Episode 15 'Choosing an Agency' Season 2

Published on October 18, 2022 by Alex Holliman

The last episode of Choosing an Agency season 2 is now out. 

This episode features Abb-d Taiyo, the co-founder and director of Driftime® Media, a digital design practice on a mission to create social, environmental and economic impact through digital design. 

Abb-d spoke about using purpose and values as a filtering process for choosing an agency. He also shared his views on what needs to happen before (or instead of) a pitch, forming budgets together with clients and what makes an agency a good or bad fit. 

Episode 15, series 2 transcript:

Alex Holliman: Hello, and welcome to choosing an agency. My name is Alex, founder search agency climbing trees. And I’m here to talk about how to get the right agency to grow your business. Today, I’m joined by the amazing Abb-d Choudhury. From driftime media.

Abb-d Chordhury: Hey, Alex how’s it going?

Alex Holliman: Yeah, good. Thanks. Good. So for people who are meeting you for the first time today, could you share a little bit about who you are? And what you guys do?

Abb-d Chordhury: Yeah. So I’m Abb-d, I’m co founder of drift time, drift time is an ethical digital design practice. And a lot of the work we do is centred around environmental, social economic impact. And really, what that means is just understanding the level of impact over a long term would be like in relation to a client’s business and the type of impact that they’re trying to create. And understanding the influence and accountability design can have in helping achieve that. And that’s kind of taking into account that it’s not the one solution, but one of many, and bringing in the rest of those kind of experts and skills along that along that sort of journey to kind of create that level of impact, but taking ownership of the design aspect ourselves.

Alex Holliman: And then have you’ve got a sort of a lot of experience in the agency world?

Abb-d Chordhury: Yeah. So in terms of the design industry, I’ve been in it for coming up to 20 years, something like that, the drift times were only for about six years. But prior to that, I was sort of, you know, Creative Director or senior creative manager in a large kind of international marketing agency. And that was my career. Before that, it was kind of, you know, very conventional, very typical, what you’d expect to going through the design career and getting to those positions. But I think, you know, we kind of left those roles just purely because we hit a saturation point. Prior to that, so I’m not classically trained, I’m completely self taught as a designer. That largely came from not really getting many opportunities when I was young in my career, obviously, one not being or not having a design degree. There’s a whole another story behind that, by the way, but I won’t go I won’t get into that. But, um, but yeah, so not having, uh, not not being classically trained or having a degree, but then also having a foreign name, which unfortunately, at that time was kind of still a bit of an issue in terms of getting opportunities and stuff. So in a way, I was kind of forced to just teach myself and kind of, to some extent, create my own luck. And I think that’s something that’s been ingrained in me ever since, you know, sort of just create my own opportunities, find ways to do it. Things have already changed now. But yeah, that’s kind of how it was back then. And that’s my kind of journey and being a self taught design and getting to where I am today.

Alex Holliman: Ah, so what you were when you were first started out, you felt like you were bumping into some bias in terms of because people just thought Choudhury that’s not like John Smith or something like that.

Abb-d Chordhury: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah, that was very apparent. Yeah.

Alex Holliman: That’s so that’s shocking to hear.

Abb-d Chordhury: It’s the reality of it. I mean, you know, like, it’s again, it was, it was a frustration back then. But I was a young, eager designer, looking to learn and looking to try and find my place in the design industry. And unfortunately, it wasn’t given it to me. So it’s just, it’s just the way it is. It’s the same case with many people. But you know, you can’t you can’t be a victim, you got to gotta go out and just do your thing and rely on yourself, you know, to kind of make it happen.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. Absolutely. That makes sense. And then what sort of stuff do you do really enjoyed doing on a day to day basis?

Abb-d Chordhury: Well, these days, it’s kind of mainly operational. So it’s really kind of just more the vision side of the business and kind of like, where we’re heading, what we want to be doing the type of work we want to be doing the type of impact we want to create, again, where design can play a role in that. Yeah, we’re a small team. So we’re still pretty hands on with some of the work as well, like there’s, there’s a lot of thinking, a lot of strategy, a lot of design work that goes into creating some of these solutions through design, like centred around these complex challenges that we face. So. So it’s kind of like, you know, again, it’s the nature of like small businesses and small teams, we kind of tend to do a lot, or juggle, like many things, but my kind of key responsibilities are kind of operational and kind of making sure that the team’s happy the team feel fulfilled, they’re doing great work, we’re hitting our targets in terms of impact, like what we’re trying to achieve for this particular projects. And, you know, we’re working collaboratively with clients with partners, you know, in creating that, because that’s really all it is, like, we kind of see it as like one big, large team. You know, here’s what we’re trying to achieve unless you’re trying to achieve that together.

