Why your design agency should invest in video

Is your approach to video content working?

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?

Asking provocative questions of top brands

Cover of Wild Thinking. Image credit: The Clearing
  • Client: The Clearing / Kogan Page
  • Disciplines: Content strategy, scriptwriting, video
  • Duration: 10 days

I helped The Clearing produce a series of videos to promote its new book, Wild Thinking.

Wild Thinking features 25 unconventional solutions to business challenges, from pioneering thinkers at global brands. I developed a content strategy to draw out particularly engaging themes from the book, and conducted piece-to-camera interviews with key contributors.

Read more about Wild Thinking on Kogan Page’s website…

Working closely with publisher Kogan Page, I then scripted a series of short-form videos. This included exclusive cuts for LinkedIn and Twitter, posing bonus questions from The Clearing’s ‘Wild Cards’ – the pack of 100 provocative questions that inspired the book.

Selection of cards from the Wild Cards pack. Image credit: The Clearing

Read more about Wild Cards on The Clearing’s website…

Here are three of the videos:

How mediocrity can be a great motivator

CMO John Allert discusses McLaren’s unapologetically uncompromising culture, and why a fear of mediocrity keeps the team sharp.

Why leading from the top is outdated

Former Dropbox PR chief Nick Morris shares his tried-and-trusted collaborative approach for engaging and inspiring a team.

What ‘brand purpose’ looks like in practice

CCO Juliet Slot explains how Ascot Race Course translates abstract brand values into meaningful everyday actions for its employees.

“Nick has a unique offer – he’s a writer, a thinker, an interviewer and a burst of energy. He immediately became part of our team when we launched our Wild Thinking book, driving content and building relationships for our short films. It was fun, and it delivered great results.”

Jules Griffith, marketing director, The Clearing

Telling the story of Carlsberg’s global rebrand

Carlsberg’s re-crafted logo. Image credit: Taxi Studio
  • Client: Taxi Studio / Carlsberg
  • Disciplines: Content strategy, scriptwriting, video, copywriting
  • Duration: 12 days

I helped Taxi Studio develop a content strategy for its award-winning Carlsberg rebrand.

The strategy focused on three core areas – the re-crafting of the mark and other brand assets; the holistic design and packaging system; and Carlsberg’s wider sustainability story, in which the rebrand plays a central role.

Working closely with Taxi’s in-house marketing and creative teams, I conducted piece-to-camera interviews in both Taxi’s Bristol studio and Carlsberg’s Copenhagen HQ, then scripted and edit-produced videos that have since formed part of many successful awards submissions.

The videos were accompanied by ghostwritten articles to tell the story in more detail. These became core case studies on the Taxi website, as well as attracting the attention of specialist publications such as The Dieline.

Part one: Crafted to Last

How the rebrand translates across packaging and POS. Image credit: Taxi Studio

We’ve collaborated with Carlsberg on a major global rebrand, unifying its diverse markets with a simple yet versatile identity system that champions the principles of great Danish design.

Following extensive research into the brand’s 171-year heritage, Carlsberg’s famous brand elements have been carefully re-crafted for the first time in several years, striking the perfect balance between form and function...

Read more and watch video on Taxi’s website…

Part two: Danish by Design

Different variants in the holistic packaging system. Image credit: Taxi Studio

At the heart of our global Carlsberg rebrand is a simple phrase: “In constant pursuit of better.” Drawn from the ‘Golden Words’ penned by Carlsberg founder JC Jacobsen, this pledge drives everything from the quality of the brew, to the company’s sustainability credentials, to how its brand is presented to the world.

With no holistic look and feel to tie the regional variants together, or clear set of rules to govern how different assets were used, the Carlsberg brand was presented inconsistently from market to market. Another challenge was to unify all expressions of it as part of a coherent, master brand-led system...

Read more and watch video on Taxi’s website…

“Nick is an excellent writer with a particular set of skills, skills he has acquired over a very long career, skills that make him a dream for people like you. Try him once and you’ll be taken. Just like I was when we worked together on the Carlsberg brand – he’s a trusted ‘go to’ for us.”

