Kerrie Finch is the founding partner and president of FUTUREFACTOR, one of the leading internationally operating communication and PR agencies in the country. With offices in London, LA and Amsterdam this powerful lady knows how to run a tight business. Originally from UK, Kerrie has spent the last twenty years of her life living in Amsterdam, where she’s now in charge of the Dutch offices. In this exclusive interview, we discuss her vision on current trends, and how to adapt PR strategies to different markets.
“We all need heroes and any form of progression where women are just simply equal to men, not more, not less, just equal, is absolutely a way forward. Not just for women, but for men as well. “
You have offices in London, L.A. and here in Amsterdam. What are the biggest differences between the three cities?
What I love about Amsterdam is the way I’ve engaged with the world here. And, you know, I’m a foreigner here and that’s a really interesting perspective on the world. I view Amsterdam as from being in it from an outsider’s perspective. I’ve lived here 20 years. I’ve gone native, but you’re always going to be an outsider as a foreigner. And I think that’s given me a specific perspective of the city itself. But a difference between Amsterdam and Los Angeles is that LA is very American, but it’s got a pioneering spirit that, for example, New York doesn’t have. It really is The Wild West, there’s so much change going on. Silicon Valley, Silicon Beach, the entertainment industry, broadcast, digital. It’s a massive mash up in L.A. It’s very exciting and people are very open to that first meeting. London on the other hand is a bit colder. I think it’s rich in culture; it’s so layered and of course, it’s multicultural. But it’s also very British. And Amsterdam, I see, is a true melting pot. It’s international and it’s pan-European in the way that I engage with the city. It’s a brilliant multicultural city. And the creative industry in tech innovation that we work with is richer for it. I find that really fascinating.
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So what does a regular day at the office look like for you?
I guess there is no particularly regular day. That is the point. And I think that’s part of what having a PR company is all about. You know that a lot of your work is in zones, is often instantaneous because you’re reacting to something. And news, of course, moves fast and journalist needs things immediately. They don’t want to wait. They have deadlines. And so, you’re always reacting quite fast. My role, of course, has changed over the years in my career. I’m less tactical now and I’m much more strategic. So last week I was in San Francisco with my business partner, Nick, and we were working with three different clients there. This week I’ve been in Amsterdam and I’ve been out to dinner with friends and I’ve caught up with the team here. Week by week, my life is always different, but that’s what I love. It keeps me engaged and keeps me excited.
What sets you apart from the other PR agency?
What I would say is that we are kind of a PR plus company. What we do for our clients is we help them use their voice. Once they found their voice, we help them cut through the noise to have meaningful impact with the audiences that they’re looking to engage with. And our sweet spot is the creative industry and tech innovators. We help them across borders and we work in a very cross borders manner. So whether that’s the medium that we work in or geographically or the national spread of our team. Our clients are absolutely anywhere, so we’re not limited to the three locations of our offices.
Statistics from October 2019 show quite some interesting numbers. For example, we see that 4.5 billion Internet users are here today, which is about 10 percent rise compared to last year. In addition, we have about 3.6 billion social media users worldwide. What are your thoughts on this?
What is telling us is that, as ever, the world is driven by digital and Internet and that way that we all communicate with each other through social media. Children these days are digital natives. So it’s not surprising that that number grows exponentially because the next generation is immediately adopting it. And so, of course, there’s going to be a lot of growth because as we know, as the world population increases, all those people are climbing straight onto social media channels. And it has a massive influence on the way we see our own world. What’s scary is the way that some of those platforms interact with us and they create echo chambers so that we’re only speaking to like-minded souls and we’re not actually being challenged by other perspectives. That’s really a thing, and I think also there’s the increasing danger of what people call fake news these days. I believe that that’s always been the case. You know, we’ve always had fake news, we just called it different things over the decades. So I think, social media is just a far faster way of us interacting with each other. Everybody wants everything immediately. And I think that’s actually very unhealthy. It doesn’t make for a healthy lifestyle. And I think that’s where in imbalance to that the wellbeing movement has grown and grown and grown. Because we’re all looking for ways to reconnect with ourselves and to actually just slow down.
I, myself, did a social media detox a couple of years ago. The only way I was allowed to communicate was through live Twitter. I wasn’t allowed to make calls, I wasn’t allowed to email and I wasn’t allowed to use any other form of social media. I didn’t take my team seriously when they said this is what was going to happen, but they’ve locked me out of all forms of communication and within ten minutes I’d left my laptop in the back of a taxi in London. So, my advice would be, if you’re going to do this, I wouldn’t travel while doing it because it makes it really complicated. My brain was absolutely scrambled however, what I will say is by the end of just one week I dropped out of Facebook and didn’t get involved again for about six months. So I really managed to step away from it.
Today, businesses feel like they can’t go without Instagram. If we look at 2020, the big question I think everyone wants to know is: Could Instagram double your business in 2020, if used wisely?
I would say that it depends on what your business is, because of the way Instagram works compared to Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest. For example, if you’re in the fashion industry or the design industry, then probably, yes, it actually could. You know, it’s vital. I was watching a Netflix series called ‘Next in Fashion’. You must watch it. It’s really great. It’s like Project One Runway, but better. One of the comments that they made was that Instagram makes or breaks fashion brands, because if you’re not engaging in that way, you’re just not relevant as a fashion designer. And I can absolutely agree with that. Would it break my business or would it double it in 2020? I don’t think so. Do I think that it’s useful to have conversations with like minded people and with the industry in some way? Yes, sure, but I also think that LinkedIn for my business, is a much healthier, more dynamic and more growth focused platform.