Alex Holliman: Well, that makes sense. And it’s something that my role is vaguely similar, but what’s something I’ve always been impressed by is the thought and attention that you give your business in terms of the posture and approach that you have.

Abb-d Chordhury: Yeah, I mean, you know, if we’re saying we’re going to do it for someone else, we we have to demonstrate what we do for ourselves. And I think it’s really important to to kind of be positioned well and to know, to know where you stand, you know, again, like because you can’t take accountability if you If you don’t really know where you sit within all of it.

Alex Holliman: To get a true feel for who you are, then if you can invite four people past or present to meal, who would they be?

Abb-d Chordhury: I thought about this? It’s a very tricky question. But I would say I’ve come to four, which is,

Alex Holliman: I’m looking forward to hearing yours.

Abb-d Chordhury: Okay. Hopefully, they’re interesting enough. So I would say the first pick will be Neil deGrasse Tyson, physicist scientist, you know, he’s obviously a very scientific thinker, he is, you know, takes on that approach of kind of logical thinking. But he speaks in a way that feels like, it’s like your call uncle. And, and I think I feel like just, you know, in conversations, obviously, you know, as a podcast and everything, but I just feel like I can really resonate with the way he talks and the way he communicates things in a way. So Neil deGrasse Tyson with the first one Dieter Rams would be my second. This is in no particular order, as well, but Dieter Rams purely because he’s one of my heroes in terms of the design world, you know, he designed all the iconic Braun products back in the day, he’s done a whole bunch of other stuff that’s influenced all kinds of design, you know, like that we see now, like, you know, Apple was like, massively influenced by his product design, and so forth. But he has a very sort of mature and refined kind of design sensibility and a way of thinking about design, which is something that we really resonate with as well. And then this might be a little bit strange, but my third pick will be Bruce Lee. From a from a philosophical level, I used to study martial arts, it’s not necessarily about the kind of fighting aspect or anything like that, but more around the philosophy of that, tying that with, you know, the way you think, like potentially what your values would be. I think there’s a lot of, like, interesting lessons and reflection that can happen, you know, just by his way of thinking because

Alex Holliman: It was bow-ism, wasn’t it the way of the Dow aspects of it?

Abb-d Choudhury: Yeah. So I think what was interesting about, you know, Bruce Lee, in particular, was that he didn’t conform to this, the standard ways of how you should learn martial arts, you know, like, karate, taekwondo, whatever boxing, he ended up kind of creating his own version of it, and kind of really objectively looked at it and formed his own version, which ended up becoming G KUNDO, which is just all the best aspects of everything that felt relevant to him. So it was like the footwork from boxing, it was like the, you know, the sort of the punching from Wing Chun, you know, all that kind of stuff. Like, he kind of just looked at it as like, Okay, well, let’s just break the mould here, let’s be unconventional and approach it in a different way. And in that kind of level of thinking, that philosophy, I think, again, really resonates with me. And then lastly, the, I think the person to tie all this together would be Noam Chomsky. Again, just because he’s the he’s the, he’s like one of the original founders of like, cognitive science and sort of analytical philosophy. So he kind of I think, you know, he’s one of those brains that just kind of ties all these things together, science philosophy, you know, and so forth. And, and I think that, you know, having him in a conversation would be amazing, because he would be able to kind of, you know, whatever meandering thoughts you have, he’ll kind of, I think, be able to look at it and see how it you could practically work in the world. And I think that would be really, really interesting.

Alex Holliman: What a thing I knew they would be big thinkers. I think that’s the that’s the thing there, isn’t it?

Abb-d Chordhury: Maybe that just tells that tells everyone that I’m just a dreamer.

Alex Holliman: Not at all, hopefully, there’s some some degree of practicality. So this building works going outside the building, so you can hear a lot of noise. That’s what that is. So in terms of the podcasts, and we’re here today to try and help clients select the best agencies for them. And I think one of the first things that clients do with agencies is looking to getting into briefing them. And so what sort of advice would you give to clients, if they’re asking for pitches?

