Leila Fataar is a rare breed. A woman who can seamlessly marry commercial savvy with creative vision to produce brand projects you’ll actually want to watch, share or be part of. As a result, her company, Platform 13 embodies this same unique perspective. With her small but perfectly formed team, Leila enables credible conversations between brands and their audiences without the common mis-steps or clichés.
We wanted to speak to Leila for this series because with 20 years of experience, from running a youth-oriented boutique agency, Spin, and senior positions in-house at adidas Originals and drinks heavyweight, Diageo, Leila is the person you want on your team to bring wisdom, flair and fun – always fun.
__Why did you first want to start Platform13? __
We are in a time of radical transformation: politically, societally, culturally and technologically. Consumers want and expect brands to be more than the product or service being sold - it needs to make sense, to add value, earning their place in the culture or community they want to be part of. And brands / companies need to evolve to reflect cultural shifts.
Three key challenges I wanted to address impacted why and how I set up Platform13.
Where big brands use agencies which are perfect for letting your target audience know about the features or benefits of your product or brand to drive sales. My biggest issue was and is that these agencies are filled with the same types of people. For me, lack of diversity and lack of access for talent at the input stage of creating a campaign is a LIVE conversation and something I have always been vocal about within the advertising and comms industry.
Additionally, this traditional way of approaching comms also misses out on HOW brands can positively impact the people they are trying to sell to, and the wider world. For us, positive impact comes in many forms.
So, I set up Platform13 differently in all aspects. One essential way is that we curate our teams according to the brand category, the culture and community that that brand is trying to be part of - be it local or global. This means that any Platform13 projects have INPUT of the audience from the get go…and not only “representation” in the output.
What were the first main steps you went through in the process of setting up Platform 13?
For me, it was identifying what Platform13 could offer big brands that their traditional agencies could not.
I literally wrote down the 5 things I knew I could do that complemented the current industry set up. Platform13 has never been about competing with the traditional agencies and we don’t want to - there is a role for both. In fact, we don’t call ourselves an agency at all.
I wrote a clear vision deck with the values I wanted the company to uphold.
I definitely didn’t do a traditional business plan, because it was a new way of working, but I had to think about how the company would work financially.
What were some of the main obstacles in the beginning?__
I do remember, from my first company, gaining clients initially and cash flow were the toughest obstacles, especially when you have no contacts or even from being in school for what I do now.
As a new company, one of our biggest challenges was the beginning of the pandemic, when all brands just stopped work. Our business setup meant that we could quickly adapt, not only from a remote working POV but also the ability to offer what our clients needed at that point.
Now, with Platform13, my 20+ years experience, a strong small core team, knowing those languages and clarity on our offer helps. I was lucky that Diageo came on as my first client as soon as I was set up. This allowed me to ’test’ this new non-agency concept and it worked well for me and them.
“When starting a new project, aligned ways of working with your client is key e.g. do they want a weekly or daily update, in person, on email, on the phone.”
You started with one main client, what advice would you give to people when they're looking to attract and sign up their first new clients?
The main advice would be to try to and go for potential clients who may need your unique offer. Research well and put together an intro that ensures they understand that you have done your research about their company and their needs. Target your outreach emails, keep it short AND please, please check your spelling, grammar and names of the people you need to talk to. People get literally hundreds of emails a day. What’s going to make them stop at yours?
What are the first things you make sure you address or cover when you start a new client project?
Once they are signed, ensure clear terms on budget, timelines, deliverables and payment schedules in your agreement. When starting a new project, aligned ways of working with your client is key e.g. do they want a weekly or daily update, in person, on email, on the phone.
Team curation is key - ensuring the right people are involved makes the projects what they are. The ability to work with a mixed and diverse team from a variety of backgrounds, life experiences and levels of professional experience is one of the reasons I started Platform13.
What would you do differently, knowing what you know now?
Not sure if there is anything I would do differently, as for me, every step is an opportunity to learn. I am very very hands on with all aspects of the business, so what I am focused on now is building and developing the team.
How do you stay motivated when energy for the project is a little low or if it's challenging?
It's tough and as a founder, the buck always stops with you. You will have to shoulder the responsibility, especially when it's challenging. You have to face it head on.
I enjoy troubleshooting, so I like solving problems. You have to be passionate about what you are doing - remember why you started - this usually gets me through. Otherwise, it’s really hard to motivate other people.
What do you love about running your own company?
I learnt so much when I worked in-house, but I really struggled with in-house culture. So, in my own company, I can set my own rules and try new ways of working.
What's the best advice you've had or heard for anyone starting out or starting something new?
I know this is supposed to be an inspirational quote, but I am always a realist. My first accountant of my first business said: "Just remember, you are only 'in business' when you invoice, when someone wants to pay for what you can offer.” It stays with me always.