Why your design agency needs a ghostwriter

Full of strong opinions, but short on time to articulate them?

At its best, design is a thoughtful, considered profession as much driven by bold ideas as aesthetics. And as a cursory dip into ‘design Twitter’ will attest, there’s no shortage of opinions in this business.

But be honest. How often do those opinions become part of a joined-up, effective content strategy for your agency to win new clients?

Read more: Why your design agency needs a content strategy

Whether selling a bold solution to a wary client or crafting a brand strategy to win over sceptical consumers, designers are in the persuasion game. But current client demands come first. Getting thoughts down on paper in a coherent way takes time to do properly. And you need to do it properly.

It’s no use forcing out opinions for the sake of it. If it’s not your authentic standpoint, what’s the point? You need to find an engaging, relevant angle that sheds light on how you work, how you think, what makes you unique.

If all this sounds familiar, but you struggle to prioritise getting it done, I can help you articulate a client-winning thought-leadership strategy – including persuasive content that’s ghostwritten in your agency’s voice.

My editorial background helps me get to the heart of your story quickly, and craft a convincing narrative pitched at your target reader. And whether it’s a one-off piece on a particular theme, or a big-picture content strategy that runs for months, it begins with an in-depth, face-to-face chat.

This is a great opportunity not only to gauge what your opinions and attitudes are, but how you express them – from general style and mood to particular turns of phrase. Tone of voice is a crucial part of any branding toolkit for your clients, so why neglect your own?

Once we agree on an angle, tone and format, I’ll collaborate closely with you to get the content spot-on.

So what does this look like in practice?

I worked with Red Setter on a provocative thought-leadership article about ‘brand euthanasia’ for their client B&B Studio, to fuel its reputation for empowering disruptive, forward-thinking challenger brands.

Marmite: B&B’s example of a heritage brand that has stayed relevant. Image credit: City AM

In the firing line: lazy, slow-moving brands that have lost their relevance, but are kept on life-support by empty ‘brand refreshes’ and nostalgia.

Fuelled by expert insights and contentious opinions from B&B’s senior team – including bylined strategy director Lisa Desforges – the short, punchy ghostwritten article was placed by Red Setter in City AM’s opinion section.

Case study: B&B Studio on brand euthanasia

I also helped Studio Output produce a long-form piece to reflect its new strategic positioning: the agency helps brands to adapt and thrive in a connected world.

Following an in-depth briefing session with the senior team, I worked closely with ECD Rob Coke to express the agency’s sector-leading creative approach in written form – using three case studies to show it in action.

Case study: Studio Output’s strategic repositioning

Looking forward to 2020, I’m collaborating with three very different UK agencies on their longer-term strategic content plans, which will start rolling out in the coming months. More on that in due course.

Need help turning your in-house expertise into client-winning thought leadership?

Why your design agency should invest in video

Is your approach to video content all wrong?

In my six years chairing the Brand Impact Awards judging panel, I’ve seen a growing trend for polished videos supporting entries. The best examples function as mini documentaries, telling the story of a project from the perspective of the client as well as the agency.

Clearly this route is more accessible to larger, better-resourced agencies. Bespoke video content doesn’t come cheap, certainly compared to submitting some static images with a written supporting statement. Small, boutique studios may struggle to compete on a level playing field.

But if you only see video as a cost, you’re looking at it wrong. With the right approach, it can form a key part of your design agency’s content strategy.

Read more: Why your design agency needs a content strategy

Told in the right way, the story of a ‘portfolio centrepiece’ project will draw people in and add depth and colour to your creative process. Putting your people on camera also gives your agency an engaging, human face that makes it more accessible and relatable to prospective clients.

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. That means you need to pick your battles, as costs can add up quickly. Some projects have a rich, visual story that video can bring to life effectively – others don’t.

You don’t need a Hollywood film crew to shoot an Oscar-winning masterpiece. But telling that story in a compelling way takes more than a camera operator, a sound recordist and someone to edit it together. You need an editorial eye.

So what does this look like in practice?

As discussed in my last post, video was a crucial part of my content strategy for Taxi Studio’s global Carlsberg rebrand.

There were several strands to be explored editorially, and the particularly close collaboration between agency and client on the project merited input from both sides of the table to tell the full story.

Filming Taxi Studio’s Spencer Buck and Carlsberg’s Jessica Felby in Copenhagen [Watch here]

Accordingly, as well as conducting in-depth on-camera interviews with the creative team in Taxi’s Bristol-based studio, we filmed several members of Carlsberg’s brand team in their Copenhagen HQ.

With three agency-side and six client-side interviews to work with, careful scripting was required to cut between multiple perspectives within a few short minutes. Liaising closely with Taxi’s in-house editor, I structured a smooth, engaging narrative for each video.

Case study: Video series exploring Taxi’s Carlsberg rebrand

For the launch of The Clearing’s new book Wild Thinking, I worked closely with the agency’s marketing team, and publisher Kogan Page, to put video at the heart of the content strategy.

