Agency Collective Tales

Mel Berry @ Digital Firefly

Episode Summary

In this episode, Ellie speaks to Co-Founder and MD of Digital Firefly, Mel Berry, about her journey and how we can use our experiences to enrich our businesses and to support our teams, should they choose to embark on parenthood - In terms of wellbeing and practical help, including parental leave.

Episode Notes

Meet The Agency Collective:

The Agency Collective is a peer support community for agency owners. It's a safe place to talk about your challenges openly – when you need the help most. It provides an opportunity for you to build new long-lasting relationships with people who can provide support and leads for future work.

Find out more about The AC

Episode Transcription

00:00:00:02 - 00:00:13:05


Thanks so much for having a chat with me. I'm talking to Mel Berry  

from Digital Firefly. So first off, Mel, can you just tell me a bit  

about you and how you and James came together and how, like, Digital  

Firefly was born?

00:00:14:00 - 00:00:47:21


Yeah, sure. So James and I met, wow. About six or seven years ago,  

both working for Sussex Police in the comms department. And I was a  

comms manager and he was digital comms manager. And basically we  

worked together on a couple of projects. We got put together to do  

some campaigns. One of them was around child sexual exploitation.  

They're obviously very serious topics and we were one of the first  

forces to start using Snapchat to reach young people, to say to  

them, look, don't be sending nude selfies of yourself to other  


00:00:48:00 - 00:00:49:19


This is the risks around it, etcetera.

00:00:50:03 - 00:00:53:13


Did you launch that? Were you thinking, how are we going to connect  

with the kids? What can we do?

00:00:53:19 - 00:01:10:20


Basically, what we did was some insight sessions. So we went to work  

with the YMCA. We sat down with a laod of young people, and we were  

like, "Okay, so what kind of messaging would connect with you? What  

are the barriers we need to overcome to reach you? What do we need  

to say to you?" And they were like, "Don't tell us what to do.

00:01:10:20 - 00:01:34:07


We not going to listen to parents. People in authority. We listen to  

each other. Peer approach is the best approach." So we developed  

some animations, under their suggestion, that were more of a peer to  

peer approach: People giving each other advice and talking about  

scenarios that happened and how to avoid them. So we worked on that  

project together, and as I say, we're one of the first forces to  

start using Snapchat.

00:01:34:07 - 00:01:52:02


All those years ago. Which is obviously not as big any more, it's  

now a more about TikTok. So that was really exciting. And we got  

loads of really good press around it and we reached lots of young  

people and someone was convicted for sending messages to a young  

person that young person had reported. Because of the campaign,  

they'd seen.

00:01:52:02 - 00:01:55:16


Oh my god! You guys must have gone home after that - "Job well  


00:01:55:22 - 00:02:11:24


One of the parents of the young person who got in touch and reported  

that crime, messaged and was like, Thanks so much they'd never have  

told me if you hadn't done this. I could have just cried at my desk!  

You know, such a difficult thing for a young person to go through  

but so glad that they felt that they could reach out.

00:02:12:06 - 00:02:30:12


And that was a lot of work with police. That was like local police  

who were really good on Snapchat. Just really GOT relationships of  

young people really well. We worked with them a lot to build a  

following. So yeah, we worked on that project together. Like, oh,  

actually we did it working together. We enjoy it. It works. So then  

a few months later, I went up to James and I was like, "Hey, do you  

want to go for coffee?"

00:02:30:12 - 00:02:49:08


And we went, sat down, had a coffee, and: "Do you want to start a  

business together?" And he was like, "All right, why not?" He's been  

in policing ten years by then and had been a big part of his life.  

But he was like, "Maybe it's time for me to have a new challenge."  

That's where it all began, and we continued doing some work with  

them after we left - West Sussex Police - but then we went and  

worked with other public services as well.

00:02:49:09 - 00:03:06:22


We do a lot of work now with public sector, so we do a lot with  

Brighton and Hove City Council, a lot of work with large charities  

and done a lot of women for women in loads of different places. So  

we do work for the private sector. There are a lot of great  

organisations we work with there, but primarily with charity and  

public sector.

00:03:07:01 - 00:03:10:16


That's where your heart is. You want to be making a change and  

having an impact.

