5 Minutes with… Farid Mokart
Fred Raillard and Farid Mokart are, in the words of Farid, “professional soulmates”. Having both grown up in Paris – Fred from a Breton and Parisian family, Farid from an Algerian and Kabyle family – they met by chance when they both set out in the ad industry at Euro RSCG in 1999. A junior strategic planner and account manager respectively, they decided to jack in their roles and form a creative partnership – and what a ride that decision has taken them on since.
Just after becoming the two youngest creative directors in France, in 2000 the duo created Robbie Williams’ super viral Rock DJ music video which, in the UK at least, you will have only seen the full ripping-his-own-skin-off version of if you stayed up past 9pm. That work bagged them MTV and Brit Awards but, perhaps more importantly, also a call from Sir John Hegarty, a man that they’d always aspired to work for. They went onto work for BBH before moving to San Francisco to join Goodby, Silverstein & Partners (they were personally hired by Jeff Goodby), and then back to Paris in 2005 to launch Marcel for Publicis Groupe (as asked personally by Maurice Levy).
But they began to get an itch they couldn’t scratch. They wanted the freedom to do their own thing for themselves and so, in 2007, they launched Fred & Farid. Fast forward ten years and the business now has outposts in Paris, New York and Shanghai, and employs around 300 people (a figure they’re not so interested in growing because, as Farid says, they “want to know everyone’s name”).
LBB’s Addison Capper sat down for a chat with Farid to find out more.
LBB> How did you get into the ad industry? Was it always the plan or more of a happy accident?
FM> Not at all, it was a total accident. I graduated from a political and business school with a master’s degree in economics. I was preparing to be a banker or to work in a consulting company but my school called and told me about an interview at an advertising agency - it was Euro RSCG. I went there just to see what it was like and I got hired. One week later I met Fred [Raillard]. It was total serendipity. Sometimes you get an opportunity and you seize it, and that’s what happened at this time.
LBB> It’s interesting because you were an account manager and Fred was a junior strategic planner at Euro RSCG. But you then decided to form a creative partnership. Was it always your plan to move into a more creative role? How did it come about?
FM> We met up and we just wanted to do something together. It could have been in advertising, it could have been something else. We realised that the real power was in the power of the idea. Whatever people tell you, at the end of the process we are going to pick an idea. We are two free-spirited people who like to be independent and do things the way we want to, even if we make some mistakes along the way. We just wanted to be where the idea was and saw that the real freedom was in this industry because it’s passionate and sits within art and business. It’s beautiful when you see creativity as a wonderful leverage to grow lots of areas, including business, so it was obvious to us that we needed to be the ones who proposed the idea, instead of the ones who managed the idea.
LBB> So was it the case that you guys met and just hit it off straight away?
FM> Sometimes you meet someone and everything is obvious. Believe me, we have two different backgrounds and different ways of thinking but at the finishing point we always end up in the same location - just via a different pattern. You know then that you’ve found your professional soulmate. That’s the feeling we had at the time and since then, even if we’re not living in the same town, we still share everything and are still connected 24/7.
LBB> You both launched Fred & Farid in 2007 - what were your main ambitions when you did so? Before that you launched Marcel for Publicis Groupe - what inspired you to launch something completely on your own?
FM> When you’re passionate you have to respect the people you work with. You have to do the thing that seems right, and at one point it became more about giving freedom to ourselves to create what we wanted to achieve. Any creative will always look to be independent. If you ask any creative around the world, they will want to be independent - they will suffer being in a system where they can’t experiment and try new things.
So, at one point, it became clear that we had to be the bosses of our own company. That’s why we did it. Our job is between art and business, it’s to celebrate cross-fertilisation and finding new creative solutions, and being agnostic. It could be a TVC, a digital experience, whatever, but you want to have the freedom to find the right creative solution. And I think if you ask any creative, they also want this freedom because at one point, when you love an idea, you want to be a slave to it - you don’t want it to have a master. You want the idea to be bigger.
LBB> I feel like Fred & Farid has a very distinct tone of voice – it’s a struggle to pigeonhole it but I’m going with a sort of weird brilliance! How would you define the work you do as an agency and the culture within it?
FM> We decided a few things when we launched the agency. We decided that we didn’t have any boundaries. We are called Fred & Farid - our two names are diversity in themselves. We have people that come from all different social backgrounds, from all ethnic backgrounds, religious backgrounds. The fact that we have such a diverse workforce gives us that unexpected way of communicating. So it’s not weirdness, it’s just a representation of the way society is, within an industry that’s predominantly male, white and conservative. Our tone of voice is more random…
LBB> … or more normal in a way!
