Rebecca has built a reputation for driving the process, keeping things focussed and hitting targets. Her strengths lie in having a strong strategic vision; along with the ability to successfully deliver complex multi-track projects for some of the world’s best known and exclusive brands such as Harry Winston, ANA (All Nippon Airways – 5th airline in the world), Southern Comfort and Cisco Systems.
Unlike traditional account folk, Rebecca’s skills extend to all areas of delivering the final product. Coordinating stills and film shoots, organising castings, dealing with coders, sorting contracts. There are few areas off-limits. Ultimately she makes sure that the client doesn’t just get a job, but they get a damned good job!How does your day usually start and how does it end at Kemosabe?
I must admit, I like to read these kinds of interviews, and the women I usually read about seem to start their day at 5am, take a yoga class, have a healthy bowl of muesli & grass and hit the office by 8am having dropped 3 kids at school and walked the dog! I am in awe of those women and hope one day to be such a power-woman myself, but until then I get up at around 8am, pootle on my bike a mighty 15 minutes to the top of Exmouth Market. I buy a hugely over-priced but totally delicious coffee from one of the many coffee shops within a stone’s throw from our office door. I arrive, say the morning hellos and get cracking by 9am.
The days fly by at Kemosabe and we’re pretty strict about finishing on time (unless it’s really needed, then we’re all hands-on-deck). But it’s always been my opinion that if we’re all working overtime, all the time, then the business model is wrong. The budgets can’t be aligned with the amount of staff, the process and efficiency must be off and something needs to be addressed. You don’t need to work late to prove yourself at Kemosabe, you need to work well within the hours of the day and as a team.
Personality means so much when you are a start-up and a small but growing team. Everyone brings out the best in the family; we roll-up our sleeves, dig-in and want the best for each other, our clients and Kemosabe.
When you first launched Kemosabe, did you know where do you intend to go with it?
We were taxiing up the runway heading from Tokyo back to London after the business trip of all trips in November 2014. My friend, colleague, and business-partner-to-be leaned across the partition of our fancy Business Class seats, paused and said; ‘Shall we just set up our own agency?’ I was 26 years old and it was music to my ears. Phill and I have 20 years between us and an ageless bond. A ying and yang that I knew would work well.
The start of my career had been a strange one. On one hand; extremely supportive, and helped me grow-up and climb the ladder fast. On the other hand, words like ‘totty’ flitted around quite casually, and I was made to feel like I was over-sensitive for mentioning what was clearly a passing joke. A hotbed for politics, gossip, and dishonesty, I focussed on keeping out of it all and finding a better way.
It was 18 difficult months of long nights, weekends, pitches and meetings and along the way we had met our third business partner Irv. Like Beyonce, this man is a one-named powerhouse. Addictive to be near and knocks you sideways with his drive and integrity. The three of us bonded over our need to create something that was ours, that we were proud of, and which removed any of the unnecessary complications, negativity, and unprofessionalism that clouds so much of the industry.
In April 2016, we finally landed on day one of Kemosabe. Three hungry humans, subletting in a basement, who didn’t quite know what lay ahead.
Initially, what was the thought process behind it?
Kemosabe translates to ‘Faithful friend, Trusty Scout’. For those over 40, we usually create at least a twitch of a smile when we say our name, as people recall the American TV show the ‘Lone Ranger’ from years gone by. For us, our name is our mantra. It is so simple, but from our experience, it doesn’t come so naturally to all. But for those that get it, they reap the rewards and have become part of the family, as Kemosabians, partners, and clients.
We aim to: Create meaningful work. Have a purpose.Be kind, be supportive, be strong and understanding. Generate trust. Be excellent.
I have been asked so many times along the journey, ‘What is your exit strategy?’, ‘What is your 5-year plan?’, and luckily, we are and have always been aligned. I want to be happy, I want to be proud of our work, our clients, and our team, and for as long as we are doing those things, I don’t want to exit anywhere.
Do you think the origins of Kemosabe have evolved or changed over the years?
We’re still only 18 months old, but the meaning of Kemosabe is what we will live and die by.
Faithful Friend – to each other, to our Kemosabians, our clients, and our partners.
Trusty Scout – we are not the experts on everything. We are honest and hard-working and appreciate that at the end of the day, collaboration with key individuals will create a stronger campaign and idea. The big agency model just doesn’t work anymore. Kemosabe will scout the best of the best and for that, we are stronger. For those that can’t collaborate, they don’t stick around very long.