00:03:11:00 - 00:03:30:14


Yeah, yeah, I think so. That's what it comes down to for us. And  

whenever we've been hiring and one of the key things people say ihas  

drawn them to us and looking to apply for our roles is the fact that  

we do this great work for good people who want really good outcomes  

for the people. For me and for James, that's more important than  

money, etc..

00:03:30:20 - 00:03:41:16


So it wasn't like we particularly set out, "Okay, this is who we're  

going to work with", but it's just who we're naturally drawn to and  

who we're drawing to us. And obviously when you get known in a  

certain sector we work from00:03:41:18 - 00:03:51:16


It's like chemistry, isn't it? Good clients and working with clients  

that are good fit for your agency and being the right fit for  

clients. It's chemistry. It's got to be right. You've got to have  

matching values, I think.

00:03:51:16 - 00:04:10:15


Exactly! What we've always said is we just want to work with good  

people who are doing good things in whatever way that is. So we  

don't want to limit ourselves. We do work with a lot of clients who  

are a bit different to that in the sense of they're not public  

sector, they're not charities, but still have really good products  

that are trying to achieve good things.

00:04:10:18 - 00:04:17:10


And I think as long as our ethics and values align and we like the  

people, they're nice people to work with.

00:04:17:10 - 00:04:18:00


Why not?

00:04:18:02 - 00:04:20:09


Yeah, that why not? That's the most important thing to us.

00:04:20:20 - 00:04:26:04


I'm interested to know, how long had your agency been up and running  

before you found out you were pregnant?

00:04:26:24 - 00:04:54:00


About two years. I think I'd only been full time on the business for  

about a year, so I felt very excited because I always wanted to be a  

parent but also a sense of responsibility. So I obviously asked  

James to start the business with me and then I was like, "Oh, by the  

way, actually, I'm also not going to be here for a period of time."  

But I asked him to start a business with me. so I though to myself:  

"oooh, is that a bit cheeky?'

00:04:54:05 - 00:05:03:20


Is that something that you've had discussed? I'm interested because  

as a man that would never cross your mind discuss when thinking  

about partnerships or joint ventures. Was it something that you had  

broached with him?

00:05:04:10 - 00:05:13:13


No, I hadn't broached it previously. I think it's always good to  

have open communication in any circumstance, so ideally we would  


00:05:13:18 - 00:05:28:10


But I think because between the time of starting a business and me  

being pregnant was like, a couple of years, we just hadn't got  

around to having that chat. So when I sat down with him and said to  

him, "Oh, by the way, I'm pregnant", it was a bit of a shock for  


00:05:28:10 - 00:05:28:19



00:05:28:19 - 00:05:34:16


He took it in good grace and he was like: "Right, that's really  

exciting. So what's the plan?"

00:05:34:16 - 00:06:02:18


And we sat down and just had a chat about what we're going to do  

because it happened so early. It was quite good in a lot of ways  

because we were growing quite quickly and we realised quickly we  

didn't have the capacity within ourselves. So at this point of me  

getting pregnant, it was just James and I obviously now we're a team  

of seven, so we've grown a lot in the last two years, but it was  

time for me to move out of doing so much of the stuff in the  

business , the client work, and move more into working on the  


00:06:02:22 - 00:06:15:03


And I'd been procrastinating over it because you do what you're used  

to doing. But actually it was really good timing because me going  

off on mat. leave meant that we got somebody else in to cover a load  

of my client work.

00:06:15:03 - 00:06:15:21



00:06:15:21 - 00:06:18:23


And move me off that, which is really good for me in the long run.

00:06:19:10 - 00:06:36:23


Yeah. Incredible isn't it. I think as agency owners, you can cling  

to the doing and be so fearful of when you take that step to hire.  

You dont want to relinquish the client control in case someone  

stuffs it up and you think that you're the most important person, no  

one can look after them like you do. So did having your baby push  

you to get over that quicker than you would have done, do you think?

00:06:37:05 - 00:06:53:03


Yeah, 100%. And for the best - we got our first hire in because of  

that reason and she's brilliant, she's still with us now and we love  

her. And maybe she would have been a few months later if we hadn't  

been forced into the situation so I'm glad it worked out for the  


00:06:53:13 - 00:06:55:12


How long did you have on maternity leave?

