25 August – INTERVIEW: Livity

Livity is a Brixton-based marketing company with something more than just marketing at its heart – the company works with often disadvantaged young people to create youth-specialist campaigns, from Spinebreakers to Dubplate Drama. Now in its tenth year, we spoke to co-founder Michelle Clothier to find out more

How did Livity start?

We started as a marketing agency. Live magazine, now the life-blood of Livity, was one of the first briefs we picked up. Lambeth Youth Council wanted a magazine to communicate services to the youth of Lambeth. At first, it was quite a bland idea, but we asked them ‘Why don’t you actually talk to young people about it?’ We went down to youth clubs just to get an idea of what young people in Lambeth were into and decided out of that to make a mini publication to get young people to participate. On the day we came back from the printers with the first issue, the buzzer went at 9am. It was our young people picking up bagfuls of magazines to give out to their friends. And then a bunch of kids we didn’t know came along and said ‘we want to get involved too!’

How have the past ten years treated you?

It’s been interesting. We reached a tipping point at about six years into being Livity, at the same time as the recession. We have actually grown through the recession, because we have USPs coming out of our ears – we focus on youth, open our doors to young people and share our office with them. There’s a genuine formal and informal exchange that happens if you surround yourself with you target audience day in, day out. You have a greater chance of really understanding them, much more so than with an ad hoc focus group.

We’ve never tied ourselves to one discipline. From day one, ten years ago, we promised ourselves we would never limit ourselves to traditional market solutions. So we embraced social networks and were flexible about the way we think about things – that’s generated different income streams.

What do the young people who work with you get out of this?

The exchange is equal. Young people get as much, if not more, out of it than us. Often working at Livity is the first time a young person has been in a business environment. It gives them an awareness of why learning is a good idea in the first place. ‘Jobs? You can have fun in jobs?!’ We’re really interested in the relevance of education and, through the writing and design work the young people do here, learning starts to become a bit more relevant to taking them where they want to go in the future.

What’s it like being surrounded by young people in the office all the time?

It creates a real energy. At the end of the day, the office is just a big space full of IKEA furniture, but people feel and see something different – it has real atmosphere.

The rule is – if you’re in the office you need to be working. Sometimes that work isn’t related to us at all and that’s fine, as long as it’s work and it’s positive.

Are there any challenges?

In terms of behaviour, we’ve worked hard to set a tone here and people respect the tone. We don’t have much trouble or misbehavings. Our job is to make sure the experience and engagement is really robust. We give extra attention because we’re aware of the chaotic lives that young people have. There’s an energy in the office, but it’s a focused one!

We’re at a point now where we have to ask ourselves how we retain that amazing culture as we expand as a business. We had to change the model when the coalition government came in and the majority of our public sector income disappeared overnight, so we introduced advertising into the magazine. Live magazine is now on its way to achieving self-sustaining status – it’s a great example of how social enterprise works.

How do the young people you work with get to hear about you?

We work a lot through peer-to-peer advocacy – people bringing their mates along. And people who have been reading the magazine for years will get in touch with us and ask to get involved. We also recruit through adverts, outreach in schools and work with organisations such as young offenders’ units.

What are the next ten years looking like?

The next ten years are looking really exciting. There’s a real focus and vision. We’ll always have the additional layer of social benefit to our business models and that’s what brands want – it’s at the heart of what we do. We start with the social, it’s not an add-on.