Meet the Minds: Female-led Communication Agencies
Written by Carmen Bellot
While many tend to focus on the fashion industry’s glamourised roles, there are thousands of positions outside of the ‘cool job’ category that can often be overlooked. In our Meet the Minds series, we aim to uncover the positions often hidden from the limelight; showcasing all the different ways you can make your mark in this creative sector.
This week, we’re interviewing the founders of some of London’s best PR agencies, all of which have helped build the influence of some of fashion’s most notorious names. With a few decades of combined experience, these women have been advancing the communications industry through their own boutique agencies and are making space for more female-led companies. Learn more about what they do and how they got here below.
RAVEN launched in 2019 when the companies Yasmin and her friend/co-founder, Sophie Jewes unexpectedly closed. Since then, the agency has work with FARFETCH, adidas and Juicy Couture as well as burgeoning designers like Richard Malone and ASAI.
Can you explain the story of how RAVEN started?
It’s quite a tale… and maybe not to be shared in its entirety, but RAVEN is a phoenix risen from the ashes; born out of necessity when our previous agency was suddenly and unexpectedly in peril. I like to think that RAVEN is the venture we would have brainstormed and planned meticulously for five years without getting off the ground, and the situation we found ourselves in was actually the necessary catalyst we needed. We founded the company in one week from start to finish. We spoke a lot at that time about ‘extracting the value’ from our former agency life: talent, partners and spirit… And shedding all that didn’t work. Sophie, my business partner, landed on the name one evening (within that week) when pouring over Patti Smith’s Collected Lyrics for inspiration – it felt like the right talisman. It all came together incredibly quickly, but it’s been an excellent three years, not without its challenges, but we couldn’t be prouder.
How did your previous job roles affect how you and Sophie wanted to run RAVEN?
Like most people working in (fashion) communications in the UK, and beyond, we’ve experienced our fair share of toxic environments. Everything from the stereotypical bitchiness, to male dominated boardrooms and workplaces fixated with hierarchy and elitist behaviour. We knew from the beginning that we wanted RAVEN to be an environment where every voice is heard. A place with values and integrity as well as hustle, where the team is supportive – we lift each other up – and somewhere you look forward to going to every day. It’s a process you have to revisit constantly. There are always improvements to be made and we don’t sit back and just congratulate ourselves on a successful week, month or year, but look to evolve and grow all the time. We talk about our RAVEN ‘culture code’ with the team – our take on a Company Values system – and we seek and value everybody’s opinions on as many aspects of the running of the company as we can. The other real shift from our former lives is the nature of the work we deliver for clients; our ‘beyond comms’ disciplines. We’d historically delivered a lot of behind-the-scenes work which went beyond communications (casting, creative direction, production) and as RAVEN, we’ve been bolder about staking a claim to that.
How was the transition from working as an employee to becoming a founder of an agency?
You can leave nothing at the door, ever! This business is my fourth baby (I have three children!) and we think about it all the time. If it isn’t clients, the actual work, the P&L, or board meeting, it’s staff, HR, team bonding and recruitment. There is no end to the responsibility, but that is what makes it all the more thrilling.
Since starting Raven, what project are you most proud of and why?
We have had so many successes, many of which I think we take for granted – there was no option but for us to succeed! I’ll always be very proud of our first three months. We had no time and no plan when setting up RAVEN in August 2019. By December, we had 15 clients and 10 staff and had just delivered the most stellar Fashion Awards campaign and line up ever. The day after the awards was the first moment we stopped to take a breath and believed we could actually do this. Signing clients like adidas and the L’Oreal Group have naturally also felt like milestone moments.
What’s the best thing about working with another female founder?
We are constantly laughing. You have to find the joy in all of it – the wins, the losses, the challenges. We are very different people, but the dynamic works. I would hope that the team would say our personalities are complementary! We have different skills, but throughout the last three years we’ve worked out ways to lean into our respective strengths to make the business tick. We don’t compete, we encourage and work as a team. It’s the same way any good female friendships thrive.
Do you think your business is better for having two women (as opposed to one) running it?
Obviously! What better way to run any business with not one but TWO amazing women at the helm. We’d love to see more of it! Truthfully, in an industry where boardrooms are still predominantly male, it is deeply empowering having a female counterpart.
Leila Fataar, Founder of Platform13
Platform13 works across strategy, research, and creative to communications. Now five years old, the business has overcome a pandemic while working with Dr. Martens, Birkenstock and Guinness.
Why did you decide to start Platform13?
I had the rare experience of starting up my own businesses, both agency side and in-house roles has given me a unique perspective on what I could see as gaps between big brands, their agencies and their audiences. This has always included access for underrepresented people in these spaces. I wanted to create a new type of company to answer those challenges and bridge that gap between corporate, culture and creativity, and Platform13 was born.
