When Alexandra Fearn, Dan Salkey and Harvey Austin from sports creative agency Dark Horses found themselves on furlough, they decided that the last thing that the world needed was another advertising podcast. Instead, as the UK government has stepped in to help subsidise salaries of furloughed staff, they figured that they could use their time and skills to help support others and stimulate the economy.
Alex, Dan and Harvey reached out to furloughed creatives Daisy Elsden, Josh Clarke, Stella Jonikate and Eve De Haan - and so ‘Not Fur’Long’ was born. It’s a collective of furloughed ad folk who are helping small businesses for free, to help them adapt and thrive during a challenging economic environment. Thankfully, in the UK the government has stepped in to subsidise salaries of furloughed staff, which is allowing the Not Fur’long team to help businesses which could not ordinarily afford the services of experienced agency talent.
The team are appealing to SMEs who need a bit of creative thinking and marketing know-how to get in touch – and are also open to volunteers who have been furloughed from agencies. LBB’s Laura Swinton spoke to the team to find out more about this ingenious initiative.
LBB>Who’s behind Not Fur' Long and why did you decide to launch it?
The founding members are Alex Fearn (Client Partner), Dan Salkey (Strategist) and Harvey Austin (Client Partner). When we were furloughed collectively we wanted to keep doing what we're doing. We love our jobs and we didn’t want a three months period of doing nothing. We flip-flopped between personal development projects for about a day before putting our heads together and coming up with Not Fur’ Long. We, of course, needed some fantastic creative talent on board, so approached our fellow furloughed colleagues Daisy Elsden, Josh Clarke, Stella Jonikate and Eve De Haan to be our founding creatives. The seven of us have been squirrelling away ever since to try and bring the idea to life.
LBB> Why did you decide to focus on small and medium sized businesses?
We recognised that small businesses would take the biggest hit in all this with most reports suggesting that 1 in 5 of them will be closing. That’s really worrying because fundamentally SMEs are the lifeblood of any community. They’re your local pub, your favourite fitness studio or that coffee shop who knows exactly how your Flat White. So we wanted to help them. Because ultimately those are the places everyone can’t wait to return to after lockdown. So we need to try to make sure they still exist.
We did a bit of research, listened to a webinar with Paul Scully the minister for small business and he was actively encouraging people those who had been furloughed to try and help keep the economy AND the community going. So that’s exactly what we’re trying to do with Not Fur’ Long.
We’re free of charge, although we like to think of ourselves as prepaid. We’re being paid by the government through the furlough scheme and see our service as an indirect method of supporting SME’s who have fallen through the cracks of government funding.
LBB> Tell me about the founding clients - how did you meet them?
Our first clients were the fabulous Rhian and Faye, twins who run the Hackney-based fitness studio Strong + Bendy. We couldn’t have asked for a better, more enthusiastic and more responsive first client. We hope all our clients epitomise their spirit.
Before launching the site, word of mouth was by far our biggest new business tactic and we hope it still plays a big part. Strong + Bendy provided us with our second client, Loddon Brewery, through a referral. Small business owners with strong brands tend to know others like them which works perfectly for us.
Our website and social channels are now live which we’ve seen a fantastic response too. We suggest anyone wanting to help or refer an SME apply through the forms on the site.
We’re also utilising our network within the industry and beyond to find new talent and take on other clients. Ultimately we’re only as big as the talent we can attract, so it's great to have so many amazing people onboard.
LBB> We're seeing a lot of small businesses like corner shops suddenly embrace delivery and social media to help them survive during the lockdown. How can creativity support businesses that may not have previously engaged with professional marketing?
Creativity is the key to keeping all of these businesses alive. Most of their forms of marketing such as word of mouth have been turned on their head overnight and methods of delivering their product have vanished, for instance, fitness studios and pubs.
Helping SMEs overcome these challenges is a task we relish. We’re here to provide creative support rather than pure content or traditional ‘ads’. Some of the most helpful creative support for these businesses are small tactics and activations. We’re already working with the majority of our clients on creative ways of adapting their businesses to new formats like social or digital as well as creative methods of getting their product or service to their consumers.
LBB> What sort of response have you got from talent and also from clients/potential clients?
We’ve had an amazing response from all types of SMEs across the UK. Some of the businesses are widely creative in their offering and it’s a joy to have such a varied collection of potential clients.
We’ve also had an array of hugely talented, experienced and eager applicants willing to volunteer their time to the cause.
The task now is a straightforward one. Help connect all these fantastic businesses and people so we can do some work that has a real impact.
LBB> How have you found setting up an agency remotely and so quickly? And has it made you rethink what sort of shape agencies might be when we come out of Covid-19?
It’s meant a lot of long days and nights, and we’ve had to answer a lot of questions that previously wouldn’t have been directed at us, but we’ve loved it. Building on strong existing relationships and having great support from our network has been invaluable. We’ve recently brought Olivia Riddle on board, a freelance producer to help us from an operational and resourcing point of view. She’s been fantastic.
In terms of the impact COVID-19 will have on our industry, it seems most reports are suggesting that things won’t change as much as they will accelerate existing trends. While other crises have reshaped the future, it appears COVID-19 is just making the future happen faster. Most notably and relevant for us is acceleration towards digital. As Mark Read commented ‘we’re seeing 10 years innovation crammed into 4 weeks, the way we communicate, travel, work, shop, use financial services and educate our children.’
For us personally, we’re trying to embrace the ‘new normal’ so we can work quickly and creatively to help as many of our clients as possible.