As Cult celebrates its 8th birthday, the co-founder and global MD talks about why creative innovation has always been at the agency’s core
Bridey Lipscombe has never been afraid of rolling her sleeves up and making things happen. Having grown up around serial entrepreneurs, the thought of setting up a business or two was never just a nice idea, it was a reality. Eight years ago to this very day, she and Cat Turner put that innate sense of enterprise to the test when they launched Cult. The agency soon found favour with clients from the worlds of luxury, fashion, beauty and wellness – their commitment to pioneering creative technology meshed well with these future-facing sectors. This year is tougher than any other, as Covid-19 has highlighted the need for brands to embrace innovation at pace and at scale – which puts Cult in a very interesting position.
This birthday isn’t just about looking back – they’re also looking forward. Earlier this year the agency launched its incubation lab Cult Futures and a report into the confluence of creativity and technology. Just as the research wrapped up, Covid struck – but the insights about e-commerce and virtual lives couldn’t have been timelier.
LBB> What kind of kid were you and what were the things that really excited you back then?
Bridey> I grew up on the south coast of England, on Hayling Island, right on the beach. I lived with my mum and my stepdad and our family there. And they were what I would call serial entrepreneurs. They have a number of businesses in different fields, from entertainment through to the service industry. They had arcades, and I think even one year a Christmas tree farm. So I was really inspired by them, in an entrepreneurial sense, at a young age.
I also was very lucky because my dad lived in London. He actually lived in Soho, and ran an agency there. And so I would spend most of my time in the South, I would sometimes have weekends with my dad. That opened my eyes to London life. I remember walking around Soho with him and thinking it was the centre of the universe with all these different cultures colliding. And it was very exciting.
My inspiration probably is, luckily for me, a mishmash of all of them, you know, in the sense that I very much had my eyes opened to entrepreneurship, but equally had my eyes open that there's this big world outside of my little seaside town.
LBB> At university you studied PR - what first attracted you to that and how did you find your experience?
Bridey> I was always interested in the impact of the media in general on society. Therefore I found it fascinating that there was an industry that was built to essentially craft brands, personas, positioning awareness in the media. That is where that curiosity came from, to study PR. I also was really attracted to the course because it threw you very quickly into the working world. And I had seen the work experience and the different brands and companies they work with, as one of the main draws of the degree.
LBB> And what was your first experience in the industry?
Bridey> Through that course I managed to secure an opportunity to work with Cow PR. They are still around now, one of the leading consumer PR firms in London. Luckily enough, through doing that placement, I also secured a job after university straight away. I was very lucky and fortunate to be able to do that, and have a brilliant experience there. Some of the people that I worked with there were an incredible, creative inspiration.
LBB> That ambition to start your own agency, was that something you always harboured or was it something that emerged later?
Bridey> That experience with Cow inspired me to think about how I could take the energy of that workplace and try and to create something of my own. When I only 23, the opportunity came my way from one of the founders of Cow to go and start an agency with him and one other member. I actually founded an agency - one of the first social media agencies in the country.
It was all very fast! It was certainly never road-mapped. I think I've always tried to identify what energises me and what feels logical. At the time, public relations, which is all about getting on the phone and phone-bashing, seemed a little archaic. I thought that digital communications and platforms like Twitter were a new frontier for innovation, driving real results. We secured our first airline client and set up an agency a few weeks later.
LBB> You later went on to found Cult, currently celebrating its eighth anniversary! You set that up with Cat Turner. Do you remember the moment when you and Cat first met? And what was the point where you thought - we could really do something bigger together?
Bridey> We worked together for a couple of years before we started Cult together. We both used to live in Battersea, so we used to walk to work and talk. We really got to know each other, and what united us was that we are both very driven. I think that drive, curiosity and entrepreneurship is something that bonded us then. I won't lie, at the beginning we were very competitive - and I think that spurred us on. We've been on a real journey. And we've both become mothers, which I think has been a massive turning point in our relationship and has given us such incredible common ground. It's just meant we connect on so many levels.
In the last two years, I guess as we've matured further, we've really learned to listen to each other and have become even stronger than I thought we could be.
We provide each other with brutally honest perspective, balance and also hold each other accountable. It's rare to find a partner like that in life, but it's taken work to achieve that. You can't just assume that you're going to meet someone and be great business partners. Cat often says that if there's one thing we figured out in this business it's that we've proved the concept of 'us'.
I think that's very true, and I count myself very lucky to have somebody who energises me and who's honest with me. Yes, it's been a long road, and it's certainly one that's in a great place.
