A Week in My Life: Karl Doran, Founder and Creative Director of Flow Creative
Flow Creative is a Manchester-based design and video production agency that specialises in brand campaigns and animation.
Clients include the BBC, Ministry of Sound and Arts Council England among others.
This week, Karl Doran, Flow’s Founder and Creative Director, takes us through his working week...
5:30 am - I’m awake. Not for an early morning gym sesh or a conference call with Shanghai, but because my seven-year-old daughter has come into our bedroom and is standing over me poking my eyelids. I try to get her back to sleep but she’s not having it. She’s awake so I need to be awake. Ten minutes later I’m sat with a coffee watching The Greatest Showman. Again. I’ve watched it with her about a thousand times and know ALL the words to ALL the songs. We manage to watch the whole film before I have to get ready for work - a great way to start the week!
Get into work at 8:30 and have a quick scan through emails and socials before the first meeting of the day. Monday mornings always start with a production meeting where the whole team gets together to talk about the week’s workload. We run through who’s working on what, any issues that have arisen and any new clients or projects in the pipeline. Current projects are all on track and we have some exciting new ones coming in the studio that the guys are keen to crack on with.
Next is a finance and operations meeting with our FD and Production and Ops Manager where we go over the budget, forecasts and resource planning. Then I manage to fit in a lunchtime gym trip before spending the afternoon storyboarding an animation with our motion team.
It’s the boy child’s turn to get me up today, but not till 6:30 - a relative lie-in. Morning coffee is spent chatting with him and watching Pokemon. They’ve both always been early risers, and sometimes it’s a wrench getting up with them, but I must admit once I’m up I love this bonus time with them wrapped in blankets on the sofa watching TV. Even if it is a film I’ve seen a thousand times.
Tuesday morning is spent at The Manchester College. We’re an official partner and have been working together for two years helping to make the animation course as industry relevant as possible to give the learners the best chance of success after they leave. We help the tutors to set briefs, have students in for placements, advise on best software and plugins to be using and even named the course! It’s great to be able to help, especially because a lot of their learners are from deprived backgrounds and wouldn’t otherwise get an opportunity to spend time in a design agency, most of them have never been into town. Growing up on a council estate myself, I’m very aware of the issue of social mobility and the challenges a lot of these kids are up against. It’s nice to be able to support them, to see them develop their skills and grow in confidence.
This morning, we’re showing the students some of our new work and explaining the process involved with a complex animation project - ideation, concepts, style frames, storyboards, animatics, animating and compositing the sequence, colour grade and final sound, and SFX. This behind the scenes look at how studios like ours actually work is invaluable to the students, and it’s always fun to see their minds blown at how much work is involved!
We get into the studio at midday and are straight into a client meeting to discuss a new brand project. I can’t share much about this yet but we’ll be creating the branding, website and a comms campaign for a large tech firm. This is a sector we work in a lot, and it’s for a great client, so we can’t wait to get started. We’re hosting a workshop session to dig into the brand’s values and purpose to really understand their needs and audience and to ensure the tone of voice for the branding is spot on.
Tuesdays always end with a Flow team boxing class. It’s something I’ve done on and off for years - it’s amazing for fitness and it’s great for letting off steam. We now have a five-strong group of us that box every week. It’s great to do something as a team that keeps us all fit and healthy and it’s a really good bonding experience. Like I always say, a team that trains together, remains together!
3am. The girl child is in our room again. She’s had a bad dream about a wolf. She falls asleep in our bed so I get in her (child-sized) bed filled with cuddly toys. Despite the cramped conditions I drift off, but it doesn’t last long as I’m woken again at 5am by loud dolphin noises! It takes me a few dazed seconds to realise I’ve leaned on one of her cuddly toys with a press button that’s squeaking and clicking at me. I launch it across the room but it’s too late now, I’m awake.
The silver lining of the bastard dolphin is that it’s given me the opportunity to fit in an early gym trip before work. Internal meetings discussing marketing and recruitment plans take up the majority of the morning. The team’s been expanding steadily over the last couple of years as our client roster grows. I love this aspect of the job - adding new talent and skills to the team is super exciting. Just as important as the skills though, if not more important, is the culture fit. You can teach skills but it’s hard to instil a passion for design and motion and the desire to create amazing work. We’ve been really careful about who we’ve added to the team so far, bringing in only the best people and I’m really happy with the way Flow’s shaping up as a result.
After a team lunch for one of the guy’s birthdays (shout out to Rudy’s Pizza!), the afternoon is taken up with preparing a proposal for a big job. I have a moral issue with the way creative agencies are required to pitch for projects - always expected to do vast amounts of work upfront for no fee or guarantee of getting the job.
Creating designs for free, with the hope that you’re chosen for a job, massively devalues what we do and the time and expertise required. It’s also a flawed process as design is a collaboration with a client, yet there’s no dialogue here. It ultimately costs everyone time and money, including the client as agencies adjust pricing to cover the cost of this speculative work. We avoid it as much as we can by submitting our portfolio and a proposed creative treatment but not actually creating work upfront. It’s hard though when the agencies you’re pitching against are all doing work on spec. I’d love to see a collective industry-wide ban to make brands realise that it’s unfair to ask anyone to work for free and adjust their expectations for tenders. Who’s with me?!
Exciting morning here as we have some new bespoke desks arriving made by a local craftsman. We’ve only been in the studio since last year and have been renovating it as we go. It’s looking awesome now, with a sweet reception space on the ground floor, workspace on the first floor, and a meeting room, breakout space, plus kitchen and bathroom on the top floor. It’s been a lot of work but I love our studio. It’s a cool, creative space in the heart of the Northern Quarter that the whole team enjoys working in. I totally believe that a happy team makes good work and that means happy clients and a profitable business.
The afternoon is spent on two client meetings discussing ongoing projects. The team has done some cracking work on these and clients are buzzing, which is exactly what we want!
The sun’s shining so it’s a nice bike ride into work. I get in at 8am and spend an hour writing. This hour in the morning before the studio fills up can be really useful to get a focussed task done, get a few emails out the way or make some plans in the peace and quiet.
We’ve recently been through a repositioning process when we launched our new website. Our services have expanded beyond animation, which is the thing we’re most recognised for, and we’re now taking on more brand and digital projects as well as campaign work. This reflects the wide range of expertise in the team now and ties in with the ethos of the business.
As part of this process, I’m working on our Flow manifesto at the moment, a document that sets out the values and purpose of the business. This has made me focus a lot more on ‘the why’ of the company, as Simon Sinek would say, and try to define it. Make work we’re proud of for brands we’re proud to work with - is where I’ve got to so far. I think it’s crucial that the team has a shared purpose and a common goal to maintain focus and ensure we’re all striving for the same outcome.
Last lunchtime gym session of the week, then I spend a couple of hours going through the brand and animation projects the team’s working on. I have an early finish to get the kids from school and we have a couple of hours at the park before heading to their favourite restaurant for tea. A pretty good week all in all.