Design District (DD): Hello Aka, O.D and Zuby, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Tell us a bit about your backgrounds and how your creative careers got started.
Zuby: My background is in business development and I’ve been privileged to have worked for some of the best companies in the UK during my career. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset — ever since I can remember, the value and magic of ownership was never lost on me. It’s funny, being in the field I’m in now, I realise life itself is a creative industry. Whether we’re marketing ourselves, a product or a service, we’re always thinking of innovative, original ways to connect with others and our environment.
O.D: I was always the sibling that’d lag behind the rest of the group on holiday excursions, trying to capture little moments of sentimental magic on my iPhone 3G and beautifying them in my VSCO app. At university, with my newfound student loan riches, I was able to buy an entry-level Canon camera and quickly learnt everything there was to know about the photographic process, such that by the time I graduated, I was already getting paid to shoot small portrait gigs here and there. This led me to take on a role as the in-house photographer at a London-based design studio, where I was quite simply getting paid to make mistakes and learn on the fly.
Aka: I actually started off as a lawyer. However it was soon clear that this was not my calling! Dissatisfaction led me to seek out professional environments that offered more creativity, whilst retaining a commercial focus. I soon found myself working in marketing, first at Universal Pictures and then at social media marketing agency Fanbytes. During my time at those companies I fell in love with branding and creativity as vehicles for driving strong commercial returns. After a few years it became clear that between my brothers and I, we had the expertise to build an agile and innovative agency. We talked it over, and Albert Penn was born!
DD: Describe Albert Penn to us.
Aka: Albert Penn is a creative commercial agency. We help clients solve their most pressing commercial challenges by utilising creative content, media and emerging technology as a means to genuinely inspire and mobilise their audience to actions.
DD: So where did the name come from?
Zuby: The name Albert has been in our family for multiple generations. For us it embodies longevity and the development of a lasting legacy. Penn is a moniker that we devised at the formation of the company that denotes craftsmanship and creativity. It's a play on the word ‘pen’ which we all know to be an instrument for writing and creation. We paired both names together and it nicely encapsulated what we stand for as a brand: creativity, innovation and family.
DD: One of the biggest challenges of working in the creative industries can be finding the support you need. Where have you found the most support in your career?
Zuby: We’ve actually found it the most at home. When home is the place of deepest support it releases you into the world with all the strength and confidence you need to face the day. Now Design District has become our second home. Here we’re among hard working, going-against-the-grain entrepreneurs who see life in a similar way. It’s a community where we can lean on each other and learn from one another.
DD: And what kind of support do you wish you’d had more of starting out?
Zuby: Space! In the early days, we’d have clients asking us where our office was based and we’d hope the conversation ended there so they wouldn’t ask to visit our virtual office! Affordable, purpose-built space to help our business grow and thrive would have enabled us to navigate some of our early pitfalls and accelerate our growth as a business. We’re here now though, so watch this space!
DD: Who, where and what inspires you?
Zuby: My parents, one hundred percent — from their work ethic and love for one another, to the sacrifices they made to provide the best start in life for my brothers and I. Having a great circle of close friends, it might be cliché but you really are and will always be influenced by the people around you and having a group of calculated risk takers in my circle inspires me to push for more. And last but not least, the broskis. Seeing my brothers come to work everyday with passion, tenacity, a shared vision and faith is the only reason I’m here giving this interview. It would have been too easy to give up on this journey if it wasn’t for my brothers being on this ship with me.
O.D: Who? These guys (cheesy, yes) — their diligence and willingness to rush headlong into the uncharted and unknown. We get it from our parents and years of witnessing that very same mindset in our household. Where? Our office — love me some good interior design. What? Compelling cinema (anything lensed by Deakins and most any story from the mind of Malick).
DD: Tell us about a career highlight.
Aka: As part of Mental Health Awareness Week 2022, we worked with Public Health England on the development, production and launch of a national campaign aimed at promoting awareness of loneliness in young people. The campaign addressed the type of life events that can trigger loneliness within the Gen Z cohort and provided recommendations about self-care actions for managing poor mental wellbeing and other difficult feelings.
DD: What’s something you would’ve done differently.
Zuby: Oh, believing in ourselves more… (reminisces)… Yup! On this journey, because you see yourself behind the scenes, you see the areas where you fall short. You’re aware of your weaknesses and oftentimes it feels like people outside can see them too. We would lose money on projects because we didn’t want to price ourselves out of an opportunity even though our work warranted what we should have been requesting.
DD: What advice would you give to young creatives starting out in the industry?
O.D: A few things…
1. Learn from your mistakes. But in order to do that, you have to be willing to make them first. Don’t be afraid of the deep end — it forms great swimmers, quickly.
2. The creative journey is a marathon not a sprint, and inspiration comes and goes like the wind. Keep those few rare great people close to you — those who can speak life into you and lift your tired arms whenever you begin to falter.
3. Love your work. Do what you fell in love with, then (most) days, it won’t even feel like work.
DD: We’re so pleased you’ve chosen to be part of the Design District community. What are your favourite things about your new space and the district?
Aka: That’s a great question! I love the commitment to innovation within the infrastructure. The office units have been designed in a way that makes it a joy to come to work each day; our office space is well ventilated, full of natural light and the communal spaces are constantly serviced by maintenance staff, allowing us to spend more time on our business.
As far as the district is concerned, the proximity of other creative professionals and the extensive slate of events available, provides us with constant access to industry professionals and educational programmes that we can learn from. This has definitely helped us to expedite our professional development and growth in the short time since we’ve moved in!
DD: What’s next for Albert Penn?
Zuby: We’re in this business to be the best agency we can be. As we scale our business we want to master our market and become experts in our field, all the while continuing to acquire industry leading clients and delivering excellent work! Long term, the plan is to grow our team across our four main verticals, pushing our business to new heights and establishing ourselves as one of the premier creative agencies in London.
DD: How can people stay in the know about all things Albert Penn?
Zuby: Come on bro… these guys are way too modest so I’ll say it: We might have the best office in the district! So definitely come and check us out and let’s get to work. O.D, you gotta put a little sauce on it bro, I keep telling you.