Interviews

Robin Trust, CEO, The Kite Factory

"I want to ensure our independence means we have transparency, flexibility and collaboration woven into our DNA."

Izzy Ashton

Assistant Editor, BITE

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Robin Trust’s 24-year career has been littered with out-the-blue but fortuitous phone calls. He’s taken chances when they’ve been given, even when he hasn’t even known who the person offering them was. And now, as CEO of The Kite Factory, formerly MC&C Media, he believes that there is nothing more important than investing in people, and in creating an environment where people want to stay.

Trust started his career pre-digital as a data planner – “good old-fashioned direct mail” – at a small independent agency near Guildford. After two and a half years, the opportunity arose to move, and he was off to London to “help boost their performance team” at AMS under the founder John Evans.

Being in an independent at the moment feels like a very comfortable place to be.

Robin Trust

From AMS, Trust went to Zed Media, which was a start-up performance shop and part of Zenith Media, building it up from twenty people to 100 over four years. “I loved those years because that was just at the start of the ‘internet’ and ‘digital.’ We were right on the edge of performance and all its possibilities.” When a new CEO’s arrival sparked a significant change, Trust went travelling with his now wife and then headed out to Basingstoke to help Tri-Direct with their growth agenda.

Trust’s career has seen him move from independents to networks and now back again. He says of the current shift that “the last few years for independents have been interesting as the big networks struggle with trading, and transparency and trust.” He cites the transparency and trust that abounds in an independent as a reason why they tend to attract better talent: “We’re attracting better people than we’ve ever had.

I want to ensure our independence means we have transparency, flexibility and collaboration woven into our DNA.

Robin Trust

Trust talks passionately about how “independents have sailed bravely and successfully” through the uncertainty of the last few years, something he felt when he arrived at what was MC&C over five years ago as Client Services Director. “Being in an independent at the moment feels like a very comfortable place to be.”

As the agency undergoes a rebrand whilst still adamantly holding onto their “quirky” culture, Trust is quick to assure that while they’re “not new…we’re new in our thinking. We’ve gone full circle.” What he feels is essential is to keep pushing, “new people, new ideas, new products.” His five years at MC&C marks the longest job he’s ever had but, as he says, it “doesn’t feel [like] the same job.

Creativebrief: As CEO at The Kite Factory, what is your primary focus?
Robin Trust: As the wider industry continues to grapple with trading transparency and the inevitable impact on trust, the time to be an independent agency is now! Therefore, I focus time on ensuring The Kite Factory is best placed to provide its clients with the host of benefits and advantages that an independent brings. That involves offering a depth of experience and seniority. Our clients enjoy face time with myself and my senior management team on a regular basis, while our teams enjoy daily access to the more experienced members of the business and so are learning faster and with more depth than they would anywhere else. We have a close-knit culture and can-do attitude. We relish a challenge and are never defeated by hiccups or unforeseen events. I believe in harnessing our independence. We are driven by a desire to create original, bespoke campaigns rather than by deals and the bottom line. I also want us to remain a fully-fledged democracy, with decisions made among the team in the office and everyone’s voice carrying equal weight. I’m passionate about nurturing and developing talent. We have a terrific team who are enthusiastic, full of great ideas, and genuinely care about our clients. Ultimately it is my job to foster that and make sure everyone is happy and feeling fulfilled which, of course, benefits agency and clients alike.
Creativebrief: What has been your agency's best work in the last year?
Robin Trust: 2018 was our most awarded year ever, a testament to our clients’ bravery and to our team who developed such amazing work and business outcomes. Therefore, when I reflect through the great work, from Greenpeace’s Rang-Tan to TM Lewin’s topless Gary Lineker tease, our Legacy work for Unicef and the Soccer Aid event, I am spoilt for choice. I lean towards WaterAid’s Untapped campaign, a double DMA Gold Winner, winner of a Campaign for Good Award and most recently winner of Advertising Strategy of the Year at The Drum Marketing Awards, because of the brilliantly original way the campaign rewrote the rules for charity storytelling. Our solution was to create a campaign that immersed our audience in the day-to-day life of a Sierra Leone community that WaterAid helps. We used media to remove the distance between donor and recipient, making the audience part of the village via 360-degree video content, and showing them how their donation could help what was now their community. That campaign smashed all targets, raising £8.4m for the charity, which equates to clean water for 250,000 people across the world. Incredible statistics that we are all phenomenally proud to have been part of. I’m delighted to say that 2019 looks to be an even more exciting year as we are already shortlisted for two Performance Marketing and a Marketing Society Brave Award. Fingers crossed!
Creativebrief: Industry wide, what work has excited you most this year?
Robin Trust: There has been much debate about the role advertising has to play in society in the last year. Is it just there to shift product, should it be setting good examples and influencing people to change behaviour, or does its role lie somewhere in between? Personally, I believe advertising can be a force for good. Several ads recently have really highlighted that shift towards positively influencing mindsets and behaviour: Gillette’s #MeToo moment, Nike’s Dream Crazier film, Mothercare’s Body Proud Mums work and even Charlize Theron promoting Budweiser beer. These ads all drew headlines, some more than others, but crucially they all challenged perceptions and attitudes that are outdated and should be challenged. Closer to home the work I really loved recently, and am incredibly proud to have been involved with, was the Rang-Tan campaign for Greenpeace. A beautiful piece of work planned brilliantly by the team here, that threw wide open the conversation about the use of Palm Oils. When it was adopted by Iceland it took off exponentially and it was great to see it transcend the conversation into the mainstream, beyond being simply a charity cause.

