Monday 22nd Dec 2014

Thoughts and insights from the World of Initials

All I want for Christmas is…

Posted on December 12, 2014 by

As I tick off yet another year on the career calendar, my thoughts turn to what the year 2015 has in store, and so what, in an ideal world, I’d like to put on my Christmas list. So here goes…

Online/offline balance

The torrent of comment about the next social media channel, the next mobile device and the latest gorgeous gizmo threatens to loosen our grip on commercial reality. According to a recent U.S. study, 90% of American retail sales still happen in stores.

What’s more, the seemingly unstoppable advance of the discounters is producing seismic shifts in market share, sales, profitability and thus share price for companies that for years have been the giants of the UK grocery retail scene. It seems to me that unless the big four turn their business models on their heads and become discounters themselves, they have to find radical new ways to retain shopper loyalty, and fast. Most things in life are cyclical, and a few decades ago the grocery retail market was enlivened by exciting, colourful, innovative promotional campaigns that drove basket value, brought in new customers and encouraged regular weekly purchase. In the new environment of, for some consumers, almost daily shopping trips to their local convenience store, there might well be a place for a return to that previously vibrant marketing activity, driven both by retailers and brands, and now enlivened by data driven online communication that enables a brand to identify and connect with its audience early in the buying journey.


Real briefs in real time

Please Santa, can you ask clients not to contact agencies unless they have a real brief with an approved budget? It’s an industry-wide issue and agencies will tell you that they spend thousands of pounds every year answering requests for information (RFIs), attending mass agency briefings and responding to what are often just fishing trips by curious marketing executives. It’s unproductive both for clients and agencies, and does nothing for the relationship between marketers and agency people which is so important to the creative process.


Investment programme or commercial bullying?

The IPA’s condemnation of Premier Foods’ tactic of demanding up-front payments from all their suppliers is timely, and the resulting withdrawal will be welcomed by every company with whom they trade. Over-riding discounts have been a feature of retailing since the seventies but this was clearly a step too far. It remains to be seen how that company will strive to replace the revenue it expected to gain from these ill-judged RFIs…that’s requests for income!

I hope that the season of goodwill to all men (suppliers) will extend beyond December, so that the many SMEs who trade with the big corporations can see their businesses grow as a result of, rather than despite their sales relationship with them.


Go tell the world

For years the UK creative industry has been recognised as pre-eminent globally, but it is in danger of being subsumed by the dumbing down of the art into a process-driven commodity. Ironic when you consider that some of the most successful ‘new’ brands, like Carphone Warehouse,  Amazon, Facebook and many others have created billion pound businesses by a combination of innovative product development, excellent customer service and outstanding marketing. So my hope for the New Year is a return to the recognition of the valuable contribution, not just to short term revenue, but also to the lifetime value of a business that innovative advertising and marketing investment can make.

Equally, agencies are sometimes at fault for not publicising their campaign’s achievements. Whilst marketers understand the value of marketing in building a long term brand, some CEOs, finance and production directors still see it as an unmeasurable cost rather than a necessary investment. So let’s celebrate our successes, not just through award schemes, but where it matters, in the boardroom and throughout our clients’ companies.


A very Merry Christmas and, above all, a happy and prosperous New Year.

Roger Hyslop


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Initials appoints Dan Jerrard as new creative director

Posted on October 24, 2014 by

Initials (L-R, Nick Presley, Dan Jerrard)

Creative communications agency Initials is growing its creative department with four new hires, including ex-Haygarth associate creative director Dan Jerrard as its new creative director.

The appointments mark the launch of a company-wide development programme aimed at bringing Initials’ youngest talent and most experienced employees together. They will learn from each other and create the most informed solutions for clients.

Initials CEO Jamie Matthews comments: “20-year-olds can learn a lot from forty-somethings and vice versa. Both have a huge amount of creativity and great ideas to offer.”

Jerrard will play an important role in kick-starting the programme within the creative team, having helped to double the size of the creative department at Haygarth since he joined in 2011. Jerrard worked on some of Haygarth’s most high profile blue chip accounts, including Sony Mobile, Heineken and the Organic Trade Board. Before that he was group head at BD Network, having first launched his career at Dynamo.

At Initials, Jerrard will work on some of the agency’s largest accounts, including AkzoNobel, PepsiCo, Mondelez and J Sainsbury’s. Allan Guy, the current creative director at Initials, continues in the agency focusing on new ventures and working closely with Presley and Jerrard to ensure the quality of work in the agency remains at the highest levels.

Nick Presley, executive creative director, said: “We loved Dan’s passion and ability to work on multi-channel activity. He’s had a great grounding to his career in his previous agencies and he’ll significantly increase the firepower of our creative department. His appointment isn’t just responding to the increase in work from our current clients and recent wins, but will help us further develop our offering.”

Dan Jerrard commented: “I instantly recognised that Initials matched my ambitions to help build a creatively-led agency that was not constrained by channel. It’s a very exciting opportunity to work with Nick at the start of a new chapter in the World of Initials.”

Initials has also made three further creative  hires: Bethan Prestwich, a recent graduate from Reading University as designer, and junior creative team members Micaela Beni and Simona Zukauskaite, who join following a number of placements and internships over the last six months.

Presley added: “All three have demonstrated huge potential and a great willingness to learn. They will bring a new dimension of thinking and craft to our work.”

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Supporting parents in the workplace makes business sense for agencies

Posted on October 6, 2014 by

INITIALS Account Director Natalie Wright has contributed a feature to the Guardian on issues faced by working parents within the marketing industry.

