In his third year at brand storyteller CP5, Managing Director and Partner Howard James has seen interesting changes since co-founding the consultancy in early-2018. We caught up with him to discuss his journey to date, and expectations for the year ahead.

[CP5 Editorial] The past two and a half years have flown by. Give us a snapshot of the experience.

[Howard James] Sure. Two words best sum up the adventure: thrilling and hectic. By hectic, I don’t mean that in a negative way. We’ve been super lucky to have been invited to many pitches, had a healthy stream of work, and juggled multiple, complicated projects simultaneously. So looking back on it, it’s mostly been thrilling, and the response to our work from clients has been very positive. Which of course is encouraging.

You say that it has ‘mostly’ been thrilling. What were some of the less enjoyable times?

A good follow-up question — and not one I’d have asked! The initial few months of running a start-up are challenging in several ways. When entrepreneurs leave an established organisation, they overlook chores they’d previously took for granted. Before drafting a single word at CP5, I travelled to a local electronics store, Best, to purchase an iMac, Macbook and HP printer. I journeyed to IKEA to buy a desk and chair for my home office – and leased serviced office space in Raffles Place. An expensive week! And just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what I needed to sort out. There are other chores that have been more time-consuming, ranging from registering the company with ACRA, to invoicing our clients.

When you co-founded the company, why did you choose the name CP5?

I didn’t, actually. Luke Clark, CP5’s co-founder and now Chief Executive, chose it. In late-2017, Luke and I were already working together on projects for a number of brands, and were trading under a variety of names. We at first considered the name WeWrite, but out of seemingly nowhere, Luke came up with CP5. The name suggests ‘content partnership in your hand.’ The number five also represents both the perfect fifth in music — the purest of intervals in terms of musical harmony. Given mine and Luke’s background in music, this felt fitting. I think it is an immense name — plus our web URL involves just six characters, making it easy to type!

What have been the biggest changes you’ve seen in content marketing since co-founding CP5?

There are several parts to this answer. First, when we entered the market, interest in what we did was high, yet the rivalry was fierce. We weren’t just competing with specialist content providers: we were contesting with other types of businesses such as advertising agencies and creative houses. To pull away from the competition, we needed to offer services that these businesses couldn’t provide. Initially, we focused on high-level technical writing, and gained good success by doing so — particularly in the financial, industry 4.0 and sustainability spaces. Since Covid, we’ve realised that further innovation was in order.

How so?

Content providers traditionally sell their services based on rates per output or per hour, irrespective of project scale. Yet brands today need to think of their content in terms of addressing problems — solutions rather than services. Positioned well, strategic storytelling can solve many business problems, from driving brand awareness to delivering leads. Fortunately, Luke and I have a have a good track record with delivering these tailored solutions.

What surprises have you had in these last few years?

Plenty! Actually, the most unforeseen one was CP5’s international footprint. When we started the company, we expected to stay local. Yet during our second year, a series of referrals from clients and former contacts led to a slew of overseas projects. In just a few months, we went from servicing solely Singapore-based businesses, to supporting clients in Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Hong Kong, India, South Africa, Switzerland, Taiwan, UAE, UK and the US.

Living the dream?

It certainly was. It was no mean feat from an organisational point of view — but that’s definitely when you realise the power of storytelling.

Turning to the current pandemic. Is there is any silver lining to come out of the crisis?

We have to first pay our due respects to everyone who has died, fallen ill, or lost their livelihoods because of the virus — no business upside can negate these impacts, and we can only wish those still challenged with the ongoing affects of COVID-19 a safe and steady recovery. In terms of silver linings, unquestionably the move to virtual working has been positive — I have always argued that most office jobs can be performed remotely. Allowing teams to do so also enables greater work-life balance. Secondly, the downtime has prompted businesses like ours — as well as some of our clients — to refocus their core offerings. It’s tempting for businesses to expand into unfamiliar areas, and offer more than they really need to or can manage. As such, resetting for new realities will ultimately be a strength. And thirdly, I think we’ll see a lot of independent voices come forward after this washes over. Simplicity and honesty will be keenly sort-after – as will companies who practice what they preach in terms of brand values. And in an industry with too much smoke-and-mirrors, that can be a good thing.

How do you see 2021 panning out?

We haven’t yet completed 2020! There is still a lot of work to be done between now and the end of December. Brands are still considering how best to go about digital engagement, and CP5 is already ramping up our activities to support our clients ‘in a hurry’ to reenergise the market, boldly venturing into what is for most of us, still the unknown — yet an environment with some clear first-mover opportunities. Next year, we expect to see the economy of Singapore and other developed nations opening up, including some regional business bubbles. Yet until a vaccine is in widespread circulation, businesses and economies will likely fuse a hybrid experience — with some in-person engagement supported by virtual meetings and digital-only correspondence. In summary, a perfect setting for brand storytellers to lend reassurance, and fill the connection gaps.

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