Caroline Farley, MD, Fever PR

A big believer in the power of a healthy dose of common sense, Caroline Farley is focused on creating an environment at Fever in which cultural curiosity can thrive and people don't shy away from the words 'I don't know.'

Izzy Ashton

Deputy Editor, BITE


“There’s not a lot of stuff in our industry that can’t be solved with a healthy dose of common sense.” Caroline Farley, newly appointed Managing Director at Fever PR is discussing the reality of life in the communications industry. A big believer in the power of practicality, Farley feels that, to foster an agency; one “that people want to work for, and brands want to work with”, a little bit of common sense goes a really long way.

In her 15 years at Fever, Farley has seen her fair share of changes, notably the launch of Fever as a separate offering from Nelson Bostock in March 2010.

Creating a separate brand identity for the agency was an important evolution for the business, one that reflected how confident the company was in highlighting its point of view to clients. As she explains, the agency makes its best work “where we find that intersection between brands and the cultural agenda.”

It’s that attention to culture that Farley is keen to strengthen in her new role, explaining that her primary focus is on “fostering and strengthening our creative culture.” She believes that if this is done right, it can have positive effects on the rest of the business, including inspiring and retaining top staff and clients. A focus which reflects the fact that retaining talent is just as important to the long-term success of a business as great client servicing.

There’s not a lot of stuff in our industry that can’t be solved with a healthy dose of common sense.

Caroline Farley

Cultural curiosity

The communications industry has a serious issue of “staff churn”, with a 30% staff turnover rate according to the IPA’s 2018 Agency Census. Data which supports the myth that the creative industries are automatically a business you grow out of, rather than grow old in. A uncomfortable challenge underlined by the fact that only 6.2% of agency employees are aged 50 or over; the average age is just 33.9. 

Farley is adamant that you can’t underestimate the importance of people and culture. For her, it’s important that Fever is “working really hard to excite and empower our staff.” She also states the need “to recruit people with cultural curiosity”, an idea which the agency has fostered to create an environment in which people can be culturally stimulated. This includes Fever’s Culture Club, a bursary scheme that funds people to “do things that inspire them and give creative stimulus in the cultural world outside of work.”

It’s important, Farley explains, when creating work that is culturally relevant, to be in touch with the world around you. Otherwise the danger is that you lose perspective. “Knowledge is power,” she explains, sharing how she encourages staff to read, consume and understand; in other words, to “be a total sponge.”

When people are given the space to explore their passion points, this naturally feeds back into their work. Farley explains that this “pays huge dividends to our clients as well because that kind of learning and that kind of creative stimulus is being brought back into the business and being applied to the creative briefs coming through.”

Creativity is the currency

While maintaining that cultural curiosity is vital, it’s creativity that Farley focuses on because, “ultimately, creativity is our currency; it’s what we trade in in this industry. So, we’ve got to do everything we possibly can to nurture it.”

“Never censor yourself in a creative situation,” Farley adds, or be afraid to ask for help. She believes that, to instil trust and confidence in one another, staff at the agency need to work as a team; that is when the communications industry is at its best. The reality is that “no one solves any challenge or issue by themselves.”

The mantra Fever operates by is “high challenge, high support.” Farley explains that this produces a situation in which people are challenged to step outside their comfort zone, but all within the safety of the right support system. This allows people to thrive; or as Farley puts it: “if you set those parameters, it gives people the opportunity to perform to the very best they can.”

Creativity is our currency; it’s what we trade in in this industry. So, we’ve got to do everything we possibly can to nurture it.

Caroline Farley

Thriving in the workplace

A workplace in which people can truly thrive is, for Farley, “about treating people with respect and not treating them like they’re in the school yard.” She believes many workplaces infantilise their staff and don’t treat them like adults, or respect the lives everyone lives outside the office.

Farley outlines the benefits the agency offers as being truly “representative of the modern world.” Whether that’s giving people the choice to take last minute days off if they’re needed, a sabbatical after five years of work, volunteering days, or other forms of flexible working. Farley is adamant that she wants people to feel comfortable making use of these benefits; she doesn’t want people to “apologise about it.”

