For the kids, man…

Find out how Ingenious played a part in ‘Activities Week’ at key client Cheadle Hulme School.

Occasionally we get asked to do things that might be considered ‘above and beyond’ the call of duty. Previously we’ve taken part in various charity and fundraising activities on behalf of clients (including abseiling down Battersea Power Station) but most recently, we were asked to host some students from Cheadle Hulme School.

The format was based around the BBC show ‘The Apprentice’. (The sort of episode that has designers across the UK reaching for a cushion and then the nearest device capable of tweeting) The two teams of students were tasked with creating a magazine concept, researching potential advertisers and of course designing the piece to present to several experts. And us. We were also able to enlist help from local photographers Hangar Seven who kindly arranged tours of their studio whilst the other team was hard at creative work.

Both groups worked really well together, not that we were surprised given our experience of working with Waconians old and new, as it never fails to impress us how CHS consistently produces well rounded, talented individuals. And whilst we wouldn’t dream to give too much away here (you’ll need to see what’s on here) you can see shots of both team ‘Flaire’ and team ‘Synergy’ presenting their work below, plus a sneak preview of the magazines.

A thoroughly enjoyable day for us, then. In truth, it did leave a little bit of a studio backlog and a few emails to answer, but this was quickly sorted and far outweighed by the fun we had and the fact we were able to get involved in something we wouldn’t normally be able to do. And it was a damn sight safer than abseiling…

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Rules of Engagement

Rebranding. Whatever level you’re operating at, whatever the brand or sector, it can be an emotive issue and easy to get wrong. So how do you get it right? We say open your ears well before the sketchbook…

In comparison to creating a brand from scratch, rebranding is a far more difficult proposition. Taking an existing identity and reinventing it, repositioning it, adjusting its visuals and values, affects the owners and customers of that brand, as it fundamentally shifts their perceptions of the company they have an association with or in some cases, an strong emotional attachment to.

“That’s the point” we hear you cry, and of course that’s right. A well judged, considered and executed rebranding exercise should prompt a shift in perception. It’s pointless otherwise. But for us, the key to success is in deciding whether the client needs to do it at all.

Many companies seem to periodically ‘freshen things up’, almost as if it’s the corporate equivalent of redecorating or moving the furniture around. Now, the cynics amongst you (and we’re sure there are some) may ask why a design agency would care. Why not just do whatever work the client’s asking for and pocket the fee? Well, here’s why…

When working with a client who has decided to rebrand, our first question is always ‘Why?’ Closely followed by ‘What are you hoping to achieve?’ We then ask ‘Can you achieve the same objective with your existing identity?’ These three questions tell us whether it’s an aesthetic issue (ie the client has an outdated identity) or whether it’s a cultural / strategic challenge (often brought about by an evolution of the business, be it through merger, acquisition or change in direction) or whether it’s both.

Often, the challenge is more about the building blocks of the brand, realigning the client’s brand compass, creating updated, refreshed values and a certain amount of new visuals. This is where our strategic knowledge perfectly complements our creative ability. One such challenge for us was a financial services sector client that really just needed a review of their current activity and some assistance on the strategy, rather than a root and branch rebrand. At the other end of the scale, we’re currently working on a completely new identity for an education client that is in the process of becoming independent after a decade of being part of a multinational blue chip brand. As much as we’re providing them with ‘stuff’ like exhibition stands and business cards we’re helping them define who they have become and advising them on the cultural shift their newfound status requires.

Some time ago, the author was working ‘client side’ in the automotive industry. A seemingly endless run of ‘limited edition’ models were being churned out, when someone piped up with the memorable phrase; “We can’t keep putting lipstick on the same old pig, can we?” That stuck with me, and as a consequence, we always ask questions and then listen carefully to the answers before reaching for our makeup bag…


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Brand Management…

Given the appearance of a photo today of triumphant Manchester United players riding in a Manchester City branded taxi, we’re asking to what extent should sportspeople be brand ambassadors?

Yes, it was only a taxi, and no real harm was done, but should a group of Manchester United players have thought about the potential consequences of being photographed in a cab branded in the colours of their Noisy Neighbours? Or perhaps more significantly, the colours of Etihad, their sponsors?

Etihad were quick to put the ad out, and fair play to them. No real harm was done to anyone, but a bit of cheap publicity brings about a question. Shouldn’t footballers earning significant salaries think before they act? What do Turkish Airlines (MUFC’s airline partner) think of giving free publicity to a competitor?

