October 28, 2020
By Paul Brackley – IQ Magazine
If there is anything positive to have come from the impact of coronavirus, it has to be the sudden change in business attitude and direction to a more generous and inclusive way of working with those around us, to ensure our own future business success.
It is an approach that entrepreneur, Faye Holland has long recognised and adopted – and the ‘Good Samaritan’ style of working has certainly stood her in good stead long before we’d even heard of COVID-19.
Indeed, Faye has successfully built her Burwell-based PR & Communications agency, cofinitive on a solid pay-it-forward ethos. And the multiple-award-winning agency – which first opened its doors in January 2015 – has been on a path of exponential growth ever since.
The working principle is a simple one. Far from resting on its laurels with its larger, flusher clients, cofinitive actively pays its successes forward – gratis, or at a subsidized rate – to the smaller innovative startups which sometimes need a little help at the start of their life-changing business missions.
Says Faye: “When I set up cofinitive, I of course wanted to run a successful business first and foremost – but I also wanted to pay-it-forward wherever possible. The vision has always been to deliver impactful communications for companies poised to make a difference in the world. It just makes the journey a little bit nicer when you are helping people out – and that’s why we do it.”
Every member of the cofinitive team actively contributes to the pay-it-forward community – either by sitting on boards, participating in panels, supporting charities, or driving networks.
Faye holds a free comms clinic for startups at The Bradfield Centre every month (currently via Zoom). And every account manager takes on at least one pro bono client e.g. the STEAM project, Cows about Cambridge (Break Charity); the co-creative women’s group, Impact Women’s Network, which is raising the visibility of impactful women instigating change together; or EngageEast, a regional chapter of the national movement, giving free expert advice to drive employee engagement.
Faye and her team also run, coordinate and stage the annual #21toWatch Awards – promoting to date, over 500 ground-breaking startups, entrepreneurs and innovations, and providing them with significant PR exposure for future growth and investment.
Now into its third year, the Awards have undoubtedly cemented Faye’s position as a key influencer in the region, but she says simply: “I am passionate about the equitable success of Cambridge and am just excited to be at the start of a daring young business that could become our next unicorn.”
The pay-it-forward approach has undoubtedly reaped dividends for Faye and her team. And this was never more apparent than during the unfolding months of the pandemic when cofinitive was busier than ever, onboarding a steady stream of new clients on top of their retained clients.
Business As Usual
Says Faye: “Without sounding blasé, it was very much business as usual for us during the pandemic. Because we’ve paid it forward, we’ve earned a really good reputation in Cambridge. And with tech and innovation being our forte, we found ourselves in the fortunate position of onboarding new clients with COVID-19 solutions which they wanted us to share with a wider audience during lockdown. We also worked on multiple projects on reputation management and crisis management to help businesses adapt and thrive to the current situation.
“I think it was significant that we were already set up for remote working. cofinitive is visionary and resilient, and we’ve been working as an ‘agile’ business for a couple of years now. So, with our eye on China through February, we took the decision to lockdown long before everyone else did to start testing fulltime remote working.”
Faye is no stranger to remote working. She spent most of her pre-cofinitive working life doing just that during a 20+ year international career developing the marketing and communications strategies of global heavyweights such as Pipex/ UUNET; IBM; running the European and Asia-Pacific operations of SharedXpertise Media, and in turn working with almost every major brand you can think of.
She says it taught her the importance of ‘pivot’. And indeed, it was with the slightest of pivots, that cofinitive repositioned to ensure that the COVID-19 triumphs and breakthroughs coming out of Cambridge were shared and celebrated far and wide.
In February, the news that Crayfish.io was offering free English-Chinese machine translations via their state-of-the-art translation platform to all medical and life science companies working to halt the Coronavirus crisis was featured across BBC and European news channels before going global.
By April, cofinitive had launched Agxio’s revolutionary new robotic platform, Apollo (which evaluates critical data and produces predictive models with beyond-human-scale performance) which in addition to launch coverage was also added to the Cabinet Office’s library of contacts of companies that could help in the response to coronavirus.
And, at the same time, they achieved unrivalled coverage for the primary announcement that Cambridge-based AI Vivo, using a revolutionary systems pharmacology platform powered by AI, had made a significant breakthrough, identifying (initially) the 31 most promising candidates for the treatment of coronavirus.