Abb-d Choudhury: We wouldn’t necessarily give it advice, but we will just off the bat ask for a conversation. We don’t tend to do any bland pitch, and we don’t tend to go through the traditional RFP process or anything like that. And I think it’s largely because, you know, a brief doesn’t really tell us what the challenge is, it just tell us tells us what they want. And it’s almost like them sort of prescribing themselves, without really knowing what the issue is. So for us, it’s kind of just a case of, we would love to have a conversation to better understand what your challenges are, and what your objectives and goals are moving forward. That allows us to, hopefully, you know, if they agree allows us to ask the right questions, and actually start to kind of start that thread of trust, if you will. Because then like, you know, usually what happens is we tend to have a couple conversations. One is a fitting call, because we don’t know if you want to work with them either. Like it’s not it’s not it’s two ways, right? Once you have a better understanding of who they are, what their values are, what they’re trying to achieve the level of objective, whether there’s actually a way that we can help them like not just take on the work because it’s you know, the We can pay the bills or whatever like that there has there has to be some value that we bring to this. And then and then the next call will be more of a value call in terms of like, how we would price this fairly, so that it works for both sides. If all those things aligned, then then we kind of put together a proposal or pitch. And that’s, like really specific, really relevant to the approach, the type of objective we’re trying to achieve, or what that mutual goal is. And that’s both in terms of, you know, impact and finance. And then those things generally, like, you know, that that’s what seals the deal is like, kind of making sure that we put put together the right information for them. So they can kind of be more informed in their decision making, as opposed to just like, here’s a pitch, like all about us, like us, us, us, us, you know, and I don’t think that’s a true kind of way of approaching, like a project.

Alex Holliman: So that sounds like a really sort of a thorough qualification process that you go through to make sure that there is alignment above and beyond a spec in a document or a RFP, like you say,

Abb-d Choudhury: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Like, you know, everyone deserves the attention and care. Like, I think, like it shouldn’t be, it shouldn’t just be like his deck. And, you know, you decide type thing, I think, you know, again, like we try to approach every project in a way of a partnership, like there has to be equal value on both sides, there has to be something that they help us with, whether that be, you know, on a financial level, or from something that we can learn, and then something that we can realistically help them with, and measure at the same time, but from an impact and finance perspective. And that’s, that’s the Win win scenario. That’s kind of really what we’re looking for, like, it’s just a case of like, Does this feel like a win win scenario? And can you help us as well as us help you?

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And that’s where there’s that sort of Venn diagram. And there’s big enough crossover in the middle. Yeah. In terms of getting budgets from clients, do you ever run into problems? Are we on that side of things where it comes down to the sort of financial side where clients don’t necessarily know or potentially reluctant about sharing budgets?

Abb-d Choudhury: No, not really. We’re pretty open and transparent, we’re pretty upfront about that, like, generally, the projects we take on a relatively high ticket, we do take on smaller projects as well. But usually, you know, we kind of tend to balance the high ticket stuff to kind of make sure we cover any, you know, overspend for, like the smaller projects, for example, or like, kind of, you know, investing too much resource into it, for example, but, but yeah, it’s never really been a tricky thing. Like for us, it’s just a case of, you know, really openly asking, like, what, what feels fair for what we’re doing here. Because we try to value price things as much as we can. And we, we have a full backup of like a pricing structure and a model that we use, like if if the value is not clear, in terms of like, what the outcome is, and how will you kind of create a kind of financial metric on that. But yeah, it’s, you know, again, it’s a case of just like giving them options and allowing them to kind of make a informed decision. Right. So if the budgets are low, and, you know, the, they have a fixed allocated costs, which is quite typical, actually, for larger companies, they have like quarterly budgets and so forth. It’s just a case of working with them to see what’s possible within that. And that’s not discounting, that’s not kind of trying to do too much and charge very little, it’s more a case of like, well, what can we realistically do within this budget to give you the right stepping stones to move forward with, it might not be the whole picture that they want, but it’s a start. And if we if we kind of express it that way, and build it that way, we can say, okay, cool, well, this can be iterative. What we can do within this budget is cover steps one and two, because that’ll give you a scalable way to kind of move forward with this, rather than have to reinvest and redo it, they’re saying quarter two, or quarter three, or whatever that might be. And then it kind of like starts to create this conversation of a long term relationship, which is kind of where we’re trying to try and get out. So it’s really just kind of understanding what’s within reason what’s possible, what’s feasible, and what’s a good investment in that budget?

Alex Holliman: So a lot of conversation around that then, and not sort of shying away from the issue.

Abb-d Choudhury: No, definitely not like, you know, we like in the fitting call, we ask, like, we never asked what the budget is, because I think that’s kind of the way it sounds doesn’t feel right. So we ask if there’s an allocated cost for this project, you know, because that gives us an idea of like, if they have a figure in their head. Usually, if it’s small, we kind of tend to then go down this process of managing expectations. It’s kind of just say, Okay, well, you know, it’s a pretty low budget, typically speaking, you know, what we can do, though, is do these things here. And then what what that can hopefully do is help you on a financial level to kind of reinvest, like if we can hit these kinds of small targets, these small goals. But really, again, it’s just a case of like, you know, if if the budget is not clear, the next call and the value pricing cool is working through that budget with them. And that’s really what it is. It’s asking the questions like, here are your objectives, what are the kind of OKRs or KPIs that we want to assign to this and then like, let’s put a value on that.

