Poke is 10 Years Old Today….
Birthday interview with Founders and Partners Nicolas Roope and Nick Farnhill
LBB: Happy 10th Birthday today to you all at Poke. How does it feel to have hit a decade?
NF: Surprising. It’s all gone very, very quickly. It’s the nicest thing to take the time to look at all the work that we’ve done. You don’t always remember and then you start looking at it and it just brings back lots of nice memories… and people as well who have moved on and are doing amazing things. It all comes back to you and when you see it all, in one whole go, it’s very satisfying.
NR: It doesn’t sound like a long period of time but 10 years ago there was no Facebook, no MySpace, YouTube, No Twitter…
NF: The hardest thing ever is trying to find photos for memories and pre 2005 before Flickr and stuff like that it’s just impossible. We have to go through everyone’s old albums and then past 2005 it just explodes and every photo of every minute in Poke’s life [is available].
NR: In fact, it’s because we weren’t very photogenic and we were in a basement. Of course we were in a basement, doesn’t everything in England begin in a basement? In America it’s garages, but yes, there is nothing photogenic about our first five years.
NF: His beard is 10 years old
NR: No, it’s not, it’s 9 years old
NF: Yes, sorry, it’s 9 years old
NR: Yes, it’s a very handsome 9-year-old beard
LBB: What inspired you to set up Poke?
NF: We were saying the other day that we didn’t have any work that we could tell anyone about. Nic was at an agency called Oven Digital and I was at an agency called Deepend; both of them were quite successful. They exploded. We had nothing, we had no work and we’d just laid off hundreds of people collectively… and we’re sitting there with this thing and said ‘how are we actually going to tell people what it’s about?’ and we ended up putting this portfolio together with 10 images in it and the first one was ‘Digital Media has developed a German Sense of Humour’ and there was a photo of a swimming pool, with a lounger, with a German flag on it and the point was there were some amazing things going on, big commerce sites and none of them had any personality. They had no fun… something enjoyable about them and we just felt that we could bring a little bit of that to it, to the show.
LBB: So, why is Poke called Poke?
NR: We were in quite a hurry to name it because we all got together in quite reasonable haste. The Twin Towers had just come down and that was where Deepend’s saving investment chats were… which obviously didn’t go well that day. So when we did set up it was done reasonably quickly and we were under pressure to come up with a name. We were in a coffee shop, we were in Nero in Dean Street and we’d probably had one too many coffees and we were a bit excited and, just Poke came up, the word kind of stuck and we all played it back to each other and were finding different layers… It was definitely the layers that we liked. You know, that Poke is a fundamental interactive thing, a simple marketing thing… and it was a moment when we were getting back to the basics, in market terms, after very big companies to a very small, essential company focusing on the essentials of interactivity, not these big, convoluted issues that we’d been dealing with… We liked the essential nature of it and the fact that ‘Peek and Poke’ is old programming language that a few of us had practiced at school and then of course Facebook came along later with its ‘Poke’… It just worked from the beginning, but it kind of got more interesting over time.
NF: It’s also one of those words that just make you smile. [One of the group] and everyone just jumped on it and said that sounds absolutely spot on… Not really understanding the exact reasons why and then the stuff Nic’s talking about, it just started to fall into place. We spent our first five years as Poke and we end up one day with a legal complication with Facebook which we won in the end but yes, there was a challenge over the use of ‘Poke’ and we had to take them on…. And won!
NR: We beat Facebook.
LBB: That’s quite a big thing… So would you say that was your finest moment?
NR and NF: NO!
NR: I think picking up our first Webby, probably. I think that was the moment that we transitioned from being a small name into an international name. We won two in the same year, one for Jamie Oliver and one for Alexander McQueen. We ended up presenting next to Mr. Al Gore and Vint Cerf was there… All these amazing kind of heroes and it just felt awesome. We felt like we’d sort of been vindicated… that was a good moment.
LBB: Is there a piece of work that stands out for you, is there something that you hold dearest or that shines for you?
