We Chat With Fox&Bear

In this month’s cover feature, we sit down with Co-Founder and Managing Director of Fox&Bear, James Dempster. Having recently re-branded from Cobb Digital, 2021 marks a significant period of growth for the 18-strong team who have been delivering integrated marketing campaigns for a wide range of clients over the last eight years.

James, tell us about Fox&Bear.

We are a full-service marketing agency based in Brighton, bringing together expertise in digital marketing, public relations, strategy, design, branding and data insight. Back in 2013 I co-founded what was then called Cobb Digital and we solely focused on digital marketing activity, supported by our sister PR agency, Cobb PR. Fast forward eight years and Fox&Bear is a rebrand of Cobb Digital and design and branding agency, Spoken.

So why now? Why rebrand to Fox&Bear?

Having worked together for a number of years, we saw a need to provide clients with a full suite of digital marketing and branding services, packaged together under one roof, managed by one main point of contact, for one fee. It made sense. A lot of our clients already worked with Cobb Digital and Spoken and now we’re able to offer expertise and insight across all marketing channels from day one. We still work closely with Cobb PR and our relationship has never been stronger with them. Tim and Sue Cobb remain on the board as shareholders and are active directors in Fox&Bear.

Tell us about Fox&Bear, where does the name come from?

One thing that has been consistent in the success of human beings is the ability to tell stories. It’s an innate need to hear and share stories, whether it’s a Greek masterpiece or a soap opera – we like to be told tales.

It’s the same with Fox&Bear. We care about your story and we know that brands don’t have a never-ending supply of marketing budget, so we have to be efficient with spend whilst at the same time bringing stories to life and helping our clients grow.

This storytelling starts in childhood and, so, when looking for inspiration for a name for the rebrand, I looked no further than my two sons. Their middle names are Fox and Bear, animals renowned for intelligence and strength. It’s my intention that Archie’s Bear will protect Charlie’s Fox and vice versa.

And tell us about Spoken, how did your work become so integrated across clients?

One thing that I truly believe Brighton does better than anywhere else is networking. Networking here isn’t just about sales and the number of business cards collected at a lunch, but instead, people are willing to help, willing to share expertise and genuinely want our city to succeed and for businesses to thrive. Some of my strongest friendships have been made networking and Fox&Bear’s Co-Founder, Lisa Seymour, is testament to that support and friendship.  

Lisa set up Spoken in 2016 and working with a team of designers and website developers, the team have been delivering unique, memorable brand design for clients across corporate and consumer brands. Upon first working with Lisa I was struct by her can-do approach, creating bespoke solutions that truly deliver for clients. As both our businesses grew and the need for our services inter-twined, we decided to team up as Fox&Bear.

This re-brand comes just as the country begins to ease out of restrictions. How has the last year been for business?

It will come as no surprise that the last year has been challenging. The first months when panic, uncertainty and stress were setting in were the hardest. Every time my phone rang I dreaded it was a client asking to pause, given they were shutting their doors, and I worried about paying salaries, showing strong leadership to the team and how we would make it through the next months. It was hard. We reduced the team’s working hours as a result of client demand and we took each week as it came.

Whilst it was undoubtably some of the most stressful months as a business leader, I will always be grateful to our team and the resilience they showed. Their natural instinct was to see how we could assist clients, how we could help them navigate challenging situations and how we could ensure that we were adding value. It certainly was a rollercoaster and I’m pleased to say that Q1 of this year has been one of the strongest in our history.

With the re-brand bedding in, our team is stronger than ever and we’re proud to have a brilliant client roster and a team of professionals that deliver stand-out results, day in, day out.

Whilst the landscape of business leaders changed, tell us how the pandemic has impacted the marketing needs of your clients.

It has been really interesting to see how this year has unfolded for our clients. We work across a number of sectors, so no two clients have faced the same challenges and it’s certainly kept us on our toes as we look to re-think marketing campaigns, change tactics and build new strategies.

Since day one, we’ve always believed in the power of telling stories. We’re also big believers of using data to tell our stories. All this means is that we’re making marketing decisions based on what actions our clients’ customers are making and not gut feel. For example, if we’re seeing a much larger number of sales as a result of our Facebook advertising campaigns, rather than our Google campaigns, we’ll divert spend to Facebook ensuring that we’re efficient with investment, delivering the strongest returns. We look at this across all marketing channels so that we can be sure we’re delivering the strongest return on investment.

