Ed Ling takes charge of his own destiny

At the age of 34, Ed Ling has given up his position as director at I-Level to become one of six founding partners of AnalogFolk. He Tells Media Week about his ambitions for the agency.

Profile: Ed Ling, AnalogFolk
Profile: Ed Ling, AnalogFolk

The two police officers that interrupted Media Week's photo shoot with Ed Ling, founding partner of AnalogFolk, could not have timed their intervention any better.

Ling was in the middle of describing the start-up agency's "arresting proposition" of "communications products", when the police swooped to enquire why we were taking photos in the park behind Exmouth Market in East London.

Aside from being an ideal photographic backdrop, the park is also adjacent to the office space that the six founding members of AnalogFolk temporarily share with Outside Line, a digital music-marketing agency.

"One of our other founding partners, Bill Brock, used to work with Outside Line on the Volkswagen account at Tribal DDB and has remained in contact. When Outside Line moved to larger premises, they generously offered us the space to get ourselves up and running," Ling explains.

"We've launched with a unique proposition, and one of our objectives is to see the term 'communications products' become the common vernacular. Far too often, agencies launch and they're quite opaque or don't have a view on the world around them. Our proposition is distinct, and potential clients have already adopted our terminology."

Communications activity
Ling's idea is to devise stand-alone brands for clients that consumers will want to interact with. AnalogFolk calls this communications products; others refer to it as value exchange. Examples include Orange Wednesdays, Nike Plus and the O2 Wireless Festival.

Ling says: "For a product to be successful, it must answer a need. The idea is to think about communications activity in these terms and secure the need, whether it's entertainment, information, conscience or utility. Too many communications strategies are disposable. We want to look at long-term activity that increases in value over time."

Alongside Ling and Brock, the other four AnalogFolk founding partners are Leo Moore, Matt Dyke, Matt Hardisty and Deirdre McGlashan. "We wanted expertise from digital, non-digital, media planning, creative, agency and client, all there from the start with equal billing," Ling explains.

"Matt Hardisty was creative director at Naked and Matt Dyke was head of planning at DDB London. Leo Moore is our client procurement expert, having been at Diageo for seven years, while Deirdre McGlashan has vast experience of managing resource networks."

Ling is the former strategy director and first employee of I-Level. After a nine-year stint, he left when it had grown to 170 staff, with billings nudging £100m.

He recalls: "The market was worth a mere £20m in 1999. Our first client was EasyJet, which was spending around £2m. So I-Level launched with the very bold statement that we controlled 10% of the market."

Ling admits there will never be another I-Level and that its growth model will not be replicated at AnalogFolk. At 34, he opted to break away because he had a desire to spend more time focused on the client's business and less time concentrating on the business he worked for.

The decision to shun offers of investor funding to set up AnalogFolk and opt instead for a self-funding model is testament to Ling's renewed ambitions. "I am fully in charge of my own destiny now," he says. "For me, there is stress and there is positive pressure.

"We had all reached an age where we wanted to have the wind in our faces. The only reason to take investment would have been to get where we're going that bit faster. But we would have had to have given something back, whereas now I am motivated by fear and excitement to stand on my own two feet and give it a lash."

Proactive policy
Ling's passion to strike out with a small team was supported by his wife and two young daughters - although his wife constantly reminds him of the risk he's taking and the fact that she's adopted the role of major breadwinner. Ling's strategy to regain the title involves proactively chasing work.

The core team of six - the Analog part of the company - will generate the communications ideas, and then outsource support for the projects to a network of supporting agency and media owner partners: the Folk.

Expanding on the Analog part of the firm's name, Ling says: "The world obsesses about digital, so we wanted to remind clients that we still see our world in analogue.

"We recognise the real-life physicality surrounding us, and are able to blend elements such as live events and experiential with push-based marketing."

The response to Ling's venture has so far been positive, but the proof of the pudding will be in the execution.

AnalogFolk's first project will be announced at the end of the month; only then will we see if "communications products" stand up to the scrutiny of media judges and jurors everywhere.

Founding partner, AnalogFolk
2006 Strategy director, I-Level
1999 Joined I-Level as account director and then became head of media
1998 Digital media planner/buyer, BMP Interaction (now Tribal DDB)
1992 Media planner/buyer, MediaVest

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