Leaders

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Leading a design agency with passion, trust and confidence - #GettingToKnow

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Co-founder and COO Alex Evans is brutally honest about this: the toughest challenge in leading Studio Blup to its current position was delegating and learning to let go.

Alex has an exceptional energy and drive for creativity, one he was clearly able to transmit to his wider team at Studio Blup. Leading a design agency with passion and confidence, Alex learned quite a lot from the Covid-19 pandemic, which among all things was a unique chance to exercise more trust than ever before.

Today we are Getting to Know Alex's dream for his industry and what hides behind a driven creative leader – one who successfully managed to have Studio Blup carve its own space in the ever so vast creative industry.

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Tell us a bit about your role! What is one typical day like?

Day-to-day I’m generally making sure everyone and everything is moving in the right direction. Achieving this has obviously been impacted quite drastically over the past year and it’s been a bit of a journey trying to optimise my ways of working.

Resolving issues also forms part of my daily agenda. This is easier for someone in my role, as I have an overview of the goings on of the studio and so can often come up with solutions faster than someone who’s head is in deep. 

Company growth is something the team at Studio BLUP is heavily concentrating on in 2021, so lately I’ve been getting more involved in the sales and pitching side of the business too. 

Outside the day-to-day, I also head up the leadership team to ensure everyone is sticking to our quarterly plan and targets.

What was the biggest challenge in getting to your current position?

Delegating and letting go. In the early days of Studio BLUP, it was just myself and Co-Founder and Creative Director Dines, so we’d do pretty much everything between the two of us. As BLUP grew and more people joined, it’s been a bit of challenge to learn to let go and allow others to take over certain areas of the business. It took me time and some honest peer-to-peer feedback to realise a little positive disruption can be very healthy.

What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?

Growing up I was heavily involved in competitive sports. In my late teens I had a serious knee injury, which changed my plans of studying Sport Science and led me to taking up my other biggest passion, graphic design. The injury forced me to cut back on physical activity, so I had to channel this competitive energy elsewhere, which ended up being through my work at Studio BLUP.

Dines is also competitive by nature, so when we started BLUP we had the drive to be number one in every aspect of what we do. This drive is still with us today as well as in the people who join us. A lot of the time we are competing against ourselves, trying to beat our own targets, but we do also keep an eye on our sector for a bit of healthy competition.

What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss?

Speaking at OFFF Barcelona, one of the major European design festivals, six years ago. Being amongst some of Europe’s top agencies and creatives put us on the map and also gave us the inner confidence that we are doing something right.

As they always say (and something that seems to be very true for us), our biggest losses have been our biggest learnings. One that stands out happened in our first year of BLUP. We were asked to do some packaging design for a large, well-known PR agency. We nailed the design and print – the client was happy and everything was going smoothly. However, the deadline was very tight - especially for a two-person agency - and the last part of the project involved folding thousands of the boxes we’d designed (as well as tying ribbons around them – not exactly our specialty!). We worked through two nights on about four hours of sleep, delivering by hand to meet the 9am deadline.

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Whilst driving away rather smug, the client phoned and asked where the envelopes were for these boxes to go in. This was news to us. We’d completely missed it off the brief, which led to a wild goose chase around London for thousands of these particularly sized envelopes. 

A few hours, a couple of parking and congestion fines later, we managed to deliver the envelopes. We found out later that they still weren’t correct, and we very quickly had an unhappy client on our hands. We’d paid for all the printing and materials upfront with no payment from the client so had to quickly put out a fire in order to not be out of pocket. There were so many invaluable lessons in that project that I don’t actually regret any of it.

What’s your secret to remain inspired and motivated?

I keep an eye on other agencies who are smashing it. This gives me extra fire power to keep pushing BLUP forward.

I'm lucky to work with a lot of talented characters, so inspiration and motivation isn’t hard to come by. I’m a big fan of other people’s energy and the part it plays in creativity and inspiration. This element has been slightly lost with the recent shift in our working environment. As we all know, it’s hard to replicate human interaction digitally via Zoom, especially in a group, so I’m really looking forward to getting this back soon.

I'm also a big fan of learning new things, whether it is work related or something completely different, like learning a new language, or a new sport. It helps keep my mind active. The variation of topics also ensures my day-to-day outlook remains fresh, meaning I approach BLUP work with an engaged mindset!

How has COVID-19 affected you?

I enjoy what comes with working in the creative sector: meeting new people, going to events, workshops, galleries, working breakfasts. With all these on hold, working in the creative industries is a different experience altogether. I’m a big fan of walking aimlessly, but have forced myself into it in order to keep my mind in check.

Remote working has helped me improve my self-management, as the option of lazily asking the person next to me is no longer there. I’ve also learnt to trust people to get on with their own tasks a lot more and let them own these rather than not disrupting them with my input. 

From a work-life balance point of view, so much has been learnt through COVID-19. I feel it’s important we don’t forget these learnings and use this time for positive change post-pandemic. For a start, people at BLUP will be given more choice around their chosen workspace so they can benefit more from a positive work/life balance.

What is your biggest hope for 2021?

I hope we can celebrate the highs and commiserate the lows in person. This has been tough during the pandemic. Although we have company targets and overall goals, at BLUP we always want people to enjoy the journey, I don’t see the point in it at all if not. 

Also, hopefully a return of physical events once it is safe to do so. We’ve met some great people in that space and it always seems to be an enjoyable experience for the whole team. We’ve been working on a virtual event recently, and it’s been really exciting to explore the boundaries that can be pushed in this space. Whilst it’s a completely different experience and the physical interaction side is yet to be fully replicated, these kinds of platforms are here to stay, so we need to learn how to embrace them both in our work! 

What is your one piece of advice to aspiring creative professionals?

When speaking with successful creatives, there seems to be a common feature and that’s their positive drive. They have an underlying passion to learn and evolve. It can be hard to maintain and it’s also important to kick back and relax to avoid burnout, but if the balance is right these are the people I see progress the most. They have a positive attitude and are tuned in to what’s going on, where and how to improve.

How do you recharge away from the office?

I like to stay active, so playing some kind of sport is my usual go-to - something that can take my mind completely off my job. Recently, mainly golf, home workouts and I’m now on the meditation bandwagon as well. 

If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

I’d probably be an architect. I was heading in that direction originally at college and then swiftly moved away when I found out it was a 7-year course. I’m still a huge admirer and follower of the architectural sector though and always keep tabs on what’s going on in the industry.

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What’s your one big dream for the future of the industry?

I’d like the bigger brands to open their horizons a little bit more and put more trust into the smaller agencies. There is so much talent across the industry, but a lot of them aren’t used or given an opportunity to show what they can do. There’s a common feeling that some of the larger agencies have become a little complacent and can’t pivot enough to meet the ever-faster moving trends. Instead, they often cleverly delegate to the smaller, more nimble, up-and-coming agencies whilst taking all the credit.

Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?

Dealing with a variety of characters when working in the creative sector I found How to Win Friends and Influence People incredibly useful. It has some good advice about communicating in the many situations that come up in our industry.

Another one I've read during lockdown was Blair Enns – Pricing Creativity and it has helped me hugely on how to pitch and how to cost. It explains the psychology around pricing and layouts and how to influence the buyers’ thinking.

For guidance on running an agency I found Traction by Gino Wickamn really useful as it breaks everything down into simple tools to use and follow.

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