00:06:56:00 - 00:06:57:02


Oh, just two months.

00:06:57:11 - 00:07:06:00


Two months! I thought I was quick! I had four months when I had my  

daughter. But two months, I'm trying to remember what an eight week  

old is like. I can't quite fathom how tiny.

00:07:06:00 - 00:07:27:05


Yeah, very tiny. We agreed that I'd take three months off. After two  

months. I was like, "This parent thing is not as hard as I thought  

it would be." So I took the transition back into the business a bit  

earlier, like incrementally - a day or two a week. But actually- and  

one of the interesting things is, you think it's going to be hardest  

in the beginning when you go back in after mat. leave, but actually  

it's harder later.

00:07:27:14 - 00:07:30:13


Now, the toddler stage - God, tell me about it!

00:07:30:13 - 00:07:49:11


We're at toddler stage. She's one and a half now. So yeah, and it's  

tough, and I think people think it's going to be hardest at the  

beginning. And for me it wasn't and I went back and about a month in  

being back, I was like, "oh my goodness!" The sleep just went up the  

wall. And I was having a terrible sleep - four month sleep  

regression where they basically don't sleep at all.

00:07:49:16 - 00:07:56:12


"Oh, my goodness. I'm finding this really hard after I previously  

thought it would be easy." And I think that's one of the key things  

to bear in mind.

00:07:56:12 - 00:08:11:01


Parenthood and agency life - there's a lot of synergies there, I  

think, in terms of journey, isn't it? You think you've nailed it and  

then something will come along, and you're, like: "Bloody hell!",  

and then something will happen and you're like "Oh my god! I just  

love this. This is the best job in the world." It's crazy, isn't it?

00:08:11:06 - 00:08:31:19


Yeah, totally. Right. There is just so much synergy and I've never  

thought about it like that until now. But there is. I enjoy the  

challenges and the peaks and troughs. It doesn't mean it's any less  

hard. It really is tough at times, but it is also brilliant and it's  

like in agency life isn't it? It is tough at times, but it is also  

brilliant and that works for some people and that doesn't work for  


00:08:32:01 - 00:08:53:13


It was a very short mat. leave. Obviously with team members, they  

wouldn't have that short a mat. leave if the current employees that  

we have, they'd have longer if they wanted it. But that was my  

choice. My partner the last year and the half has been doing the  

majority of the childcare she wanted to be off with our daughter and  

I wanted to go back to work on the business.

00:08:53:13 - 00:09:04:05


So it worked for us. It sounds like I wasn't off for very long. And  

I wasn't, but actually our daughter has been with my other half for  

the last year and half and actually also, I worked from home the  

first few months.

00:09:04:11 - 00:09:09:09


These pandemic babies they'll never know what it's like when the  

other parent has to go off after two weeks.

00:09:09:22 - 00:09:17:21


Yeah, exactly. It was fine because between calls I'd go away and  

breastfeed and come back and then go on a call, So that worked for  


00:09:18:00 - 00:09:36:00


The relaxed way of working now. I think this is a real- I mean, if  

it's possible to say a positive that has come out of navigating  

through the pandemic, especially the agency industry has coped is, I  

think, people are just their more authentic selves. I don't mind  

telling you before a call that I'm just going to move my washing up  

liquid bottle out the way I think that there perhaps would have  


00:09:36:00 - 00:09:55:19


It's not as corporatey as perhaps it was. I think everyone's just  

relaxed and gone: " You know what? People are people, parents are  

parents." And I think anyone that navigated having a newborn, or who  

were doing home schooling through the pandemic has got to be more  

understanding. How did you find it with your clients? Did any of  

your clients go: "oooh - wait are you going? Oh, god, no, don't  

leave us!"

00:09:56:03 - 00:09:56:23


Did they just get it?

00:09:57:10 - 00:10:13:01


They just got it, I think. I think some of them were a bit surprised  

because obviously I've been on Zoom calls for months and they hadn't  

seen me in real life, so they didn't know I was pregnant. So I'd be  

like: "Next week, I'm logging off for mat. leave. And by the way,  

here is my bump!" That they didn't realise I had because I'm in this  


00:10:13:07 - 00:10:34:20


So some of them were really shocked but excited for me they knew  

James was around, they were reassured by that and we had Katie come  

in that time and she transitioned in really nice and we got her in a  

couple of months before I went off, before I went. So that also  

helped, I think was more me actually feeling like: "Oh, I'm going to  

be missing out what's going to be happening while I'm off?"

