Lockdown Economy UK in a Creative, Strategy and Production Agency with Nicola Quinn and Beth Hazon

The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Danielle Hormillosa

Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.

In this interview, we meet Nicola Quinn and Beth Hazon, the co-founders of the Do Gooder Studio, a creative, strategy and production agency based in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. We talked about how the pandemic has been the catalyst for a change in the global socio-economic landscape, how the pandemic has also been the catalyst for the creation of new ventures and how the Do Gooder Studio has taken up these challenges and opportunities to work with businesses and brands motivated to do better.

Watch the video version of the interview.

Hi both! How are you?

Nicola: Thanks for having us today.

No worries, let’s start with the first question. Tell me a little bit more about your business?

Beth: I’ll jump in next, Nicola. Do Gooder is a strategy, creative and production agency and like you’ve just touched upon there, the whole reason why we exist is we want to work with brands who are motivated to do better. It came about because Nicola and I have lots of experience and we really wanted to take all of our commercial experience and point it in a different direction. We truly believe in business to be a force for good and about that responsibility that they hold. That’s our business and that’s why we exist.

We do lots of different things. We do production from streaming events, filming, behavioral change campaigns, strategic positioning and art direction. I’m sure Nicola will jump in and tell me things I’ve missed.

Nicola: No, that’s the long list! We’ve split the business up into a lab, studio and agency. That insight piece is really important to us at the beginning when working on a project, so making sure our recommendations and suggestions are based upon evidence and research. We would start with that kind of full life cycle of a project. Going on to the agency where we have the brand communications and engagement strategies, then moving on to the studio with the art direction, production and social delivery. That’s the full cycle. We’re really not bound by disciplines in the sense that some agencies have been in the past. Our backgrounds are really different, Beth and I, and we’ve merged them together, but we have enough experience to know what specialisms to pull on and what we need to do to deliver that project. We wouldn’t really pigeonhole ourselves and got very much a cohort model where we bring people in to deliver. That’s the model we’ve been working on since we started about eight months ago in June 2020.

It’s amazing. You know you’re one of the first businesses I’ve spoken to that have started during the pandemic, which just shows the opportunity that’s available. To look into the specificities of the pandemic — how would you say it’s affected your business as a whole?

Nicola: I mean it’s why we exist today, really. I’m saying that because Beth and I were talking a while of being friends for a while, and having aligned values and similar interests. There are similar things that annoyed us and that we do differently, so we’re keen together on that joint frustration on things we saw that we wouldn’t have done and we knew that could have been done better. I think eventually, we would have gotten there. We would’ve gotten together and it would have happened probably a lot slower without the pandemic propelling us to do that. From a personal career perspective, nothing is secure or stable right now so there is a sense of personal motivation to say, “let’s take this leap”.

You saw what was going on societally and globally, and we were noticing that it’s a live event — this pandemic, it’s happening now, and research is going on about the impact on business and operations. However, what we are seeing is an immediate sort of stability with brands and businesses who had focused and invested on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) strategies. Those who had prioritized and invested in that actually performed better financially. During those first few crisis months when the pandemic and lockdown hit and came in globally, we saw these observations and also articles, by Mark Carney for example, talking about how markets will be made based on a society model, rather than a market model. All these signs and indications validated what we wanted to do and we thought this is a right thing to do now.

Beth: Also after the first lockdown, we were being told it was going to be over and done with by the end of the year! That’s why we thought, “We’ve been talking about it for ages, let’s just do it!” We did it and personally and professionally, I think it’s been the best thing we’ve ever done. I wonder now with hindsight if we would have gotten to this stage without the pandemic as the backdrop because it opened things up for us. It’s not about the hours that we’ve spent in different roles, travelling, flying to different places for business development meetings, investing in clients or having to go and visit people. It’s not about that anymore. You don’t need to have a big office and a flashy reception to be able to make that impression. We’re all little boxes in little screens and people are listening to what you’re saying. Also, it’s not like we had a huge back catalog of work, but we can say we’ve done this and this, as Do Gooder. Yes we had our reputations from previous roles, but the majority of the business that we’ve got is because people share in our beliefs and model, which has been really refreshing.

Yes, the pandemic has triggered so much innovation and opportunity. As you say for a lot of people, it’s been seen as an opportunity to make that leap essentially because, well, why not? Looking more so at your customers and competition — from your knowledge, how do you believe they are doing at the moment and what are you learning from them?

Beth: In terms of our customers, we’re just listening to our customers. They’re coming to us and telling us what’s going on for them. A lot of them have been particularly cautious especially in terms of cost, staff, and what’s going to happen depending on what sector. We do work with varied businesses. A lot of people think that we’re just aligned with the third sector, which don’t get me wrong, we are and we have some fantastic third sector clients. For us, some really interesting projects have come from big corporates that are invested in doing better or wanting our advice on how they can incorporate, what you would call, their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies without coming across as greenwashing, and because they understand that such policies need to be a fundamental part of their business these days, especially in terms of new audiences.

It’s been interesting in terms of our competitors; we try not to go there. There are other agencies that have the ethical and do-gooder vibe at heart and we see them as strengthening the mission, don’t we Nicola?

Nicola: Yes, absolutely. We wouldn’t really see them as competitors. The more people working in creative agencies like us with that message — the ethical message to do good and to have a social conscience, to advise brands — I think that just strengthens our message and will ultimately help us achieve our goals personally and professionally. That’s exactly what we want to achieve and the more people doing it means that we would actually achieve it. Our vision reflects that we believe in the power of brands to change the world for good. That’s what pushes us forward and motivates us, but we’re not going to do that on our own. It’s a collective effort, so we absolutely welcome and love to see other people come out and do the same as us.