How do you find a balance between investing money into an advertorial, and the use of PR strategies to help you achieve a company’s goals?
Advertorials are a two-page spread in a magazine and it’s written as if it’s a feature, but you’ve actually paid for it. I think that’s bollocks. We’re all real savvy. We all know how this works these days. No one’s tricking us. We know that that’s been bought and paid for. What we like to engage with is actually earned media. We want to be able to endorse people we believe in ourselves. And that’s the strongest form of growth. I think is a much stronger, more potent form of engaging with people you don’t yet know, because you are giving a point of view, and you’re starting to potentially be known for that point of view. And I think when we look at adverts, often billboards in Times Square or we’re looking at advertorial content in a magazine, we know it’s been truly paid for.
What if you compare this to, for example, micro-influencers vs. mass followings?
I think it’s really smart, because micro influencers and nano-micro influencers can have a much deeper following. Smaller numbers, but a much more engaged following. And, you know, we’re speaking very generally here, but I think that that breeds better engagement for a brand as long as it’s done authentically and it’s not done too sales’y. You know, you can pay millions to have a celebrity put out an Insta post. But actually, that celebrity has millions of followers who aren’t really engaged. They’re engaging with whichever actress it is because she’s pretty or she’s great in that movie, but not because she necessarily has a point of view about something. And I think the micro influencers and the nano-micro influencers that have an even smaller following are much more interesting for brands, because it’s about depth of contact with the right people.
In recent years, we’ve seen more and more brands taking strong stands on social issues, no matter the potential backlash. How do you feel about brands in the role of ‘activists’?
I think that it can only be a good thing if you’re doing it authentically. However, I would say, when activism turns into being politicized and being political, that’s much more complicated for all sorts of brands. It could backlash and it has done for many brands. But I think that happens when you’re being disingenuous, when you’re not being real about it, when you’re jumping on the bandwagon. You know, if you’re going to jump on a bandwagon and you’re going to get involved for purely sort of financial profit, as it were in the end, then you kind of deserve what you get. But particularly for new brands, it’s quite straightforward to immediately set themselves up with purpose. Whether it’s sustainability, climate change, fashion that doesn’t pollute the oceans. You know, if you if you’re baking that into your brand from the get go, then it’s much simpler to be authentic. To stand for something and to allow people to see that it’s real and it’s honest. And that’s also where we help our clients; that pivot point when they need to perhaps change perspective. But you’ve got to do it right and you’ve got to do it with integrity.
Let’s talk about innovation and technology. The two go hand in hand. In your opinion, what role can technology play in our way towards a more sustainable lifestyle?
Oh, that’s such a good question. And to be honest, I mean, I don’t know, because, you know, the world as we know it is changing faster and faster year on year. Look at the climate crisis right now. In the last two years, things have moved on so much worse, so much quicker than we ever expected or the general mass ever expected. And that’s the same with technology and innovation. I have no idea what’s coming next.
You know, when I was a kid, I was waiting for the hover boots to be made that would fly me across the playground. And I’m still waiting, frankly. But meanwhile, it looks like we’re getting flying cars any year now. So I have no idea what it’s going to do. But we’re going to be continuing to speed up. What I hope is that it’s done ethically, I hope development is done sustainably and I hope it’s done honestly. But you can’t unfortunately believe that that is going to be the case in every country, from every brand, with every innovation. That’s the sad thing. But that’s life also.
Women are taking over the world by storm. If you look at women currently working in leading positions, especially within technology, what do you think is the power of that?
That’s a really good question. I would say is this: There’s still no equity. There’s still no equality in those positions. There should be 50 percent men, 50 percent women in any of these leadership positions on any board. But actually, it’s nowhere near that. I think in France, they had a policy where, it’s law that by this year there had to be 40 percent women on boards. And I think they’ve got to 42 percent, which is brilliant. But it’s just one country and it’s also not at CEO level. A board is not the same as being a CEO. I really believe in that ‘see it, be it’ principle. You know, be the change you want to see and see the change you want to be. We all need role models. We all need heroes and any form of progression where women are just simply equal to men, not more, not less, just equal, is absolutely a way forward. Not just for women, but for men as well. And I really, truly believe that we’ve got to see more women in senior positions in order that inspires the kids of today. To make them understand that there’s nothing stopping the girls any more than there’s stopping the boys. But unfortunately, still, women are somewhat second class citizens. Yes, of course in some countries more than others and in some industry more than others. But it’s not okay, just because it’s still happening. The US has never even had a woman president. And that’s why I run ‘SheSays’ in Amsterdam. It’s a global organization which basically supports women to help women progress there.
I founded the Amsterdam chapter, but it was originally founded in 2007 by a couple of women who were working in London at the time. I really admired what they were doing. And it got to the point where I never liked the: ‘Oh, let’s hold the talking stick and dance on mother’s menopause’ kind of thing. Or talk about how bad men are. That’s rubbish. What we need to do is, just what my point of getting involved with SheSays is; that we can talk about anything. Men and women are always welcome and equal in the audience, but only women take the stage.
That to me was a really important thing to do, because I’ve just got to a certain point in my career and I just thought: Why are women still struggling with this? There’s still no equality. That’s something I’m really passioned about and I really do believe that we, as women, but also men as men, just need to give equality to both sexes. It’s really as simple as that.
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Credits: Photography by Louiza Mei King, exclusively for AV-mag