We have experience of motorsport industry marketing and sponsorship, where overall (no pun intended) people are very much more conscious of things like this. To offer a parallel, there’s absolutely no way Mercedes-Benz would allow Lewis Hamilton to be photographed in anything other than their product (or product from their family of brands). Tellingly, we bet Lewis would be well aware of that and very conscious not to let something like that happen in the first place.

You can argue that F1 is a very commercially driven sport, and you’d be right. You only have to watch the pre-podium footage after a Grand Prix where the relevant sponsors watches and caps are put on as religiously as a set of tyres at a pitstop. But these days, football’s not exactly amateur hour where sponsorship and money is concerned, is it? Perhaps football teams need to invest some of the money they generate in giving the players some media training and an awareness of the damage their actions can (even unwittingly) do to the brands they represent. Or is that taking things too far?

A final note: This blog has been written as a genuine comment and in no way part of the author’s therapy as a City fan seeing the title slip across Manchester. Apparently… 😉


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Famous Faces…

What do brands get out of celebrity endorsements? A well-worn cliché, or do they really add value? Here are our thoughts…

This week saw the first airing of Santander’s new ad campaign featuring their three sporting celebrities – Jessica Ennis, Jenson Button and Rory McIlroy. This prompted regional marketing site The Drum to run an article entitled ‘Marketing Weak’ in which not only the acting prowess of the sporting trio, but the entire idea itself, was called into question.

In the case of the former, it’s a difficult thing to criticise. All three are well used to being in front of a camera in their ‘day jobs’. But clearly, delivering a script and ‘proper acting’ is a world away from addressing the world’s media. In the interests of balance, we’re pretty sure Daniel Day-Lewis would find a Formula One car a bit of a struggle, and no doubt Helen Mirren would be out of her depth with a javelin. So they were only doing their best with the talents they have.

The idea is another thing altogether. Take the ‘celebrities’ out of the equation and would we even be writing this blog? Probably not. Put simply, a bad ad is a bad ad, no matter whom you get to appear in it. It doesn’t help when those in question are selling something they clearly have no link to. We’re pretty sure Rory, Jenson or Jess aren’t too fussed about saving 2% on their utility bills, so using high profile, (presumably) wealthy people to market everyday stuff creates a lack of believability.

So, any good examples of celebrity endorsement? Well, we like American Airlines and Kevin Spacey. You can see genuine parallels with his and their brand values. Plus he can act, clearly. But coming back to sport, Mercedes-Benz did some good stuff with Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, and Vodafone also used Lewis and Jenson. What marks these good sporting examples out, though, are the fact that they barely speak, or if they do it’s not delivering a script, but just being themselves.

Last summer, we delivered a project for Cheadle Hulme School, called ‘What is a Waconian?’ (A Waconian, incidentally, is the name given to a pupil, past or present, of CHS). Our concept revolved around testimony, but those selected to give their views of the School were chosen because their achievements and qualities matched those we wished to communicate, irrespective of whether they were ‘famous’ or not. As it turned out, two were in the public eye. Go and have a look and let us know what you think…


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Not for profit…

“It’s good to put something back” so the saying goes, but what do agencies get out of working for free? Don’t we do enough free work when we pitch? Some more creative musings from Ingenious here…

Like most decent creative folk, here at Ingenious, we have a heart. We have a history of (and take great pride in) working with various charitable causes, mainly through the donation of our time and expertise.

Over the years we’ve worked with a number of charitable causes both in Manchester (where we were first established) and Macclesfield (where we’ve been since 2009). Some have been ‘one off’ projects, such as our work for MAG, the Manchester based Landmines charity (this also, pricelessly, saw our MD abseil down Battersea Power Station) and some have subsequently become ‘real’ clients, such as BASIC, the brain injury centre in Salford. Most recently, we’ve worked extensively with Macclesfield’s Barnaby Festival to lead on creative execution both on and offline. Indeed, as we type, we are currently working on concepts for the 2013 festival.

2012 Barnaby Festival brochure and website

Battersea Abseil poster for MAG

Why do we it? Well, apart from the warm glow of satisfaction knowing you’ve helped someone, occasionally we benefit from a little bit of raised awareness and also an enhanced portfolio. It also brings us into contact with some lovely people and in the case of Barnaby, has helped us become far more integrated into the local business community.

