10TH FEBRUARY 2020 | Posted by James Graham

You need to boldly go where no-one has gone before.

You’ve invested money, time and energy - blood, sweat and tears - into developing your product or service. Now, you need to share it with the world. And you need the world to want it. It’s launch time.

The “launch machine” kicks in and the PR/advertising/social/media best-practice playbooks all come out. And then, somehow, perhaps with a little bit of uncertainty and not quite enough time, your vital launch ends up fundamentally like everyone else’s. It plays out across the same media channels that brands have spent years and billions of Pounds, Dollars and Euros training audiences to ignore with relatively bland, "best-practice" communications. The comfort of the best-practice echo-chamber is leading to a sedentary death.

Let’s also remember the scrutiny brands are under. Whilst millions ignore but slowly subconsciously adopt whatever you have out there, there’s a smaller guerrilla army watching your brand’s every move and utterance. And if they find the slightest fault, they’ll tell everyone that you’re a liar and a cheat and that you’re only out to scam the world.

Embrace this cynical approach, as a healthy degree of cynicism is a good thing to have when launching – communicating - anything. Starting with the thought that no-one gives a shit is a good start. It’s a good context to operate in, forcing all to challenge themselves in pursuit of effectiveness.

Byron Sharp argued (in How Brands Grow) for the value in being distinctive. This is the opportunity: if you’re launching into a marketplace and your media strategy is just like everyone else’s, you’re starting with one hand tied behind your back.

Bring this all together:

  • an overwhelming volume of advertising, influencers and marketing communications that is homogeneous noise;
  • a long-term need to do be distinctive;
  • your audience wanting you to back your claims, and deliver on your promises.

Nothing revolutionary there, but somehow these fundamentals are often lost, or assumed, or perhaps just not truly appreciated?

You can be distinctive, impactful and believable by creating a unique context for your launch, one that is then shared across the ‘usual’ media. It’s an event, but that can be what you need it to be. Showcase your proposition without the trust-eroding lens of a specific medium; create a physical launch that it is distinctive whilst proving your point. It’s your event: you create the context and can show your product or service working in real life.

And if this sounds like wishful thinking, then let’s look at Elon and his Tesla Cybertruck launch:

OK, the window broke, but it grabbed attention and positioned the Cybertruck accordingly (designed and built for a fight/the impending apocalypse). In fact, I'd argue that the error communicated the proposition in a very authentic and believable way. With over 250,000 pre-orders, a very effective way.

Of course, I am writing this on social media so you’re probably deeply cynical, if you’ve seen it at all. But if you’re the slightest bit interested, drop me a line and I’ll invite you here to show you what we’re doing around high-impact storytelling.

Ready to boldly go?

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12TH DECEMBER 2019 | Posted by James Graham

A little ambition can go an awfully long way

It’s taken over 42 years to get 20 hours away, but we’ve gained more than a lifetime of knowledge. Knowledge that has enlightened and enriched us.

Back in 1977, NASA launched Voyager 1 from Cape Canaveral. After escaping Earth’s gravity, it accelerated out towards the planets, beginning a journey that it’s still on. As I write this, @NASAVoyager tells me it’s 20 hrs 34 mins 44 secs of light-travel away. Or, to put it in Earthly terms, over 15,000,000,000 miles.

Over 42 years and 15 billion miles. And sister ship Voyager 2 is almost as far from Earth, having entered interstellar space last year.

Wow. It’s just incredible, not just in terms of the vast, almost incomprehensible distance (to a human, if not the universe), but also in the ambition and foresight shown by the scientists, engineers, mathematicians at NASA.

The Voyager mission took advantage of a once-in-every-175 years arrangement of the outer planets in the late 1970s and the 1980s, which allowed for a four-planet tour for a minimum of fuel and time. That was the initial brief, and as such, the spacecraft were only designed to last 5 years.

They left Earth in 1977. Instead of 5 years and four planets, we’re currently at 42 years and all the giant outer planets of our solar system, 48 of their moons, and the unique systems of rings and magnetic fields those planets possess. They found rings around Jupiter and nitrogen geysers on Neptune’s moon, Triton. With care and clever programming by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have seen their five-year lifetimes stretched to 12 years, then 30 years, and now over 40 (a bit like me, though I’m not sure I’ve had enough attention of great scientific minds).

And today, they are surveying interstellar space, sending back data from beyond our solar system, no longer in the warm embrace of the Sun. It will be 40,000 years before Voyager 1 appraoches a planetary system again.

The foresight, commitment, vision and sheer ambition of this is hugely inspiring. The craft and engineering involved – they are still powered, operating in the coldness of space – means they were built with a level of care and expertise that has, perhaps, surpassed even their creators’ wildest dreams. Though I like to think not. 

I like to think about the 15 billion mile journey and where it started. I like to think that the scientists and engineers had the ambition to get to interstellar space. I like to think that they saw the scale of the opportunity, looked a long way ahead and went for it. And it makes me want to be a little more ambitious, in my own way, every day.

OK, so 42 years and 15,000,000,000 miles is a little extreme. But a little investment, foresight, craft, and ambition can go an awfully long way. 

Let’s look ahead, and be ambitious.

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20TH OCTOBER 2019 | Posted by James Graham

Give Success a chance. Commit to it.

I was talking to a renowned procurement colleague recently, and we agreed that it feels like it’s all become a bit short-term and transactional of late. Fragmented channels, availability of data of varying quality, quarterly results pressures…yes, even Brexit, which seems to be measured in days, when actually any such decision is about the decades ahead. (OK, I promise no more Brexit pontificating here.)