FM> Yeah, we think we’re the normal ones, not the crazy ones. And we’ve been doing this for almost twenty years. And we don’t have a philosophy. We’re not going to say that we’re disrupting somehow. Each brief gives us the ability to define a new tone of voice. That’s the way we act. If you share the same values and points of view, afterwards you can have many, many ways of expression and tones of voice. It’s not usual but we don’t care if we aren’t. At the end of the day, the idea is good or not, and the path there is random. We don’t want to be a formula agency. There are so many people trying to contain creativity within four walls. We’re a creative network of 300 people, we love our size, we want to know the name of everyone. We are craftsmen doing this job. We’re not looking to industrialise the process.
LBB> Prior to launching your own agency, it was quite the journey for you both! You were personally hired by Sir John Hegarty at BBH, Jeff Goodby at GSP and Maurice Levy to launch Marcel. Tell us more about that journey and your fondest memories from it.
FM> When we started out in this business we decided that we wanted to work with Sir John Hegarty. We knew that at that time BBH was the benchmark of the industry. When Fred and I did the Robbie Williams ‘Rock DJ’ video it won some MTV and Brit Awards, and he called us. We wanted to work with people from whom we’d learn something and who respected creativity. From John Hegarty we learned a lot of things: how to think big, how to put more ambition into every project, how you have to not repeat yourself. We worked directly with him for two years, he was like a godfather to us and gave us only great advice. He allowed us to present an idea for XBOX that became the first viral film in our industry. We have huge respect for John and he’s been an influential person in our lives.
Goodby and Silverstein are amazing people too. If you think of soccer, this was like us changing teams and going to a different league. We went to the United States and they helped us understand the link between creativity and business, and that is where our job sits. We also learned how to pitch with them so once we launched Fred & Farid we did it with a lot of background knowledge. We’re still acting the same way now. When we have a new creative joining the agency, we want them to be the best possible. We don’t want to be a big agency but we want the people within the agency to do great things. We learned that we needed to be generous - we don’t want silos within our agency or with our clients. These lessons created a chain of respect and love that we have at Fred & Farid – and that’s the best engine to do great work.
LBB> There are three Fred & Farid offices - NY, Paris and Shanghai. How does each office support and feed into each other. Do you have plans for any more expansion or is that not so necessary in 2017?
FM> Well, it’s always easier to keep a culture in a different country when you have a founder there [Fred is based in Shanghai]. Also, our Executive Creative Director in Shanghai, Feng [Huang], was originally in Paris at the beginning of Marcel. He became the first creative director from mainland China in a western company. The same thing with Laurent [Leccia] in New York - he used to be in Paris and then in Shanghai before New York.
Also, all of our managers are a part of the whole story of the business. We celebrate 10 years this year and all of the main managers have been there since the beginning. And then all of the three offices are connected 24/7. If you live in Shanghai, you’re also a creative in Paris and New York thanks to a piece of technology we created called the Bridge. It’s an aggregated social network where we can share all information and news that’s relevant. So if a guy moves from New York to Shanghai, he already knows the team there. They’re already part of the family and they know each other enough to share values and ideas. People are connected in many ways to manage the culture and the love inside the agency.
LBB> What kind of qualities do you look for when you bring in new talent to the agency?
FM> We look at the work and the character of the person. We think about the ecosystem. We are a family, we care about each other, and we want people that fit that. We want people that will be happy when others succeed and that are passionate and competitive in a good way. We just want to have clever people with a great heart and great energy. It’s simple. Do I want to have a beer with someone? Will I have an interesting discussion? Are we ready to sit in an office for 48 hours on a pitch and still be smiling?
LBB> What’s the best thing about advertising in 2017? And most frustrating?
FM> Me and Fred, we have no frustrations. We wake up in the morning and we feel like we have an amazing job. We’re spoilt, life is great. We will never complain about it. What’s interesting today is that technology has added more notes to our creative keyboards. As long as we don’t forget that we always have to be emotional, no matter the medium we’re working in. A tweet has to spark an emotional engagement.
Something else that’s really blowing up is the celebration of diversity. Not only by hiring people of different backgrounds but also in the idea, in the way of portraying society and understanding it. It gives us new creative insights and I think it’s going to change the way we think as soon as tomorrow. We’ve been seeing changes in that realm for two years and I like the idea that it’s a kind of reset. We can stop just thinking like a white male and celebrate more of what life gives us. I like that because it opens new doors everywhere.
LBB> Outside of work, what excites and inspires you?
FM> Many things! We’re fascinated by creativity in everything. But our wives and kids are real sources of inspiration. Normally it’s the parents that influence the kids but I think our kids watching what we do has more of an impact on Fred and me.