Today we are 10 years old. Which is testament to the saying ‘time flies when you’re having fun’. It really must go fast because it seems like only last month we threw off the covers at Projector towers. That said, when you do reflect at times like this, you start to realise that we’ve actually done quite a bit for a small business from ‘up North’. There’s been a lot of fun; awards for our work; there’s been money raised for Charity (my legs still tremble as I type this thinking about Snowdon); there’s been conference calls to Australia, photo shoots in Africa, invitations to New York and, in between all of that, there’s been a lot of late nights and early mornings to get through an amazing amount of work as we try to keep our clients busy and our suppliers sane. So it’s probably a good time to stop, take stock and say a big thank you to everyone who’s supported us, employed us, supplied us and basically helped us reach this point – ta!
In today’s world 10 years is a long time. Technology has advanced, expectations have grown and our economy is completely different to what it looked like when we started out, so it’s interesting to look back and see if we’ve changed in 10 years – and the answer is yes, we’ve advanced too. A lot more of our work now is based around a consultative model, there’s more advice given and not everything we do ends up in print, or as a pixel even. We’ve learnt methodologies and developed a process – rather than just talking about having one we actually put it into practice. We’ve worked hard to understand the benefit (and threat) of new technology as it’s come to the market for our clients and ourselves – we even have our own App (Get us!). Because the world of business has become smaller it’s allowed us to grow – we’ve worked in six continents which we never would have dreamt of sitting in our first office on Westgate Road. We’re better at collaboration than we ever were; we happily pull together teams across a range of disciplines on behalf of our clients, recognising the fact that concentrating on what you’re good at is a specialism not a hindrance.
For all the things that have changed, there are many that haven’t – and in my opinion never will – so, here’s a list of 10 thoughts we’ve learnt along the way.
1. Recognise that we’re providing a service.
We provide what people need and, the same as any other service provider, we need to make sure our clients get a good service – that they have a good experience. We believe that’s keeping them informed, managing their expectations and not resenting their interference. Our days may be less stressful without clients, but we wouldn’t last long.
2. Work with clients, not against them.
From the beginning we’ve relished client interaction. I’m not talking about asking where they think the logo should go, I’m talking about pummelling them for information to get right under their skin. We invite clients to work in progress meetings and we’ve got an open-door policy. They’re experts in their field (or they should be) and your experience is going to be applied to their problem. We can’t possibly understand their market or product without them, so use them to get the best result for the job.
3. A good designer makes a good project manager.
We are not artists. We don’t have fits. We communicate for a living so why can’t we see a project through? The short answer is we can. A good designer is a complex problem solver and meticulous planner, so it makes sense that this person can manage the project through from beginning to end – and effectively too. They don’t need someone to present on their behalf or take a brief on their behalf – they ask the questions that matter and clients appreciate the straight-talking. When it’s all said and done, they’re slightly obsessive and control freakish, so they’re even less inclined than the client to want the job to go wrong.
4. We’re solving problems, not creating stuff.
From day one we’ve always been more interested in creating the right thing as we were in creating the thing right. Whatever our brief, be it core-messaging following a rebrand, an online advertising campaign or creating a new brand for the next big thing, we approach every project in the same way: ‘What problem are we solving?’ Our clients like great communications, but they expect that of any brand consultancy worth its salt. What we soon realised was that it is the ability to understand the issues and then solve the problems with a commercial mindset that our clients value.
5. It’s personal.
Take it personally. Take the plaudits, take the criticism. But make it matter and you’ll make it better.
6. We make mistakes.
We are human and that means we make mistakes. What we’ve always said is judge us on how hard we work to put things right and how we try to make sure they don’t happen again. Sometimes, though, mistakes mean you can make something better the next time around, so in business as in life, we hold our hands up and get on with making things great.
7. Being honest pays.
When you take things personally you always want to make people happy. That means you want to say ‘yes’ a lot. But sometimes saying ‘no’ is better. We are always honest – honest with ourselves and honest with our clients. We’ve heard some crazy requests in 10 years – way too many people have asked to be the next ‘Apple’ and it won’t surprise you to hear they mostly all wanted it yesterday. If it’s going to damage their brand, or they’re being unrealistic about budgets, or we can’t hit a deadline, then we have to say so. It’s better to be honest and have the awkward conversation at the start rather than at the end.
8. Always educate.
Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. It’s part and parcel of our role to help our clients understand. We solve their problems yes, but by explaining how they feel more involved and they’re better equipped. So we dispensed quite quickly with the smoke and mirrors approach. Explaining the process, the way in which we will work, the new technology or the old technique – whatever way the problem is solved can be shared. If your client values you and your relationship they’ll appreciate the education – it’s not like they couldn’t find out anyway if they wanted to.
9. You must always keep learning.
If our clients can learn, then so must we. New technologies emerge, new techniques develop and we keep refining our processes. The fact this is on a blog and we’ll put it out on social media to have it read is common place now – but it wasn’t when we started out. We must also learn about our clients and their business and their goals. Over the last 10 years I have learnt about diverse sectors like financial services, handbags, pharmaceuticals and tanks! It’s great to absorb everything new and we meet a fresh project with a genuine excitement to learn.
10. The right team matters.
If one thing has made us successful over the last 10 years it is the people. We have skills that dovetail and we bounce off each other. It’s not easy and it’s not by accident, it takes hard work bringing the right people together and forming them in to a team, but the results make everything better. We’ve had some talented people through the door, and we’ve had some talented people out the door because they didn’t fit – or their vision didn’t match ours. It’s tough, but you’re going to be spending a lot of time with these guys and our reputation and that of our clients is relying on that team. Both internally and those who we collaborate with on a daily basis, or once in a blue moon when the project demands it, are handpicked because they’re our kind of people.