Scaling is hard for creative teams full of right brain thinkers with little in the way of practical business sense. That’s why we need companies like Firehaus. Based in the centre of Bristol, Firehaus is a brand consultancy specialising in working with the leadership teams of businesses ready to scale – making the leap from early adopters to wider audiences.
They define organisations' underlying strategy, positioning and purpose, create compelling brand identities and narratives, and show how those can be activated through external and internal brand behaviour.
An independent and collaborative agency dedicated to helping businesses grow at pace, they are quite a different kind of company to the ones we’re used to putting under the spotlight – not really an agency at all, but an independent consultancy.
To help us understand what this means, we spoke to Firehaus Founder and Creative Partner, Ian Bates.
How was your company born and where are you based?
Firehaus was born out of conviction not convenience. We wanted to help create and scale socially responsible organisations who put innovation at their core to make a positive impact in the world.
So, we’re very definitely an independent consultancy not an agency. Without vested interests in the solutions we recommend we believe we retain a level of ruthless objectivity.
We’re based in the Engine Shed, Bristol – a hub for innovation.
What was the biggest challenge to the growth of your company?
We launched 6 months before the first lockdown. Nuff said. Subsequently the biggest challenge is doing the work and finding the work at the same time. But that’s helped immeasurably when the work comes to you.
Which was the first huge success that you can remember?
Coming out of lockdown with a new set of clients, including Thatchers, UN Women, Vittoria and UKRI.
What’s the biggest opportunity for you and your company in the next year?
We’ve focussed our efforts on igniting brands with innovation at their core. Generally, these exciting opportunities are at the intersection of academia, corporates, investors and government agencies, as well as ‘commercial’ brands. Our experience adds considerable value to help commercialise interdisciplinary projects.
Can you explain your team’s creative process? What makes it unique?
I don’t believe there is a unique creative process. James Webb Young pretty much nailed it in the 60’s. I’ve tested others during my career, from the traditional art director/copywriter model to multi-disciplinary catalyst sessions. They can all work, depending on the quality of the brief and the insight.
The combined experience of our four partners and the academic research we conducted, revealed nine conditions that support creativity in organsations large and small. These exist under three headings Purpose, People and Cutlture. That’s a longer story, but diversity of inputs will help the outputs.
How does your team remain inspired and motivated?
Without intrinsic motivation any person engaged in creative challenges will run out of steam. So, understanding your personal motivation is key to finding the inspiration you need. Personally, I thrive on challenge, feeling uncomfortable and having to search for understanding and answers.
That’s why the whole ‘innovation’ space is so exciting. It’s so often at the cutting edge it can sometimes take a while to understand what the opportunity is before you launch into any research or ideation. We’re currently working on a quantum project. Trust me, when you’re learning from some of the leading academics in the world it can be quite inspiring!
How has COVID-19 affected your company?
We launched as a ‘virtual’ business, so when the first lockdown happened six months in we’d already developed pratices to work remotely. In hindsight the decision to not take office space looked genius. But it trashed our client base and new business pipeline, so we effectively started again. But as the adage says, work comes from the places you least expect, and our first project during Covid was for…the NHS.
Functionally we did discover over time how each of us responded personally to the new situation and what practices each of us needed put in place to perform at our best. We perfected walking meetings, virtual brainstorms and social check ins. But now we generally work together as a full team three days a week and independently for two. Lockdown taught us flexibility and how to value our time together.
Which agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?
Heroes no (everyone disappooints in the end), but we have enormous respect for some people and organisations. Howard Gossage was the unifying force that led to the start of the business although we’re a very different animal.
Rory Sutherland continues to inspire; Byron Sharp informs and David Baker challenges. And there’s a young art director in Birmingham called Rosie Clarke who produced a relentless stream of excellent self-motivated projects. I wrote and told her what an inspiration she was.
What is one tip that you would give to other agencies looking to grow?
Find your purpose.
How do you go about finding new clients/business? (Pitching, work with retainers, etc.)
Every project we’ve worked on has been through referral, but we’ve initiated a more structured process now to sit alongside that. We don’t do traditional pitches. Retainers are at the client’s request and to date have run between 6 and 24 months to help bed in our strategic recommendations in Brand Position, Brand Idea and Brand Behaviour.
What’s your one big hope for the future of the industry?
That we leave the place in a better state than we found it. And start by banning the word ‘consumer’.
Do you have any websites, books or resources that you would recommend?
The Book of Gossage, How Brands Grow – Sharp, Eating the Big Fish – Morgan, Lateral Thinking – de Bono, Maus – Spiegelman. Tracey Emin, Mark Rothko, Marie Colvin, Art & Copy, One More Time with Feeling – Nick Cave, Tales from a Cracked Jukebox – Tom Waits, or anything about the master of creativity David Bowie. And we’ve all had our mentors. Patrick Collister was mine.