How&How, as the name unashamedly suggests, is an agency started by yourself and your husband and co-founder, Rog. Have you ever found somewhat of a blur between your personal and professional lives? Were there any difficulties trying to separate the two in the early days of setting up the business?
Cat: Rog and I have been together for longer than we’ve been apart (we got together when we were 18 almost 21 years ago), and we’ve had a fair few businesses under our belts in the meantime. We ironed out any teething problems with our first Bristol-based venture, Howkapow, back in the late 2000s and established our roles then.
There were certainly a few squabbles at the very start, but once we had clearly defined roles and responsibilities then things got easier. By the time it came to setting up How&How we were seasoned pros.
But yeah, there is always a blur between personal and professional. But it means we always have something to talk about when we go out for dinner!
One of the struggles for myself when working with a romantic partner was this idea of an imbalance of power in a traditional corporate hierarchy. Presumably, it's far easier to manage this split when entering a business as 50/50 partners?
Cat: I don’t think the 50 / 50 partners thing has anything to do with it, it is more about whether you are equals from the start. If you’re unequal partners in your romantic relationship then naturally that will be the same in a business relationship. Personally, at least, I think it doesn’t change with a piece of paper saying you own a 50% stake.
What advice would you give to other creative couples looking to go into business together?
Cat: Why not?! What have you got to lose… ;)
Part of How&How's mission statement is the idea of "left-right thinking", ensuring that you're following both your head and your heart when working on a project. Have you ever had to turn down a project because the brand didn't quite align with either of these values?
Cat: Yes absolutely. There were a few times when we’ve had to make the call to preserve the sanity and spirit of our team and either turn high-paid jobs down as we didn’t see them as the right moral match.
It’s important to understand the ‘power of no’ and the beneficial effect that can actually have if you make the right call in the long run.
One of the clearest values for How&How at the moment seems to be sustainability and the environment. Projects such as Forgotten Forests, Deadly Dust and Eat Less Plastic have all been created under the 'BeHalf' umbrella, partnering with charities and action groups for free on behalf of the needs of our planet.
Do you think there's a real case for more agencies taking on pro-bono work for charities and social causes that matter to them, and what advice would you give these agencies who are struggling to justify the idea of large-scale projects without any financial incentive?
Cat: It’s crap that we have to create some of the most urgently important work of our lives, for free… I believe any design or marketing for the preservation of the planet should come with the highest price tag due to the importance of the task involved. But this sadly is not the case.
I can only speak for our agency, but as we live by the sea here in Lisbon, we are all deeply connected to our oceans and what goes into them. We feel compelled to keep on doing these projects — whether we lose money on them or not. I feel like we don’t actually have a choice.
Learn more about the importance of staying true to your morals in Briefbox's interview with Alen Pavlovic:
What has the general response to these social cause projects been like? Have How&How won any paid work as a result of the exposure generated by these projects?
Cat: In answer to the two questions: incredible… and yes!
What more do you think the creative industries can do to make a positive impact in today's society, be it socially, culturally or environmentally?
Cat: I think it would be good if the creative industries were able to act and work together as one more cohesive voice, as opposed to the fragmented and competitive bun-fight that often happens among agencies.
I dream of a single design and marketing agency combined from lots of different studios all working together for the planet… perhaps one day!
Alongside ditching the traditional office culture, your agency seems to have fully embraced the post-pandemic remote working lifestyle. Is this something you expect is here to stay in the creative industries, and do you think there's a benefit to this approach as a business owner?
Cat: Yes, there’s always a benefit if you can make your team happy with their day-to-day working environment and set-up. It makes for contented staffers, and aids retention. Despite forming the agency in Bristol, within a few months we had moved to Lisbon and so have always been working between England and Portugal.
Remote working is here to stay, but not 100% of the time. We offer a hybrid approach, with a minimum of 2-3 days in the studios in Lisbon and London. Full-timers can decide if they come in every day, or not. Freelancers can do whatever they please! But to be honest, I don’t really notice the difference anymore!
Struggling to stay focused while working from home as a creative freelancer? Take a look at the Briefbox team's top tips in our helpful guide below:
Has this shift towards remote working, combined with offices in both Lisbon and London, played a role in working with and hiring more people from all around the world?
Cat: Yes, it has! It means we can now hire globally (although it’s handy if we’re roughly in the same timezone). But having an office in Lisbon has really helped with recruitment too actually, we’re finding a lot more designers are applying to work with us here than in London. Maybe the 300 days of sunshine a year have something to do with it? But it’s interesting nonetheless.
London will always be, I believe, the biggest creative hub in the world no matter how drizzly it is, which is why we’re also growing the team there!
Looking to find meaningful, paid work in the creative industries? Check out our detailed guide below:
Are there any particular creatives or agencies who have helped and inspired you along the way?
Cat: I love what Brian Collins (founder of COLLINS) is doing, and fondly remember a chat I had with him backstage at Web Summit a few years back before I introduced him on the design-themed Creatif stage. His studio is at top of their game right now.
What about today's talent? Is there anyone out there that you're really digging right now that stands out from the crowd?
Cat: I always have time for any of the gang I went to St Martin's with: Eleanor Meredith (illustrator), Eda Akultan (illustrator) and Carmen Vela (designer).
And finally, what about the future for How&How? What's next for the future growth of your agency?
Cat: Another outpost perhaps? This time in the US? We don’t know… but we aim to live to our motto: fortune favours the bold.
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We'd love to thank Cat for taking the time to answer our questions, giving young creatives the opportunity to learn more about what it takes to run a design and illustration studio a little differently than most.
If you'd like to find out more about the awesome work produced by the talented team over at How&How, then be sure to check out their website and follow their social media channels using the links below:
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