Unprecedented with Andy Afford

Published 30th March 2021

At Unprecedented, we had the opportunity to talk to Andy Afford Managing Director of STENCIL.

A background into you and your business?

I started out as a professional sportsman before starting a second career in the creative industries. I’m a Sony Radio Awards silver winner, a former British Society of Magazine Editors editor of the year. I also Chair Nottingham Young Creative Awards and currently Managing Director at STENCIL, a creative agency based at Sneinton Market, within Nottingham’s Creative Quarter. 

Define leadership and what being a leader means to you.

Anyone that assumes responsibility, formally or informally, for shaping the culture of an organisation.

Who are your Leadership role models/inspirations?

Bruce Springsteen. A model of consistency in terms of creative output and behaviour. Has been a bandleader for 50 years without ever losing the respect and admiration of band members. No mean feat in the world of rock n roll.

What would you like your Leadership Legacy to be?

I’d like to think that we are building something at STENCIL where the values and purpose of the business are as obvious to clients as they are to staff.

What are the “non-negotiable” behaviours that you expect you and those around you to live by?

  1. Turn up on time.

  2. Don’t do anything that would embarrass the business.

What impact has covid had on your business?

We’ve been out of the office since March. We’ve experienced some uncertainty that no one foresaw. It has made me more philosophical about business.

Where were you and what were you doing when you first realised that Covid-19 was very serious?

When creative director Sam was away skiing on the French/Italian border and the nervousness that created in the office about his return to duties. I knew it was a real problem then and swift action was required.

Are there any people within your support network who made a big positive impact on you as a Business Leader during those early weeks/months?

I received good advice from someone I lean on for that kind of thing. Someone who lost a business when 9/11 happened. The simple advice was hold on to the cash. So we did.

What was your internal comms strategy at the start of lockdown? Has that changed?

We’ve just managed as best we can. Spoken to staff collectively when necessary. We just tried to keep things calm.

What have been the Unprecedented decisions you have made? Those where there was no playbook.

I’ve tried to be decisive in all of my decision making. Rightly or wrongly.

The word pivot was used unprecedently in May/June. What have you done to innovate or differentiate you or your business?

We’ve moved even closer to our business purpose by building strategic partnerships that emphasise their importance. We are an agency that offers accelerated opportunities to young creative types that they wouldn’t get anywhere else. Evidence of this has been the relationship we now enjoy with Confetti Institute of Creative Technologies, which is part of Nottingham Trent University. We currently have a team of young people with us from across their graphic design courses and I’m also a guest lecturer, stitching some ‘business’ into modules.

What were the 3 biggest (or best) decisions you have made in 2020?

  1. To focus even more closely on purpose.

  2. To abandon projections, targets and planning when they became unhelpful.

  3. To just do the time and not try to force issues.

What remain your 3 biggest challenges?

  1. New business development.

  2. Projecting certainty when there isn’t really any.

  3. Planning for 2021 and beyond.

How have you (your business) coped from a mental health/stress perspective?

It has been tougher for some than others, as you’d expect. Personal circumstance and disposition has exacerbated the potential increased isolation of remote working. I think we’ve tried to be supportive where we can.

At the beginning of 2020, we were in a talent short market. What is at the top of your "people strategy" agenda for 2021?

We need to put ourselves in a position where we can justify a couple of fairly senior hires or a potential merger/acquisition. The first to help underpin what we have. The second to take us forward.

What are you doing to retain your superstar / Leaders of the future?

We try to create and maintain a culture where everyone feels valued and supported. Outside of that, I don’t believe it’s possible to ‘make people love you’.

As a Leadership Team, how have you re-defined your vision and values? What have you done to make your culture remote-work friendly?

We try to take advantage of technology wherever that presents itself. Outside of that, we just try to be nice.

What advice would you give to those entering the workforce today?

Get your head down. Make yourself a low-maintenance player.

The Pandemic has caused many of us to reassess what is important in our lives. In what ways have you recalibrated your own priorities and goals?

I think physical well-being feeds into everything I do. I try to allow myself thinking time where I need it. I try to be as open as I can with the rest of the senior team in what I’m thinking. I then try to be decisive and consistent in the decisions I make.

If you’ve found the story of how the Covid-19 pandemic impacted Andy Afford and STENCILinteresting, follow him on Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date.

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