Jem Fawcus is the CEO and co-founder of Firefish, a human insight agency that sets out to make sense of the human experience, and prides itself on unconventional thinking and “uncommon sense”.
We caught up with him to find out about the skills needed to be the CEO of a human insight agency, what he loves about his job, the brands that have impressed him lately, and gaining inspiration from vegetable patches.
(If you’d like to be featured in our ‘Day in the Life’ column, let us know).
Please describe your job: What do you do?
Basically, I nose around people’s lives (with their informed consent of course) and try to make sense of the world. I try to understand what people think and why people behave the way they do so we can turn this into useful insight to guide the brands and businesses that pay us to find this out.
Officially, I am the CEO of Firefish; this means that our hugely talented internal team are also some of the people I try to understand, aiming to get the best out of us all working together; and some other people I try and understand are our clients, and how we might help them.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
I am the CEO. Which means I report to everyone.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
These aren’t really skills, they are more states of mind: Curiosity. Passion. Diplomacy. Clarity. Creativity. Empathy.
Tell us about a typical working day…
I work from home half the week; there I get up, feed the chickens, do some emails, make some calls, do some thinking. Lunch is a brisk walk to the chicken coop to get some eggs to boil. The afternoon is similar to the morning, perhaps with a couple of circuits of the veg patch thrown in to get some inspiration from my broad beans and potatoes.
Other days, I go to the office and talk to people, go to clients and listen to them. Every few weeks I go to our office in New York and do a bit of all the above. With fewer chickens and veg patches.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
I pretty much love it all. Working with great people, watching them develop and flourish. The intellectual challenge of distilling insight and strategy from the fascinating mess that is real life. The varied locations. Keeping pace with technological and cultural changes. As founder and CEO, I’m in the hugely privileged position of having created my job, so it would be a bit much to claim it sucks.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
My goals have evolved from uninformed world domination to the more hippyish living a useful and balanced life and helping those around me fulfil their potential. Man. That and catching more fish. My KPIs there are around weight and number.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
The trains are quite useful because I live in the country. My phone, laptop and the internet are pretty crucial too. Having said that, tools come and go, our minds, curiosity, and interaction with people and culture are what get the job done well.
How did you end up at Firefish, and where might you go from here?
I co-founded it, so I had no choice. We wanted to shake up the insight industry a bit, help companies understand the intersection of culture, people and brands, help them really connect with their audiences.
19 years later, we still have that attitude, and thrive in helping brands navigate the cultural and technological disruption that continues apace. We keep evolving, currently developing capabilities in innovation, UX and service design, that are driven by our expertise in people, brands and culture.
Where might I go from here? I hope I will eventually go to all the rivers in the world that I haven’t yet fly fished on, and want to.
Which brands have impressed you lately?
I love what Tommy Hilfiger is doing with their adaptive range, designed for and by people with disabilities. We have been privileged to work alongside them; a great example of how to really deliver on a core brand purpose of fashion for everyone.
More personally, the Orvis’ Practicaster is a fantastic innovation to allow people (especially my six year old daughter) to learn to fly fish without embedding a hook in their head.
Do you have any advice for new marketers, who may not necessarily have formal education in the subject, looking to set strategy in 2019?
It’s all about the people. People, not consumers, not technology. Put them front and centre, develop empathy and intuition, and your strategy will fly.