Another element to listening to customers and to people, and I mentioned the research element in what we do and how we value that, we actually went out to Newcastle University’s academics on ethical marketing and consumer behavior. They have built a piece of research for us, a bespoke framework for Do Gooder that looks at how consumer behaviors and mindsets of change during adverse conditions and the stages of change. This is ongoing and a working framework in the sense that we are still in the pandemic that is going to be iterating and ever-changing, but it’s something that we have that’s ours. We can base our recommendations and inform our engagement strategies on this piece of research that we’ve made and will always be at the heart of what we do, to just be really in tune with what’s going on.

Creating positive partnerships is going to be key going forward as well as the work that you’re doing with Newcastle University. What would you say you’re focused on now and the next two to three months going forward?

Beth: We are focusing on becoming B Corp Pending. We’re not old enough to go full B Corp, but they have a startup program so we’re currently in that and it’s something we’re really really passionate about because that’s ultimately where we want to be. I think B Corp chimes in with all of our beliefs so that’s key.

Nicola: Things have been super busy actually, lots of really amazing stuff! We’ve got live projects that we’re working on that we’re excited about and stuff in the pipeline that will be coming online in the next month or so that will be keeping us busy. We’re on an innovation program to help us grow.

Beth: I think one of the things that we’re very keen on is that our name is Do Gooder and if you have not engaged with us before, or you’ve never seen any of our work, or you’ve never met Nicola and I or been to our website, we’re very aware of the assumption that can come from that. That is the reason we are called Do Gooder. We wanted to own it. We thought it was funny that that’s where it came from so if you’re going to get thrown that insult, just own it anyway. That’s what it’s about. Sometimes, when you have that and you use words like ethical, you can get pigeonholed into people thinking, “they might just be on that mission but the work might not be that good.” It might look a certain way and that’s not what we’re about. If anything, the mission for us over the next two or three months is really challenging that assumption because our work is beautiful and is hugely commercial. That is what we’re both passionate about.

I’ve seen a lot of your work and it’s amazing. I’ve got to say it’s beautiful. Looking at some of the challenges you’ve faced during your start. What would you say are the top three key challenges or things that you look to get help for going forward?

Beth: A key challenge, what we’ve realized is that it’s very easy to run other people’s businesses, but pretty tricky to run your own! You can have that objectivity when it is someone else’s and you can be emotionally attached to it, but it’s not yours. Whereas when it’s yours, it’s really full out on it, it’s like our baby, so that’s been really interesting for us. I think the legalities of setting up companies and things like shareholders’ agreements and internal things that no one really tells you about and then you’re like, “Oh! We really need to do them!” and that feeling like it’s a bit of a dark art! It’s been quite tricky wearing a million hats at once delivering, being the accountant, chasing all of these things, new business, marketing and sales.

Nicola: You know that’s all I saw, bread and butter, but when it comes to actually doing the cold face delivery and all the different aspects of the business and realizing you haven’t posted something on social media for a week, which we actually advise against to our clients, and you end up doing it because it is me and Beth in the business at the moment. We’re wearing all of those hats and it’s that pressure. We’ve never run a business before so as much as we know our craft, vision and where we’re going, and also believe in ourselves and our experience, it’s the actual nitty gritty of running a business that is a challenge. Also, we both have four-year-olds and they’re at home quite a bit, so it’s a juggle of all these things. It’s still a pandemic. We don’t have that “normal” routine — I hate the word normal in that sense — where you could go out and meet each other, have dinner and do those nice things to take the pressure off. It is very full-on; that is the challenge. Everything is compounded in the time of a pandemic.

It’s a very challenging period. We ourselves got a ten-month-old baby so it’s a job plus everything else. It’s amazing, but it’s challenging. Your analogy of wearing a multitude of hats is very true to life and that is ultimately where a lot of people are at the moment, but there’s great opportunity in the way that people are collaborating and changing their business models to be a lot more agile. I’d just like to finish by saying thank you very much for your time and good luck going ahead! I’d encourage people to like, share and subscribe to our various channels. Like this interview, there are a lot of interesting ones that I encourage you all to take a look at.

Nicola and Beth: Thanks for your time!

About the Guest

“Do Gooder is a creative, strategy and production agency for the new now. We believe in the power of brands to change the world for good.

Commercially focussed, we create communications and engagement strategies through our three interconnected areas of practice — lab, agency, and studio.

Our strengths lie in our creativity, execution, and our overarching values-led approach. We are experts in understanding and implementing strategic communications that cover complex subjects and package them into compelling campaigns that are accessible, resonate with the target audience, create brand champions, and inspire action.

Founders Nicola and Beth established the business peak pandemic with a thirst to innovate how brands communicate. We’ve quickly built a credible value-based model and an exceptional team to garner all of our experience and talent to do things differently.

As former in-house marketeers and big agency defectors, the founders know how the world of brand and advertising works. They have vast collective experience of working with some of the world’s leading brands.

The partners hold board and/or trustee positions with Pregnant Then Screwed, The Bernicia Foundation and Newcastle Homeless Commission. Nicola is also part of the Clore Social Leadership 2020 cohort.”

http://www.dogooder.studio/

https://www.instagram.com/dogooder.studio/

The UN-registered nonprofit social initiative that helps small businesses and self-employed professionals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.