This flexibility, Farley feels “is key to people thriving in the workplace. You can’t apply rigid standards.” A 9 to 5 desk job is “not representative of the world we live in now…[so] why do we feel that has to be the norm?” Farley’s beliefs echo that outlined by many in the industry that the demise of the linear career path should be embraced and celebrated within companies. She also cites and respects the work that the journalist Anna Whitehouse, founder of parenting platform Mother Pukka, has been doing through the Flex Appeal in shifting attitudes towards flexible working.

This should also stretch into the work that’s being produced, or the clients agencies choose to work with. For Farley, the choice is obvious because “you see the difference in engagement if somebody’s working on something that they’re passionate about.” She also encourages her staff to be okay with the words ‘I don’t know’. Our desire for immediacy often means that people don’t believe they have, or won’t actually take, the time to properly understand something. Farley stresses that it’s okay to not know the answer; that’s where working as a team proves itself as vital.

For Farley, the important thing to remember is that “it’s just work.” But, she adds, “There’s a distinction here; it’s not that I don’t want people to care but also I don’t want people to care so much at the detriment of their overall health and wellbeing.”

Social issues matter

As the world of work changes, so too does both consumer and industry attitudes to the campaigns we see, and the brands we shop from. Purpose matters, as signalled by the fact that 63% of consumers prefer to purchase products and services from companies that stand for a purpose that reflects their own values and beliefs, according to Accenture.

Farley’s favourite pieces of work from the last year have been those with “anything that ladders up to a bigger brand purpose.” This is what she cares about and is a reality that is “very much at the forefront of comms at the moment.”

Companies are facing more scrutiny for their actions, ethics and makeup of their teams. “We’re in a new era of purpose and reputation when it comes to brands,” Farley adds. People want the truth from those companies, and they won’t stop until they unearth it. This means brands are having to win their consumers’ trust; a difficult thing to do at a time when, although 81% of people say that trust in brands is an important part of their purchase behaviour, only one third of those people say they actually trust the brands they buy from.

“Factored into that,” adds Farley, “trust is at an all-time low with the media, with brands, with influencers, with politicians, with the world at large.” This lack of trust, she believes, is fuelling people’s desire for true, unwavering brand purpose.

She cites the rise of a trend like Hope Punk as indicative of the current situation. This is, she explains, “essentially standing up and fighting for what you believe in, demanding that we’re nicer and kinder and more human to each other.”

She admired the work that Dove did with Getty Images on their Project #ShowUs that is compiling a stock photo library that is more representative of the modern-day woman or non-binary person. She also believes in the credibility of the work Google did with the Canadian Down Syndrome Society to make their voice-assistive technology more inclusive.

[It's] about treating people with respect and not treating them like they’re in the school yard.

Caroline Farley

Bursting your bubble

While Farley believes that in the next few years it’s quite possible every brief will have a nod to brand purpose on it, she’s also realistic when asked about her thoughts on the future: “It’s really, really hard to say where comms will go; it’s such a fast-paced world.”

What she is convinced of though is how the rapid growth of hyper-personalisation has meant people being served content that matches their personal preferences, specifically online. “It means people are getting quite a narrow view of the world,” she explains, becoming trapped in their own filter bubble.

Whilst she acknowledges the convenience that produces for brands in terms of how targeted the work can be, “it also means consumers are finding it hard to stretch themselves, to discover content that’s surprising or new or makes them think in a different way.”

There are systems that are working to counteract that, designed “to encourage balanced reading and diversity of opinion,” she adds. From Flip Filter on Twitter that flips your feed to show you accounts with opposing viewpoints to those you follow; to BuzzFeed’s Think Outside Your Bubble section; and even the rise in peer-to-peer networking, brands are recognising the importance of credibility in a world with a distinct absence of trust.

What people both want and need is for organisations and brands to create an implicit trust, both in the workplace environments they create and the work that they produce for a consumer. Brands need to give people a reason to trust them, just as workplaces need to give their staff the same. Give space to cultural curiosity and you will in turn generate working conditions in which creativity and people both thrive in turn.

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