NF: There are lots of pieces of work that feel pretty fresh today. The two projects for me are actually Poke-owned projects. So they’re ideas that came out of Poke. One was actually presented to a client who turned it down and we just thought it was such a good idea we wanted to do it anyway and that was the Global Rich List (www.globalrichlist.com). That was eight years ago but it’s still our most successful piece of work in terms of people visiting… 9 million uniques. If you search for ‘Rich’ on Google it’s still the number one natural search item that comes up in the list. The other [piece of work] is Bakertweet (www.pokelondon.com/portfolio/bakertweet). They both represent something that people just like to talk about. So Global Rich List was a reaction to clients always asking us to do something viral but not really understanding what it meant… it drove us around the bend and we used it as a way to describe how the viral nature of projects really starts and that it isn’t just about making a funny video. Bakertweet was just a lovely piece where you had some physical - a true physical interaction, and a digital interaction working together… and they both stick out and people lorded them.
NR: The other reason particularly the Global Rich List is such an important example of work for us is that it shows where our heads were at – right from the start. Just really compelling interesting stuff… whatever we are doing because those were and are the drivers of the things on the internet which is this big free space and obviously with social media coming along later it only accelerated that tendency that we still think like that. I think for a lot of agencies and for a lot of people, social media has been a very discontinuous step in their development because they’ve come along with a more media bent on the way that they make stuff; so they make stuff to go out to channel, it gets paid to channel. The Global Rich List generated its own audience and it still generates its own audience. So for us it’s been a very continuous movement into social media. The same things are happening and we have the same attitude. That is the currency of the stuff; the currency of all social interaction is putting something interesting out there, offering more than the basic mechanical transaction. Filling the void with something interesting that creates traction and that sustains conversation and a lot of that stuff, a lot of that thinking is still rooted in the Global Rich List….
LBB: So, the world of digital, social media - is it as demystified as many would let us think? And Poke - the next ten years? You’re obviously going to continue doing what you’re doing now…?
NR: I think the answer is simple and it goes back to those same principles. The space is still changing and it’s very tempting to think that it’s going to settle down, but of course, it isn’t. Because the world now is ten times more complex than three or four years ago there is still an enormous amount to catch up to. It’s not that we’ve all caught up and the opportunities are greater and greater. The same fundamental problems exist for everybody, which is how to create compelling and interesting things, experiences, how do you design those systems to allow free flows through, whatever the proposition… It’s all the same problems as ever and they are actually fundamental and as such the same basic principles are the same principles that have kept us relevant after ten years and will keep us relevant going forward.
NF: The solutions; the clients we work with… it isn’t about creating a campaign that will die. It’s about trying to create things that actually have a long term opportunity and that offer a way of evolving over time with us adding to them. And that can be something like the Global Rich List, which is literally a single page. It has changed slightly over the years just to keep it up to speed with some of the tech that has been out there or something really big like the Mulberry digital presence on multi platforms that we’re launching in July 2012. They’re all experience driven interactions that people have, their fans or people who have to engage with that brand. If that is a pleasurable experience, if it’s something that people enjoy, that interests, that they get something out of which is removed from campaign bursts that we actually don’t find very interesting.
LBB: So the work will evolve with Poke?
NF: Yes, hopefully. We shall say it today when we thank a few people… Poke isn’t successful because of a handful of people because success is 60 people in London who are probably the best in our space and you’ve got 20 people in New York who are very similar… That has a gravitational pull and it just naturally attracts other people who are doing interesting things. They don’t necessarily fit the mould and the amount of people here who have got many different backgrounds… and they bring something unique to the company is why we’re lucky enough to do some of the work that we do. It’s why this place (an old school hall hired for the birthday party decorated in balloons, with twitter feeds screened on the walls, a selection of Poke inspired cakes, face painters and crisp filled sandwiches) looks the way it does and why the cakes are so amazing. That’s not our idea and that’s the bit that I love about Poke and hopefully, touch wood, if the next ten years are anything close… then that will be really special.
See Poke’s work from the last ten years in their celebratory showcase:
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