Spencer Buck – creative partner, Taxi Studio

Repositioning Computer Arts to appeal to pro designers

  • Client: Future
  • Disciplines: Content strategy, editorial, publishing
  • Duration: 3 months

I led a major redesign of Computer Arts in 2013, two years after launching its premium sister title.

From its ’90s origins as a tutorial magazine for hobbyists, my content strategy completed the brand’s transition into a reputable industry title pitched squarely at professional designers and agencies.

Five special issues of Computer Arts from 2014. Image credit: Future

Step-by-step tutorials were replaced with peer-to-peer project ‘diaries’ going behind-the-scenes on live client briefs, to reveal how top agencies solve familiar creative challenges.

With a bold new tagline – Design Matters – the repositioned CA delivered thought-provoking opinions, in-depth industry insights and fresh creative inspiration every month. This included a long-running series of exclusive video documentaries, filmed behind-the-scenes at the UK’s top agencies.

Read more: Why your design agency should invest in video

At the height of the digital publishing boom, the redesign featured a fully-bespoke, interactive iPad edition that went on to win Best Art & Design Magazine three years running at the Digital Magazine Awards.

And to elevate the premium feel of the print edition, innovative covers produced in collaboration with leading print finishing specialist Celloglas brought creative concepts to life in playful and compelling ways, celebrating the unique tactile potential of print.

Four special issues of Computer Arts from 2015. Image credit: Future

These included glow-in-the-dark, heat- and light-reactive inks, scratch-off latex, diffuser foils, textured embossing, playful die-cuts and more.

Watch now: Making-of videos of CA’s special covers

The strategic repositioning of Computer Arts proved crucial for the launch of the Brand Impact Awards in 2014, which has gone on to become an unmissable fixture in the professional awards calendar.

I edited CA until 2018. During this period I also launched the UK Studio Rankings – an annual peer reputation survey of the country’s top design agencies – which I continue to manage as an independent consultant.

“Nick’s enthusiasm for the re-imagining of Computer Arts was infectious. His unwavering desire to put the needs of the audience at the heart of every decision was truly heartening, and a key reason the project was a huge success.”

Declan Gough – then head of Creative & Design Group, Future

Launching a collectable, high-end design title

  • Client: Future
  • Disciplines: Content strategy, editorial, publishing
  • Duration: 3 months

As launch editor for Computer Arts Collection, I developed a content strategy to appeal to senior design professionals, shifting industry perceptions and moving the CA brand into the competitive set of Creative Review.

The first four issues in Computer Arts Collection volume one (2012). Image credit: Future

This paved the way for the major redesign of Computer Arts in 2013, and ultimately the successful launch of the Brand Impact Awards in 2014.

Packed with insight and inspiration from the global design industry, CA Collection was pitched as the definitive guide to six core topics: graphic design, typography, illustration, branding, photography and advertising.

Each issue included an in-depth report on the latest macro and micro trends affecting each creative discipline, produced exclusively for CA Collection by top creative consultancy FranklinTill.

The first three issues in Computer Arts Collection volume two (2013). Image credit: Future

The lynchpin of the strategy was to treat ‘practical’ content in a totally new way, giving creative professionals unprecedented access to how peers at different agencies solve familiar creative challenges.

In place of step-by-step ‘tutorials’ was an innovative special project section, guest-edited by a different agency every issue. Over 48 pages, the guest-editing agency detailed their creative process from initial idea, through development and into production – including exclusive behind-the-scenes video diaries documenting their progress.

Read more: Why your design agency should invest in video

To celebrate the tactile beauty of print, the series showcased a wide range of innovative production techniques – including internal fluoro spot-colours, gatefolds, detachable bound-in prints and fold-out posters.

Promo pack for CA Collection’s launch issue, sent to a hand-picked selection of agencies. Image credit: Future

Launched in 2011, CA Collection comprised two collectable six-part volumes, after which many of the principles behind its content strategy were ultimately incorporated into the 2013 redesign of the parent brand.