To celebrate FWA hitting 200,000,000 (yes, 200 million!) site visitors, we launch a new article series called FWA Heroes.

This new series will focus on the individuals who have helped make FWA what it is today.

One of the things that makes FWA unique compared to many other digital awards is the fact that it is still managed and propelled by the same person who founded it back in the year 2000. Many other digital awards are run like a business, often with changing management and staff. For me, like with many businesses, once the founder or founders take a back seat or even remove themselves completely, the spark is lost.

My (Rob Ford) founding vision for FWA still remains strong 14 years since launch, a vision that is there to recognise and promote creativity. I still oversee all aspects of FWA and no project is awarded without my final approval, even though 2 teams of 50+ judges do decide the winners, with myself having one final check before hitting the “win” button.

I eat, sleep and drink FWA. I don’t do anything else, this is it. And, it’s this pure focus that keeps pushing this project forward (and other awards that like to emulate some of my pioneering procedures). I still struggle with the whole “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” saying.

FWA has grown into a massive website and project and this would never have been possible without the support and loyalty of a large number of people, some of which will receive an FWA Hero medal and a special feature article.

We’ll hear from those who I consider to be mentors, those who have given up countless hours judging for site of the day, mobile of the day, site of the year etc and those individuals who have helped support FWA by way of sponsored services. We’ll also look at people who have made a difference to FWA in many other ways.

So, let’s start with the first and most important FWA Hero in FWA’s history… my dad Bill Ford.

Bill started his working career in advertising, and ended up at Ogilvy and Mather, London in the 1960s, he later went on to work for Wall’s ice cream (a Unilver company). I often told my friends that he had an ice cream van and would drive around playing thumping musical beats (http://www.youtube.com/user/KMA2180).

It’s only in recent years that I have wondered if genetically I was always going to be in a creative industry.

I was often a thorn in my dad’s side, especially when in my twenties as I refused to toe the line and get a normal job, after throwing in the towel on the banking industry and car sales. It was only when I hit 30 after spending a number of years trying to figure out how I could make the internet work for me that I founded FWA.

Working from my bedroom at my parent’s home I’d spend countless hours online, searching for the coolest websites. I always thought that in those early days, my parents thought I was playing computer games.

In the early years, FWA had zero income, I financed the whole thing from my limited savings. I’d spend ages trying to find a hosting sponsor, all to no avail. It’s interesting that we now receive emails every month from hosting companies offering to host our site. Thankfully, Jared Wray (another FWA Hero) and CenturyLink (formerly Tier3) have sponsored FWA’s hosting for the last 9+ years.

It was only in 2006 when FWA started to operate like a business, well financially that is. I say that because I have made the rules up as I have gone along. Who needs a business model when you’re just following a passion? Just make sure you have all your legal and finances in order and let everything else pan out.

Over the years, my dad has been the sounding board for everything FWA related. It’s amazing how his eyes don’t ever glaze over when I bore him with even the tiniest detail with regards to all things FWA.

I can remember trying to weigh up the pros and cons for being VAT registered. I went on about it for months, with the biggest issue being that Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs didn’t seem to understand their own rules when it came to internet trading. When my accountant wrote to them to tell them how we were handling VAT invoices for companies in the EU, they pretty much said they thought we were getting it right but their confirmation was not a guarantee, even though they are the ones who apply the law on these matters.

Over the years, like many small business owners, I’ve hankered for a mentor… someone who has done it all, someone with life experience and someone who could help and advise when I needed it. It was only this year, 2014, that it finally hit me in the face that my dad has been the mentor I have always been looking for. He’s guided me even when I didn’t realise it. He has fulfilled the role of imparting wisdom and sharing knowledge, even when it wasn’t asked for!