We’re not unique in doing this, we know. Many other agencies do the same, which is what makes it so nice to see that, even in these challenging economic times, the creative industry is continuing to ‘do its bit’. It’s not entirely selfless, we know, but still, it helps bring a warm glow to our hearts. Which seeing as the snow refuses to disappear completely is particularly useful in itself!

Seen any nice examples of what we’re talking about? Let us know!


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The Pitch List

How on earth do client companies create a pitch list? We’ve had a few positive and negative experiences of the pitch process recently. Given our MD’s experience of both sides of the fence, here are his thoughts…

The Numbers Game
How many agencies make a pitch? I suppose it depends on the type and size of the project. For agencies, we’ve all put our heart and soul into a pitch and then not been successful. For the client, sitting through presentation after presentation is hardly a good use of time, so how do we make things better for both client and agency?

Answer? Be selective. Personally, I like to see pitch lists compiled (at least in part) based on credentials. A good Marketing professional with a clear brief and an afternoon’s research should be able to identify three agencies that are well capable of delivering what they are looking for. Alternatively, why not consider some form of initial ‘expression of interest?’ This generally involves a credentials submission along with some recent / appropriate work examples.

Adhering to the above helps to limit the amount of (unpaid) work the agency has to undertake, and also makes the client look harder at the agencies they approach in the first place.

Pitch Fee? Or Pitch Free?
Ah, this is always a hot topic. The great and the good of the industry might tell you ‘we don’t free pitch’. Good for them. But I bet they did at some point. Should we ever find ourselves in that rarified atmosphere, we’ll let you know. But for now, we’ll live in the real world and acknowledge that free pitching is an occupational hazard. As far as paid pitches go, they do exist although in our experience, in the main they are little more than a gesture of goodwill and barely cover costs. It’s great that some clients make the effort though. How common are they? Well, we’ve undertaken two paid pitches in six years of Ingenious, so make of that what you will.

Your agency, your responsibility
If I can defend the client side here, there’s no point agencies whining about the unfairness of the pitch process if they’re not prepared to look before they leap. There’s a huge temptation to go for every opportunity that comes your way, secure in the belief that your creative brilliance will see you through. The reality, of course, is somewhat different.

Just as agencies implore clients to be selective, the same is true in reverse. We have gone through stages, particularly in the early days, when we’ve pitched at every time of asking. Experience, workload and understanding of your strengths eventually teach you to be a little more circumspect before reaching for the layout pad.

Look at the client. Look at the brief. Ask yourself this. Are we making the numbers up? Can we win this? If the answers are ‘no’ and ‘yes’ respectively, then go for it. Unsure? Why not request a pre-pitch meeting with the potential client to understand a bit more about them? If you don’t think it’s for you, then have the confidence to say so, and explain why. You never know, it might actually do you more good in the long run…


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Finding that special someone…

Agencies employ many different ways of seeking out new clients. But what works best? Ingenious MD Paul Hartley shares some insight into the world of new business development…

Since the beginnings of the agency we’ve been pretty self sufficient in terms of finding clients. Which is just as well, seeing as we started out with none! By that I mean that, unlike some startups, there were no clients ‘taken with us’ from elsewhere, or pre-arranged business to start work on. Honest? Yup. Stupid? Probably…

You’re the one that I want…
At the beginning we worked extremely hard on research and profiling potential clients. We had a good feel for the type and size of business we thought we could attract, and we also highlighted certain sectors that we thought would fit with our approach. Once we’d built a database, we sent out a simple self-promotion mailer accompanied by tailored covering letters. Some of the initial respondents are, we’re delighted to say, still clients today.

For some specific ‘targets’ we created bespoke mailings – one in particular that stands out was a photo album we sent to the Marketing Director of a prestigious sports car marque, which resulted in a congratulatory phone call from them and some really interesting work as well. We also sent something very similar to a certain Manchester Football Club which again resulted in a meeting and subsequent pitch opportunity.

Take it slow
We’ve always been very patient when building relationships. It’s important to not become a pain to the person you’re trying to get work off! Having been ‘client-side’, I’ve had experience of agencies that don’t know how to take no for an answer. Nothing winds people up more.

Regular, well considered communication is key. In our early days, before Twitter was invented (God that makes us sound old!) we produced quarterly mailers, followed up by emails and or calls as appropriate. Today we still employ the good old-fashioned print piece, but of course we can supplement that with social media activity.