Alex Holliman: Excellent. And that typically works out okay with clients?

Abb-d Choudhury: Yeah, it’s a longer process. But it works. Because then because then at the end of it, you’ve worked with them to define the project cost. And to them, if you’ve done in the right way, it feels fair on both sides, we feel that we’ve been compensated for our time and expertise, and they feel that they’re getting a good enough deal. Bringing on us as a partner.

Alex Holliman: You guys are a B Corp, aren’t you?

Abb-d Choudhury: Yes

Alex Holliman: Very jealous of that. But in a very good way, if I can say that.

Abb-d Choudhury: I know you’re in the process, right? So that’s not you know, you’re not far behind us

Alex Holliman: It’s there in the ether waiting. And so I’m really looking forward to talking about purpose. And then how important do you think an agency’s values are?

Abb-d Choudhury: I think they’re 100% important?

Alex Holliman: How do you think a client can sort of get to experience them above and beyond just having some words on a deck or page on the website, that kind of thing.

Abb-d Choudhury: So we tend to say is, you know, that classic thing of that your actions speak louder than words. And, you know, there’s so much saturation now, like, like, purpose driven companies, as a term is so overused right now. And it’s frustrating as well, because, you know, again, probably some slight bitterness coming from my side. But, you know, we’ve been going for six years, in the very beginning, we were purpose driven, but then it’s only in the last, say, three years that it’s really become a thing. So all of a sudden, where we started, we had a very niche kind of angle. And then, you know, in the last three years, it’s we’re just one of many, all of a sudden, you know, still a bit of an art, because we’ve done a bit of work in terms of positioning ourselves in the right way, but, but the way we kind of look at it is, we want to get to a position where we don’t even have to say it, we don’t even have to say what purpose you have, we don’t have to say we’re sustainable, ethical design company. It’s just expressed through the things that we do. And B Corp is like a good example of that. It’s, it’s proof that we’ve gone through the process and gone through the effort of defining that, and gaining that accreditation. And it can be the same with other badges and things. But I think, you know, largely the, the work would need to speak for itself. And the things that we do in terms of our advocacy, like how like Impact Reporting, the way we kind of go about treating our staff, the kind of level of advocacy we do both in terms of donations, and, you know, the work that we do, I think those things should should, should be the kind of forefront of, you know, your purpose and your values.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And I think, for us, guys, we are not in the same service industry as you. But we have almost gone through that existential process of reviewing everything foundation within the business and trying to do better, because we weren’t, you know, we had a lot of stuff that we needed to build. And so in some ways, it’s a really good thing that so many people are looking to become more purpose driven than to give something back. However, I can appreciate. If that’s a space that you’ve occupied for a period of time, and you get all these people sort of almost coming to eat your breakfast. It is a it’s a peculiar thing, because whilst it’s positive that people are doing it sometimes I don’t know that everyone’s motives for doing things is wanting to do them in the best possible way. But I guess it’s not really for us to sort of start thinking and worrying about

Abb-d Choudhury: No, yeah, I think it’s, I think it’s great that there’s more now than ever has been, and a lot of people are kind of aware and conscious of all of you know, the challenges that we’re facing, like as a as a globe, right. So, but, but I think my kind of that that element of business was kind of like more of an emotional reaction when it first kind of started happening, probably that that first year, but in our fourth year of business, I was like, what, what’s going on here? Like, we’re all these purpose driven brands coming from? We’ve been doing this for ages like, but you know, I think now like, again, as I say we’ve done a lot of work and positioning ourselves and kind of really defining our kind of area of authority, if you will. But I think it’s, I think this kind of movement, you know, and Abiko began is like one of the main things that are fueling this is, is great, because things do need to change. And people’s mindsets do need to switch from short term to long term. And, you know, it has to start somewhere.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And I think for us, it’s we’re talking about that change, we’ve gone through in a way. So there’s a certain degree of advocacy there. But like you what I hope is then almost underpins what we do. And we start focusing on technical expertise, but then trying to embed some of these values into our services and that kind of thing. So on the client side, how do you feel that purpose fits into the sort of selection criteria when they’re looking at agencies and that kind of stuff?