My dad has been a golf addict for 50+ years, playing 3 times per week. Christmas 2012, a week after a flu jab, he’s too sick to celebrate Christmas. Mid 2013, he’s becoming breathless, and his athletic legs (after thousands of miles searching for his golf ball) are swelling. He’s playing a regular game of golf and has to leave the course after only 9 holes because he’s exhausted… WTF, this is unprecedented.

Skip forward and 8 months of chemotherapy later, trying to kill a rare combination of amyloidosis (spell checker doesn’t even recognise this condition!) and lymphoma (in fact such a rare combination that only 6 people in the UK each year are diagnosed) and I knew I had to recognise my dad for the unwavering loyalty and dedication he has given FWA.

I always knew that I must recognise my judges and this thought alone sparked the idea of medals for judges but it made me realise I should also recognise other FWA Heroes with medals as well.

Medals were designed and ordered and were due to be delivered 17th March 2014. I get a phone call the week before saying there has been an issue with the order and can it be delivered mid-late April. My thoughts were, yes fine but my instinct said… what if?

What if my dad dies and I never told him what a hero he has been?

The medal company pull the stops out and send me one gold medal, which I receive on Tuesday 18th March. I feel the need to give it to my dad that evening. My wife is pregnant, she could do with looking after this evening… my gut feeling is telling me to take the medal.

I take the medal, enter dad’s bedroom and he’s asleep in his chair. I wake him and give him the medal box, his hands are shaking violently, more so than usual. He fumbles and finally opens the box, takes the medal out and looks at it. A chuckle and then “is this the finished article?”. Perfect, he’s not as ill as I thought! Always critical when it’s needed!

Shaking more than usual, he takes his temperature, 36.5 C. I take mine… the same. It’s okay, he’s not got an infection, it’s just last week’s chemo kicking in.

Wednesday 18th March… 7.40 am, the phone rings, I get to it too late. It’s mum and dad’s number. I call back right away…

Mum: “The ambulance is still here”


His temperature was 39.6 C. Doctor’s instructions are to get an emergency ambulance for any high temperatures, even though dad says he doesn’t need one.

I meet him at A&E in an isolation room at 8.30 am. Uncontrollably shaking… “Ahh Robbie!” he says. It can’t be serious as he’s still got a sense of humour…

It’s Neutropenia again, a low neutrophil count. A count of less than 1 (normal is 2.5-7.5) and you become immunocompromised and at risk of serious infections (even from the bacteria in your mouth), which may be fatal. His count is 0.07 and he has an infection.

He’s currently (22nd March) in an isolation room but I know he will pull through, he’s done it before.

Even though he’s got these rare forms of cancer, end stage kidney failure (dialysis 3 times per week) and everything that comes with these issues, we still manage to spend a good hour when visiting talking about FWA.

With tears in my eyes, I struggle to see the keys on the keyboard, and wonder if this type of article is of any interest to people who visit FWA. The reality is that FWA’s biggest mentor is on borrowed time but I had to recognise him and people needed to know that FWA is not a faceless entity, it’s surrounded by passionate people all trying to do the best they can for FWA, past, present and future. I guess one of the reasons FWA is what it is, is because it has personality.

As someone once said to me, “FWA is bigger than Rob Ford, if you get run over by a bus, it will continue without you.”

Thanks to people like Bill Ford and the other heroes I will recognise moving forward, FWA will endeavour to move forward and grow at its own pace and to continue to promote and recognise the most creative digital work there is.

Signing out for now, off to the hospital to see my dad and to eat his get-well sweets.

Bill Ford (centre) at Ogilvy & Mather, London office, 1963
Bill Ford (centre) at Ogilvy & Mather, London office, 1963

FWA Hero - Gold Medal
FWA Hero - Gold Medal

FWA Hero - Gold Medal (reverse)
FWA Hero - Gold Medal (reverse)

The first ever FWA Hero medal box
The first ever FWA Hero medal box

The team at Ogilvy & Mather, London office, 1963
The team at Ogilvy & Mather, London office, 1963

Bill Ford, 2011
Bill Ford, 2011

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