Again, at Ingenious we’ve always looked to the long term and as such, we most definitely favour the ‘softly softly’ approach. To back this up, take the example of two of our busiest clients. One took approximately two years from first mailing to giving us our first brief, and the other called us out of the blue one Friday afternoon inviting us to pitch, following around 18 months of gentle persuasion.

Work at it
Research. Then research some more. Try and devote some time each week to database development / potential client contact. Just a few ‘remember us’ emails / mailers each week can keep momentum up and put you at the top of the in-tray. Or the bin, if you’re unlucky. Which leads us on to…

Grow a thick skin
Nobody likes a knock back. But we’ve had plenty and will no doubt continue to get them. Learn to understand why, back off and if necessary, move on to someone else. There’s no point banging your head against a brick wall, and it’ll only annoy the target. “It’s not you, it’s me…” anyone?

Nothing lasts forever…
Sorry to end on a negative, but always bear in mind that it’s rare, if impossible, to keep a client forever. Business relationships, like any other, change and evolve and sometimes people move on. Loosing your first client is a real watershed moment, and it genuinely does hurt, but once you’ve been through it the importance of continually keeping the new business machine moving comes into sharper focus. The other side of the coin is learning how to keep a working relationship fresh and new. But that’s another story…


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Brief Encounter

Is there any such thing as a bad brief? Or is it just a mutual lack of understanding between client and agency? Here are our thoughts…

Recently we’ve had a flurry of new briefs into the agency and it’s been interesting to look at the different approaches from the various businesses involved and the varying quality of their briefs. Working with new clients always perks up the team, and it’s made us think a little bit more about what we need to see in a good brief.

So, if you’re a client company, here are our top tips to creating a brief that is more likely to help your agency deliver what you’re asking for…

1. Background
Don’t be afraid to overdo the scene setting. Agencies will take the bits they need and skip what they don’t. Better to include too much detail than not enough.

2. Benchmark
Outline key competitors / comparators, be they brands, products, or whatever. Clearly outline the USP’s and / or key features of the project so they can be extracted and used as part of the creative strategy.

3. Tone of Voice / Positioning
If this project were a supermarket, or a car, or a watch, which would it be? This helps enormously in knowing where to ‘pitch’ the look and feel of the work.

4. Target Audience
If you don’t know who you want to target, how can the agency produce work that appeals to them?

5. Format / Design Cues
Taking the time to produce examples of work you like (or don’t) can save valuable time and effort for the agency and avoid heading down any blind alleys. However, be careful not to be too prescriptive. Us creative can get very moody about that sort of thing!

In conclusion, there’s no magic formula, although the above points work for us more often than not. There’s a school of thought that suggests a formal brief becomes less important the longer agency and client collaborate, but we disagree. As with any relationship, it’s easy to become complacent, so constantly working together to formalise a brief is a good way of getting the best out of both parties, defining expectations and prolonging the working relationship between agency and client.

So, clients and agencies alike, lets remember what made things so special in the first place, and keep that magic happening…


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From Skye to Shoreditch – a week in the life of Ingenious Creative

It’s been quite some time (it feels) since we put a blog post up here, so it’s fitting that there’s been much going on at Ingenious since the last one. As with many agency blogs, there’s a limited amount we can tell you about what we’ve been working on, partly due to embargoed content, partly due to client confidentiality, and in the case of recent pitches we’ve yet to hear the result of, mainly down to the desire to not temp fate or prematurely count our poultry.

But we’re busy, ok?!

We’ve been working with our friends at Cheadle Hulme School for almost a year now. The past twelve months has been all about setting out our vision for their brand, learning about this most wonderful of Schools and generally getting the foundations for what we hope will be a long standing working relationship, firmly in place.

At the beginning of the year, however, we stepped things up a gear and began the journey of taking the brand to the next level. We are fortunate indeed that in CHS we have a client that embraces this change and indeed positively pushes us to deliver it, so latterly we’ve been working in some really interesting photo and video shoots in both the North West and London, capturing the thoughts of students both past and present. This forms the backbone of our new campaign for CHS. Some behind the scenes images of which you can see here, but for the reasons outlined at the beginning of this blog, you can’t see everything just yet. Sorry…

Video shoot

Getting the details...