The premise of Wild Thinking is about asking challenging, provocative questions to get to the heart of a brand. That lent itself perfectly to an interview format, digging deeper into the themes inside the book.

McLaren CMO John Allert discusses how mediocrity is a motivator [Watch here]

I conducted on-camera interviews with three of the featured brands: McLaren, Dropbox and Royal Ascot. With almost an hour of footage from each interview, I then scripted punchy three-minute videos – as well as shorter cuts for use on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Case study: Video interviews to promote Wild Thinking

There’s an art to steering an on-camera interview, particularly if people aren’t used to being in front of the lens. If the conversation feels natural, an interviewee feels more comfortable and their answers flow.

This often requires changing the line of questioning on the fly to ensure the most interesting content is captured, and in a usable format. For short-form video, you need engaging soundbites that can be edited together easily.

It’s a skill I’ve honed over many years. At Channel 4, I produced regular short-form video documentaries showcasing emerging creative talent.

During my tenure as editor of Computer Arts, I produced a long-running series of video profiles at top agencies across the UK. These included Pentagram, JKR, The Partners, DixonBaxi, SomeOne and many more.

CA studio documentary filmed at JKR. Image credit: Future

Rather than just focusing on media-trained founders and creative directors, these videos were designed to present a cross-section of agency life. We interviewed people from different tiers and departments, all of whom had plenty of interesting things to say, but were rarely in the spotlight.

Watch now on YouTube: CA studio documentaries

For many clients, my varied experience in the editorial and broadcast sectors, combined with in-depth knowledge of agencies’ creative and strategic processes, makes an ideal sweet-spot when it comes to video.

Does your agency need to rethink its video strategy?

Why your design agency needs a content strategy

Is your portfolio working hard enough to win you new work?

I’ve heard the same problem from agencies of all sizes. Time is tight, the team is stretched, and hours spent updating the website aren’t billable.

Once a project is wrapped, it’s onto the next one. Writing the case study is all-too-often a necessary evil to keep the website fresh, perhaps feed into awards submissions further down the line, hopefully get some design press attention.

Stop. Look at it differently. Invest a little more in telling the story in the right way, and your completed projects don’t just show off what you did for one client – they show off how you can work with any client. They sell your creative process, not just your creative output.

Case studies can tell a powerful story about what makes you unique, and why clients should hire you. But to get it right, you need a content strategy.

People fetishise ‘thought leadership’. And if you have something genuinely thought-provoking to say, or an inflammatory opinion on the latest hot topic, it can be a great platform.

Read more: Why your design agency needs a ghostwriter

But to achieve real impact, you need to apply the same kind of strategic rigour to how you talk about your work. Use your case studies to add colour to a wider narrative about how you think, collaborate and solve problems – not just why you chose a particular typeface or colour palette.

So what does this look like in practice?

When Studio Output set out to redefine its strategic positioning – the agency “helps brands to adapt and thrive in a connected world” – I worked with the senior team to help craft a centrepiece article, setting out the stall.

At the heart of the piece was one core message: the experience of your digital products is what defines your brand. In order to thrive, established brands must adapt, embracing the potential of brand-led user experiences.

Image credit: Studio Output

Case study: Studio Output’s strategic repositioning

Crucially, the piece didn’t just discuss this topic in the abstract. Case studies for BBC Sport, Auto Trader and Pottermore were an integral part of that narrative, adding colour and substance to the argument, and making a compelling case to clients facing similar problems in different sectors that Studio Output’s approach could be the answer.

Sometimes a single project has enough value as a portfolio centrepiece to benefit from its own content strategy. Before the launch of Taxi Studio’s global Carlsberg rebrand, for instance, I collaborated with the agency to help identify the most interesting angles on the story.

My strategy was to split the project into three strands: re-crafting the core brand assets; developing a holistic packaging system; and exploring Carlsberg’s wider sustainability story, in which the rebrand played a key role.

Image credit: Taxi Studio

Case study: Taxi Studio’s Carlsberg rebrand

After conducting a series of on-camera interviews with key figures involved with the rebrand from both agency-side and client-side, I scripted three short video documentaries – and worked with Taxi’s in-house editor to help tell the story in a succinct, engaging way. I also wrote accompanying long-form articles to dig deeper into each facet of the story.

The strategy worked, piquing the interest of different corners of the design press: Computer Arts went behind-the-scenes on the reworked brand assets; The Dieline ran an exclusive deep-dive on the packaging system; and Creative Review explored the sustainability story in more detail. The videos were also used in many successful awards submissions.

Read more: Why your design agency should invest in video

These two examples represent opposite ends of the same scale: one uses multiple case studies to add substance to a larger narrative, the other expands one case study to tell a multi-tiered narrative. But both offer value far beyond showcasing completed projects, and show prospective clients how these two top agencies solve creative problems in style.

Is it time your agency had a content strategy?