The following month, cofinitive took on a pro bono client working at the heart of the epidemic. Dr Tim Baker, an ICU doctor at Addenbrookes Hospital, had developed a touch-screen symptom management and communication App, which enabled ICU patients to communicate their symptoms and emotions when unable to speak (as a result of being mechanically ventilated or having undergone a tracheostomy).
The coverage which cofinitive secured for myICUvoice was everywhere – from BBC One’s flagship breakfast programme, BBC Breakfast through to BBC World, Bloomberg, BBC Look East as well as mainstream newspapers like The Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday and specialist health, technology and medical publications.
Says Faye: “We’re absolute rock stars in what we can deliver but we are also good people wanting to do the right thing. And we are immensely proud to have worked with some amazing innovators during this time.
“However, we remain feisty. If someone knocks on our door and wants us to work on something we don’t agree with, we either work with them to change it or we say no. But that’s integrity for you: following your ethical convictions and doing the right thing in all circumstances, even if no one is watching. If you work with us, this is what you can expect. We only ever accept work that sits comfortably with our values.”
Bucking The Trend
Faye has grown cofinitive into a strong, cash-rich, self-funded enterprise. Last year, the business not only doubled turnover but doubled profit too. This year, despite the pandemic, estimated fee income for the current year is forecast at a minimum of 35 per cent growth, and a 40 per cent profit margin is anticipated.
However, despite how well the business was able to operate during lockdown, Faye is not sticking with the remote working model.
She says: “My plan was always to grow the business this year, and that hasn’t changed. If anything, we need to accelerate this. So while other businesses are getting rid of their bricks-and-mortar offices, we are bucking the trend. We have taken on an additional office in our current building, which will almost double our workspace. We need to have somewhere where we can meet with our clients and be genuinely collaborative. It’s important to see the whites of people’s eyes every now and then.
“That doesn’t mean we have to be in the office fulltime. I don’t mind where my team work, how they work or what time they work, as long as they get the job done. It’s important to be flexible.
“Working from home suits some people but, for others, it can be tough. But I do think that, after a period of flexibility, many people will start to gravitate back to the office and once again we’ll be ready for that.”
Faye is also preparing to hire more team members. Initially, she plans to expand her team with an Integrated Communications expert, and at least one apprentice or candidate on a retraining scheme. As the business continues to thrive, she is also entertaining the idea of hiring a Managing Director so that she can focus on the strategic direction and vision of the company, and the clients which she personally oversees.
She says: “I am aware that many people have been made redundant, and so it’s great to be in a position to be offering jobs. What’s more, with remote working, the talent pool just got huge. I can employ from anywhere now, and that’s very exciting.”
Unsurprisingly, Faye is continuing to pay it forward to other businesses having a harder time post-pandemic. She was recently appointed to the board of the Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce and Chairs the Cambridge & South Cambs Committee; and also sits on the Business Board of the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority, where she is involved with the Economic Sub Recovery Group which, as well as planning the region’s economic recovery , is looking at helping those made redundant to retrain.
Faye says: “I’ve been very fortunate in that I haven’t had to furlough or let people go. It’s gone the other way for us and we’ve been extremely busy. But I can’t just ignore everyone else. As a fellow business owner, I still have a commitment to other businesses to help them succeed as well.”
Faye has worked hard to build cofinitive into a flagship business for Cambridge, and for it to be recognised as one of the ‘130 most influential businesses in Cambridge’, and in the Top 10 of the regions ‘Image Makers’ for the last three consecutive years (currently standing at number two). She is also proud to be listed as one of the ’25 most influential people in Cambridge’ and to be included as one of Computer Weekly’s ‘Most Influential Women in Technology’ two years running.
Additionally, over the last year, cofinitive’s consistently high level of service has seen them shortlisted as a finalist for Small PR Consultancy of the Year amongst the world’s elite PR agencies in the CIPR Excellence Awards, and scoop ‘Gold’ for ‘Best Use of Content’ in the CIPR Pride Awards.
So, for Faye, it’s essential that her business keeps evolving.
She laughs: “We’re complete lunatics because, on top of everything else that’s been going on over the last few months, we’ve also refreshed the cofinitive brand and redone the website, as well as overhauled our IT systems. It’s really important that we practice what we preach, especially in terms of the brand. So while our ethos stays the same, we are evolving. You can’t just keep doing the same thing.”