Focal Point: Exploring the big ambitions at Common Industry post-pencil

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From the beginning, Common Industry's mission was to build an independent communications company. One that blurred the lines of traditional disciplines and agency structures. Now the proud owners of a D&AD award as well as a client base including ELLE, UK, Royal Society of Arts and Take Eat Easy, we spoke to the creative mavericks about what comes next...

Hello and welcome to Creativepool! Tell us a bit about yourselves - what gets you out of bed and motivated every morning?

Hi! We’re an independent communications company. In reality that means we’re a bit like an ad agency and bit like a PR agency – taking the best of both to help clients create cool stuff and then make it famous.. Having worked in big agencies, my business partner and I realised that the fun, most creative work was being made by brands that understood earned media.

We like to think of ourselves as the odd crowd – in a good way. We have people from PR, advertising, the media and design all working with us. We opened last March, so we’re very much a startup, and at the moment there’s six of us plus some favourite freelancers. We’re looking for more people though, send us your CVs please!


The sneaker of the future

You recently changed your company brand from Semaphore to Common Industry. What prompted this new direction?

We got to a year old and decided to celebrate by trademarking our name. We have big ambitions to operate in other markets one day, so a trademark would be vital at that point. It turned out there were dozens of businesses called Semaphore, so we saw it as an opportunity to better it. We chose Common Industry and had a party!


Saving the UK's leading graphic design agency

What’s your perfect working environment as a team?

We are very big on giving people agency and license to manage their own destinies. This means giving staff responsibility at a young age, and letting them get on with it. Inevitably people f**k stuff up, but if it’s done in the spirit of progress and learning you’ll never get any complaints from us. The best ideas don’t come from conservative attitudes, so we try to foster as much independent spirit as possible, whilst (it may surprise you to hear) also focussing on account handling.


Take Eat Easy launch

Do you guys have any rituals with campaign briefs?

We high five, then drinks tons of coffee and get our heads down. We take a very philosophical attitude to celebrating success – which means we try to do it as much as possible. In an agency environment with lots of pressures it’s easy to let the wins slip by. So we try to take time out to acknowledge our victories – usually in the pub!


Tell us about your D&AD award!

We won a D&AD Pencil in the inaugural PR category which we are over the moon about. We’re often referred to as a PR shop so we wanted to make a statement about our creative abilities and ambitions. It was pretty gratifying to be only startup/small agency in a list of global networks.

The work we were recognised for was our project will ELLE and Anomaly. We work with Anomaly’s incredible ECD, Alex Holder, to create an annual campaign for ELLE – they have no media budget, so it always relies on an idea and great PR.


Campaigning for global feminism with ELLE

It's an amazing project, what was it like working on such a large scale, global issue?

When ELLE first came to us, they asked us to “rebrand feminism”. In a room of ten women and two men everyone described themselves as a feminist – but no one could agree on what that meant. It was a complex issue from the off.

We also had to ask – did we, an ad agency, perpetrator of flogging stuff to people, and ELLE, a fashion magazine, have any right to get into that topic? We decided that our skill in behaviour change combined with their reach and license to talk to a large audience of women made it OK. But we agreed we should pick one issue at a time.

First we went for the pay gap, and made a simple site that enabled men and women in the same role to assess their pay discrepancy. That campaign was backed by all parliamentary parties and the PM.

Then we focused on women at the top and how disgracefully few positions of influence or power there are for women.

Watch this space for next year...


Record breaking Kickstarter campaign

What’s the most inspiring project you’ve worked on?

Well we invented the sneakers of the future; we helped make a Kickstarter for a toy that aimed to make $100k but that raised $1.6 million; we helped ELLE get almost 8,000,000 shares on a campaign about feminism. Our Common Industry launch party was pretty epic too.

Main image, left to right, back row to front row: Kit Cockburn - Account Director, Liam Fay-Fright - Founding Partner, Aaron Cole - Founding Partner, Matt Gurr - Account Manager, Naomi Oluleye - Account Manager, Gemma Lucy Albone - Creative Producer


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