Stills shoot

Stills shoot

Stills shoot










So, why Skye to Shoreditch? Well, recently our glorious leader headed off to the beautiful Isle of Skye for his best friend’s 40th birthday. Being quite the sad man these days he took his mountain bike, as you can see from the images here. However, with a busy week approaching, he resisted the temptation of whisky and so forth, and embarked on a marathon journey south, taking in the isle of mull on the way, arriving in Shoreditch for a photo shoot, on time at least, if not bright eyed or particularly bushy tailed.

(In the interests of clarity it must be pointed out that he made this journey not on the aforementioned bike, but in a rather comfortable 4×4, so it wasn’t exactly an Olympian standard of strength and endurance on display, but still…)

That sinking feeling...

Beautiful Sky(e)line...







Our Shoreditch residence...

Our route to the studio...

Nevertheless, in between times the intrepid Ingenious boys managed to fit in a bike ride from Macc to Manchester and back, and as they did managed to wave off the Mersey ferry cruise off on its journey from Salford.

Cheerio, laaa...

Pitstop at MediaCity

Pitstop at MediaCity







Last month we finished our work on an installation at Imperial War Museum. Entitled ‘Build The Truce’, the display looks at people living and working in the aftermath of conflict. They share their perspectives on how we move away from, or towards, peace. Regions such as Iraq, Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone, El Salvador and Kosovo are all featured.

Prior to opening...

To learn more about Build The Truce you can visit the Imperial War Museum website here or the BTT blog here.

And finally, we’ve recently produced two lovely little brochures which showcase our work for both our ‘blue chip’ and ‘SME’ clients, so of you’d like a copy of either (or both) you can email us here…

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Design for Print, Exhibition Design, Uncategorized, Weekly Update
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That was our week, that was #19

It’s been a little while since we last updated our blog, a frankly shambolic effort that we couldn’t allow to continue further. So, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that the author is sat on the floor of an exhibition space in South London, here’s a little rundown of what we’ve been up to, in and out of the studio, over the past few weeks. The eagle eyed amongst you may notice something of a blue stream running through this post. Can’t imagine why…

From a work point of view, it’s been pretty busy. We’re thrilled with the feedback we’ve had to all the Barnaby Festival work,almost all of which has now broken cover, including the event brochure and the website, designed by us and built by the indefatigable Andrew McCully. Top work Andrew! (unlucky with the Premier League though. But more of that later…)

Barnaby work...

Continuing with the work theme, we’ve been working hard on a couple of exhibition projects for long standing client, Imperial War Museums. We’re particularly thrilled with the fact we’ve been working at IWM London on ‘Build The Truce’, which opens next week.

Here’s a couple of ‘work in progress’ shots, which, seeing as it still is a work in progress and, at the time of writing, IWM’s graphics contractors are due on site in about 20 minutes, it’s as close as you can get to the finished thing. Which is very BLUE. Unless you come down here and have a look, of course. And we strongly suggest you do.

Building The Truce

Building The Truce 02

Over and above this, we’re looking forward to progressing some significant new projects for the two schools in our lives, namely Cheadle Hulme and Manchester Business, plus a really nice piece of branding for a performing arts company. So it’s all go!

Away from the office, our glorious leader’s quest to break every bone in his body on a mountain bike continues. A recent spill did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm, and every Monday morning brings new tales of his and Graham’s exploits down hills and on assorted journeys.

One Manchester ride a couple of weeks back seemingly took him through Tatton Park (and part of a plane, bizarrely) past most of our clients, and into Media City, as you can see from the pictures. Continuing the blue theme, what did he happen to see on the BBC’s large screen? Yup, you guessed…

This (Media) City is Ours...

Media City by bike. And Instagram...

As some of you may know, the biking is all for a good cause, namely raising money for the NSPCC on a ride from Manchester to Liverpool on June 3rd. Visit Paul’s just giving page by clicking here…

In other news, here’s a few random images captured on our travels, including a particularly intriguing bus shelter ad for a beer with a BLUE related name…

Typography on a bench, Salford Quays

We saw it standing alone...

Imperial War Museum, May 2012

So, finally, why the blue references? Well, those of you untouched by the beautiful game may be unaware that our leader’s beloved Manchester City recently won a little cup known as the Barclays Premier League. Now, for some football teams winning things is perhaps expected, or even demanded, every season, but City fans are a little different. The last time a similar triumph was claimed by City was so long ago, he wasn’t even born. (Yes, THAT long ago) so to see it happen, and on his son’s birthday as well, was something special. He was over the (blue) moon, you might say.

He must have been, because he’s scarcely stopped going on about it since…

Happy Birthday Son!


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