Fluid at 20: The milestone moments that made us

By Phil Harvey
November 2023
20 balloons

Sometimes change is intentional. Sometimes you can’t see it happening until you look back. We’ve had a blend of these moments throughout the years, and as we reflect on our history, we’ve picked 20 definitive moments that have made Fluid what it is today.

 Pivotal projects, milestone moments, and plenty of anecdotes are locked, loaded and ready for your consumption…

#1 – Building the dream

It all began with one man. With one dream. Phil knew there was a better way to run a creative agency. A better way to nurture client relationships. And a better way to support and inspire a team. And so Fluid was born. And here he is with our very own ‘origins’ story…

#2 – Meeting Richmond Villages (and forging a care specialism)

Relationships have always been at the heart of Fluid. They are the bedrock of our agency, and have been a powerful driver for our growth. There have been so many pivotal relationships in our history, and each and every one has been instrumental in a unique way. Phil’s connection with Richmond Villages was a significant moment for Fluid, and ultimately it led to us becoming a specialist in the care sector – sparking relationships with Barchester, English Villages, Anchor Hannover, Inspired Villages, Saga, Places for People, Bupa, Legal & General and countless more. 

#3 – Sheer luck

We’re probably not meant to say that, but sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time. But that’s not to say you can’t create luck. We’re fortunate to be in a position where we don’t need to actively seek clients – that tends to happen very organically these days through referrals. But in our early years, we had to create our own opportunities. Phil would cold call companies and sometimes it worked. Thanks to this brazen approach, we got a foot in the door with Overseal, a natural ingredients manufacturer. And with a lot of determination and hard-work it led to further opportunities within the food manufacturing industry. We forged partnerships with Natraceutical and Naturex. It was with the latter that we attended an industry event, and by sheer luck met a lady called Marina Kaptein who worked for IMCD. That opened another door. When she moved to Azelis, she opened the door to Fluid once again. Our clients have a habit of doing that.

#4 – Barchester and a network of loyal Fluid trumpet-blowers

One of Fluid’s earliest clients – and evidence of our tendency to forge long-term relationships – is Barchester Healthcare. 18 years in, Fluid continues to be an invaluable extension to its marketing teams. 
And – you’ll notice a theme emerging here – they represent yet another example of one relationship leading to the next. 
So many of our relationships with Barchester people (past and present) have led to opportunities for Fluid. Our work with Bright Horizons, and Dukes Education wouldn’t have been possible without the relationships we built at Barchester. And we’ve had many of these dedicated Fluid ‘champions’ over the years – Sue Ayton, Jeremy Coleman, Debbie Jones – we can’t mention them all, but we remain grateful to their continued belief in Fluid and all the trumpet-blowing they do on our behalf.

#5 – From a local business to a globally-reaching agency

When we were a young agency, we naturally worked with local clients. Our competitors were local. Our reach was local. But we had ambitions to make a greater impact on a grander scale. Ed remembers the time he feels we broke away from the ‘local’ label:
“We won a pitch to rebrand the University of Derby in 2011. We were small back then, only six or seven people, and we were hungry. We were up against the usual cast of local agencies, but when we were appointed, it felt like we had transcended our local status. Suddenly, we were punching on an entirely different level. That relationship was pivotal, and looking back, it was the beginning of a sectoral specialism in the education sector that we continue to build – having worked with clients such as Bright Horizons, Dukes Education, University of Nottingham, King’s College London Students’ Union and Russell Group to name just a few.”
And since then, Fluid punches like a global agency. While we’re based in little old Derby, we work with global giants such as Rescue, GardX and Azelis, delivering work that works across continents.

#6 – Tim Pethick and Acromas

If the University of Derby pitch notched us up a level, then meeting Tim Pethick in 2012 was a hop skip and a jump for Fluid. Tim was CMO at Acromas, and we crossed paths when we pitched for one of its brands, Saga Healthcare. We won it, by the way. 
Phil recalls feeling out of his depth at first, but as with a lot of things at Fluid, being eager with a head full of ideas always seems to pay off. Tim continues to be an advocate for Fluid today – you can read his wonderful words here about what makes a great agency. And spoiler alert: he’s writing about us.

#7 – The “DST”

Problem-solving excites us. Turning ideas into reality really turns us on. When we noticed that our retirement village clients were struggling to sell off plan, our entrepreneurial spirit was activated. We knew our clients’ needed to sell the sizzle, and so the “DST” was born. A digital sales tool is not a new concept, but in 2006, when we developed a revolutionary sales aid designed to supercharge property sales for our retirement operator clients. The DST became a disrupter. It has facilitated over £450m in property sales via the many DSTs that we’ve deployed for our clients. 

#8 – The Royal College of Nursing (and the power of immersion)

As we approached our tenth year, the opportunity to work with the RCN arose. An organisation rich in history, supporting a profession that we hold in utmost esteem. So to forge a relationship with them stands as a very proud moment in our history. But also a pivotal one. It was our first research-based project, and thanks to the time we spent getting under the skin of the organisation – its history, its challenges and needs – it became a lightbulb moment. It showed us the power and potential of immersion sessions. And now it’s a Fluid standard. It’s the way we begin any client partnership. And it means we can be true strategic and creative partners. 