In her piece, Natalie outlines some of the ways parents are discriminated against in the workplace and offers valuable advice on how agency managers can be more accommodating.

The article, which is sponsored by the MAA and appears on the Guardian Media Network’s Agencies Hub, can be read here.

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Hello Ello, goodbye Facebook?

Posted on October 2, 2014 by

People have been predicting the demise of Facebook for years, citing factors like the popularity of Twitter and young people’s disillusionment with social media as reasons for the apparently inevitable downfall of the digital giant. However, despite these challenges, the social network is still going strong: with 1.28 billion monthly active users, Facebook is showing no signs of fading.

But could new social network Ello, popularly described as ‘the anti-Facebook’, be a game changer for social media? Ello, which has taken off over the past week, is an advertising-free network and apparently has no space for brands. Ello’s manifesto says of its users “you are not a product”, and the people behind the website aim to establish a purer form of online socialising which is free from the interruption of marketing messages. Ello is not just challenging Facebook, but the wider culture in which social media is seen as primarily a vehicle through which brands can talk at consumers, and actual connections between people are deprioritised.


Why has there been such a huge backlash against social media marketing? While consumers are rarely as enthusiastic about other forms of marketing and advertising as brands would hope, there has never been a reaction quite this dramatic against television or print advertising.  The founders and advocates of Ello seem unhappy specifically with the role brands play in our online social lives, rather than advertising in general.

However, by creating a social network which is difficult, if not impossible, for brands to infiltrate, the founders of Ello are forgetting one key thing: it’s not that consumers don’t want to listen to brands. Just last week, Kit Kat’s Tweet about the iPhone ‘bendgate’ scandal went viral, with over 28,000 Retweets and 13,000 Favourites.  Consumers are not complaining about brands’ social content when it’s engaging, or when it’s content they actually want to see. Kit Kat’s Tweet, like other brand updates that have received above average levels of engagement, was successful because it joined a conversation consumers were already having rather than interrupting one.

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While Kit Kat proved that consumers are still interested in what brands are saying online, there are still plenty of social media marketers getting it completely wrong. With Cosmoplitan UK Tweeting about six times an hour and Dorothy Perkins putting kisses at the end of updates, it’s not difficult to see why Paul Budnitz and his co-founders lost their patience with brands’ social media presence.

Perhaps consumers haven’t become disillusioned with other forms of marketing because brands can’t afford to get them wrong. Marketers can’t spam consumers with television advertising or stop putting effort into writing copy on other platforms simply because it would be too expensive, whereas the low price of digital marketing can lead to laziness. However, although social media is cheap to use, it shouldn’t be devalued.

Digital marketers need to think of the consumers’ attention spans as currency, adopting the same mentality needed on platforms where there is absolutely no margin for error or laziness. Ello might not gain mainstream popularity, but its existence alone should serve as a warning. Consumers’ patience is wearing thin, and Ello has shown us that there are options other than listening to online advertising. Brands need to tread incredibly carefully online- they might not be spending money, but people’s patience is far more valuable.

Zena Jarjis

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The switched on consumer

Posted on September 22, 2014 by

“Switch it off” is a message that haunts our nation: ‘Save electricity, stop global warming’. However it is becoming increasingly important to stay switched on. Innovation of the consumer shopper process has seen retailers digitalise, creating widespread competition with companies constantly looking for an innovative new USP to help drive sales.

Argos has combined in-store retail and e-tail, to successfully pull off a huge re-branding effort. This new store concept has seen them become one of the most innovative companies on the high street. In their own words: ‘Faster, easier and more seamless by combining the best of shopping online and shopping on your high street – an experience like no other.

With ‘The New Argos’, gone are the days of flicking through the endless pages of the catalogue, punching in the product code and praying that the item would be available. Argos has completely digitalised the consumer shopping experience, using iPads as catalogues and digital advertising screens.

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With this move to a switched-on shopping experience, ‘The New Argos’ store leads the way within major retailers, as the UK consumer gets used to the digital way of life and staying switched on.

However for consumers who do not want to move with technology and innovation, the opportunity to switch off is increasingly few and far between. Checking social media, responding to emails and even having to pay a machine at the supermarket; these are actions that are now part of everyday life and technology dependent.

Whilst all these innovations develop, some companies are taking the opportunity to go back to basics. IKEA have launched their new ‘Bookbook’ catalogue for 2015. In a parody of an Apple iPad launch, the two-and-a-half minute ad reveals the Ikea 2015 catalogue.  This is up there with my favourite pieces of advertising for the year. The picture (below) adds to the comedy, although unfortunately the catalogue won’t be presented like this to us in-store.

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 15.35.02

The rather cutely named Digital Detox company describe themselves as a ‘slow-down, not a start-up’. This pretty much sums them up. Their aim is to provide people with the opportunity to put aside their digital arm, press pause, reflect and re-evaluate their relationship with their devices. They have cashed in on the opportunity to switch off, offering ‘device-free retreats & programs helping people find balance & gain mindfulness’.

These companies have got us asking ourselves the same questions: Has switching off as a way of producing content for companies’ marketing campaigns and motivation for sales been a genius idea? Is it going to result in them being left behind?

Time will tell, however the fact that ‘more than 43% of the UK’s population now owns a tablet’ is a statistic that can’t be ignored by retailers looking to digitalise their in-store shopping experience in the same way as ‘The New Argos’. Therefore, perhaps switching off is now a thing of the past.

Adam Thurgood


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