LBB> And when it comes to the work, how have you defined each of your roles?
Bridey> When we started the agency, we were the original creative pair. Cat is very much that creative mind, I'm very much strategic. Now, because she leads the creative team and I moved into a global MD role at the beginning of the year, we have very defined roles. I think that's energised our partnership even further. The more we identify and play to our key strengths, and the more exciting it is when we come together. I'm lucky to have some fantastic coaches and mentors that I work with. And certainly, working and assuming this role during Covid, has been a baptism of fire. But I've certainly learnt the job at pace.
LBB> When you originally founded Cult, what was the vision for the agency and how has that evolved?
Bridey> What has been consistent is that we always wanted to ensure that we were being the partners that enable our clients to break new ground and innovate to drive real business value.
I think we felt that we needed to stay small, to be dynamic and nimble and very informed and quick to adapt. But now what I think we've learned is that we don't have to be small; we can work with teams all around the world. We can scale up and scale down and we can still be nimble.
I think that is important when you consider, for instance, just last week, we were looking at creating ASMR content to enable digital sampling of skincare products. That's just not a team you would have in-house. You need to be able to bring those things in ad hoc. A few months ago, we were concepting fashion shows that were being projected as holograms on water. Again, not a team that one would necessarily have in-house, but those creative technologists need to be in your wheelhouse.
And through Cult Futures, we're consistently identifying those sort of ground-breaking creative innovators that we can bring in to drive us forward.
LBB> Before founding Cult, your way into the industry was through PR. I’m curious about how that foundation has informed the business and your approach?
Bridey> In order for something to be talked about in the media, or to drive conversation online, it needs to be easily understood, you need to be single-minded. That's because people need to talk about it, to share it, to understand it. And so I think that an understanding of what is newsworthy enables you to see if something has clarity, to see if it is single-minded, to see if it is easily translatable and culturally relevant. It isn't just about whether the idea is simple, it's about whether it is relevant in the moment, for the people that you are talking to.
Therefore I think an understanding of the media in PR enables you to apply that lens. Very early on, the catalyst for agency growth was a campaign that drove over 500 pieces of press coverage. And at the time, we were a team of 12. We were not a team of 12, for much longer after that. So it has always been something that we factored in, when we've considered our work.
I think it's enabled us to be holistic when thinking about the value of our work, and it's certainly still something that we consider today. And we're still driving headlines with what we're doing today.
LBB> Cult has a great roster of luxury, fashion, wellness and beauty clients. Was that something you’ve gone out of your way to target and specialise in as a business?
Bridey> I think that the type of work that we do, putting innovation at the heart of our creative to drive hard metrics, is the kind of work that's really appreciated by those four sectors, because inherently they will be very creative marketers, who will be looking to be pushed out of their comfort zone. Certainly the beauty sector is known for embracing the unknown, they want to be early adopters of innovation.
So there's always been a steady stream of beauty, fashion and luxury brands, wanting and being willing to collaborate with us. We try to ensure that we're refining both our proposition and our skill to make sure that we are the best and specialists in those areas, and to ensure that the team are feeling excited and motivated. That sense that you can become masters in your field, is really important.
LBB> One of your big recent projects is the launch of your futurist lab Cult Futures, which coincided with the release of the Creatology report, about the future of creativity, technology and converging media - internally, how useful has that process been? And how does it feed into your wider Cult vision?
Bridey> Essentially, we always innovated through our work and have shared our insights through the results of the projects that we've run with our clients, which would often be ground-breaking. Creative innovation and creative technologies and how the application of this technology can drive real value for brands has always energised us. Establishing our own Futures department, which would give us the ability to have our own point of view consistently, was something that we felt really strongly that we should be doing.
It was something that would really enable our team to become masters in the fields for creative innovation. It was a way for us to educate and motivate internally and also think about how we could become a forum for innovation in the long run. And we were always looking for the right partners to work with on this. We, of course, met Lucy Greene last year. It felt like we had a real natural connection with her. She's an incredible futurist. We kicked off with a huge research programme for our first report 'Creatology'.
Of course, as we started to conclude that research, Covid hit and there was an even greater need for creative innovation in our sectors. We needed to really ensure that brands could innovate at pace and stay alive in the current climate. Our consumers are all living increasingly isolated, digital-first lives. It was certainly an interesting time to do it.
Ultimately, the idea is not just to have a point of view, but it's to put our money where our mouth is, and start incubating our own thoughts, products and ideas. Cult Futures has become our own incubation lab.