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A Push Toward Good, Better, Best

Piers Fawkes doesn’t want you to just get by in life or in business. He wants to help you do better. And he doesn’t expect a thing in return.

By Jenna Schnuer

Piers FawkesPiers Fawkes is a connector. He melds ideas. He brings people together. He sends ideas out into the world—often for free—and hopes they’ll inspire people to, if we may crib an ad slogan of the past from one of his clients, think different.

The N.Y.-based Englishman is a businessman, a trends guy. Four years ago he co-founded PSFK, "a trends research, innovation and activation company," with London-based business partner Simon King. But this is no ordinary trends company. It has a do-gooder (or should we say do-better) mission: inspire readers, clients and guests to make things better—better products, better services, better lives or a better world, Fawkes says. 

"The word better is nice because it’s broad. Sometimes better could be eco. Sometimes better is social conditions. Sometimes better is just something that makes people smile. [Better is] about progress."

And the push for better guarantees that Fawkes’ company can’t get pigeonholed as being just one thing: "I don’t want to be a trends company being a trends company."

So, to help people and businesses get better, PSFK gives away a whole lot of information for free. That content model strays far from the traditional business plan of trends companies in which you’ll have to plunk down some serious bucks to see the research and information.

Not so at PSFK.

"If people respond to things we are writing about, hopefully a good percentage of that will be helping better things that they will be creating," Fawkes says. It also helps keep PSFK top of mind as a source and, sometimes, readers turn into clients for the company’s consulting arm.

While Fawkes’ greatest talent is connection, the true driving force behind PSFK is his passion for research. No matter the business segment, it always comes back to the research and the info collected along the way. One piece of PSFK always feeds into the next.

"The research is the start point behind everything that we do. Sometimes I’m like, 'Who the hell should be speaking at our events?’ Then I realize that I haven’t really thought and looked at who we’re writing about [on PSFK.com]. You know, which is the whole point. We invite people who we write about, who we think are really interesting and inspirational."

Before Fawkes took to trends, publishing, event planning and consulting, he worked in advertising marketing and Web site strategy. But another Fawkes trademark is just to move on along and see what comes next. There are no hard lines in Fawkes’ career. No direct path from one thing to the next. Like the flow of his current business—where he gives ideas room to grow—he just moves organically from one thing to the next. He does what he’s supposed to do at the time he’s supposed to do it because it’s the right thing for that moment.

So, after the Web world spat him out, he spent 2002 running a film production company, where he created everything from music videos to short films to ahead-of-their-time viral-marketing videos.

"The way I look back with rose-tinted glasses, I’d say it was this fantastic artistic time," Fawkes says.

It certainly wasn’t a lucrative one—Fawkes didn’t even have an apartment. Instead, it was "day-for-day try to make money." And, he adds, "It was fun."

"But the important thing about that time is that that’s when I really learned to love writing. I did a lot of writing [on] videos or short film scripts. My partner would write a script, and we would kind of work the script together."

Eventually, it was time to move on. Love helped him find his way. Literally. He met his (now) wife at a conference in London and, eventually, followed her to New York.

But, though his personal life was shaping up quite nicely, Fawkes wasn’t quite sure where his career was headed.

"I got on a bicycle, and I rode around the city, and I started taking photographs, noting things. That stuff that I noted I decided to put on a Web site. I asked Simon King, a friend of mine in London, if he could write about some of the things that were happening in London."

That site? Let’s call it PSFK.com 1.0.

It featured thoughts on everything from art and music to technology and advertising.

"Simon has more of a fashion vantage whereas I have more of an advertising, marketing and technology vantage," he says. "It was a small project. Maybe if I thought it was going to go somewhere I would have given it a more memorable name."

The site helped Fawkes land his first U.S. job.

Though he had sent out the requisite hundreds of resumes, employment was a no-go until he mentioned, "Hey, I have this Web site." It helped him stand out from the applying masses.

"Unfortunately, that job as a brand consultant was short lived," he says, as the company went under shortly after he was hired.

But PSFK.com was on its way up. After a friend recommended that he skip the staff work and go freelance, Fawkes, still working with King, went full force on it.

"I was crazed like a mad man, to be honest," Fawkes says. "I’d wake up at 6:30 a.m., start work, work until about 3 p.m. scanning, writing, and then [because it wasn’t pulling in money yet, would] do some job hunting."

Then the duo landed their first client: Anheuser Bush, which asked them to do research about "young adults in the U.K."

After that, it was PSFK all the way. But it took some time for Fawkes to see that the company had become a trends research firm.

