Recently my solicitor died, whilst of decent age, it came as a shock, some people seem granite, immovable.
The advice and support when setting up my first business was invaluable, tempering my more ragged traits, reminding me of the importance of community, of soft power and quiet influence. The game is long, and survival can be tricky, but achievable, just don’t be a prat.
Last week, my Friday night was wild, a town hall meeting about the proposed hall in my village. In short, don’t, waste of time and money. The meeting was long and tediously rambunctious, people with vested interests and those with no agency just there for a trip out always make the worst noise.
For all the pointing of fingers and noise, the real business had been conducted before and was finessed after. Points made quietly and respectfully were ignored on the whole but noted by those with the decision in their grasp. Again, community, soft power, quiet influence.
A famous footballing landlord once spoke of his home city being a large village. And he was right, but perhaps not for the reason he suggested. All cities and towns are made of villages, all industries too.
When I lived in the city Robbie Fowler speaks of, I worked in the local designer shop, one which became everyone says famous overnight for either it’s animal print packaging or clientele. Actually it was the sense of community and how as a business they went above and beyond for the people who kept them going. It was an MBA into community as well as how the clothing business actually works. How business is a 24/7 world, where what you do outside of store and office hours matters as much as what you do inside.
There was another famous store in the city which closed, long a mecca for more casual menswear. The day it shut, we had a store meeting, where we were reminded that this was a bad day, that businesses which operate in isolation don’t work, that we must proactively work together to achieve our individual aims as well as raising up our community.
It was also a lesson that success although temporary is hard won, it requires community, soft power and quiet influence, things which come from hard work, dedication plus talent and which cannot be taken off the rack. An important lesson, one which I’ve reminded myself of pretty much every day since.
Because it’s easy to see a shining light and think wow, they had it easy, but people don’t see the working until and past midnight most nights, finding time or just skipping holidays and weekends to get things done.
Of course, if this was 10 years ago, we’d stop here, pat yourself on the back and go pick up a newspaper or call a friend. Because that was the pre-connected social 25/7 385 days a year world, where village halls perhaps were a sign of community, rather than fortnite and twitter.
Then you could understand and see soft power, influence and community in the people around you, at home, at play or in work. It was easy to spot, and things were done, face to face or at worst fax to fax.
Over lunch, coffee, a drink, deals made, problems avoided, and friendships made.
Before I start getting Welsh and wistful, this new world is pretty great, I mean look at me now, this is a form of legitimately talking aloud to myself rather than having to speak to the dog. Oh and I can sit by the river at bottom of my garden and on my phone speak with people and do all of the things I need to do whilst watching the swans go by.
The problem is, that sometimes it makes the soft power element difficult to see, the influence becomes a metric, but one that can be skewed.
Because now, like it or not the individual is the brand. We all are, the way we present ourselves and how we foster our choices plus likes upon the world had better be on brand message.
This removal of influence and power from the established bases and placing it in the hands of the individual is the story of the second decade of this century, we buy into individuals in the way we used to buy into movie stars or sports people, as commercial entities and as heroes.
This can be a wonderful thing: it means that talented and engaging voices are able to present themselves to the world unfiltered. The media becomes a platform for us all to tell our own stories, to share our experiences and expertise.
This means that person ‘A’ a talented cake maker has a voice and chance to tell their story, offer insights and tips, be creative beyond what they had ever anticipated.
The problem arises when our exceptional cake maker, presents a new type of confectionary, it gains some traction and then everyone else riffs off the same theme, for a while success is had by all, over time this lessens, until we’re left with feeds and timelines filled with bland copies of a brilliant original idea.
Of course, our cake maker has moved on, because all good businesses move on, they’re doing something else and going on to greater and better things as the competition get soggy bottoms stressing about algorithms and how to replace the cake with popcorn and the saga starts again and again. Until all the salty and sugar treats are used up, teeth are rotten, and brains fried.
You might argue that’s just life and was always thus, because the media has been a wonderful way to promote and push brand messages since before DDB and VW first set eyes on each other. It’s an inherent part of human behaviour and yes, everyone thinks that no, adverts do nothing to them, their shopping habits are theirs and theirs alone, whilst tucking into Finders’ Crispy Pancakes and professing a love for Accrington Stanley before chundering it all down Gold Hill, Jackson Pollocking cobbles and celebrity endorsed garms.
Ah celebrity. What makes a modern day celebrity? Talent yes, and that is always a good bet for success with marketing, but there is a new kind of fame, one just beyond grasp and then within if willing to gamble for it, fame is so fleeting, one moment you’re king of the celebrity factor love jungle on ice, the next opening Poundland stores.
So if you’re a brand in today’s marketplace, what are you to do? Well the obvious answer is to work with the cake maker. But they’re expensive, have a book in progress and non-compete’s coming out of ears.
What’s the alternative, the thinking often is that if you can, work with that cake maker - this is a good idea and will continue to be one – the bad idea, the road more often travelled is to work with those cake makers who copied our exceptional one but are cheaper.
Creating partnerships, brand to brand, corporation to individual, with those who are a good match is a fantastic idea, one which allows brilliant brands to create interesting projects with people who are their target market, with or without a platform.
In those instances it works tremendously well and creates something which although a commercial message is of note. Because the individuals whilst offering nuanced view of the world are blessed with huge expertise. For example a new brand of mixer working with our cake maker.
They are an expert, spent many hours learning and honing their craft, a craft that would have been theirs regardless of new found fame. Their calling and their followers know that. They follow because this is their passion too.
It’s just that where there is a breakthrough, the gap in the fence is plugged with a new obstacle, the fake influencer, they look, sound and act the same as the originator, and their commitment to a craft and passion they discovered week before last is unparalleled because in those two weeks, they have become deep in the game, this life, 4 lyf. Well at least until the follower count slows and, look, gingerbread latte art in the shape of sausage dog.
Of course I’m not bitter, my cake baking skills are enough to bring Mary Berry to Channel 4.
It’s just recently I’ve become a bit bored of cleaning up the mess of those chasing the lifestyle with short cuts, buying followers, aping trends, being who they wanna be, but forgetting that initial truism that there are no short cuts, because one day something challenges you and you don’t know how to deal with it.
Which is where the subject of this, our latest people post Leila Fataar comes in.
Leila Fataar is the woman to clear all of this up, sort it all out, here to change your opinion and show you a different way.
Leila is old school, boots on the ground, food in your belly, coffee in hand, let’s have a chat and work out what we can do for each other, there was a time when I was convinced - still am – that she owned certain Shoreditch establishments.
Leila is also new school, aware of the complexities of our modern world, creative and exploratory in her thinking, a problem solver before the problem arises.
Leila is the very model of traditional and modern soft power, quiet influence and community strength, that village concept we were talking about, well she works across several of those.
Intelligent, cultured and engaging, always highly informed on all topics “have you seen this? Been there? Heard this?”
In the 12 or so years I’ve known her, she has constantly innovated and proved herself able to work across the small yet complex world of London menswear with her first agency Spin, then international sportswear as a Global Director at Adidas Originals, before pivoting and become Head of Culture and Entertainment at Diageo Europe and now for the past two years her new agency Platform 13.
Platform 13 is interesting and of Leila and her vast experience, it’s aim is to create and maintain cultural relevance for big brands. So far, highly worthy and frankly of the moment, but where it differs is in its approach, rather than looking high and aiming for those with large follower numbers, it looks beyond the numbers and considers whether the output is right for the brand and the individual. To work with expertise, knowledge and passion. Not recently bought VSCO subscription.
In order for this to work, you connections must be impeccable, as must your ability to find the next generation of talent. It cannot be faked, you cannot be a self-proclaimed expert, you must be an actual expert - rare.
This is against the grain, and is the future, because it’s based upon the idea that those who want to buy will trust those with expertise. It’s a method which works.
When running Daniel Jenkins the store, I was obsessed with analytics, not because I wanted to use them to map our future decisions as I felt that store’s job was to set the agenda and be ahead, but to see where traffic and sales came from.
