BrandContent, rebrands to ‘Folk’ and launches diverse comms consultant panel to champion inclusive communications
- Four-time international small agency of the year winner launches The Real Folk Panel and insights platform to bring authentic inclusivity to creative work
- Panel of diverse communications consultants will offer sounding board for 64% of CMOs who fear ‘getting it wrong’
- Revenue at the 8-year-old agency is up 62% YoY as Folk grows offering
- Sharon Flaherty, founder and CEO: “Our panel will allow clients to ask difficult questions and create campaigns that avoid tokenism‘”.
Multi award-winning creative communications agency BrandContent has rebranded to Folk as part of its ongoing mission to make representation and inclusion in comms the norm.
The Cardiff-based independent agency, which employs 14 people and was founded by CEO Sharon Flaherty in 2014, has rebranded to Folk to emphasise its commitment to creating unwaveringly inclusive campaigns, and to mark its shift away from a brand name defined by a marketing discipline.
As part of the evolution of the 8-year old agency, Folk has developed The Real Folk Panel, a collective of communication consultants from diverse backgrounds, all passionate about improving inclusivity in communications and advocating for communities whose voices are too often ignored in the industry. The panel includes experienced communications professionals and those working in the creative industry representing different ethnic groups, genders, abilities, sexual orientations, ages as well as different religions.
The Real Folk Panel of consultants will support Folk’s clients with campaign planning, brand communications consultancy and carry out tailored audits of existing client work to assess inclusiveness as well as taking part in focus groups and bespoke workshops to help shape more inclusive work. Being part of the creative industry themselves, means Folk’s consultants can provide solutions-based advice with the additional layer of their personal and intersectional, lived experience.
As part of the rebrand, Folk has also unveiled its insights platform, enabling brands to gather proportionally representative insights from thousands of individuals with intersecting identities. The platform will help brands understand how they can better resonate with hard-to-reach audiences, inform their strategies and test creative work.
For the agency rebrand to Folk, the logo and colour palette selected was chosen after testing with The Real Folk Panel as well as working in partnership with organisations including the RNIB. It meets AAA website content and accessibility guidelines (WCAG 2.1) for design principles and conforms to a minimum AA standard.
The rebrand to Folk follows a record year at the agency whose core offering is focused on insights, strategy and full-blown creative campaigns as well as media relations including newsjacking, content generation and influencer relations.
Revenue at the agency is up 62% YoY with a projected 50% rise in revenue for the year ahead.
Sharon Flaherty, CEO of Folk said: “A series of challenges in my personal life led me to think about how often I saw or met people with disabilities, leading me to question, why not? I couldn’t get past the fact that people with disabilities and those from marginalised groups are cast to the fringes of society and I realised as a CEO of a creative communications agency, I could do something about it. It was from here, the rebrand and The Real Folk Panel was born. I want to do what we can as an agency to make sure broader representation and inclusion in PR and marketing becomes the norm.”
Fear of ‘getting it wrong’
Reflecting on the industry, Sharon adds: “Our industry still has a long way to go, and fear of ‘getting it wrong’ is a major barrier to progress. This year, a survey of the UK’s top 100 marketers revealed that while 70% of brands are planning to improve inclusivity in their marketing and communications, 64% were afraid of making missteps.
“I’ve felt that fear myself. I can’t tell you the number of moments I’ve had worrying about how The Real Folk Panel will be received and whether I’m making a difference in the right way. But I knew we had to be brave. Because if we aren’t brave nothing will change.
Authentic campaign development
“We would never have been brave enough to refocus our proposition without involving people in the process. And that’s exactly how we see The Real Folk Panel helping other brands. To produce truly authentic work that makes people feel seen, heard and valued we must involve people with a variety of experiences in the process.
“In an ideal world, that means supporting people from underrepresented backgrounds to progress careers in our field – in fact, just 9% of talent in the advertising sector is disabled compared to 20% of the working population. And talent who went to fee-paying schools or whose parents come from professional backgrounds are grossly overrepresented. Improving representation in our industry isn’t a quick fix and will take time, but is something we are committed to doing. As part of our agency mission, we have made a number of commitments to improve the diversity in our own organisation.”
A ‘wash-resistant’ generation
“Through The Real Folk Panel we want to make it easier for brands to connect with people who are not only from underrepresented communities, but who know what they’re talking about when it comes to comms. We wanted to create a safe space so marketing and comms professionals can ask difficult questions and produce meaningful campaigns that avoid tokenism.
“We’re living in an age where younger, culturally-connected and marketing-aware generations are increasingly ‘wash-resistant’. And rightly, they are holding brands to account at the slightest whiff of hypocrisy and picking up on missteps on a daily basis. Falling foul of this can have a catastrophic effect on reputation and ultimately the bottom line.
The ethical opportunity
“But it’s not all about damage limitation. There is a huge opportunity for brands to challenge competitors and the status quo and, in doing so, tackle real world problems and connect with multi-billion pound customer bases.
“As marketers we have a responsibility for shaping the world we all see and experience. We have a duty to ensure that we shape it in a way that is much more reflective of society and values connections with a broader cross-section of audiences.”
Mark Webb, a communications consultant on The Real Folk Panel, said: “When I was approached to join the panel, I saw it as an opportunity to make real change as someone who has lived experience. Whilst I have been extremely fortunate throughout my career, I’m the exception rather than the rule. At a time when D&I is finally getting some traction, disabled communications professionals are few and far between. Like all minorities – and we are the largest – we like and expect to be seen and heard.” Mark was named as one of the most influential disabled people in the UK and is on the Shaw Trust’s Disability Power 100 List.
Folk (formerly BrandContent) was named the Best Small Content Agency at the International Content Marketing Awards in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021. The agency works with a range of household brands in the financial services, education, technology and public sector, including clients such as the Admiral Group and Principality Building Society. Its client work spans multiple territories including the USA, Middle East and Europe.
Sharon added: “Our aim is to be a powerful ally to brands supporting them in creating commercial campaigns but doing so without prejudice. As populations continue to diversify by ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, age, brands have to reflect this in their communications. It’s not a ‘nice-to-have’, it’s a ‘need-to-have’. At the same time, we know there is a real fear of getting things wrong and it is a key factor preventing brands from being more inclusive in their comms. We hope both The Real Folk Panel and insights platform will give brands the confidence to create content with cultural authenticity and take those steps to being more inclusive in their comms.”