Tom Maberly comes from a family of thesps and creatives. His grandfather on his dad’s side was an actor, part of a troupe with the likes of Dame Ellen Terry, and so were both of his sisters. Tom’s family name was consistently on stage and screen, but he chose to remain very much behind the camera – “Far too self-conscious to be on stage,” he admits.
This, however, didn’t stop him from pursuing creativity. Like many, he fell into the career path, in his case through the journalism pipeline. Starting off as a runner on the production side of IMG (Endeavor), which managed swathes of sports broadcast, Tom started working his way up from there. IMG is also where he learned the true power of a ‘global network’.
Fast forward, today Tom has a digital marketing and media operations career spanning 20 years of work. For the last seven of those, he has successfully managed creative production company &Friends, achieving 30% year on year growth. 
In 2020, Tom set up a c-corporation in New York City to support both clients and creative services talent with a more ‘agile way of working’ in content production. And, in 2022, &Friends acquired Australian tech company Cavalry group, with the vision of streamlining the way companies and talent work together via a next generation and proprietary talent management system. Since then, the two companies have decoupled and are continuing their parallel growth, with Tom at their helm.
LBB’s Zoe Antonov spoke to him to find out about the twists and turns of his career. 

LBB> What were your first professional steps towards entering this industry and what lessons did you learn from these first years?

Tom> I cut my teeth working predominantly on non-live magazine shows and documentary making which was a lot of fun, and also meant some great travel during my twenties. Due to the nature of the programming, we were creating content for the fan, first and foremost. 
Entering the marketing and advertising world whilst still at IMG taught me the importance of thinking of the audience first, as opposed to the client/brand first. It meant that, when starting Mr White (now &Friends), we were quite editorial focussed, and this was reflected in the types of client we won in those early days.

LBB> When did you establish &Friends and why? What has this journey been like for you and has the company become exactly what you wanted, or is it something totally different that you didn’t know was possible?

Tom> We started our production company as ‘Mr White’ at the back end of 2016. We could see that agencies needed more flexibility and resources on tap. So, Mr White was called so, in order to tap into that zeitgeist – a kind of ‘White labelling’, the no fuss guys, in and out, do a great job but let our clients take the credit, pick us up, put us down, only use us when you need us… you get the picture! But in reality we ended up working predominantly into brand marketing teams, acting as an extension to their team.
Cut to seven years on, and we’re now technically a technology company – an outcome that wasn’t planned from the start.But because of the way we were working, brand direct, from the outset, we could see how agency land was changing, and how business and agencies, both large and small, all needed access to freelance talent. Talent we now provide via our proprietary platform, Cavalry!

LBB> What did starting your own shop mean to you and how did it level up your career?

Tom> Starting with two other partners meant that we had defined roles, but in reality it was very scrappy at the start, so we were wearing out our soles treading the pavements and getting our name out there as much as possible initially. The challenges were the normal start-up ones, I’d say – proving and gaining credibility, but also being able to punch above our weight whilst maintaining a lean core. 
It taught us how to create crack teams according to the objectives of our clients. Creatively, we knew we could produce great work by nurturing the few clients we had, so that we could build the relationship, create trust between the two groups, and then push the boundaries thereafter.  Also key, strategically, was hiring according to the work, bringing in specialists not generalists, which has in turn, paved the way for our business to evolve and focus on the talent.

LBB> You wear many more hats than just ‘founder’ today – tell me about the other roles you occupy in &Friends and how that works out for you. Do you get a second to breathe?

Tom> Jack of all trades, master of none! Running one, and now technically a second business, means you need to learn new skills all the time – gain knowledge and upskill regularly. But free time is key to longevity. We’re not here to build and sell immediately, we’re here to build and nurture, so mindfulness is high on the agenda for me personally, and for the team. For me, for example, finding free time during the kids’ school holidays is a non negotiable.

LBB> So let’s talk about Cavalry. In 2022, you merged with the freelance platform – why was this a good idea for &Friends?

Tom> We acquired a freelance talent marketplace, built on a sophisticated tech stack – it’s called Cavalry, and it’s a talent management system with freelancer marketplace dynamics. Think Fiverr but more curated! Since merging, we’ve built the freelancers pool into an 11 thousand strong creative community, globally distributed and ready to be mobilised. “Send in the Cavalry!”
All our production teams now find their on the ground crew from the platform, but it’s far from being just a crewing platform. On the platform, you can hire strategists, UX/UI (user experience/ user interface)  developers, GFX designers, art directors, social media managers, the list goes on. 
Why was it a good idea? Because it was clear that the big agencies, in particular, couldn’t support the same fixed cost base they once did, with retainers not being what they once were. So they needed the ability to scale up and down according to the work. In reality, because of covid 19, technology advances and just the way people want to work these days, some major talent gaps have been forming. So building a friction free way to access much needed talent was a no brainer for us.  

LBB> Tell me about the ‘decoupling’ from Cavalry.

Tom> When we merged we wrapped both businesses up under ‘one roof’ because at the time it seemed important to be a single joined up business with one pathway to growth. But in reality the two businesses have such different needs that it’s hard managing both internal messaging, as well as external PR and messaging backed by just one brand. 
So we’re now separating out the two businesses (brands), so that we can communicate more clearly to both the creative community and our potential customers. A fairly big job, but a critical one.

LBB> How do you feel your creative vision has changed, and how have you as an individual? Has the industry changed much too?

Tom> I’m less at the coalface creatively right now, so in terms of comparison it’s hard to judge ‘like for like’ with my previous projects. However, the main difference from my standpoint is that creative development is hard right now with the pressures marketers are faced with, i.e. tightened purse strings, and the constant pressure to create more with less! It’s not doom and gloom though, it just means making sure we can be adaptable. The industry has changed, so it’s no good expecting the old ways of working to be replicable forever.

LBB> What is your favourite thing about the industry right now and what is the role you believe you occupy in it?

Tom> The exciting thing is that the industry is opening up much more right now. What I mean by that is that there was once a very clear hierarchy in agency land, but that has been slowly unravelling these past five to ten years, opening doors for new players in the market, be it specialist agencies or tech start-ups entering the arena. 
It’s a good thing. And our place, or role if you like, has evolved given our move into the talent space. Essentially, we’re still at the end of the marketing funnel if being engaged as &Friends – so if our customer needs a production partner to bring their vision to life, we become the extension of their marketing team and deliver creative, production and asset(s) delivery. 
But we’re also now in every section of the funnel because of our talent management platform and freelancer marketplace – with anyone from a UX/UI developer to content creators and social media managers (and everyone in between). So now, when Cavalry is being engaged, we can be touching much more of the industry, i.e. every step of that marketing funnel potentially, from strategy (brand, creative, media), to design and delivery – and that’s really important for us right now.

LBB> And equally, what is your least favourite thing about the industry? How can you/do you use your position as a leader to change that?

Tom> One thing is a clear lack of female representation when it comes to directing. How is it that our teams actually struggle to fill a female director referral when certain clients stipulate this, when women make up 50% of the population?!
With Cavalry we’ve created a mentorship programme accessible via the Cavalry platform. My feeling is that people generally do have the appetite and wish to give back, so we’ve just got to make sure there are enough easily accessible avenues people can take to give back more.

LBB> What excites you most about the future right now?

Tom> That people want to work the way they want to work and that we can allow that to happen! People should have the chance and ability to manage their time in a way that suits their needs, rather than just being told. For too long there has been a real bias towards FTEs (full-time equivalents), so let’s get to a place where freelancers, the foundations of our industry, let’s be clear, are seen as a critical part of the marketing mix… Not as commodities!


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