How Abi Findlay is making her mark at The Brooklyn Brothers
Since The Brooklyn Brothers was acquired six years ago it has grown exponentially, and it took home the Network Agency of the Year Award (1-499 employees) at The Drum Awards for Agency Business in 2021. We caught up with its new managing director on how her first year in the job is going.
Will Sansom, head of strategy, Abi Findlay, managing director, and Orlando Warner, executive creative director
The Brooklyn Brothers was a lauded independent creative agency that had, in a few short years, expanded into the UK, Brazil and across the US after it set up a writing room in Hollywood to take advantage of the booming branded entertainment sector. In 2016 it sold to IPG’s Golin and, like many indies that sell up, faced questions on what its future would hold as part of a traditional network.
Any doubts about its ability to flourish were unfounded as it continued to grow at a record rate. This year has marked a decade of continued growth, with 2020/21 being its best yet; supporting partners during Covid-19, driving organic growth in 80% of clients, infiltrating culture with Golden Globe-winning Ted Lasso, normalizing the realities of imperfect parenting with WaterWipes and igniting a global conversation on responsible capitalism with FT.
The founders have moved on up within their new parent company though. George Bryant recently became chief creative officer of the wider Golin Group, while Paul Parton became group chief strategy officer. Meanwhile, chief exec Jackie Stevenson became IPG’s chief growth officer, EMEA, earlier this year.
Abi Findlay joined as managing director last year amid this landmark shift in roles. She says she took the decision not to jump in with her “size nines” and make any radical business decisions as the company adjusted.
“The founders are huge characters. And it’s a very founder-led organization. I wanted to come in, listen, observe and partner with them before they moved into their current roles,” she says.
She certainly has big shoes to fill: under Stevenson, Parton and Bryant’s steerage the agency won at The Drum Awards for Agency Business in 2021. So with a year under her belt, Findlay tells us how she’s approaching everything from the industry’s talent war to navigating the financial constraints many agencies currently face and, of course, winning awards.
What roadblocks have you found in acquiring new talent?
Creatives, particularly those who are now parents, still want to be able to make great work, show up and work on great brands, but they also want flexibility and autonomy as they have complex lives. It’s something you can accommodate, but it takes more flexibility on the agency’s part. We do this with one of our creative directors who works three days a week. She’ll come in one day but is still able to drop off and pick her kids up from school, which is important to her. Agencies should be thinking more about how to be flexible and accommodating to retain great talent.
On the other side of it, with our young creatives, we have an initiative called Night School, which is a big part of The Brooklyn Brothers and one of the reasons that I was drawn to this agency. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the statistics for disadvantaged young people from varying backgrounds and their ability to access the creative industry are shocking.
We see a very young cohort of creatives coming out at the end of it, and some we take on board. We had 15 phenomenal young people in the room with amazing tutors, and off the back of Night School this year we’ve brought in two new creatives, with another the previous year. So now we have these three amazing young, diverse creatives, who have so much love and loyalty to The Brooklyn Brothers because they came through Night School.
When looking at junior creatives, they need to be around creative people so that they can develop – like sitting in on conversations, having someone shadow them and sharing creative ideas and creatively developing them. You really need to bring them into the fold. If you’re bringing someone on, you need to give them an environment where they can learn the craft. And that’s a challenge when you’re working remotely part of the time.
What challenges are clients coming to you with right now?
One thing that’s keeping clients awake is what to do about the oncoming economic downturn and how much they fight their chief financial officers, because you need to invest in brands as it works out in the long term. But that’s more risk to their business in the short term.
They’re having a few high-level conversations about how we, as the agency, can help them make the best case to the business about why they’ll need to weather this, but not cut back. And the ones that have more heritage about being more brand-led, that’s an easier conversation. For the ones that are just coming out of being a more product-led business or tech platform-led business, some of those conversations are going to be harder. So we’re working on trying to give them enough narrative that they can share internally.
How are you planning to adjust to the economic challenges?
Our team is generally around 35 people, depending on the project. We already have a low cost base and work quite deftly with an extended roster of freelancers and specialists that we bring in. We’re an earn-first agency as well and don’t always spit out TV ads, for example. It’s always been The Brooklyn Brothers’ heritage to be dexterous about whatever you’re going to make and assembling a team to do that. That’s going to work in our favor.
To better our agency’s cultural engagement, we changed our idea from it being a company-wide thing to allowing teams to decide what they wanted to do together, allowing to better achieve objectives, engagement and motivation. Things like that are important. We’re quite small and agile, but so much of it is about making sure the right people are motivated and engaged to really be able to smash it.
How has winning your Drum Award helped your business?
It’s an amazing shorthand and gets you into rooms. You get pitches and a lot of respect. It also helps people internally know what it’s all for, those long nights and weekends, and it’s a real galvanizer. It refills your tank to keep going on to the next project. It’s not easy winning accolades that really help the resilience of the agency, and it shouldn’t be underestimated.
The Drum Awards for Agency Business 2022 shortlist has been announced. Find out more about how you can attend the show here.