Event Name: Fuelstudios
Agency Website: brandfuel.co.uk
With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, Brandfuel went from an award-winning, top-ten creative agency, which was anticipating its best annual results in its 15-year history and a bulging order book, to one that had lost most of its business in three weeks.
The shock was profound.
But our CEO, David Ball, quickly identified the agency’s greatest needs: strong team support and clear communications, and the provision of the skills that staff needed to thrive in a virtual events world.
Brandfuel tackled these twin challenges in several ways, including weekly baking sessions with the boss, which hugely raised team morale. But our biggest initiatives to address both issues for staff and our extensive freelance family, were Fuelstudios, our virtual events broadcasting channel, and Fuel Cells, our cluster of nine research teams, set up to explore new directions and solutions for the agency during and after the pandemic.
The Solution and Activation
Fuelstudios gave staff across the agency the chance to learn essential new skills and provided a medium – Fuel TV – through which staff, working remotely or furloughed, could share their “lockdown lives” and latest projects. Regular features included “crew cribs”, “behind the scenes” and pets features. We have produced 13 internal episodes of broadcast-quality programming and continue to release new shows every fortnight.
The online channel also became the platform for formal company meetings, which were held more often, and was a vital conduit for collaboration and camaraderie. Among the skills learnt were green screen production, scripting-writing, the use of autocues, presenting, filming, sound engineering, directing and production.
Supporting our network
As staff returned from furlough, cross-departmental teams were formed to get them up to speed with virtual event production. By asking each team to project-manage and produce a pre-recorded session, they quickly acquired the skills they needed, matching those of their non-furloughed peers. Since Brandfuel staff were the audience, these productions shared lessons from recent projects and kept staff working from home connected with company life.
We also included our extensive freelance family in the virtual events training with our Plus One shadowing initiative to help them secure more work with us in future and to increase their appeal to other agencies.
Fuelling more change
The other key strand of supporting staff and increasing resilience during the pandemic was our Fuel Cells research programme, which ran alongside our Fuelstudios work and shaped the production of Fuel TV episodes.
Nine teams of four or five members – furloughed or remote working – were set tasks to find new ways of working or enhancing our services. Lessons learnt were shared with colleagues on Fuel TV. The research topics ranged from understanding how augmented and virtual reality could increase user engagement to creating a virtual assistant and researching second-screen technologies. As well as investigating new areas of work, these cells gave different staff the opportunity to lead and helped to keep furloughed staff “part of the crew”.
Even as the agency has become busier with new commissions and clients, some of the Fuel Cells are continuing their research work to extend our reach in a post-pandemic events industry.
Brandfuel successfully supported staff in other ways, too.
The power of flour
David Ball’s weekly baking sessions started in March 2020 with a handful or staff getting together on Fridays to make bread, pizzas and increasingly ambitious treats under his guidance on Zoom. Early on, it was hard to find yeast and other ingredients, so David sent vital supplies to whoever needed them.
The Doughballs crew quickly grew to 65 bakers across the globe – staff, their families, freelancers, clients and suppliers – all connecting from their kitchens. The title of “Doughballer of the week” became hotly contested and prizes including personalised spatulas, rolling pins and aprons were sent out.
A year later, and the baking sessions continue and a charitable cookbook is on the way. Not only have many in Brandfuel’s wider family learned a lot of skills, but they’ve had a lot of fun too.
Other ventures to support staff have included a regular “kitchen cuppa” on Zoom; pub quizzes; book clubs; meditation sessions; a seminar on mental health issues, hosted by Brandfuel’s six mental health ambassadors; and a crepe masterclass on Pancake Day.
The past year has been immensely challenging for Brandfuel. The first lockdown forced us to reconsider everything we do and how we do it. But as a creative agency, we always embrace change.
The launch of Fuelstudios not only provided a platform on which we could retrain our team for virtual events, it also played a vital role in boosting staff morale and communication. Even better, it became our very own virtual events platform which has met with great success with our clients for their events.
Reaping the benefits
As we became increasingly competent with online broadcasting, we pitched for and won virtual events projects for new and existing clients, including UKAEG, the Advertising Association, BlackRock, IPA, Unisys, Barclays and Slack. We have now produced over 50 virtual events across 17 platforms, onboarding over 800 speakers remotely, globally. We are delighted to have produced virtually, everything from award ceremonies, BBQ masterclasses, conferences, virtual exhibition stands, dinners and highly successful virtual charity events for BGC Partners (raising over $10m in one day) and the Irish Youth Foundation (raising over £100,000 in comparison to £60,000 from their annual in-person fundraiser).
Our Fuel Cells have helped to reintegrate staff who had been on furlough, and to highlight areas in which we could develop additional services for new and existing clients.
We have done everything we can to look after our staff, freelancers, suppliers and clients, and we are confident that we will emerge from this pandemic ready to meet new opportunities in a post-covid