LAUREN BRENER & FRANCES PARA-MALLAM – FOUNDERS OF DUO CREATIVE MEDIA

Tell us a little about yourselves and Duo Creative Media?

Lauren: Duo Creative Media is a digital marketing and communications business founded in 2016. We focus on launching and challenging brands to work smarter, not harder, by combining the principles of creative and media thinking up front as part of the solution – not as an afterthought. We met about seven years ago in a performance marketing agency in London. 

Frances: Within three years, together we built a creative team, working across 20+ brands tying creative and media planning together. We joked for ages about doing this for ourselves, fantasising over the idea during our lunch breaks. Fast forward three more years later, we realised our industry was still so monolithic, creative agencies didn’t have a clue about what media agencies were doing and vice versa. The only people truly losing out were clients. We wanted to help be part of the change.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced since starting up on your own?

Lauren: There’s no real handbook on how to start, what to do and what to look out for. You learn by doing; you’re constantly trialling and re-evaluating. I always say that in the last three years of running Duo, I’ve aged by ten years. There’s no one else supporting you other than yourself and that’s a big step to take.

Frances: “The dream is free, the hustle is sold separately”… Having ideas for a business is actually the easy part, executing them is a WHOLE different ball game. It sounds naive, but you do get seduced into thinking that being an entrepreneur is, having a great business idea, great stamina and great contacts. But that’s only half of it. As unglamorous as it sounds, get to know the practical things for set up Flat Rate schemes, VAT registration, PAYE… etc.

Lauren: Basically, find a great accountant! Pay them more so you pay HMRC less in the long term. It’s the best thing we did when starting up.

What is your favourite thing about owning your own creative agency?

Lauren: You get to wake up every morning and know that you’re doing something that you have built. It’s the most amazing feeling to look back over the last three years at the work and experiences we have had and know we’ve done this for ourselves. We’ve also met such an incredible plethora of people over the last few years far more than we ever did in an agency. People, brands and businesses that we would never have met if we would have continued working full time.

Frances: Seeing something that we have had a hand in (big or small) come to life. It’s the most elevating feeling to see your hard work in the flesh. To see it being adopted by the brands you work with championing your ideas and thought process makes all the difference.

How do your individual work styles differ?

Lauren: I’m a kind of ‘method to my madness’ worker. I like to think of every possible worst-case scenario so that we can unravel any potential problems. Frances then helps find answers for those pitfalls. She’s a lot more level-headed about the work – she keeps me sane.

Frances: I’m more methodical. Deep thinker, clear notes, visual in approach and concise. Lauren helps me bring out the storytelling. Whenever we go into a pitch or presentation, I know exactly what story she’s going to tell – but her energy surprises me every time and I am sold!

How do you merge your styles on projects?

Lauren: I sometimes need a bit of cooling and Frances sometimes needs a bit of fire. So we compliment each other.

Frances: We divide and conquer on projects really well. We know where each other’s strengths lie, so we coordinate on this premise when we tackle a project. 

What are your top three tips for getting a foot in the door of the creative industry?

Lauren: Your network is your net worth. Never think that one connection is less worthy than the other. The industry is small, and sometimes a conversation you have today will end up coming through the front door again in six months time. This is so important to nurture. We’re in the business of people. At the end of the day, people buy people and it’s so important to acknowledge this especially in the first few years of starting up.

FrancesHave a point of view. The most interesting and influential person in the room has always been the person who says something no one else is thinking. Immerse yourself in the weird and wonderful world of advertising, from as many vantage points as you can – it will give you that edge in that all-important meeting.

Also, reputation is everything: Everyone talks, everyone compares notes. Don’t cut corners, be honest about what is or isn’t possible for you to deliver on. We’ve seen so many cases where startups promise the earth, moon and stars and then realise they can’t deliver.

If you could go back and give your younger selves some advice, what would it be?

Lauren: Keep calm and carry on. Don’t get disillusioned by things that don’t work out so quickly. Use them as a case study. Learn from it and feel good about any experience, regardless of the outcome.

Frances: Don’t be afraid to speak up. Courage is always rewarded. Be more audacious and invest in your strengths more. Say yes to things that take you out of your comfort zone – because comfort will be the greatest threat to your progress, not your hardships.