5 Minutes with… Samantha & Aaron Edwards
Adobe XD is a proud supporter of LBB. Over the upcoming months, as part of the sponsorship of the ‘5 Minutes with…’ channel, we will be spending time with some of the most innovative and creative minds in the industry.
There’s no shortage of businesses who’ll proudly assert that they’re ‘like a family’ - but The Charles really means it. Founded by the sibling duo of Aaron and Samantha Edwards, the agency now runs from its headquarters in New York, with offices in London and Chicago.
Samantha and Aaron were born and raised in Manchester, England, but both always had their hearts set on a life and career in America - albeit for somewhat different reasons. Having established The Charles in 2011, the pair now work at the intersection of creativity and technology as they craft eye-catching work for the likes of Netflix, Microsoft, and Bloomberg among others.
To find out more about The Charles’ path to success, as well as what makes its founders tick, LBB spoke with Samantha and Aaron…
Q> The Charles is a family-run business with you guys being brother and sister - what was the catalyst for you deciding to work together?
Aaron Edwards> Sam and I used to fight like cats and dogs when we were younger. but as we ‘both’ matured we became really close. I think the first time we really knew that we wanted to work together was when I had this idea to start a jazz club in Manchester at the age of 16. I wrote a business plan and worked with Sam on the marketing ideas and plans for it. I even went to the Manchester business consortium to speak with advisors and try to secure a loan!
Obviously being 16 I was a little bit overly ambitious, and certainly too young to acquire a liquor license and be running a business... BUT that never stood in the way of our dream to eventually do something for ourselves.
Q> 2022 will mark the 10th anniversary of The Charles Agency! To what extent have you guys changed or evolved as a business over that time?
Aaron> We see our business as a continuous evolution of services, capabilities and processes. We started off as a digital design and build shop, which was great in building our foundations in brand, strategy, design, and technology. During the 2010s we began to hone in on content, developing robust content practices which then lead us to partnering with media agencies and eventually handling media strategy planning and buying in-house. As we have moved further up the services chain and into strategy we have seen an uptick in our aptitude to absorb more business strategy, financial modeling, plus data and analytics from our clients.
As our ability to absorb and interpret data improves, so will our offering. My dream is for us to be a one-of-a-kind agency that understands audiences preferences, needs and appetites and can match those needs with brands by leveraging AI for automation and our brain power for outright creativity and conceptual thinking.
Q> Looking back, have there been any significant moments which stand out as especially defining for you guys?
Samantha Edwards> I think winning the Bloomberg Media business was a complete game-changer for us as an agency and as people. It was an opportunity that at first we weren’t sure we could pull off, but winning the hearts and minds of the Bloomberg internal team made us believe in ourselves more than ever before.
Aaron> Yeah the Bloomberg media project was a good one, especially meeting Mike Bloomberg at the media event and getting a photo op. I also think winning two D&AD pencils for our work with the WSJ x Netflix project was also a big moment for us. It was our first foray into brand sponsored content and editorial.
Q> As founders, how responsible do you both feel for setting an internal culture and philosophy within your company? And how would you define that culture?
Sam> Culture, for us, comes from leadership and permeates throughout the actions of others in the agency. We feel a duty to all of our people to ensure that we are creating a pleasant friendly working environment that encourages camaraderie and respect, and promotes individuality and authenticity. We give all voices a platform for free speech and thought.
Everything else, in our opinion, is fun and games and subject to change.
Q> You guys are both from Manchester, but I understand that the US had been calling to you for some time before you set up The Charles Agency. Is that fair to say, and what's behind that if so?
Sam> When I was 7 years old I went on a trip to the US, and stayed with my Uncle out in the Bronx. That trip - even at that age - changed my life and worldview, and I've wanted to live in the US ever since. After graduating from university I took a job at GQ as an editorial designer. It was an amazing learning experience, but it was steeped in tradition and all I wanted to do was to break out of it. So at 21 I decided to take the plunge, move out to NYC and get an internship at a small design studio in Soho which I stayed for nearly 10 years, building up from a team of 3 to a team of 30.
Aaron> My story is a little different. I was hooked on American TV and loved the show Entourage and in particular the character Ari Gold. I said to myself (sitting as an analyst at my desk at an Investment bank) ‘THAT is the life I want’ - and I certainly wasn’t getting there any time soon working in finance.
Q> Aaron, you're also an investor outside of your work with The Charles Agency. You've invested in a new start up in NYC - how come? I changed this question for a new investment I have just made.
Aaron> Yeah, I recently invested in a tech platform called Pedul. It’s a one-stop-shop for scholarships. They provide people of color incredible opportunities to join the workforce and give them access to opportunities they simply haven’t had. This type of company and the people leading it are truly inspirational and I'm very excited to be an angel and advisor to the company to help promote the hiring of diverse talent in the workforce.
Q> This interview series is being supported by Adobe. From you guys' standpoint, how important has Adobe's work been in terms of what you do?
Sam> Adobe is everything for us. I’ve been a huge Adobe fan since the beginning of my career. It's been impressive watching them grow as a company, too, and all the smart innovations they have made in making the user experience seamless and intuitive.
Q> Finally, the past year has been a challenging one for so many. What’s been keeping you guys inspired and motivated throughout it all?
Sam> I think the idea that we should be spending more time with our families has been a motivating factor. Growing the business and dedicating more time to building out our middle management teams is a top priority for us, and we hope once that team is in place it will give us more freedom and time to be away from the business. I think that is incredibly important in keeping things fresh and innovative.