From £16,000 to £3 Million. The Rise or Eve Lee and The Digital Fairies.
We recently caught up with Eve Lee – founder of the all-female creative studio The Digital Fairy. With clients including Chanel, MAC, Estée Lauder, Nike and Alexa Chung, the Digital Fairy has earned a reputation as leaders in the millennial market – authentically connecting big brands to the youth market.
In this interview, we ask Eve about her background, her favourite projects, and how she built The Digital Fairy into a hugely successful female-first agency (£3 million turnover) with an all-female (50% BAME) team of millennial and gen z creatives – the average age at the agency is 24. Here’s Eve’s story:
Newnham: What were you like growing up – how would your friends and family have described you?
Lee: Always on my phone
Newnham: You started out in marketing – what conversation/event led to you starting The Digital Fairy and can you describe some of the earlier hurdles you had to get over to get the business off the ground?
Lee: The Digital Fairy came about because of a lack of investment in digital – there were no jobs so I created my own. I wanted to work in digi marketing because I was such an early adopter of social media, I knew it inside out and, at the time, I just didn’t get why brands weren’t using it to target their customers. The solution in my head wasn’t a business (something I never wanted at 23) but to be a part of a marketing and industry shift.
I think the ‘hurdle’ was naivety – knowing nothing about agencies, the industry, how to run/build a business or manage staff, but it was actually a huge blessing and allowed me to focus on my instinct, which led me, the company, and our clients on such a positive path.
Newnham: How has The Digital Fairy evolved?
Lee: The evolution of Digi has been relative to the growth of investment in digital services. In my first year I was servicing clients in a social media capacity and through that, I quickly identified the skills we would need to build a more holistic service model – delivering everything from content, to design and influencer marketing.Today, I employ 20 super smart and talented fairies, who all have such different skills and personalities contributing to such a dynamic agency offering.
Newnham: And what have been some of your favourite pieces of work and why?
Lee: Recent examples include creating the strategy, branding and identity for virtual influencer Lil Miquela’s first merchandise line. This brief fell perfectly into our area of expertise and we had everyone involved in the ideation, even our studio manager. Thanks We also recently delivered a month-long campaign on women’s visibility for Adidas London. We worked to carefully cast and document a different woman every day who raised awareness of the barriers to female participation in sport. One of the many phenomenal stories we told was that of Amika George, the woman behind the #FreePeriods movement, who revealed that menstruation is still a reason many women drop out of sport.
Whilst there is so much about that campaign which makes me proud, it felt particularly powerful to be a female-first agency, working with a global sports brand (with a strong male following) and talking about periods.
Newnham: You have an all-female team – how do you think that dynamic impacts the way you do business?
Lee: Various Digi Fairies and freelancers who have come into the business from more corporate backgrounds have commented that they feel more comfortable in an all-female environment.
We also find ourselves working with clients that have a predominantly female audience, particularly fashion and beauty. You could argue that this first-hand insight helps us service them much more intuitively.
However, I have never worked in a mixed or predominantly male business environment and so don’t feel that qualified to talk about the differences in how we conduct our business.
Newnham: What are some of the highs and lows you have experienced running your own business?
Lee: Low – Finding out I had a VAT inspection even though I had an accountant it just made me question everything lol was so prangy for weeks. Eek.
High – Passing my VAT inspection.
Newnham: As an early adopter, what’s next for social / digital communication?
Lee: Last year we set up a new division called FAIRY FUTURES, dedicated to reporting on youth and digital culture. Read our latest reports exploring the future of the influencer industry, digital ‘post-truth’ beauty and explaining WTF is a Gen Z.
Newnham: What advice do you have for others wishing to take the plunge?
Lee: Others (particularly when creating a product) would be to do some quick market research and prove there is a real appetite for your idea, we always see (and correctly predict) so many people start and fail at business with such over confidence and such obvious fundamental flaws. Also to just over-service and be quick, reactive and agile in your method, this is the advantage that you have over bigger similar companies/agencies.
Newnham: If you could go back in time, what advice – if any – would you offer a younger Eve?
Lee: My one piece of advice would be to build therapy into my forecast… building a business of any scale can be the most consuming, tiring and emotionally exhausting journeys – so many times I’ve needed to be the bad guy in the interest of the business. I have always just needed something as a constant that reminded me to focus on my relationship with myself and other things outside of work.