This was our laser focus through the pandemic. Many clients had to reduce spend and it was our job to make sure we were providing value and results. In addition, we saw a huge rise in clients requesting support for more traditional communication channels ensuring that their customers and clients were kept up-to-date as restrictions changed. Some of our retail clients saw huge spikes in demand through lockdown periods, whilst our clients in the tourism and leisure industries worked hard to keep on top of ever-changing restrictions and guidance.

The more I hear about marketing, the more I understand just how many moving parts there are. Tell us about your team and the services you can help with.

Marketing is an ever-growing discipline and there’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all approach. We have a team of experts that cover branding and design, email marketing, social media, public relations, paid media, website optimisation and creative content. It sounds like a lot but it’s integral to have individuals who are absolute experts in their field so that they can work together to deliver the best service.

Channels like Facebook and Instagram are changing all the time with new products launching, new updates being announced and new ways of doing things. It’s the same for our paid team, who regularly complete CPD courses to ensure that we’re using tools in the best possible way.

As well as our marketing delivery team we also have four brilliant account managers on board who ensure that client campaigns are delivered on time, within budget and exceed our KPIs. That’s something that has really changed over the last eight years. When I first started Cobb Digital we were a team of three all pitching in working on everything from social media campaigns, website design, account management and our own branding! Now the team are able to focus on a specialist area, enabling them to really spend time on getting the best possible results for our clients.

And what’s a typical day like as Managing Director of Fox&Bear?

No day is ever the same, that’s for sure. And I’m also not one to say that the business is successful because I get up at 5am to write my to-do list, swim in the sea or cook an egg white omelette. Running a business is a balancing act, and with two young children it’s important that I carve out time in my day to spend with them. Whilst we all love our jobs, it’s important to remember that we’re not surgeons! There are times when we have to rally around to help clients, but if something can wait to give us room to breathe then it’s important for everyone to have some time out.

Normally for me I’ll be in the office by about 8am having dropped the boys at school. As the team start to arrive it’s nice to have a chat, catch up with what people are up to and check in on my emails to see what the priorities are for the day. If we’re pitching for a new client I’ll catch up with the team to make sure we’re happy with our proposal and pitch and otherwise I’ll grab a coffee with our Online Director to see how our clients are. Through lockdown Lisa and I hosted a series of webinars to share advice and insight with other business leaders in the area which was really interesting and reminded me just how many brilliant businesses there are across Sussex. As a team we normally head out to get some lunch and if it’s a Friday we might enjoy a wrap from ‘We Love Falafal’ or a pizza at ‘Fatto a Mano’.

After lunch I’ll often speak to clients or meet with members of the team that I manage directly. That’s the best bit of the job – helping the team progress, upskill and being the person that can share feedback when they’re doing a great job. On Fridays we like to finish at 4pm and celebrate our team champion of the week before Monday rolls around and we start again.

Outside of Fox&Bear you wear a number of hats for different organisations. How do you find the time?

It’s true and I often find it hard to say no when asked to support things I love. I put a lot of my business success down to the help, advice and guidance I’ve been shown from others, so when an opportunity for me arises to do just that, I love to get involved. Currently I’m a Board Member for Brighton Chamber and The Living Coast and I’m also Vice Chairman for the Coastal West Sussex Partnership. The Chamber helped me hugely when I first started out and so it’s a real pleasure to meet ambitious businesses that are setting up camp in Brighton. On top of that, there’s nowhere else in the country I’d rather be living and so supporting our coastal businesses and the sustainability of our place help me give something back to our region.

Finally, before we wrap this up, what are your top five marketing tips for businesses just starting out.

  1. Know your audience. All too often businesses start marketing to everyone without really understanding who they should be speaking to. It spreads your resource very thin, for little reward. You should be happy to list who you don’t want to be in front of, just as well as who you do.
  2. Less is more. There are so many marketing platforms out there now. It’s unlikely that you need to be on every one of them. Do you need to be on TikTok, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook? Find out where your audience spend their time and concentrate on that channel first.
  3. Tell your story. Who are you? What do you do? Why are you passionate about your service and product? People buy people so make sure this shines through.
  4. Invest in ads. It takes a long time to build an engaged following so invest in quick wins that save you time. Google Ads are perfect if you know that your target audience is searching online for your product or solution.
  5. Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people in your network that can help. Especially in Brighton, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the support you’ll receive.


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