00:10:35:05 - 00:10:59:02


I had exactly the same thing. I left my baby to go and have my baby  

and I was torn and it was a lot of FOMO. "Oh, wait, but oh, no! Oh  

god! What are they doing?! No wait... Hang on - wait -I've got a  

better idea, wait!" and it's really hard, isn't it? Especially with  

Digital Firefly at the stage you are now, you must have learnt some  

really valuable lessons in terms of to grow you as founders can't be  

doing all the doing.

00:10:59:02 - 00:11:03:24


You've got to be thinking about strategy, bigger picture, getting  

bigger clients and how you grow that way.

00:11:04:08 - 00:11:19:21


Exactly - and that's what we all do more of now. It's nice now that  

we have a team. We both still love the work so we both still get to  

manage the work overall and put our thoughts in about strategy, but  

then also we're collaborating with people who are doing the doing  

and they're also really good as well. So it's like...

00:11:19:21 - 00:11:21:04



00:11:21:11 - 00:11:22:23


The dream, Mel. That's the dream!

00:11:23:06 - 00:11:25:19


It is! it's brought us to a really good place, I think.

00:11:26:01 - 00:11:32:20


Have you thought about what parental leave looks like for you as an  

agency and as you grow your team?

00:11:33:01 - 00:11:53:21


I guess I was the guinea pig in our situation, which is good because  

you want yourself to be the guinea pig. I've kind of seen it from  

both sides now. I can see what I would have needed. I think it's a  

lot around expectations and that you aren't the same person you were  

before you had a child. Like categorically or not, your life has  


00:11:53:24 - 00:12:19:05


Your life has been redesigned and your life is redesigned around  

your child because they're one of most important things in your  

life, they'll be most important in your life. So I think anyone  

coming in now, our understanding, our expectations would be  

different. So that's really positive. And I think there'll be lots  

of things we put in place. We haven't had anyone go on mat. leave  

yet within our agency, but when we do, there's things I want to  


00:12:19:05 - 00:12:30:11


I want when someone comes back, it'd be good to have them part time  

initially to get back into the swing of it. When they start back,  

starting back on Wednesday rather than the beginning of the week, so  

that they don't feel overwhelmed.

00:12:30:11 - 00:12:31:07



00:12:31:07 - 00:12:41:18


Having them out of office on for longer periods so that they get all  

that catching up time and no expectations on them straight for them  

get back to clients really quickly.

00:12:42:06 - 00:12:54:18


And I think while they're off as well, having those keep in touch  

days and I think a lot of organisations don't, when you're meant to  

have them, but they don't and they should. And I think it's ten  

keeping in touch days00:12:54:18 - 00:12:55:02



00:12:55:02 - 00:13:06:11


I'd really want to be doing that as much as they want to be  

involved. So having some one along to team days, for example, so  

they can see who the team is - teams change - and they feel familiar  

with everything.

00:13:06:17 - 00:13:20:14


And still feel part of it because definitely even though you're  

going to have your baby and it's a wonderful thing, it certainly can  

feel a bit isolating. And then, well there was for me anyway, a bit  

of a concern about where I'd fit, where my place would be when I  

came back as a parent.

00:13:20:18 - 00:13:40:05


Me too, for sure. I think it's good to be having conversations with  

people and saying: "What do you need?" When people come back, we  

bunch of them all together, and we say: "Oh, you must need that and  

you must need this." But actually, everyone's different. People do  

want to go back straight away full time and people don't . Both are  

equally as fine as each other and valid.

00:13:40:09 - 00:13:59:18


What works for that particular person? So it's having that  

understanding of: "Do we need to be more flexible for them? How can  

we make their life easier? How are they feeling when they come back?  

How do they feel in those first few weeks? Are they feeling guilty  

because they're not with their child anymore?" A lot of people do. I  

did. At the beginning, I felt guilty when I was at work and guilty  

when I wasn't.

00:14:00:00 - 00:14:01:22


I don't think that goes. Does that ever go?

