How my own difficult experiences led us to become Folk

Written by Sharon Flaherty

14th Tachwedd 2022

Sharon reflects on the life events that shaped her leadership and led her to shake up the agency

Have you ever been through something so challenging you didn’t think you would get through it?

I have, and that challenge played an incredibly important part in the way that I’ve shaped this agency.

After experiencing three miscarriages, the 12-week scan on our fourth pregnancy was nerve-wracking.

I cried with relief when the midwife confirmed the heartbeat. But as the scan went on, she called in a colleague because she was concerned about how thick the baby’s neck was. Her colleague confirmed that this was a sign the baby could have Down Syndrome.

After the initial feeling of relief, we were thrown into uncertainty. The results of tests would tell us in a week if the baby had Down Syndrome or not.

During that week, it dawned on me how little I saw people with Down Syndrome, so I had no idea what this would mean for my child. After researching, I found that some people with Down Syndrome could live into their 70s, live independently with support, and have fulfilling lives.

Despite having been through a rollercoaster pregnancy journey, we were ready to face the challenges that were to come and welcome this lovely baby into our lives.

When the results did come through, they were not what I expected. I was floored when the nurse said there was a high chance the baby had a condition called Patau Syndrome. She explained it was nothing like Down Syndrome; it was a life-limiting condition. The next steps were for us to do more tests to confirm the diagnosis; we were told most babies with Patau Syndrome are stillborn, or don’t survive the pregnancy or labour.

Patau Syndrome is extremely rare. The hospital told us they only see one case each year, so we remained hopeful. But sadly, the final test confirmed our baby did have Patau Syndrome, and it was highly unlikely our baby would survive.

The following weeks were a blur. Without going into the sad details, we gave birth and said goodbye to a little boy we called Sebastian.

While I know so far this isn’t an uplifting story, there was light at the end of the tunnel for us; we have a 2-year old amazing little boy.

So how did this difficult journey change me and the agency I run?

I found a deep empathy for people who have disabilities.

My experience of being told my baby could have Down Syndrome led me to research and understand much more about the barriers that people with disabilities are facing day-to-day.

It caused me to question why disability wasn’t that visible on TV, social, the talent we use for marketing campaigns or in our workplaces. And I didn’t understand how we could embrace difference if it’s invisible.

This inspired a big change for our agency.

Because while representation in comms and marketing has improved in recent years, we’re still light years away from being truly representative. That can’t be right, can it?

Our industry knows the stats when it comes to lack of visibility, yet nothing changes. It seems the fear of ‘getting it wrong’ is a major barrier to progress as research shows that 64% of CMOs are scared of embracing inclusion in their comms and marketing campaigns. Yet research also shows that brands who don’t embrace inclusion risk losing 25% of sales.

So why am I telling you this? Because as an agency, we’ve decided to do something about it.

The first in our announcements is the development of The Real Folk Panel. This is our collective of communications consultants representing different ethnic groups, genders, abilities, sexual orientations and ages, as well as religions and socio-demographics. They’re all passionate about improving inclusivity in comms and advocating for communities whose voices are too often ignored. They will not only make sure all our work is authentically representative and inclusive, but offer a sounding board for those 64% of CMOs who fear ‘getting it wrong’.

As a comms agency, we’re on a mission to make inclusive comms the norm and put ALL people at the heart of the work we do. Which is also why I have also decided to rebrand.

For eight years, we’ve identified as BrandContent and we’re proud of what we have achieved. We’re a four-time international agency of the year winner. But as an agency so focused on inclusion and all people, it’s only right we have a brand that reflects that too.

So from today, we have become Folk. Our new brand name reinforces our mission to make representation and inclusion in comms the norm and we hope you will come on the journey with us.

To find out more about what we do and how we can help, get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.