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Power to the People: Looking forward to 2021 and beyond

December 15, 2020

We talk a lot about people at Firefish.  We tell our clients of the importance of understanding their customers as people, as citizens, not just consumers.  We stress the importance of brands connecting and communicating on an emotional level, of building empathy; we guide innovation towards answering core human needs and improving people’s experience.

We also talk a lot to people…and listen to them.  We hear that life can be confusing and worrying, as well as joyful and fulfilling.  We hear about the stresses and strains on mental health that this year has brought to many, but also the unexpected connections and moments of joy.  We see that the richness of human experience depends as much on its diversity and difference as its common ground and connectedness. We listen to concerns about the planet and climate change, and the desire for brands and companies to do more.

But what about ‘our’ people?  Do we talk to them?  Do we listen?  Do we walk the walk as we advise our clients to?  This year has got me thinking about this more than ever.  This year, the true brilliance and resilience, the passion and the grit, the support and the initiative of all the people that make up our business really shone through.  It has been awesome to watch, as people had to completely change the way they worked, deal with uncertainty and adversity, keep the whole show on the road – and end the year with such strong performance that I’m pretty amazed that they are still standing.

In the background, I and others on the team, have been working to make sure that we deliver on the things they care about, the things that while they may not seem mission critical on a day-to-day basis, can make working life better and make sure that Firefish continues to be the sort of place that we are all proud to be part of.  Amongst other things, we have been looking at reducing stress and supporting mental health, increasing diversity, and our response to the climate emergency.

Late last year, we signed up to the Mindful Business Charter, a framework designed to reduce unnecessary stress in working life.  It is a simple framework, focusing on 4 pillars covering ensuring time of is time off, email behaviour reduces rather than increases stress, respectful delegation, and open conversation around issues of stress and mental health.  On top of their day jobs, a working party from across the business has tailored the framework to fit our culture, and we are fine-tuning it ready for launch next year.  I hope that this will help codify behaviours that reduce stress, which are even more important when days can be spent in isolation in front of our screens, and that it continues to evolve and improve as new modes of working become established.

We are also very aware that we need to improve our diversity.  We signed up to the MRS CEO Pledge on diversity and have begun putting it into action.  We have started gathering pay data and will publish relevant information early next year; we are also overhauling our recruitment processes, removing names and educational establishment from CVs, and asking our recruiters to cast the net wider when looking for candidates.  Many of our team have signed up to be mentors with Colour of Research (CORe). We are very much aware that this is only the start, and there is much to do in this area, both in our own business and in our wider industry.

We started our journey to address the climate emergency over 10 years ago, when we qualified for our ISO14001 environmental management system certification, and we have been reducing our climate impact every year since.  This year will have seen a far bigger drop in our emissions that we could ever have imagined – since most of ours came from flights and we haven’t been on a plane since February.  And that gets to the heart of the matter: we have seen this year that we can do what we couldn’t imagine in many areas – and now is the time to build on that.  Quite rightly this is an area that is important to many in the team, and we have been having ‘green lunches’ and other initiatives for some time.

We are stepping it up for 2021, and I have been active in the wider industry, cofounding the Insight Climate Collective to be an industry voice and activist group to push our sector to help answer the climate emergency.  We wrote the MRS’ Climate Pledge which calls for the industry to aim for net zero in 5 years, and we are working on a number of initiatives for launch next year.  I chaired the MRS’s (very successful) first sustainability summit, and am chairing a panel at the MRS’ annual Impact conference in March which will discuss how our industry can work harder to deliver solutions.  I am hoping that the industry can come together collectively, rather than competitively, in this area, and I’m delighted to say that the early signs are very good.

To tie all these strands together, we are also embarking on the process to become a BCorp; more to follow on this through the year.

There is quite a lot there; all these issues are big, complicated and take time to work through.  They also have less (or no) immediate contribution to the bottom (or top) line, so they can get overlooked.  However, I want the Firefish Group to be something that I, and the people who make it what it is, can be proud of, and for me that means addressing all these issues, however complicated and time consuming they may be. I look forward to making real progress through 2021 and beyond.

Jem Fawcus, Firefish Group CEO

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