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Picture: 123RF/MILKOS
Picture: 123RF/MILKOS

About a year ago, in the heart of lockdown, we started feeling the real secondary impact of the virus on people. It happened to us as it happened to so many agencies. Clients, affected by revenue loss, threat or fear had no choice — fees must fall — and they did. 

The knock-on was inevitable and emotional. People lost their jobs. Not just ad people, people everywhere. There was hardly a family, team or group that didn’t have someone close their laptop and move from the table to the couch with no prospect of opening it for work for some time. 

There was an odd imbalance to the whole thing, though. While we were hearing about retrenchments and cuts on one side, there were agencies who had won business and were hiring. The work that needed to be done still needed doing but the formal fees couldn’t pay for it in the traditional channel of agency land. So there was work, and there were workers, and there was the germ of an idea. 

Friends of Grey (FOG) was born. It was a simple thought — start a social media group (on Facebook), by invite only, to connect people to work and work to people — here’s how we put it in our own description:

Friends of Grey is an initiative to use our agency network to help connect people who have lost work, jobs or business due to Covid-19, to our network of employees and their networks to make a match.

So, if you’re out of work or you’ve lost customers, turn on the alerts and keep coming back to this page to see if anyone posting here could do something you might need. If we match even one person to some work or a job, we’ll count it as a success.

It’s been a year since we asked our people at Grey to sign up and start spreading the word, and in an industry that only has a few thousand people in it anyway, we’ve just crossed 900 members.

We’ve attracted recruitment specialists and talent scouts, agency heads and creative leaders, business people and advertising suppliers, and in all of those we’ve managed to connect, well, more than one person with work. In fact, the steady growth of the member base and the steady influx of job offers and skills offers is encouraging. Heck, we’ve even connected an ergonomic work-from-home furniture company to people who need it.

It’s all based on a simple community principle — people who need help are also people who will help, and people who see people helping tend to jump in and help also. 

Nine hundred people isn’t a lot. But it’s 900 people who know a few more people. I’ve been watching the friends as they join and one of the bits of information is their friend count. There is almost no-one with fewer than 200 friends. Most people sit at 400 to 600. Imagine, 900 friends with 350 other friends who might know someone who may be eligible for that job or could do the work? That’s 31,5000 people: even if you halve it for crossover friends, that’s still more than 150,000 people we could reach. I never thought we’d have that potential reach. 

That’s the secret to recruitment and what I’ve been doing as a creative leader, business leader and now accidental recruiter, all along. Knowing that the brand in the middle functions only to connect the right people to the right people and let them share experiences and part of their journey, hopefully changing things for the better. 

So, what have I learnt in a year in recruitment? People buy people. The more you have, the better your chances of success. The more people you have access to, in the right fields, the more chance you have at a successful match. Quality control is up to the employer: we connect, you decide. 

People are uncomfortable promoting themselves. The next phase of FOG is to help people talk themselves up. It’s amazing how self-deprecating people are, even in desperate times. 

There aren’t enough people innovating in the communications space. I’m seeing too many people struggling to find their traditional roles and not thinking about what their roles may mean in another space or industry. 

People are afraid to question. They don’t ask enough of their employers, their colleagues, and their own networks. In the age of social media, it’s odd that reaching out for help is still the last resort. Is it pride? I don’t know for sure, but I hope people can get past that. 

Also, there is positivity in abundance. People are immensely supportive of each other. Nearly a thousand people are willing to participate in this thing and spread the word for everyone who has or needs work. That’s amazing. And that's why we do it. To help and do something positive. 

As FOG enters its second year we will take our own advice and innovate — help people promote themselves a little better and maybe, just maybe, we’ll connect more people and take the hard edge off this troubling and trying time. 

Suggestions for how to improve FOG are always welcome.

Reach out here >>> 

About the author: Felix Kessel is an executive creative director. 

This article was paid for by Grey Africa.

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