Abb-d Choudhury: I mean, I see it as it’s like a filtering process. I think that’s really it. Like, we have our values because we want to do a certain type of work and work with a certain type of person. If we didn’t have that we would be open to kind of anything and everything. And we don’t really want to do that. Like I don’t think anyone really wants to do that. Like there’s there’s probably a handful of agents He’s out doing work that they don’t really care about. But they they’re doing it because they feel like it pays the bills. And that’s kind of what they need to do. And I don’t think there’s, you know, this idea of like, working with nonprofits or purpose driven brands, like there’s no budget involved, like, I don’t think that’s true, I think that that does exist, you just got to spend a bit of time and effort in finding the right people, you know, and put that criteria together so that you know, who you’re looking for, and how you can best serve. But yeah, you know, I think I think values and having these purposes, like transparent and open and public is, is the beginning of that filtering process, because you don’t, no one wants to work with arseholes, really, you know, so if you can align what you’re passionate about, and where you feel that the work that you do, can, can have the most resonance, and align that with who your clients are, then your work will be more fulfilling just generally as a result.

Alex Holliman: And then something that in that whole, the B impact assessment, something that I had not considered prior to that consciously that really consciously was about how diverse the team was here at climbing trees. I think in a fast moving funny little business, it’s maybe hadn’t slowed down enough to actually consider the impact of what I was doing and that kind of stuff. And so when we first did that, we had all kinds of challenges with regards to our mix in terms of gender, ethnicity, neurodiversity, sexuality, and that kind of thing. And I think, as a result, we’ve made some changes to how we do all that kind of stuff and how we conduct ourselves and the team, there’s a slow, it’s not like we were recruiting based on that. But we’ve made change in terms of our job descriptions, we get blind to the applications, we try and make sure I don’t think I’m a biassed individual. But maybe that’s part of my bias, saying that, who knows? And I just don’t know. And so I’ve sort of, like stared into the void and questioned myself in terms of like, Have I unconsciously been really biassed in the formative years of the business? And I don’t know. That’s the answer. So probably I have been. But I think in terms of clients, approaching agencies, how can they sort of check up on how diverse the talent in the agency is? Because if, if a client comes to us, and they’re in a white middle class, target market, we had the team to do that. But if it’s a, if it’s a product, or a charity or service that’s targeting different demographics, maybe our talent pool wasn’t adequate enough?

Abb-d Choudhury: Yeah, I mean, I guess firstly, to kind of just directly respond to kind of your comment on how you guys go about it. Like, the fact that you’re aware of it is, is a great start, you know, like, you’re, you’re actively doing things to try and mitigate that and kind of make it more fair, more equitable, and so forth. So, so that’s my kind of thought on that. But I think in terms of clients, again, like, We’re a small team, like we’re really sick, really six people, it’s pretty diverse, you know, from, from how I feel, like both being myself, like minority, if you will, and then we have a couple other and we’re largely female, you know, majority is female. But I think so, you know, we’ve we’ve only given project, for example, we tend to have extended teams, because we’re quite small in niche like we don’t, we don’t need to be a large team. Like, what we do is we kind of take ownership of our part, which is the digital design side of things, but then we bring on other teams based on the level of expertise we need. So like, if there’s, if there’s branding involved, we will bring in a branding team or a branding agency, for example, or marketing, you know, or development or so forth. But the way we kind of think of diversity, so I think, you know, in terms of agencies as well, yeah, there’s definitely a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of diversity and inclusion. And I think that will start with sort of training and creating opportunities for people from, you know, marginalised backgrounds, or kind of minority backgrounds like to have those opportunities and be able to kind of like, learn the skills that they need to to be part of this industry. And I think that didn’t really exist, you know, much so probably still doesn’t really exist much. So. So I think that’s the first thing, but then, in terms of the team, I think it’s really just kind of including people into the conversation, like, and that’s kind of the way we approach it from a project standpoint, like, what are we trying to achieve? Who are you trying to speak to? And who needs to be part of this conversation? So one of our projects is a sustainable architectural firm in Vancouver. And what’s interesting about them is that they are very different to an architectural firm, they try to treat the community as a primary stakeholder in their decision making to make sure that whatever it is that they do, benefits that community and a lot of the conversations because then being exclusively working within Canada, is with First Nations people, the natives, because it has to it has to cater for them. So and they have them in part of the conversation like they have them involved in that too. Help them be part of that decision making process. And I think that’s really kind of where it needs to be like from an agency standpoint, you know, there’s this ongoing, sort of question and conversation around, like, where are the black designers? But I think the opportunities for them to be part of this industry are very slim that the kind of rarely, rarely, they’re rarely available or accessible. So we need to kind of create those opportunities.