#9 – Losing our beloved Stine

Back in 2015, we lost a member of the Fluid family. Stine passed away suddenly, and we were heartbroken. She was much-loved and is a much-missed part of the Fluid team. Here, Laura and Phil share some memories…

#10 – Unwavering leadership

It may have been just Phil in the beginning, but today we have a passionate leadership team that have enabled the agency to reach new heights. Over the years, Phil has built a trusted team around him – appointing dedicated Partners, and more recently, a cast of Associate Partners and Team Heads too. Having a strong support system to help run the business, support the team and nurture client relationships has empowered Fluid to grow in unprecedented ways, and we now have a team of over 50 amazing Fluiders who proudly make a positive impact for our clients each and every day.

#11 – A joint MD

The Fluid journey owes a lot to our Ed, too. In 2019, he was promoted to Joint Managing Director, alongside Phil. 
“Ed has been pivotal to the success of the Fluid we all know today. His energy for the business simply can’t be matched. He cares deeply about everyone in the team. He’s the glue that holds everything together. His passion and commitment is contagious” – Phil.

#12 – Defining our values

In 2018, we set about defining values for Fluid. And we did it by looking at every member of the team, to see what qualities they brought to our agency. That enabled us to distil six core values to which our business is now built around. They are: Creative, Caring, Ambitious, Positive, Accountable and Trustworthy. Our values have become a guiding light when it comes recruitment, client selection, and are generally just the standard that we set for ourselves every day. 

#13 – Building a culture

In our early years, we were much smaller. A tight-knit group of colleagues that were also friends. It seems twee, but Fluid has always had a family feel. But as we began to grow, it was at pace. And we began to notice that the culture we had built was under threat. It was harder to sustain the close-knit feel of the early days, and harder to instil the things that made Fluid, well, Fluid. 
We defined our values. We got ourselves a mantra. We appointed a Head of People & Culture. It – pardon the pun – continues to be a very Fluid process, and there’s nothing more vital to the beating heart of Fluid than our amazing culture. So, we nurture it. And reward it. Here, Jessie J (our first ever Culture Queen) gives a little insight to the Fluid culture…

#14 – Nurturing a strong and capable team

Phil hired Fluid’s first employee Ben T back in 2004, and just four months ago, Martin became our 55th. Within that cast of over fifty people are creatives, strategists, developers, designers, artworkers, CGI artists, photographers, copywriters, social media specialists, motion-designers and digital marketeers. It enables us to be a truly full-service team, and we can mould the right people around our clients’ challenges. 
Our collective moving parts make magic happen for our clients, so we invest in our team, offering career paths, access to training, and (time to segue)…
#15 – A support system

Looking after our team professionally is one thing. But there is always more we can do to invest in our people. So we do. We give every team member access to Bupa healthcare, everyone gets a gym membership, there’s always free fruit and fresh coffee in the studio, and rotating roster of furry friends frequenting the mill. Film nights, choirs, footie teams, rambles in the countryside and Christmas holidays are just some of the ways we spend time together outside of the daily grind, building friendships and a wonderful team ethic. Will and Matt recently wrote about it all, and you can read what they had to say here.
#16 – A place to thrive

If you watched Phil’s video earlier, you’ll know Fluid began in a windowless basement beneath a beauty salon. And if you ask him nicely, Dan will regale you with the tale of when he spent six months crammed into a tiny loft space with a window that was permanently open while we renovated our current studio in a beautiful UNESCO world heritage setting. The rest of the team was crammed into a slightly warmer, slightly bigger back room.
The pain wasn’t without gain, as the Fluid studio is now a wonderful place, if we do say so ourselves. Open plan with breakout spaces, a fully-equipped kitchen, showers and a lift to nowhere. When the world decided working from home was desirable, our team continues to flock back to the studio to collaborate and spend time together.

Studio animation

#17 – Sending a cow to space

I promise you there’s not a typo in that sentence. Every word is true. We sent a (plush toy) cow to space to help a visitor attraction promote a space-themed event. Daring to be different. Pushing our clients in directions they never thought possible. Combining creative ideas with our creative problem solvers. It’s become a bit of a blueprint for us. One that enables us to be an irrepressible and irreplaceable force for our clients.
See how we did it:

#18 – An industry-first Facebook live

There are a lot of things that set Fluid apart from other creative agencies. Innovation is one of them. So much so, we have just forged a brand new Performance & Innovation team that will empower us to support or clients in new and exciting ways. But that wouldn’t have been possible without the groundwork that has led us here. The first stepping stone was CageFright – an industry-first Facebook live event that ultimately led to record ticket sales for our client and an industry award for Fluid. In a nutshell, volunteers were strapped into a chair in complete darkness and viewers voted on which ‘scare’ to unleash on them in an engaging and fun interactive online event. Combined with a fully integrated-digital strategy, it kickstarted a real passion for pushing boundaries within the team.

#19 – Surviving a pandemic

Like many businesses, we panicked when the pandemic hit in 2020. A lot of our clients panicked too, instantly pulling retainers. It was a big unknown for everybody. And we dealt with it the only way we knew how: by working hard for our clients, and looking after our team. Looking back, it was transformative – it reinvigorated how we work and the way we work. We grew from 28 people to 45 people. Phil discusses it in more detail in his blog here.

#20 – A new blueprint for our future

Here, Ed explains the future of the Fluid / client dynamic: