The Fordham Company’s Nick Fordham speaks to Mumbrella about the true meaning of influence, pivoting during the pandemic, and why fewer cocktail parties isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world for a business built on connecting with people.

As the man who manages Australia’s biggest celebrities, Nick Fordham knows a thing or two about the true meaning of the word ‘influence’. As the chief executive of The Fordham Company, Fordham has spent decades working with a raft of media talent and sports stars, including the likes of Lisa Wilkinson, Sylvia Jeffreys, Mark Bouris to Craig Bellamy and Tyler Wright, and his very own brother Ben Fordham.

“I manage a lot of ‘influencers’,” Fordham told Mumbrella, “but it doesn’t mean their social media is for sale. I manage people who are already influential, talented and at the top of their game.”

When it comes to the influencer industry at large, Fordham’s stance is clear: “You can’t just be famous because you’ve got a social media account. Brands these days are smarter than they were in the early days of social. Today, they want a return on their investment.”

Turning challenges into opportunity

As a result of the pandemic, brands have slashed their budgets and are working hard to squeeze every possible dollar out of their investments. But instead of seeing shrinking marketing budgets as a challenge, Fordham has managed to turn what some might see as a challenge into opportunity.

“We pivoted really quickly early on and moved to digitised a lot of our offerings,” said Fordham. “What I found at that point was a lot of brands were spending less money on major above-the-line stuff. Outdoor media and television spends were being pulled back, but brands still have very decent budgets to work with, and they want to do things in the most cost-effective way possible.

“So that opened up this whole other opportunity around digital campaigns where brands could create high-quality, engaging content with our clients in a more cost-efficient way. I’m a firm believer in seeing obstacles not as roadblocks, but as opportunities for the taking. Constraints actually promote creativity and being a small and nimble team really helped us to win a lot of business during those tough months.

“Where our business clearly stands out is our client diversity: from former treasurer and ambassador in America Joe Hockey, to former homicide detective and best-selling author Gary Jubelin, to crocodile Wrangler and helicopter pilot Matt Wright. We also own a successful health food business along with global production and sports television rights. Too often people swim in one lane; we have a collection of swimming pools.”

The company’s ability to pivot quickly has meant that staff have been able to keep their pre-pandemic salaries. “Thankfully we’ve weathered it, we’ve survived it. You grit your teeth and you just dig in and work harder while everyone else is panicking.”

Another side effect of the pandemic has been the sudden disappearance of work networking events, product launches and parties. While some might see this as a problem for a business so centred around people, Fordham has found solutions that have actually led to greater connection with his clients and business partners.

“Work lunches, product launches and cocktail parties can sometimes be a bit of waste of time. But reaching out to someone and saying: ‘Hey, listen, let’s grab some breakfast together. Let’s chat.’ I’ve been meeting people early in the morning to go for a walk, just doing it differently.

“At the end of the day, you’re judged on your performance. COVID has made me step back a little bit. As a result, I’m more aware of big-picture thinking, planning and strategising and not getting caught up in the small day to day stuff. I’m lucky that I have a really good team around me who can execute and drive running the day to day.”

The true meaning of family

The Fordham Company is a family business, initially established by Nick’s parents, John and Veronica Fordham in 1979. Nick joined the company in 1997 and now owns and runs the business full time. Nick’s father and executive chairman, John Fordham, passed away in November 2019.

“We really were a family business. My father was my mentor and my boss, and my mum was heavily involved in the business as well,” said Nick Fordham. “The only reason I bought my family out of the business was to stop them working. They’re both workaholics and it’s a very high-pressure business with lots going on. I wanted them to enjoy the spoils of their success and enjoy not having to carry the load of the daily ins and outs of running a business. In recent years, even though my parents have not been technically involved in the business, I still have sought their counsel on a daily basis”

“And it’s hard to step away from it, because we are personally connected with all of our clients, they’re our friends. So, in terms of ‘family business’, I think it adds another dimension that we’ve got a personal relationship with all of our clients.”

In order to be a family business in the true sense of the word, The Fordham Company works hard to treat every single one of its clients as part of the family unit. “We’re there for the good times, but we’re there for the hard times as well,” said Fordham. “We’re really hands-on, we’re not an agency where you sign up and someone else then takes over, we’re not ‘Mr Smith down in office six is going to look after you’. A family business is in the way in which we treat our clients. They’re family to us.”

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