Alex Holliman: Yeah, absolutely. And I think in terms of that creation of opportunity, we’re so we’re based up in north Essex. So Essex is a tremendously White County, it’s not that diverse. We’re in a little village in this, like, there’s not far baskets, and it’s very, I don’t know, it’s a very, very sort of very sort of, safe and privileged area, I guess. So before the pandemic recruitment, we used to always come into the office. And so it’d be like 10-15 miles from the office. And so we can recruit from that poll. And so something that we try to do now is, especially for some. So the approach to some of our more junior starting roles, that I would have taken my 10 years ago would have been to have a chat with some people, at least a job. And if all I know why people, I’d be saying to white people, doing once a job, they probably just know a lot of white people like that 18 years old, so we’ll be giving opportunity to people at the start of their careers, which I think is something important to me, I don’t really care where they’re from in terms of ethnicity, it’s not important to me, as long as they turn up, like, a little bit switched on, can put their shoulder to the wheel and work hard, I don’t really care. So I think something, we’ve started doing these those lists and job boards that have a more sort of diverse background. And we’ve also stopped recruiting from a geographical footprint as well. So we can then have some of those starting roles coming so we can start trying to get people from different backgrounds from around. And we’ve started seeing that change in the team as well. So it’s because I think it is the right thing to do, because it’s through opportunity that I think societal change will happen on a sort of deeper level, above and beyond. Something less, less, less tangible, because actually, someone getting a start in a career and learning and having a job and getting better. You know, you can change the trajectory of someone’s life with that.

Abb-d Choudhury: Yeah, I mean, you know, there’s an opportunity now more than ever, you know, with with remote working so for for you to kind of look outside of geographic location. Like it’s the same in Brighton. Brighton is a pretty affluent, kind of like town. But the benefit we have, obviously, as we have very close connections to London, like this one train, but I think yeah, like now, like, it doesn’t have to go through the traditional process either. Like it can be like through mentorship or so for like, I think, again, creating creating opportunity doesn’t necessarily mean give someone a job, it can just be, I’m going to be part of a mentorship programme that works with underprivileged kids or whatever to help teach them around the industry and give them a better start point. You know, and that’s something that we do quite actively, like we’ve been drifting. So again, those things can lead to jobs as well, like even within our own company. So it just depends, I think, you know, in terms of hiring, yeah, there should be there should be more of a process involved.

Alex Holliman: So you do mentoring yourself?

Abb-d Choudhury: Yeah. So both myself and Sara, we both do mentorship, I do very, I almost do it weekly. At the moment, I’m doing it part of ADP lists, which is online, and then through Sussex University, the business programme and entrepreneurs list. And then Sara does it for the Sussex girls network, which is for you know, sort of 16 year old girls that come from lower income backgrounds, basically.

Alex Holliman: Oh, awesome. That’s good. So do you have to every now and then when you’re speaking to new prospects, do you ever have to say no to them based on there being a lack of sort of alignment in terms of values?

Abb-d Choudhury: Yeah, we have done loads in the past. Yeah.

Alex Holliman: How do you find that?

Abb-d Choudhury: So I used to relish in it. So to give you some context, so maybe a couple years ago, that’s when we kind of started saying no to clients, and it felt really good. And I think there was kind of almost got to a point where I was like, I like if it doesn’t feel right, I enjoy saying no to them. But today, we don’t have to say no. And what I mean by that is that we’ve spent enough time and energy, positioning ourselves in the right way that anyone who isn’t a good fit doesn’t necessarily come through our door anymore. Because we’ve been very transparent about that we’ve been like transparent about who we are, what we do, who you work with the type of thing, the type of results that we create. And you know who that’s for who the ideal candidate is. And usually at face value when someone visits our site, they can pretty much instantly see that, you know, we are not a good fit

Alex Holliman: They’re pre qualified anyway. I think that is the beauty of a strong positioning, isn’t it?

Abb-d Chordhury: Absolutely.

Alex Holliman: So for clients them What sort of things can they do to check up on an agency’s reputation?

Abb-d Choudhury: Well, I’d say look at the actions. So it’s, again, it’s sort of going back to my previous point, and sort of not looking at the words that they use and the way they describe themselves, but the more the action, so looking at the accreditations they have the work that they do, the impact that work has created, the advocacy that they do, those things are the telltale signs, I think. And that’s kind of where we’re trying to get to, as I say, like, you know, we’re trying to say less and do more.

Alex Holliman: And I guess we’ve probably already covered this in terms of the signs that an agency is a good fit or bad fit for a client.