"I didn’t set out to be a trends [expert]," Fawkes says. "It was something that, you know, I got hired to do because of the things I was writing about and talking about, rather than just deciding oh, trends is a fun business. You know, it took a long while. From that date, it was kind of a roller coaster of different activity."

Along with his team of 10 staffers and a slew of freelance writers, Fawkes posts daily reports on PSFK.com about pretty much everything. Technology. Fashion. Pop culture. It’s all in there. Take a swirl through some of September’s posts: The month started with a house built of oversized Lego bricks, continued with an overview of trends in mobile food trucks and, as it came to a close, explored Agent Provocateur’s sci-fi-meets-fashion fall line.

The company also plays host to The Purple List, a free-for-you-to-see list of experts, designers, sources, consultants and more with whom PSFK has crossed paths on projects past and present or has somehow met along the way.

"At some stage, it was very hard to keep track of them all," Fawkes says. "We had no system because [PSFK] was a very small company. We had no idea who we’d spoken to, who we’d talked to on previous projects and stuff like that."

Once the contacts were all in one place, Fawkes realized he could push forward the mission of helping others do better by releasing the list to the public.

"Maybe I should try to help them as they’ve helped me," he says.

The Purple List was born.

"It’s still evolving," Fawkes says. "We need to evolve it, so if you’re searching for somebody, you can see who PSFK knows and who they don’t know. I think the success relies on a couple of great things. One is quality for the people who are members and quality for the people who are searching. The members have to feel that they’re going to get hired through this thing. Then, the quality for the clients is they can understand who PSFK trusted."

Why purple? Well, PSFK started life as a luxury company, and purple is the unofficial official color of luxe life. Since PSFK’s collateral materials were already painted bright, Fawkes decided to carry the color through. 

But, don’t worry, Fawkes is no fool. He’s not giving it all away. Along with the free content, PSFK also works on custom publishing projects for clients; runs conferences and Good Ideas Salons around the world; and consults for companies including Apple, BMW and Target. Recent projects include research to give Apple insight into what people are doing in certain countries so the company can create a better online experience and better ways to support.

Fawkes knows that his looking-to-do-better-beyond-the-bottom-line approach won’t be a good fit for every company that comes along.

"[We] wear our hearts on our sleeves, and we talk about things that we think are important," he says. "Only companies that seem to get what we’re talking about hire us."

And for Fawkes, that’s more than fine. It’s better. One+

JENNA SCHNUER is a N.Y.-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to One+.

Meet the Purple People
Over the years, Piers Fawkes has worked with experts on topics ranging from advertising to the environment in Americas, Africa and beyond. And, via The Purple List, PSFK gives you a free and easy inroad to connecting with and putting the experts to work for your own push for better in your business.
From brand strategists to speakers for your next meeting, here are 10 Purple Listers who caught our eye.

1. Jenka Gurfinkel, a Boston-based brand and social media strategist (and blogger: social-creature.com) who used to manage a vaudeville circus troupe, now whirls through brands at multiple levels from ethnographic and cultural research to community development and management.

2. Daniel Markham, a N.Y.-based experience designer with a film and video background. Markham, focuses on "creating environments that tell a story, a story that ideally continues beyond the environment."

3. Aki Spicer, Minneapolis-based strategic planning director for Fallon Worldwide, provides updates on branding (and much more) at www.fallon.com/fallon-blog/.

4. Shayna Kulik, a N.Y.-based art director and trend strategist with a penchant for patterns." Visit her blog, Patternpulp.com, which is "devoted to tracking ideas and emerging trends that expose, celebrate, share and connect pattern design across all creative platforms."

5. Andy Powell, a London-based creative consultant, lets his Purple List avatar say it all—instead of a headshot, this space spot announces, in big bold yellow letters, "your brand ere."

6. Chris Berthelsen, a Tokyo-based researcher and consultant, seeks ways to think and act around creativity and innovation. For a creativity boost right now, read about Berthelsen’s Tokyo Graffiti Project, which explores the relationship of creative uses of public space and spatial configuration.

7. Werner Paulo Iucksch is your brand strategist if you want to know how your brand will play in Brazil (and beyond)—especially if it’s in the technology, finance, media or retail sectors.

8. Edlynne Laryea is a Toronto-based expert in marketing and strategic product management experience. Just getting started with social media? Consider Laryea as a potential go-to speaker; one of her key presentations is a Social Media 101 Crash Course.

9. May Groppo, a Buenos Aires-based content producer for cultural events, helps bring artists and creatives together through events such as Pecha Kucha Night, where local designers get a chance to shine.

10. Noelle Weaver is the N.Y.-based head of business development for Indaba Music, which gives musicians from around the globe the chance to connect and, well, make beautiful music together.