#AgencyFocus: A bold leap of faith and fear
by Sabrina Forbes. Faith & Fear is a business started by two women whom you’ve probably never heard of but have worked on almost any brand you can think of — and, according to co-founder Taryn Hunter Sharman (@tarynsharman), that’s exactly the way they like it.
Directly answerable to CEOs
Sharman and co-founder Perri King (@kingperri) will tell you that they typically go in behind the scenes and are often directly answerable to the CEOs — who’ve approached them to solve a business problem. It’s the speed and efficiency in getting the job done that Sharman believes is their true USP, and which keeps clients coming back for more.
Sharman had been MD at full-service creative agency, Ebony+Ivory, for about 10 years and had often tried to poach King to work with her, offering all sorts of incentives, but was turned down every time. Into her 10th year at the agency, Sharman decided to take a three-month sabbatical to decide on her next steps; it lasted one weekend — a weekend filled with panic on what she was going and wanted to do next. After a phone call with King that involved Sharman having even less to offer, the two discussed taking a leap and starting something with nothing. All they knew was that, even though they didn’t know yet what to call their business, if it began to resemble an agency, they’d have done it wrong and would have failed in their mission, and that it would require equal amounts of faith and fear to navigate their entrepreneurial journey.
That was September 2015. Today, Faith & Fear is a creative and strategic growth consultancy, based in Johannesburg and combining retainer- and project-based services. The majority of the briefs received are business challenges vs marketing requests and the duo believes their strength lies in their understanding and execution of solving said business problems, which will often result in a marketing solution, tactic, or channel.
The belief in their abilities and knowing they can create real magic with their clients, combined with a dash of fear that keeps them on their toes and never lets them become complacent or jaded, has also stood them in good stead when it comes to client acquisition. People either get them or don’t, and it’s those who do and are willing to go on a journey, led by both faith and fear, that the duo prefer to work with. Sharman knows that not everybody is going to like them and she’s unapologetic about it.
King elaborates: “You almost don’t want to be for everybody; you want to be for those people [whom] are you perfect for. We don’t want to be vanilla or halfway; we want to be an all-the-way yes for the right clients and the right projec.
King comes from a corporate background but says that she’d always had entrepreneurial adventures, including a lucrative babysitting and childminding service, Perri Your Pal, when she was 11. Her grey matter had been deteriorating at her current corporate marketing role, she says, and that the levels of bureaucracy and red tape had been starting to get to her.
“Spread our wings”
“You can be creative, sort of — not really, actually. So Taryn and I, in joining forces, wanted to be in a space where we could create and be flipping fast and get sign off immediately from the top guy who was ready for us to roll out something, to be really dynamic, and let us spread our wings and have that sprinting feeling. I think both of us kind of thrive in that environment… where we go in, we hear a customer’s problems — whatever industry they’re in, whatever department… we go in to hear about their challenges or what cool thing they’re hoping to do, generate cool ideas and really move very quickly with a lot of trust. This comes back to this really weird name we have, which [either] a lot of people stumble over initially or they really love it.”
“We often find that, with clients, partners, and projects, they either love us and it’s so smooth and there’s an alignment of all the things. As soon as… people are like, ‘We’re not sure about your name, we’re a little risk-averse, we want a Mercedes-Benz but we’re only going to pay you for a skedonk’, we’re like, ‘You know what? It’s fine,” says Sharman.
“There’s nothing wrong with an agency; I’ve come from that, it’s what I know, it’s what we do. Why I say we don’t want to be an agency is getting stuck in ‘you have an ECD [who] goes to a CD who then goes to the AD and, if the AD hasn’t approved it, it can’t go to the client,” she continues, adding that this is what typically holds many teams back from quickly delivering great work.
‘Think like a startup’
King adds that they’ll often speak to a client about a problem and, within a few days or weeks (depending on the size of the business), they’ll deliver a full strategy and costing. Once accepted, rollout takes a couple of days or weeks. “From the day you get briefed [and] the day you put in a creative concept to the day it comes out of design [and] the day you can actually implement, the bigger the agency, the longer it takes. That’s just not cutting it anymore. We don’t have time for 3–4 week returns on a brief in this recession. More and more, we’re having to help big corporates, [which] are like submarines, to start thinking like a startup. Agencies need to start doing the same thing; you cannot take a client’s brief and take 3–4 months in order to get to execution stage, never mind a finished product,” she says.
Both Sharman and King are convinced that their marriage of conceptual ideas and a very practical implementation leg is what sets them apart from traditional consultancies, which often fall flat on execution. Without traction on the ground, a great idea remains just that. The two pride themselves that any solution they develop will be practical, not a clever piece of copy or design which never lives or breathes. For Sharman, no matter how amazing a piece of creative is, it’s never going to solve a business challenge that’s broken. The same goes for the opposite — you’re never going to have a challenge that’s solved by mediocre creative.
While the business consists of Sharman and King, the partnerships they’ve developed and the people they’re surrounded themselves with is what allows them to offer a wide range of creative and strategic services without having to to hire multitudes with varying experience. They both prefer to outsource to unconventional partners who’re ready to get their hands dirty and as hungry as they are. They’ve seen that the energy is different with salaried staff members, whereas their partners are hungry for work, dynamic, and don’t typically stick within their lanes. Also, as entrepreneurs, they prefer to support small businesses and freelancers; they deal directly with their clients and translate the challenge’s needs to the different service providers, working together on whatever needs to be done to deliver the final solution.
The two are also service providers to the greater creative industry and have been known to be the SWAT team behind agencies which can’t deliver on a certain project or are dealing with scope-creep and need assistance. Other times, an agency has sold an idea but didn’t really think about how it would be implemented. “That’s our favourite! And it’s already sold; it’s rolling; the client’s all keen. They’ve got their dates and everything set up. So, we go in and establish everything. We’re kind of the fixers,” says Sharman.
Both Sharman and King agree that being a women entrepreneur in an industry typically run by old white men can certainly be challenging. Sharman recalls being calls being called ‘girlie’ by a client at an event they managed and says when that same client came back the following year for a quote, they declined to participate. Sharman also remembers being asked to present their business model and prove their pricing structures because a certain client didn’t believe they knew what they were doing and looked too young to have a handle on the business side of things.
For many reasons, Sharman’s favourite “worst subject” is being asked how they began, and continue, to price their services. One of the things she hates about the agency model is charging by the hour, believing this system is highly flawed. “How do you put into an hour what’s taken 20 years to get to this kind of space in your life? Whether you came up with an idea in 15 minutes or three months, should it be cheaper?
“We base it on what the problem is and how long it’s going to take. Often, it should take three months to deliver the solution but the client needs it in a week, so there’s an expedited price tag. What do you need, by when, and how big is it? It’s one of the things we really struggled with, but we’ve had to learn [after] being burnt badly, that we also have to be unapologetic about our pricing. We’re not the cheapest, by any stretch of the imagination, but… we have repeat clients and word-of-mouth at CEO level.”
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Sabrina Forbes (IG) is an experienced writer covering the food, health, lifestyle, beverage, marketing and media industries. She runs her own full-stack web/app development and digital-first content creation company. For more, go to moonwrench.com. She is a contributing writer to MarkLives.com.