60 Seconds with Manifest London’s Martin Farrar-Smith

Martin Farrar-Smith, branding and design director at Manifest London, believes agencies need to think less about media coverage and more about changing things, says all Manifest’s campaigns need to to be “bold, brilliant and beautiful”, and wants to get his hands on a brief from Liverpool Football Club…


Martin Farrar-Smith

Describe the current state of the comms industry in five words?

‘It needs blowing wide open’

The industry has changed so much in the 11 years since I started and not just the web. Society’s behaviour towards brands, and its interaction with them, is now totally different, so we’re having to think and work so much smarter than ever before.

Too many agencies (and more worryingly, brands) lose sight of this world of opportunity around them and settle for the status quo. Equally, too many agencies think their job is about media coverage and not changing things; which is scary not just because it’s old school, it’s scary because they aren’t going to survive for very long.

How does your role fit into Manifest’s agency structure?

We’re on a mission to be an agency like no other, so it’s been quite a natural fit. I’m here to add to our already successful brand strategy offering, meaning we can offer clients the full package. We want all of our campaigns to be bold, brilliant and beautiful so I guess I’m here to help on the latter (although having worked in a PR environment before, I enjoy doing the other two as well).

This is also true with our owned media, so I’m currently working on evolving our brand for our imminent office move. On top of all of that, I’m part of our production division O, being brought on as art director, which is really exciting.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

Getting right under the skin of a brand. I’ve been lucky to work with a wide variety of brands from blue chip to consumer facing and I’ve always got a kick from being able to find something about the brand I work on that I love.

It makes the whole thing much easier when you do that. There’s always something in a job that you can make your own and out your stamp on, you just need to find it.

What’s surprised you the most since taking on your role?

I kind of knew it already, but it was amazing to see how creative the team is. They’re just so switched on to the world around them. I think, as a designer, you can think of people in ‘PR’ like ‘people in PR’ if you know what I mean? But Manifest isn’t like that at all. We’re an ideas agency and it’s such a great feeling to be a part of it.

What was your first job?

Actual job? Working in a car parts and accessories shop called ‘Motorworld’, which I took on after [my current boss] Alex had left. Design-wise, it was junior designer at the agency now known as ‘ilk’.

Which brand have you most liked working with during your career?

There’s been a few. And it’s always for the same reason. They’re the ones who trust in what you’re proposing to them. The ones who let you take hold of their brand and take it where they can’t. If I had to pick one, it would be Grumpy Mule. It’s got my stamp on it. There’s loads of snappy, sassy and referential copy, which I never thought when I wrote it would fly; but the client loved it.

What’s the dream brand to work with?

This is kind of related to the previous question – there’s not a specific brand really. I love brands that want to change the world; they’re just so inspiring. And when you get to work with them, the ideas just come so much easier. But, again, if I had to pick one – Liverpool Football Club. I love them to bits.

Your boss [Alex Myers, Manifest’s group CEO] says you can recite Mean Girls in its entirety. Any other films under your belt?

So many. I spent my university days working at Blockbuster so there’s a bazillion films that I reference on a daily basis. As for word for word, Wayne’s World 1 & 2 and the criminally underrated Street Fighter II – The Animated Movie (not to be confused with the Jean-Claude Van Damme live action disaster).

Having two young children, I know every single song from Frozen without ever seeing the movie from start to end. I am also known to drop a Simpsons line into most conversations and I do a mean rendition See My Vest.

  • Martin Farrar-Smith joined Manifest last month as branding and design director. He was previously art director at ilk, an integrated agency based in Leeds, and is a school-friend and long-time collaborator of Alex Myers, group CEO at Manifest. He has more than a decade of experience as a senior brand and design consultant, delivering work for brands including BrewDog and Panasonic.
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