extremely lucky.
How has your typical day been impacted in the short term by the pandemic?
Lockdown hasn’t actually changed my working day much at all, but it did mean that the two mindsets separated by office and home suddenly collided and I found myself struggling to maintain proper focus during my working hours. I also felt less relaxed after my laptop was closed, which has ultimately led to an improvement in self-discipline.
I’ve also missed the physical presence of the team. As a creative I really value the ability to quickly bounce around ideas or just have unscheduled chats. Often quick chats between the team lead to “what if we did *insert great idea*?” and we come up with something amazing. I’ll be extremely happy to have a sense of normality return and to be back in the office with proper distancing measures in place.
What are your favourite tools and techniques to help you get your work done at the moment?
Whilst we’re still adhering to lockdown measures and having the team work from home, we’ve had to adapt and organise our team via various task management platforms. We use Monday (the team management platform) to manage all of Campfire’s tasks and run through it every morning on a video call. It is a great task manager but also allows us to build out various dashboards containing Campfire’s internal resources – assets, HR documents etc.
What has been really interesting is having the team expand during the pandemic. This has meant virtually interviewing and onboarding all of our new team members and them joining the team without ever having physically met anyone at Campfire! Without the ability to come into an office, it’s difficult to observe and explore a company’s culture and to get to know the team on a more personal level.
We remedied this by scheduling calls between new starters and the rest of the team for no real reason at all. Literally just to chat. The idea was to simulate those times that you bump into someone in the canteen and catch up. It’s been great to see relationships grow between the team during lockdown.
Which companies have impressed you during the pandemic?
There are a few companies that have really impressed me during the pandemic either by their actions or by how they’ve reacted to the situation. The first, and I don’t just say this because they’re a client, is The Hut Group. As a Manchester based business ourselves, it was amazing to see THG donate not only £10 million, but a further 25 tonnes of PPE to the Manchester NHS and free up every room in one of their Manchester hotels for NHS staff and police at a time when there was so much fear.
I’ve also been incredibly impressed to see how some of the smaller commercial businesses we work with have adapted to the conditions forced on them by the lockdown. Manchester is home to a lot of independents, with the majority of these businesses prior to lockdown requiring the physical presence of people.
It’s been incredible to see some of them take what could have been a disastrous set of circumstances and move towards a model focused towards e-commerce, creating their own digital marketing strategies, content, websites, and digital communities with some of them even scaling beyond what they ever thought possible with a brick and mortar business. That growth has been incredibly exciting and inspiring to watch, and in some cases, be a part of.
What changes are you making to help your company connect with how people are feeling and experiencing the pandemic?
The pandemic and lockdown have of course created a feeling of separation both in our personal lives but also in our work lives. We feel it’s not enough to just schedule morning calls to talk through the tasks of the day ahead, we want to keep some sense of the social side of the office too. Scheduling calls just for the sake of a 10-minute catch up to check in on how everyone’s doing and getting to know members of the team – on a level deeper than just work colleagues – has created friendships between members of the team that have never physically met.
When we do come back into the office, we’re taking a phased approach, meaning people are able to come in as they feel comfortable, or otherwise working from home. Many companies are now abandoning offices altogether, but this isn’t something Campfire is choosing to do, as we love the creative, collaborative atmosphere that can only be found in a vibrant space full of like-minded individuals. Environments like this just manifest great ideas.
What trends have you seen in the last few weeks in your sector?
The biggest one for the marketing industry is that brands are slashing advertising spend, as you can imagine, with the biggest cutbacks being made by the travel, leisure and entertainment industries. As a company that focuses primarily on ecommerce and product marketing, we haven’t felt this ourselves, but it is definitely something that has been felt by our industry as a whole.
Many brands are choosing to move back to basics by providing a great service, building a robust customer journey with their advertising strategy and reducing the amount of exploratory, experimental, or fringe marketing that they do. Any brands that had previously invested in robust customer journeys are now prospering, with the lockdown really shining a light on the benefits of a strong online presence.
Primark was a prime example of the result of ignoring this, with its sales dropping from £650 million per month to zero after lockdown when its stores were forced to close. It’s important that brands are constantly innovating for their sector; if anything that innovation will act as an insurance policy against times like this.
What advice would you give a marketer right now?
Almost every industry has been shaken up more than anyone ever thought possible. This has left many brands feeling a little shell-shocked and afraid of what’s to come, illustrated perfectly by the market crash we saw at the beginning of the lockdown.
As we begin to peek our heads back out into this new landscape, I would focus on offering a service to your clients based on a robust, reliable, and measurable customer journey. Brands right now need security, reassurance, and the confidence that the money they spend is going to make them a return on their investment. Then, once we return to some sense of normality and stability, we can start exploring new vistas together and reinvesting into those big hitters we love to create as marketeers.