00:14:02:19 - 00:14:07:15


My daughter's one and a half now and it hasn't gone yet., Sso I  

don't know about you? Our daughters are a similar age, aren't they?

00:14:07:15 - 00:14:26:18


Yes, yes, yes. I feel guilty and she's in the front room! So yeah,  

totally! Have you looked into and thought about enhanced parental  

leave at all, rather than just offering statutory maternity leave,  

parental leave, but offering a little bit more to your employees if  

they went off when they had a baby?

00:14:26:18 - 00:14:48:03


Yeah, I'd love to do it. We haven't yet because we're so young and  

we're just offering what we can at moment. But yes, absolutely.  

That's something I'd love to do. And I think as we grow, that's  

something we will implement. We want to be an employer that is  

desirable for lots of different reasons. Yeah, and that is really  

key and that's really important to me especially.

00:14:48:08 - 00:14:53:10


So, yes, that's something we definitely will look to do as staff we  

have go off on that mat. leave.

00:14:53:12 - 00:15:14:19


It's something that we as employers have implemented because  

statutory maternity is just hard! So we're looking at eight weeks  

full pay in addition to the statutory, just as a boost. And I think  

in terms of retention of staff and retention of talent as well, it's  

saying: "We want you and we want you back. Let us make this bit a  

bit easier for you."

00:15:14:21 - 00:15:20:02


And certainly I think that's an incentive to come back and hit the  

ground running again, I think there's a lot of value in it.

00:15:20:04 - 00:15:32:00


Yeah, I think so too. And I think if people understand you care  

about them in whatever different way, whatever kind of leave they're  

off on is a good thing. Showing that support in any way is the  


00:15:32:07 - 00:15:35:00


So what's coming up next for gyou guys at Digital Firefly?

00:15:35:08 - 00:15:58:12


One of the most exciting things is we're going to be rebranding to  

Social Firefly, so that's really exciting. And that's to reflect the  

fact that we're doing just social specific services. So strategy  

ads, content, training, etc. Previously we were more full service  

and we're just niching into social now, which is what we've really  

predominantly been doing for the last year or so anyway.

00:15:58:12 - 00:16:06:06


So it's just reflecting that in our branding that's launching in  

about a month's time. So we're really excited for that. To grow the  


00:16:06:11 - 00:16:12:05


Do you have goals? Do you know what staff size you want to be by the  

end of this year? Have you targeted yourself that way?

00:16:12:05 - 00:16:34:02


You know what? We don't actually. That's a really interesting thing.  

James and I don't have agency backgrounds originally, which makes us  

a bit different. James actually did work for an agency, maybe for a  

few months, but the majority of our working lives wasn't with an  

agency, so we don't have an agency mindset which is good in some  

ways and bad in some ways, but therefore we don't have strict goals.

00:16:34:02 - 00:16:39:09


Nothing wrong with feeling your way and enjoying the journey , mate.  

That's what it's all about, isn't it?

00:16:39:10 - 00:17:07:09


Yeah, exactly. And we've grown really nicely in the last year and a  

half, two years from what - two of us to seven of us. So the next  

year, I'd imagine we'll continue to grow. I would probably have  

three or four more people. If we continue to go the way we are now.  

We just want to do it in the most organic way, forcing ourselves  

into anything that doesn't feel right or lose client quality just  

because we want to grow. We want to make sure we're doing that in a  

way that's not too stressful, enjoyable, right

00:17:07:09 - 00:17:31:04


for everyone involved. Etcetera. We do want to be working with more  

different clients, bigger clients, and that's partly what the  

rebrand is about as well. Previously, at the beginning of our  

journey we were working with small businesses and now we're not. Now  

the organisations are larger and we're working with more public  

sector, more charities. Larger organisations - we want to be  

reflecting that more in the rebrand and we'll continue to do more of  


00:17:31:09 - 00:17:38:10


Especially ads - we do absolutely tons of ads for people and that's  

what we think we're going to be primarily doing over the next few  

years. More than any other...

00:17:38:16 - 00:17:44:16


Focus. Brilliant. Well, I wish you and James all the very best,  

you're two brilliant people doing brilliant things.

00:17:44:19 - 00:17:45:11


Thank you very much, Ellie!