Platform13 is 20 years in the making. I came into the comms industry with no specific formal training. My skill (I understand now decades later) is knowing what’s relevant and what will resonate – it’s pretty intangible, so there isn’t a ‘course’ to learn how to do it. I guess I am culturally curious and interested in people and the world.
Do you think the pandemic has affected your business strategy? How did you have to adapt?
Platform13 was set up in 2017 in response to cultural and creative shifts. Some key ones from the pandemic meant that we were perfectly placed to support. We were able to respond to more people taking different career paths, the digitisation of processes, more people going freelance and the rise of side hustles and the gig economy, so we had remote working processes and a network of global freelancers as the pandemic hit.
Part of how we work is to be constantly flexing brand plans according to cultural shifts. We then quickly pivoted our clients’ strategy and offered them ways to adapt their wider objectives to continue to engage their audiences credibly as the world shut down.
With the much needed acceleration of social justice issues following the murder of George Floyd, Platform13 (always created with access in mind) was briefed by a variety of brands to uncover their role in bringing about meaningful change.
As Platform13’s projects are rooted in culture and community, how fulfilling is it working on them and seeing the final result?
It’s everything. We truly believe brands have the power to move things forward and when we hear back from the community or audience about how the projects we have created have impacted them, it’s great.
Embracing diversity and inclusivity through authentic storytelling is what Platform13 does well, how has your 20+ years of experience helped you develop the company’s ethos?
I am passionate about authenticity, access and decolonising the marketing, advertising and comms industry. We work with cultural voices of the communities the brand is trying to engage with to ensure credible activities and respectful storytelling that resonates. I believe that there is so much diverse talent out there, who traditionally could not access brands and careers because of circumstances outside of their control and they just need that one opportunity to grab and embrace.
Added to my work experiences, I am born and raised in apartheid South Africa. As an immigrant woman of colour, I learned everything on the job through trial and error. It’s my story too, so these are the foundations and ethos of Platform13.
How do you think the marketing and comms industry is changing?
I think the conversation is starting, but there is a LOOOONG way to go. I take hope in the fact that the conversations are live and out there now, but action speaks louder than words.
Jordan Mitchell, Co-founder of Good Culture
As a business that’s less than a year old, Good Culture is quickly making waves within the industry. Working across talent, partnership and cultural strategy, the business already calls Vinterior, FRAME and Good American as some of its clients.
Good Culture launched last year, what did you think was missing in the communication industry at the time that your agency could fill?
My business partner, Liz MacCuish and I wanted to create a business that helps to shape culture positively. This goes beyond the storytelling communications function, but working with brands right at the top of the funnel at CEO and CMO level to help shape how brands show up meaningfully in culture. We work to inform the brands overall marketing strategies across the business.
Launching during the pandemic is a brave task, were there any unexpected hurdles during the beginning? What did you learn from them?
The pandemic was the best time for us to launch, it was a global reset for everyone. There was a shift in the cultural zeitgeist and audiences and consumers want more depth from their brands and storytelling. Also, covid made Liz and I focus on the legacy and what impact we wanted to make using our platforms to create a more equitable space in our industry. In terms of hurdles, it was really about realising our value and understanding worth so we don’t leave value on the table.
Good Culture is working with more talent now, how easy/difficult has that been? How has your past experience helped with that?
Talent has always been an important part of our business and is definitely where Liz and I have our background representing some of the most well-known talent globally. We are continuing to grow our roster focusing on names who are contributing positively to culture through the work they do. We always look for people who have purpose at their core so it means we can do really meaningful work.
What has been your favourite project so far?
Wow, there have been so many epic moments. Launching Pattern in the UK was a personal triumph, we executed a high impact out of home campaign, did several workshops and events with the founder Tracee Ellis Ross and landed some really important covers and press for the brand. We worked with the brand in the very early stages ahead of the UK launch and informed everything from influencer campaigns to advising on retail partners.
What advice would you give women who want to start their own business?
Get a mentor as we are constantly on a journey of growth. Al MacCuish has been a mentor for me for the last five years and has transformed the way I approach business and creativity. I would also say don’t be afraid to make mistakes, it’s the only way to grow. But the main advice is to have patience with yourself. I drive a lot of new business and commercial deals and at the time it can be so frustrating when the deals don’t happen or when you feel like you’ve been pouring time into outreach and not getting anything back. Don’t put pressure on yourself to get where you want in five years on day one, it’s not a reasonable expectation. Celebrate the little wins and know that it’s the small steps that are the big steps in time. Also, it’s important to be aware of your competitors but not to obsess about what they’re doing, their success is proof of concept that the business idea works and there is a market for the work you are doing.