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An Interview with Sam Conniff

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Transcript for “An Interview with Sam Conniff” podcast

[Intro music]

Nic Jones (NJ): Hello, and welcome to the next edition of An interview with... podcast series from The Social Investment Business. I’m Nic today I’m talking to Sam Conniff, co-founder of Livity. So Sam, to start us off, can you tell us a bit more about Livity, and what makes the organisation unique?

Sam Conniff (SC): Hello. Yeah I can. Livity is best described by one of my clients at Coca-Cola as their marketing agency with a youth club in the middle of it. I love that description because we did set out to be a marketing agency, but a marketing agency that would change the world through the power of marketing. Could we harness the infinite power of brands, marketing and media, but to do something more useful than sell chewing gum? Could we connect those brands and the resource that power has into social messages that often fail to connect with young audiences? That was the ambition. That is what we’re still doing nearly 10 years later for brands that range from Playstation to O2, to Google and Penguin, all addressing tough social challenges, but what happened along the way, which I wish I could say was incredible forethought and strategy, but is the thing that makes us unique is that our office became open to kids. To young people between the ages of 12 and 24 who come into our office every day and work on a variety of projects. Principally Live Magazine, a not-for-profit young persons’ magazine, created by young people for young people, but also on pretty much anything. The only rule is that if they are in the office they’re working. About 300-400 per month individual young people come through the office that’s what makes us unique. And that transaction means that as a marketing and media agency we have an incredible insight and understanding of real-life young people – not focus groups, not trend reports, not hearsay, not what your niece says – but long lasting relationships with young people over a period of time.

NJ: Can you give us an example of a campaign where the input of young people has changed a company’s plans dramatically?

SC: Working with penguin several years ago – amazing brand we’ve always wanted to work for and we’ve been knocking on their door for years. Finally got in to speak to them and you’ve got Puffin on one hand – the biggest children’s publisher, most respected children’s publisher and Penguin for grown-ups and a gap in the middle for young people and teenagers. You don’t want to lose those audiences, especially with such an important brand for everyone. So they let us bring young people into the creative development and those young people taught us that actually while we were worrying about reading becoming increasingly irrelevant in the age of the internet and Playstations and everything else, there are tons of kids reading, and they are reading online and communicating online. If you take the thing that is most magical about reading and why it’s such a perfect campaign for us, the literacy and the great positive things you can generate out of such a project, online really represents what is so good about reading because it’s so where your imagination can exist. It’s why a book has a better set of visuals than any film CGI can create, so actually let’s take this online and we built and created an idea for a social network for kids who like reading. This is pre-Facebook’s dominance and there were lots of groups of young people out there online, and you bring them in together and talk to the kids who already like reading and get them to read more and share that with their peers. And this was quite a revolutionary idea at Penguin, who are brilliant but can be quite traditional, or could be, and luckily Anna Rafferty there and the digital team over there totally got the vision and we created this plan and it went up and up and up to the various echelons and layers and levels of the business until finally the chief executive took us at our word and said if this has been developed by young people for young people, then I buy it, sounds like a great idea, but come back in and present it to my two teenage daughters. Then we’ll see how true your methodology of co-creation is. Terrifying. He was a quite scary guy anyway but going back in to present to his two teenage daughters a couple of days later was one of the scariest presentations we’ve ever made. Luckily one of them was familiar with Live Magazine and what we do with young people and it all went very well and Spinebreakers exists to this day:

NJ: You’ve talked a lot about young people being involved in co-creation, it’s a really tough job market out there, especially for young people, what do you think they can do to stand out in the highly competitive communications and marketing area?

SC: My advice to young people is not to follow the patterns that sometimes seem obvious that exist in front of them because the ‘grown ups’ as we term ourselves don’t always have the answers and don’t always know what we need and certainly we don’t know what’s coming next and in many instances those young people are more of a clue and an indication as to what comes next. So I would urge our young people not to try and morph themselves into this generation who already hasn’t quite understood it but to hang on to some different thinking, which we all need, some real understanding of the space that they live in that they can share and teach upwards, and stick to the ideas and values of youth. Livity does well and comes up with brilliant and creative ideas because we let young people do them and don’t inhibit their ideas and creativity and their lateral thinking. As soon as you do, you begin to lose that magic.

NJ: What hopes do you have for young people in social enterprise over the next few years?

SC: My hope for social enterprise is a much, much greater engagement with the private and commercial sector; I think it’s its greatest chance for growth. I think some of the principles of social enterprise can be taken on a lot more. I think there’s something magic happening in social enterprise and social enterprise is generally being very successful at the moment and are doing well and I think we’ll see a massive growth in them. I think there’s a lot to learn for the private sector from that. For young people I think there is going to be a continued growth in enterprise and start-ups. I think that happens typically in a recession, I think it happens with the advancement of technology. The little iPhone here is all I really need to start a business now, whereas when I was starting Don’t Panic 14 years ago you needed everything and an office, and you don’t need that, so because of the ease – there’s an amazing social entrepreneur at O2 called Simon Devonshire who talks about the increasing ease of starting a business means it becomes something that’s closer to you and a more personal act, which means that socially responsible ideas are more likely – you’re more connected to what you do. So an increased number of young people starting enterprises through technology I think should lead to an increased number of young people starting socially-led businesses which I think is very exciting.

NJ: So now we’ve come to the quickfire question round…

SC: we better do because they were the long fire questions [laughs]

NJ: It’s just a series of questions and you answer what your preference is. So: Twitter or Facebook?

SC: Er.. Facebook

NJ: Cinema or DVD?

SC: Cinema

NJ: BAFTAS or Oscars?

SC: Neither

NJ: TV or Radio?

SC: Radio

NJ: Smart or casual?

SC: Smart. Always.

NJ: Experience or Qualifications?

SC: Experience. Always.

NJ: Beach or mountain?

SC: Beach. Always!

NJ: And that concludes an interview with Sam Conniff. Thank you for speaking to us today. Don’t forget to check out our website: and our Twitter @thesocialinvest for the next instalment of this podcast series. And you can learn more about Livity at or follow them on Twitter @livityuk

[Outro music]

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