Telum Talks to... FORWARD Agency Managing Director Fergus Kibble

Telum Talks to... FORWARD Agency Managing Director Fergus Kibble

We spoke to Managing Director of FORWARD Agency Fergus Kibble about TikTok, changes to the communications workforce, and when his staff will return to the office.

TikTok has emerged as a new platform for influencer campaigns. How do you approach wading into uncharted territories with a new medium?
This experience in isolation has been rocket fuel for the TikTok generation. We're seeing a number of brands that have started working with TikTok. Look at what Dettol did in India at the beginning of the pandemic with encouraging people to wash their hands with the #handwashchallenge. It achieved nearly 50 billion views. It is mind-blowing.
Brands need to watch, listen and learn. You don't run into a party and wave your arms around, and go, "Look at me, look at me." I think you've got to learn the language and learn how it works. Part of it is about testing and learning how we can best use it for clients. We're all trying to work out what best practice looks like. What do the strategies look like? And I think the answer is at the moment, we don't know.  Consumers are leading the way here, not marketers.​​​​​​​

FORWARD Agency will be looking after the influencer engagement and earned media for GLAD’s #whatsyourdifferent campaign. How did the current situation influence your ideas?
The marketing team at Clorox recognised that there is a positive role for their brands to play in people's lives right now to basically put a smile on their faces. Their products are in just about every single home, whether it’s in food preparation, food storage or food disposal.

In a bold move, the campaign is not trying to get people to buy more GLAD products, but just basically saying, "We're on this journey with you, and we can see that things are changing, but maybe there are some silver linings in there too."

It is anchored in a powerful human insight. We are all learning different ways of doing things. Families with kids need to keep them busy with all the extra time at home, so there’s more craft, there's more baking, all sorts of things. People are getting really creative. That is what we wanted to explore with this campaign.

Do you think the current situation will see a shift to more project-based work in favour of retainers?
All of us are learning to be leaner and more nimble - retainers will be too, I suspect. We have always worked in a hybrid model with some clients on retainer and some on a project-basis. I think things will change, but there will always be situations where a retainer is more appropriate and beneficial to the client. A retainer enables clients to have a dedicated team that is always thinking about their brand and can see opportunities to bring to them proactively. For clients with large product ranges, with a lot of new product development or innovation news, retainers make a lot of sense. As always, there are pros and cons of both approaches - the key is what is most efficient financially and generates the best outcomes.

Post COVID-19, will we see a shift in the communications workforce to fewer full-time workers and more freelancers?
Yes, I think we will start to see that happen - especially given the unfortunate number of layoffs as a consequence of COVID-19 across the marketing and communications agency landscape. Freelancing is a good way to support this pool of talent, so we should all be looking for opportunities to do that. Having a contingent workforce will be part of the workforce of the future. Even before the pandemic, FORWARD had started working with platforms like Cavalry, which easily allow agencies to connect with freelancers from all sorts of creative disciplines.

One of the things that has been a great benefit during this period is that I’ve become closer with a number of other agency heads. We’ve shared a lot of calls, Zooms, and virtual drinks, both as moral support, but also from a practical point of view. One of the things we have talked about is working together and having a pool of freelancers we can share with each other. Work is going to be a bit lumpy for a while, but these are really talented people. By working together, potentially we are able to provide ongoing work, but in a really collaborative way. It’s something we will be looking at for the future.

Is there anything you discovered working from home you're now going to continue to implement once we return to offices?
First and foremost, remote working is going to be a part of our future. From an agency value proposition and employee engagement proposition, why wouldn't you? Everybody, from the most junior account coordinator in our office all the way up to the senior team were forced into remote working, and every single one of them has done a great job. What we've learned is that remote work shouldn't just be for the senior people in the agency, it should be available to everyone.

We have all learnt new ways of working. In a recent agency wide survey, our people told us that they think the level of communication has been appropriate, and that they also feel trusted, supported and empowered. As much as it could be, the experience has been positive, but we still miss each other of course, and are looking forward to getting back to the office when the time is right. I hope by July we will all be back together.

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