Abb-d Choudhury: Yeah, so you know, obviously, this is very boring, and can be subjective. But I always say like, you know, because clients don’t necessarily know what the challenge is, sometimes, I’d say probably, that’s majority of the case, because they come to you have a brief and it’s usually like, well, we want a website, or we want a brand, or we want this, like they kind of they kind of have an idea of what the outcome is. But that’s not necessarily an indication to the challenge. And usually that surface, like during a discovery phase, like when you when you kind of potentially do a couple of workshops, and kind of really get get into the nitty gritty of it and dive a little bit deeper into what those challenges are. Because those challenges might be are they actually using a healthy amount of profit because they have an old brand or an old website, or they’re losing elements of traffic, or there are efficiencies to be created? You know, like, it’s such a weird, long winded process that they need to kind of simplify it and make it better and more efficient, and so forth. You know, so there’s like a saving there. So it can depend on what what the actual challenge is. So I would say, you know, really, the, the idea of a good fit is an alignment of like, what you’re trying to achieve, like you have to have the same goal in mind. And, and there has to be examples of that being achieved prior to that project, for example. So if I was a client coming to an agency, I want to hire someone who has a proven track record of delivering that particular solution for that particular problem, you know, or something along the along that vein. And it’s an interesting thing, because if you say, for example, I worked with a particular client in particular sector, if I only have the one client, there’s a question around conflict of interest. But if all my clients are that, it’s not about conflict of interest, it’s just you’re seen as the expert. And that’s why it’s a really, it’s really interesting kind of sort of juxtaposition, if you will, because, you know, we’ve had this before as well. It’s like when we have a particular kinds of okay, cool. Well, there’s a question around conflict of interest, like, Can you sign this so that you’re exclusively working with us? But then, if all our work was centred around that, then that’s not even a question. It’s kind of like, okay, well, we actually want you to come in and tell us what to do. And help us through this journey because you seem like the expert,

Alex Holliman: You’d have that depth of expertise in a specific category.

Abb-d Choudhury: Yep. And that’s really what it is. It’s just a case of like, Can Can you actually help and serve that person? And again, is it a win win scenario?

Alex Holliman: Are there any red flags that a client should look out for?

Abb-d Choudhury: Yeah. Agencies that say yes to everything, without questioning it. And I’ve heard this a lot. Like, I’ve seen this a lot as well. But when a client says, Oh, could you do this? Could you do that? Or like, well, we’re looking to do this. And when an agency says, Yeah, we could do that. Yeah, he did that. Yeah, we could do that, you know, without kind of really again, understanding what the challenge is and how to go about it. Like that, to me is a red flag, because most cases, they will say yes to everything, they would over promise and under deliver.

Alex Holliman: And I think for us, we have a very slim service offering. And so anything outside of that we say no to, we say we can introduce you to a partner agency, or that’s not our thing. So we always say we do not produce fantastic creative work. In terms of branding, creative websites, apps, what we do is get that stuff in front of the right audience. And that’s, we’re very clear about that to our parties. And sometimes you can sort of think, well, we say no word, but there’s a lot of the project that you’re leaving on the table. But actually, I’d rather have the depth of expertise in what we’re doing, knowing we can make a significant impact to a client on that side. Rather than just sort of muddying the waters and doing half a job across the board.

Abb-d Choudhury: They respect you more for it. And again, it’s just honest communication like you like, you don’t have to say yes to everything, like, really clearly want to do the work that you have a lot of control over to kind of factor in what those results or outcomes will be. And anything that you’re not comfortable with, like, you know, we’ve had, we’ve had scenarios where a client has asked us for things and we openly said, Look, this is not something we typically do. Like it’s not within our remit. We know some great people that can help you with this. But they’ve been adamant to get us involved. They say, Well, we really love like the way you think the way you approach these things, and we really want you to do it. So we will say okay, cool. Well, you know, we’re happy to do this. But again, the caveat that we don’t normally do this so We have to treat this as more of an experimental thing, you know, something that we’re just going to play around with and have fun with, in a way, as opposed to be too too formal in terms of like, what that highest standard of output would be. And again, it’s just having that communication, it’s just saying that quite openly with them saying, Look, if you’re happy with that, we have to play around with this and like, see if he can come up with something great. But, you know, at the same time, you know, at the very least, maybe we can just kind of drum up some ideas, and then think about bringing on a partner to kind of finalise this a little bit more, you know, and again, it’s just saying like, we’re not really comfortable in delivering it to that standard, because that’s not what we do. But, and they will appreciate that, you know, or we could even say, like, you know, we will do this, because for us, it’s a bit of a learning curve as well. We won’t charge you full rate for this, because, you know, there’s a lot of things that we don’t know. And you know, and again, that’s just it gives us a nice opportunity to try some things out and experiment as well as them to get something that hopefully is pretty good.