Now, the more traffic, the higher number of sales? Well not quite, yes, high traffic pieces were important and gratefully received, as they often introduced people to what we were doing and that led to a long lasting relationship, but, for sales, an article written for a laser guided publication which spoke about an item or designer we stocked would always lead to individual sales.
We couldn’t have been alone in that, so with the explosion of social media, I often wondered why brands haven’t invested cannily in their core market instead preferring to spend big on big names.
Particularly when they see that the most successful brands and companies become important culturally to their community, from Guinness to Adidas, these are major corporations with significant commercial offerings, but also ones which mean something, the consumer aligns with the brand in their choice, “yes there are other sneakers, but I buy Adidas, yes other stouts, but Guinness is mine”. It’s the same at all levels with emotional purchases, where there is a choice, often the consumer makes that decision based upon price, but also upon who they view themselves as and how they want the world to view them. From choice of trainers, beer, political party, suits, even football team.
Of course, in order to avoid the trips and traps you need an old world, new world approach, you take the blessings of the new technology and apply it to simple human practice. I mean, remember the days of seeded trainers? When top boys, those in the know, were sent a pair of trainers, it was a loose arrangement, they’d wear them, be seen and snowball would start, but it relied upon the brand knowing their market, understanding what made someone that person, now it’s become too easy to pick and far too easy to pick badly. Speaking of which, remember the Stan Smith relaunch? One of Leila’s.
Because the most important thing is that human touch and knowledge, the night of the London riots of 2011 Jacket Required or No Jacket Required as it was called - I wore a jacket – had its first night launch party in Shoreditch, this was after a day in which tensions had been rising across the city, I remember being in the Rochelle School for the show and turning to see Leila who was organising everyone, explain calmly to people what was happening.
At the time I lived above Barclays in Dalston – big rectangular window as I still boringly tell everyone – and although things passed underneath, we weren’t affected. It was a surreal few days and nights, but I remember running into Leila in Albion – always Albion – and was about to apologise that hadn’t made the party, when she started asking if I was ok, if we’d be affected, was there anything she could do & had I seen this person, or did I know such and such? No? Let me introduce you, you two should meet, the funny thing was they were always people you really should meet, those that didn’t need to talk the talk, they just moved the wheels and directed the traffic.
Leila reminded me of this when we went up onto Platform 13’s roof the other week, looking across a Shoreditch which changes by the week and has changed immeasurably since we first met, a Shoreditch which feels like a kingdom, our supposedly brief chat and catch up being a several hour conversation about everything and everyone, politics, the industry, where are people now, had I seen this, when did I last see etc etc.
Soft power, influence and community.
As ever, we ask 10 set questions and then ask each interviewee to pick 3 British ‘things’ they love.
Why do you do what you do?
Having worked in multiple types of companies: my 10 year youth oriented boutique agency, Spin, a stint at corporate powerhouse Edelman PR and in senior roles at both sportswear giant, adidas Originals (global) and drinks heavyweight, Diageo (Europe). I became frustrated at the status quo of the current comms and ad industries, and started Platform13 in 2017 to challenge what communication means today. We answer challenges faced by big brands in the ever changing world of agencies and creative as well as the swiftly moving cultural landscape.
I was born and bred in apartheid South Africa, so those are my roots and I am happy they are, but London is where I feel at home. I have lived in numerous locations in West and East London and for just under 3 years in Nuremberg, Germany when I was with adidas. My husband, Luke and I and our son, Jacob currently reside in Highbury.
What do you collect?
Memories and experience.
To name a few and for different reasons - my mum, my husband, my son, Mandela, Prince, Gretha Thunberg, Stormzy, my close friends…
BBQ Lamb chops
The positive impact that can happen with the balance of youthful optimism and life experience.
From a business POV: Continuing to challenge brands to make positive impact on the community they are trying to be part of.
From a personal POV: Spend more quality time with friends and family.
From the UK POV: Brexit shit.
Four items which sum up the UK…
Roast dinner and curry,
Rebellion (fashion, music, art),
The weather conversation (and effect on travel plans).