Enjoy your work. It sounds glib but if people don’t enjoy their work it shows in their attitude and their output. It’s also contagious.

Robin Trust
Creativebrief: How do you see the advertising industry evolving over the next few years?
Robin Trust: I anticipate we’ll continue to see an increased demand for independent thinking, which will see us having gone full circle. Two decades ago the industry was full of independents and few networks but gradually the networks bought up the indys, or snapped up their clients, until they gradually all but disappeared. Now they’re not just growing again but in rude health. We are seeing a real alternative to the network model: bright people with an entrepreneurial spirit who keep clients at the heart of everything they do are having a resurgence. The days of your media agency just giving you cheap rates, no questions asked, are on the way out. Brands want to work with people again, people who are exceptional at what they do. Independents can now buy like a network too. The homogenous nature of buying media and the difference between a good rate and bad rate is reducing. Independents can now get more competitive rates than ever before. And added to that, media owners are more excited about working with independents because they know they’re more likely to take better ideas, products and innovation to their clients rather than being preoccupied by the bottom line.
Creativebrief: What are your ambitions for The Kite Factory over the next few years?
Robin Trust: We are in a period of huge change at the moment. The rebrand, with a new name and positioning, a fabulous new office, and a raft of exciting new clients means we’re in a completely different place to where we were a year or two ago. I want to continue to foster a business staffed by passionate, inquisitive and collaborative people who build fantastic client relationships and help those clients deliver against their targets. I want to reshape our business, building a capability and passion for ideas and media creativity that sits atop our rich heritage in performance. I want to ensure our independence means we have transparency, flexibility and collaboration woven into our DNA. And I want to continue to expand our rapidly growing client roster. In recent weeks we have picked up Triodos, the ethical bank, and Little Freddie, the premium organic baby food brand, and we famously won Lovehoney last year, which is the world’s largest online manufacturer and distributor of pleasure products and lingerie. It’s safe to say we’re moving into all sorts of new sectors and keeping things interesting!
Creativebrief: What piece of advice do you give to the junior members of your team?
Robin Trust: Enjoy your work. It sounds glib but if people don’t enjoy their work it shows in their attitude and their output. It’s also contagious. As a team we operate a ‘pull together’ attitude. When someone is up against it everyone rallies and ensures they’re not taking the weight alone. We celebrate great work in our weekly all staff meetings, and every month an individual gets called out for a great piece of work, huge effort or generally consistent excellence. We take our work seriously, but I constantly remind the teams to keep perspective. If anyone is struggling, be it with their physical or mental health or with problems outside work, that should always be their priority. Take care of yourself and the rest will fall into place.

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