Our origins won’t change, but we will evolve, grow and adapt to the changing climate of the industry. If you can’t do that, then you can’t survive and thrive in advertising.
My business partners are hugely supportive of me, and of a woman in business, especially in the cultural/creative industries. It was hugely refreshing to have such strong backers in everything I believe in and want to achieve. They have helped me grow into the businesswoman I am. It’s a huge lesson for life and business. Surround yourself with the right people and you can achieve so much.
This ethos is something I will never take for granted and want to drive through the DNA of Kemosabe.
Age and gender just don’t seem to matter now. If you’re good, then you’re good and that should be the end of it.
What has been the hardest challenge you have been faced with?
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing when I set up Kemosabe. I was 27 and full of energy, gritty determination, and drive. I was ready to put the hours in, but when you start up a business, you realise quickly that no one really knows who you are or needs much from you. The success comes from the perseverance and the belief that you can do it.
As a business, one of the hardest challenges was knowing that we could do it, but convincing global clients that we had the capability. There’s always that tipping point in start-up life where some brands have to take a leap of faith. We cherish those clients that leaped with us and gave us the opportunity to grow into the agency we are today and the agency that is still to come.
Personally, setting up a business is the most challenging and fulfilling thing I have ever done. It can feel like an enormous amount of pressure and quite lonely with few people to truly relate the experience to at my age. And where social media will always portray the glamour and highs, the outside world doesn’t see the full roller-coaster. I have had to learn to deal with the pressures, the sheer volume of work and the responsibility. But with the support of my business partners, boyfriend and close allies I have learned to be truly thankful for everything I have; to take the rough with the smooth and in the words of Zen Dog; enjoy the ride.
If it was the best day every day, the best ever would get quite boring. Entrepreneurial life is not for everyone. But it’s definitely for me.
What has been your most favourite client to work with so far?
You can’t have a favourite! They are all very special to us in different ways.
All Nippon Airways – I have worked closely with ANA since 2011. They are the client that has shaped my career and the trip where we returned with Kemosabe more than a twinkle in my eye. The Japanese culture fascinates me, and the opportunities with ANA seem truly endless. And that’s an exciting feeling to have.
Southern comfort – Southern Comfort took a leap of faith in November 2016. We launched the first advertising campaign since their departure from Weidon and Kennedy the previous year. Our work was up in the Piccadilly Circus lights and the work cemented our on-going relationship with them now.
Cisco – a global brand that has allowed us the opportunity to travel the world telling stories of the customers of Cisco. No project is the same. We are constantly learning and growing and see advocacy marketing as a core part of many marketing strategies.
What kind of brands do you prefer to work with?
Thankful Org is one of our most recent clients. It has really shaken me awake to realise the importance of ‘brand purpose’, one that too creates a positive impact on the environment it operates within. Increasingly, brands shouldn’t have to talk about CSR, ticking boxes. Rather they should see it as a natural form of plane they exist within.
Kemosabe encourages purpose and meaning not just because it’s a new fad, but rather, it is so right and it is increasingly proving to be so. Managing to be at the stage to say ‘no’ and truly believe in the clients we work with is something that was very important to us all. Early this year we worked with Social Enterprise, a very humbling experience to see how many business models in the UK are created and give back to communities. It just makes sense.
What do you think makes a really successful partnership?
Trust. Without that, you won’t get anywhere.
Communication. If you don’t talk about what your concerns are, what you’re scared of, what you need to do, what you don’t know how to do, you will literally malfunction.
And in the words of Winston: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
How do you measure performance?
For clients, we have KPIs for every campaign. It can be an industry where you are only as good as your last piece of work. And with that, we are never complacent and always buckle down to prove our worth.
What does it mean to you in terms of branding to #BEYOUROWN?
I have never worked so hard at anything in my life. It is certainly not always glamorous, but to Be Your Own is the most rewarding thing I could have done. To have control over decisions, purpose, reasoning.
Finally, what is on the agenda for 2018?
3.ANA launches new brand strategy
4.Cisco Live, Barcelona
5.Southern Comfort growth
6.And the glorious unknown and new friends.
And in the words of Zen Dog: He knows not where’s he’s going, the ocean will decide. It’s not the destination, it’s the glory of the ride.
Twitter: @rebeccaadair | Instagram: @rebeccaadair