Life in Luxury | Neil Tookey, Founder & Creative Director, Buffalo
Walpole’s newest profile series, Life in Luxury, explores the everyday working lives of all areas of Walpole’s membership to examine what makes the sector and its people tick. Today we meet Neil Tookey, Founder & Creative Director of Buffalo, the design agency responsible for making the Walpole Book of British Luxury so very beautiful.
Tell us what you do?
Buffalo is a creative communications agency that operates predominantly in the premium and luxury sectors, although we also have a number of clients in the FinTech sector too. Design, branding and art direction are our core disciplines. Our process usually includes an academic stage where a coherent business-savvy strategy is developed, this forms the backbone of the design-work that follows.
What does a typical working day look like for you?
A good percentage of our business is overseas, so this can mean an early start with call to our clients in Monaco and Moscow from around 7am. On these days I’ll tend to begin my working day in my office at home up in Crystal Palace. We get a great view of the London skyline from up there and it’s an inspirational sight to start the day with.
Once the rush hour has subsided I’ll take the Overground to Shoreditch, where we’ve had our HQ for the past five years. Our offices have a great bistro on the ground floor to meet suppliers or collaborators for coffee. If clients are joining us for lunch or dinner, we’ll usually pop across the road to Shoreditch House – the 6th floor restaurant view of the City is a great setting, particularly for overseas or out-of-town clients. We dedicate some time after lunch to check in with our US clients and unless I have meetings or photoshoots to attend, I’m usually behind my Mac for the remainder of the day working on design projects and managing the output of our team of consultants. I’m totally hands-on and create a great deal of our clients collateral myself. If I’m lucky, there will be a Walpole event is the evening – always in fabulous locations and attended by an interesting and diverse crowd.
What do you like most about your job?
We have to understand each business we are hired to help – whether they be real estate, super yachts or FinTech. We need to figure-out what makes them tick, what their business pressures are and how their sector is evolving. I imagine it’s rather like being an actor, and having to understand the backstory of a character before a credible performance can be delivered. Being fully immersed in our clients brand and understanding where we add value is a fundamental element of what we do – it’s also an enormously enjoyable part of the process to learn about a brands story, some are over 100 years old while others are new start-ups. This aspect of my role keeps things interesting and feeds a curious mind.
The fact that I’m always on. My business model for Buffalo is boutique and agile which essentially means the buck stops with me – we work hard to do the very best for our clients and want them to be able to get in touch when they need to with a brief/concept/seed of an idea. This can also mean that on more than one occasion I’ve dropped the family at the beach while I race off to find some decent internet to enable me to send some urgent files, on one trip that was an 80 mile round excursion. The price of being a control-freak I guess.
What attracted you to the luxury/creative sector specifically?
The high-production values of the luxury sector reflects my own strongly held belief that if you’re gonna do something, do it properly, or don’t do it at all. I cannot abide a ‘bodge’.
What was your path to the role you have now?
Around the age of 12 I became aware that there was a profession where you could design posters and advertisements. You could actually get paid to conceive memorable compositions from words and pictures. Frankly I couldn’t understand why everyone wasn’t choosing it. So really early on I knew that I wanted to get into Graphic Design.
I started out at art school to learn the craft and during the holidays would take my portfolio around London looking for agencies to take me on as an apprentice. I struck gold very early on and had some great times working in studios absorbing as much as I could. Always wanting to find a new challenge, a couple of years later I helped found a design consultancy with a friend. We had success in the automotive sector that eventually led us to produce marketing communications for brands including Aston Martin, Bentley, Jaguar Land Rover and McLaren. In a few years went from two to 50 people were lucky-enough to become the lead-agency for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. I worked closely with marketing and PR teams based at their HQ at Goodwood for a number of career-defining years. That decade working with luxury automotive brands gave me a great understanding of how to communicate to High Net Worth Individuals. Using this wealth of knowledge and credibility I had built up over 20 years in the broader luxury industry, I founded Buffalo in 2013.
What advice would you give someone looking to get into the luxury/creative sector?
Get in it for the right reasons. Let’s be honest, the luxury sector can appeal to those who are looking for the ancillary benefits of working with prestigious brands. Associating with such status-giving brands is alluring, however you need to have exceptionally high standards and a work ethic that means ‘good enough’, is just not good enough.