At the same time, there are increasing demands for sustainable solutions; big challenges around driving reappraisal; the need to reposition brands. So, whilst we all get caught up in the short-term pressures of how business operates, often the real opportunities require mid-to-long term thinking.

We believe commitment is often key to effectiveness. Recently, we had a client interested in creating a large, public brand experience event. It was gloriously ambitious and a job we would love to be part of; our enthusiasm for what we could do, the experience we could create, was running away with us all. But we had to look at why we were doing this, and the barriers to success. Together we discussed how to deliver on the very clear objectives, and how achieving these would take commitment to annual investment for 3 to 4 years. There were logistical reasons, capex reasons, and sustainability reasons. But most of all, the reality was it would take that time to build the reputation of the event through the early adopters and into the larger core audience. Sometimes, it just takes time. And time takes commitment. It was a great conversation to have.

Sometimes commitment means taking a broader perspective. We are often asked about sustainability, and how we can help clients. And we work hard to do so – recycled and recyclable materials, smart logistic planning, advising clients on the benefits of different venues (did you know that London's Excel has an on-site worm farm to deal with food waste?).

There’s more though. If we could look long-term, or across different projects, we could design to minimise duplication and waste. That’s obvious, right? We’ve done it on numerous occasions, with careful thought applied at the start to fixed and variable elements. Yet a reluctance to commit to future years; or an unclear strategy; or internal politics, stops this happening as often as it should. Some may want the flexibility of keeping projects as one-offs. Some may think they keep things more competitive with such an approach. But in a world where everyone is tight on margins, reframing the challenge to find advantages over time is a smart move. And one we all need.

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17TH OCTOBER 2019 | Posted by Nicola Dietmann

Beautiful journey through van Gogh

Atelier de Lumiere is Paris’s first museum dedicated to the digital arts, and is funded by Culture Space – a foundation with the sole focus on immersive art and experiences. The museum is in the 11th district in an old industrial foundry, with an enviable 33, 000 plus sq feet of space.

Van Gogh is not the only artist to be interpreted by this unique venture – the Klimt exhibition was met with roaring accolades as well as the art of Japan. Their immersive arts festival also looks to be interesting and exciting, utilising what they describe as “digital sculpting’, a process of using computer-generated images to design living spaces and create interaction with the public.”

The Van Gogh exhibit takes you on a totally immersive journey of moving art (accompanied by a beautiful musical score) with works from the artists mapped across the enormous industrial space. The images, colours fill every space – floor, walls to ceiling.

It was possible for everyone to have a totally unique experience in this exhibit. The art was mapped in a different manner at every point in the show – sometimes wrapping an entire image around the walls and floor, sometimes repeating, sometimes fractioning across the space. Thus each vantage point gave a unique view. Not to mention the hidden mirror room and water projection area.

The flow of the story would have been enjoyable for those who understood Van Gogh’s life and chronology of his work as well as creating an exciting and magical experience for children.

I was hard pressed to find fault with this show, there have been some whispers in the (metaphorical) gallery from those who probably view projection mapping with a more critical eye than myself, that the images were not projected with great sophistication, the animated elements were not creative. Having seen some digital shows that are truly mesmerising I would be inclined to agree if I thought that the aim of this show was to mesmerise with the animated features of the show. But I don’t think it was, it came across as a glimpse into what stepping into a Van Gogh would feel like. And like Van Gogh it was atmospheric, capturing at times a real darkness and fractured mind with the frantic bursts of beauty that insanity can create. I also have my suspicions that plotting out the 120 odd projectors for this exhibit was quite a technical accomplishment despite the critique.

As to those that feel the concept of this immersive experience cheapens the artist and his work, that Van Gogh is best viewed in its original format, I also venture to disagree. But I am no purist, and am (for the most part) in favour technology when it enhances an experience or creates a new perspective for us. I do not think it was set up to be a competitor to the genius of the artist’s work (it would be rather a fool’s errand if so). It does depend on whether you enjoy the film adaptation as well as the novel – and see both as valid forms of art.

I am keen to see where the work of Culture Space and the Atelier de Lumiere will take us. Like all technological advances especially in the creative field, I am inclined to feel that when utilised with imagination, artistry and intelligence the results can be beautiful.

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2ND OCTOBER 2019 | Posted by James Graham

Say it like you mean it

I worked with a brilliant client many years ago who said, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” In a world where it’s easy to say so much – and we enjoy, ahem, this from our politicians – the old saying “talk is cheap” has perhaps never been more true. And as such, there’s no shortage of talk out there (there's a degree of irony in writing this, knowing it’s going to add to the noise...).

There’s another saying that embodies this: “Actions speak louder than words.”

This week, I saw one of our clients absolutely live that. They put effort, time and yes, some money, into motivating, celebrating, focusing and empowering their colleagues. They didn’t just tell them what they wanted to tell them. They worked hard to make sure the message was clear; but also made it feel important; explain why it was important; and what it meant for everyone there. And as such, it was hugely motivating. It worked.

It doesn’t have to be a mammoth production, I’m not saying that. But putting a bit of time and effort into doing something that cuts through the day-in, day-out noise and actually gives something to your colleagues, is often overlooked. You could do an email, a quick meeting, maybe even a video from your office; but if it’s really important, that’s possibly the equivalent of petrol-forecourt flowers for your anniversary. And that won’t end well.

So, if it’s important, invest in it. And say it like you mean it.

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