Alex Holliman: So what is the coolest thing that you’ve done or seen done on a pitch to a client

Abb-d Choudhury: The coolest thing, I think that’s subjective. I could say, the coolest thing is that we haven’t had to send a pitch, or that we’ve only sent one page and won the job. Because everything, everything was all the validation needed was through the conversation. And I’d say that’s probably the coolest thing that because we haven’t had to invest, like a ton of time and resource into like putting together this comprehensive pitch deck. Instead, you replace that with a series of two to three really valuable conversations that resulted in a one page. Like, here’s the price, here’s what we think. And that’s it.

Alex Holliman: Wow, that’s quite, that’s quite a strong thing. We live and breathe in very complex and nicely designed Excel spreadsheets, with a lot of numbers and percentages, and that kind of thing. So it’s hard to do anything cool. But sometimes it’s quite an interesting question. So we’re coming to the end. So this has been a really great conversation, and I appreciate you coming on to what, what agencies do you really, really admire?

Abb-d Choudhury: Oh, I mean, I can look at this two ways. Like, obviously, there’s a handful of the obvious choices like Collins or pentagram, I think I admire these ones just because of, like, design maturity, like they, you know, they’ve, they’ve been in the field and been in the industry for a very long time. And there’s just a lot of heritage and understanding. So there’s, and you can see that through the work, you know, and also to the point where it becomes effortless, like, you know, the, the effortlessly producing really great work. You know, it’s almost like Picasso, like, you know, can like just pay really quickly, but it’s like a masterpiece type thing. So, I think I think there’s a kind of definitely a, you know, a deep respect and kind of appreciation for the work that companies like those do. At the same time, though, what really kind of inspires me are companies, and this is no one in particular, but companies that are doing things in unconventional ways. And that’s one thing that we really tried to kind of adopt, which is, you know, and me in particular, I really hate convention, I really hate just things the way they are, because that’s how everyone has said it needs to be. And I always feel that there’s a way that things can be better. And things can be improved. And you know, again, like the way like the way systems are today and so forth. That’s been proven time and time again, where you know, there are better ways to do things. So I’m I really love seeing agencies and creatives. And generally just just people kind of approaching things in really unconventional ways. And finding interesting results might not be the best results might not be the answer to something. But they they they kind of indicate progress in a way, because we’re not kind of just sticking to what we know, we’re actually exploring and going into unknown territory. And I think that’s what kind of really inspires me, it’s like, being brave and courageous in kind of trying stuff out experimenting and finding new answers that could potentially solve challenges that we haven’t come across yet.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. I can’t remember who said that. I feel like it’s Mark Ford. But if you’re if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. And so it’s through that sort of experimentation, that things will, I guess that experimentation which precedes humanity forward in some degree.

Abb-d Choudhury: Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, there’s risk with that you have to be you have to be comfortable with, you know, failing. And I think that needs redefining as well, like just the idea of failing, like, it’s, it’s, you know, at least to me, and again, being a self taught designer. That’s how I learned, let’s like just failing over and over again, and getting to a point where I felt comfortable enough to, to have that or at least understand that pattern of success, if that makes sense. Like, gold so much, and so many times that I’ve got to a point now that my work started to perform in a way that people were responding to it.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And I think with failure, I think culturally there’s something that we have in the UK where A anyone that stands up try something and fails is lambasted. Whereas I think culturally, I think our our American brothers, they celebrate people standing up and having a go. And I think that’s something which is laudable for the imperfections that America has. I think that is something that’s like really

Abb-d Choudhury: I agree. Yeah.

Alex Holliman: Excellent. This has been fantastic. Where can people find out more about you online?

Abb-d Choudhury: Well, we don’t use social media. Again, for ethical reasons. Like we’re an ethical digital design company. So we kind of live by what we say. But the best place to kind of know about so find more about us is our website, firstly, and then, which is driftime.media, and then our sub stack, which is where a lot of our kind of thought leadership and writing goes and our kind of perspectives and general things. Yeah, it will be driftime.substack.com

Alex Holliman: Awesome. All right. This has been fantastic. Thanks so much.

Abb-d Choudhury: Thanks, Alex. Great to be here.

Listen to it now on www.alexholliman.com or your usual podcast streaming platform. You can also listen to all the past episodes to learn all about choosing the best agency for you.