Tell us a bit about your role! Is there a “typical” day?
As MD of Studio PI, an artist management and production agency, no day is the same for me. Every day involves managing a number of projects, the content of which varies on a case-by-case basis, and supporting our artists as they need.
The support required can vary from client management on a packaging design project for Glenfiddich, to shooting talent for The Sunday Times Magazine, or even a full scale production of a location shoot for a digital OOH campaign. I don’t do this alone though. I’m fortunate to work with a great team meaning my day-to-day support isn’t often needed.
However, as we’re still a young agency, my days often involve working to raise our industry profile, building relationships with creative and production agencies or clients, plus managing relationships with key stakeholders. This includes working with the commissioners at our parent company News UK, evaluating how Studio PI can best support its brands.
What was the biggest challenge in getting to your current position?
I am lucky to have experienced so much during my career, but I still struggle with imposter syndrome. No matter how well I did through recruitment processes, I still started each new role doubting whether I was the right person for the role, if I had the right skills, or if I knew the right people.
I’m not sure I will ever lose this trait, but I’ve learned to handle it much better as I’ve gained more experience, and having a strong support network has really helped.
What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?
My family came over from Jamaica in the 1950s so it has been instilled in me from an early age that hard work is required to succeed, and subsequently to be accepted. I like to think I’ve maintained that work ethic throughout my career.
I can’t say that having an Indo Caribbean British upbringing influenced my early career choices (I’ve previously worked at Esquire UK and Shortlist), but the Black Lives Matter movement awakened a part of me that’s passionate about equal opportunities and building inclusive teams.
To now be running an agency focused on promoting and supporting underrepresented artists has brought me a sense of purpose I haven’t previously experienced at work.
What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss?
I think they’re one and the same actually. In 2017, I left Shortlist to launch my own media brand and content studio, The Jackal, with two partners. This experience was an absolute rollercoaster of highs and lows. Winning awards, working with luxury clients like Rolex, Cartier, Ralph Lauren and Bentley to generate six figure revenue, and raising a six figure investment were all part of one big career highlight.
But Brexit hit the company hard. The advertising market shrunk and we ran out of cash and just couldn’t survive so we had to make the tough decision to close. It was a low moment, especially given we’d put so much of ourselves into trying to build something of our own, but I’ve probably learned more from that ‘failure’ than any other success so far.
Meanwhile, my biggest win at Studio PI has to be when our photographer, Madeleine Penfold, shot Ian Wright for Google’s Skills to Go campaign. This ran across DOOH nationally as well as print, including in The Sunday Times, and is memorable because it was our first big win that really helped us build momentum.
Which individuals and/or agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?
I’m always inspired by those working for themselves because I know how challenging and rewarding it can be, so I have to highlight the work of Trevor and Rania Robinson, founders of Quiet Storm.
The pair are an inspiration, not only in terms of their fantastic creative work and their support of underrepresented creatives through Create Not Hate, but also for how they’ve managed the stresses and successes as a couple. I’d love to run a successful business with my wife.
I also wouldn’t be able to do the role I do without the support of News UK’s Dominic Carter, EVP of The Sun. He was instrumental in securing the funding needed to expand the agency in October 2022. Since then he’s been a valuable source of advice and guidance for me.
If you could go back to your teenage years, would you have done things differently? Do you have any regrets?
There’s definitely one or two hairstyles I may not have had! To be honest, I try not to regret any decisions I may have made over the years. I’m somewhat of a control freak, which means I prefer looking forwards rather than backwards.
If pushed though, then perhaps I would have liked to have been more authentically me early on in my career. The office environment was a very different place back then and I was so focused on being accepted and fitting in that I think I lost a part of myself in the process.
It’s taken a long time to build the confidence in who I am and how I want people to see me. I have a lot of admiration for the younger generation’s ability to call out things they don’t like and to essentially be unapologetically themselves.
It’s something I try to encourage my daughters to do, and I hope they’re able to maintain their sense of identity throughout their lives.
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
Something in gaming I think. I’ve played video games since I was young (started on a C64) and I remember my Dad encouraging me to code at an early age, but I thought it was too geeky. If only I’d known…
In fact, maybe that’s what I’d tell my younger self, learn to code!
What’s your one big dream for the future of the industry?
Equality. It’s a big one and who knows if I’ll see it in my lifetime but I’d dearly love for everyone to be treated the same and be afforded the same opportunities. To be judged on ability and skill rather than skin colour, gender, where you grew up or which school you went to. It’s what drives us at the agency to keep doing what we’re doing.
There’s been a lot of progress made in terms of representation on screens, i.e. in front of the camera, but there’s still quite a way to go to see that same level of diversity behind the camera and across production crews.
This is why Studio PI’s work is so important. We are focused on promoting and supporting artists and crew from specific underrepresented backgrounds - women, people of colour, those living with a disability (visible or not), and those from a lower socioeconomic background.
Doing this allows us to help agencies and clients diversify their talent networks and supply chains, and ultimately produce work more authentically reflective of the audiences they seek to engage with.
What are your top tips for aspiring creative professionals?
Seek time with your leaders. They’re an invaluable source of knowledge and I haven’t met one yet who doesn’t enjoy sharing their experiences. The best leaders are keen to listen to their people so just ask them. The worst they can say is “not right now”.
What are your top tips for other creative leaders?
Listen to your people. Be empathetic. Businesses won’t survive without their talent and we have to do more to ensure that the working environment is set up to get the best out of them.
Flexible/remote working, core hours, volunteering days, coaching, menopause policies, pawternity leave (yes, that’s a thing) and a genuine commitment to DE&I all support the wellbeing of our teams and help to foster a loyal, positive, inclusive and productive culture.
When you think about your team, what is the thing that matters to you the most?
That they enjoy what they do! There are always some tasks or days that aren’t enjoyable, that’s life, but are they happy overall? Do they feel supported and listened to? Do they feel connected to the agency and its mission? If not, what can I do to change things so that they do.
Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?
I’m not a voracious reader of books but I’ll suggest two. The first is Matthew Syed’s Rebel Ideas which discusses the power of diverse thinking, and the second is Bernadine Evaristo’s brilliant Mr Loverman. I’ve tended to favour spy thrillers and this was a wonderfully funny and refreshing exploration of Britain’s older Caribbean community.