Concerned About Small Businesses Going Bust, Furloughed Agency Staff Start New Shop

Not Fur' Long was founded by talent from one of Adweek's Fastest Growing Agencies

Not Fur' Long is an agency created by furloughed staff who want to help SMEs. Not Fur' Long

There have already been business casualties of the coronavirus pandemic, and, as it drags on, there will be many more.

Among them will be people’s favorite cafes, takeouts, clothes stores and bars which, up until lockdown, had been a hub for communities but which could soon find they are unable to generate enough cash to avoid collapse.

One group of furloughed agency staff from Britain have banded together to help give marketing and advertising to small businesses as they navigate these choppy waters. Harvey Austin, Alexandra Fearn and Dan Salkey, who work at the sports specialist ad agency Dark Horses in the U.K. (one of the top five global honorees in Adweek’s Fastest Growing Agencies), were furloughed from their roles (as account managers and a strategist, respectively) three weeks ago.

In the U.K., people are still paid the majority of their salary by the government when furloughed, so the trio wanted to give something back. They decided to create Not Fur’ Long, an agency that offers free marketing and advertising services to small and medium-sized businesses (known as SMEs in the EU)–in the hope they will be able to help keep them afloat.

Hundreds of businesses have already asked for help

Four creative colleagues from Dark Horses have since volunteered to help the effort, and now the team is calling on specialists from across the industry who can join to get in touch. Since launching on Monday, they’ve already had “hundreds” of inquiries from small businesses needing help and from professionals who want to assist.

“We’ve been positively overwhelmed by the support and the [number] of people who have signed up to volunteer,” Austin said.

“The word ‘SME’ sounds quite corporate, but when you think about it you realize that is your favorite local, or cafe, or fitness studio–and when you explain that to people they understand that those are exactly the places [they’re] looking forward to going back to [after lockdown].

“We recognized, when we started it up, that we have to remind people that the places they’re most looking forward to going quite simply won’t exist unless you help them right now. In our case, [we’re helping with] strategic and creative support.”

To date, Not Fur’ Long has already taken on two clients–one yoga studio in the east of London and a brewery from Reading in southeast England. Meetings that would typically take place over a coffee face to face have happened over Zoom, with the team keeping in touch via WhatsApp, too.

“We understood we could really help them,” Salkey said. “The sort of work we’ve been doing has included putting together a brand manifesto, a social strategy and coming up with creative ideas for their channels.”

"We want to be able to feel like we’ve genuinely helped these companies for the long term."
–Alexandra Fearn

And now they want to scale up, so the agency is calling on industry professionals–from creatives to designers, copywriters to strategists to help in the effort, so they can take on more clients that need support in pivoting during this uncertain time.

The team is conscious that, with their initial furlough period lasting three months, they won’t be around forever. So they want to assist by giving small businesses the tools they can implement into the future, long after the help has come to an end–rather than burdening them, say, with a brand new website that they then have to pay someone to keep updated.

“When we have a potential client coming through the website—and we’ve identified them as someone we might be able to help in terms of our skills and criteria—[we start with] a kick-off call,” Fearn said. “From there, we work out exactly how we can help them–and everything we do is very much framed as advice. Whatever happens, we want to be able to feel like we’ve genuinely helped these companies for the long term and set them up for success versus a short-term lifeline.”

@saramayspary Sara Spary is a freelance journalist based in London. She's been a reporter for eight years, covering advertising and consumer brands.