Forty Eight Point One

What we Learned in 2021

Articles What we Learned in 2021

Imagine a hungover, confused and (understandably) irascible 2020 and you’re about four-sevenths of the way to understanding what the hell just happened.

Delayed transmissions of the EUROs and the Olympics reminded us of what we’d been missing. COP26 gravely warned us of what’s to come. And, just to reinforce why living in the now makes billionaires build and board spaceships to escape planet earth, rare was the day we weren’t exposed to violence, racism, violence, more violence and wanton abuse of power.

It was a long year. So, let’s keep this brief.

1. Do less, do it better

Covid-19 reset our landscape. Client demand contracted, in-house teams diminished in size and specialism, and plenty of necessary big, hairy audacious goals were set, augmented and, in some cases, abandoned. The net result favoured the entrepreneur, the quick thinker. It was a return to startup culture, even for brands long since established.

The past 2 years have been an exercise in doing more with less. And, just as it did for our many of our clients, it transported us back to our genesis: A time when we were searching for purpose and trying to pay ourselves. Year 1.

Life and work have become running mates, gliding hand in hand, day after day, week on week, towards a monotonous, Stepfordian dystopia.

In our first year – I’d hazard the first chapter of every new business’ story – we did what we could to show value, build the portfolio and, yes, get paid.

We’re multidisciplinary by nature. 5 directors with individual skillsets, which provided numerous avenues to explore, services to offer and ways to, say it with me, get paid. (if it wasn’t clear already, year 1’s maxim was ‘get paid’)

We had to build up the confidence and credentials to warrant sharpening our focus. It took plenty of practice and error to realise where we should spend our time.

The effects of the pandemic led to a new maxim: ‘All hands on deck.’ Needs must, but we regressed, drawn towards what we could do over what we should do. We boarded a pragmatic, rudderless ship that took a while to hit port.

Progress isn’t linear. Every couple of steps forward includes a frustratingly expected stumble in the other direction.

New year, new habits.

2. Leaning into the void

I’m writing this article under ‘Plan B’ guidance in the U.K: Compulsory face masks in most public venues, Covid Passes in others and working from home whenever possible.

For 20+ months, we’ve lived under the spectre or reality of lockdowns and restrictions. Life and work have become running mates, gliding hand in hand, day after day, week on week, towards a monotonous, Stepfordian dystopia.

Three long-tenured team members left early in the year, seeking new challenges. Every one, talented. Each, a blow.

It was a wake-up call for us, blinded as we were by the oxygen-pumping, daily accomplishment of surviving the throes of the pandemic (see above). We’d underinvested in our studio space, for one, uncertain whether we would maintain a central office and under what guise.

As a business, we were faced with an indelible choice. Either embrace a remote structure, enabling us to recruit from any corner of the globe and providing us with an unending talent pool in the face of churn – also limiting a major expenditure – or invest in a material space for the team to work from.

We chose the latter. We renovated a 3-story building in Shoreditch, our home since we launched, and created an environment we all feel proud of.

The team are happier. Our clients are more involved. The work benefits.

We’re competing with home comforts, more sleep and less travelling. Frankly, I marvel at our team’s willingness to join us in the studio and their resilience and camaraderie in the face of change.

Our process is built on collaboration and, while we’re able to maintain that at a distance, we’re a stronger unit when we can intersperse face to face interactions. The team are happier. Our clients are more involved. The work benefits.

Here’s hoping we see you in the year ahead.

3. Tasting our own medicine

We’re rebranding. We started late in 2020 and, as the clock ticks over into the new year, we’re waist-deep in application, utilising our new brand toolkit to define how we look, sound and work across all our brand touchpoints. We expect to see the results out there for all to see in Q2.

Now, a cynic may liken our progress to Henny Youngman’s quip – “A doctor gave a man six months to live. The man couldn’t pay his bill, so he gave him another six months”. Yes, a year and half is more time than most clients would afford us, particularly a business at our stage and size. And it’s fair to say that asking a creative agency to change a lightbulb will likely require a creative brief, a couple of workshops and a down payment before anyone attempts to climb a ladder.

The grander the shift, the simpler the communication needs to be. And nothing simplifies an idea like shared exposure.

Waist deep, but we’ve approached it head to toe. We’ve defined our values and our brand strategy; we’ve applied our positioning in creative, reinforced with revised internal processes; we’ve agreed on the roles we need to recruit, the types of characters that will them, and how we’ll reward our growing team.

Complexity is the enemy of change. The grander the shift, the simpler the communication needs to be. And nothing simplifies an idea like shared exposure. Our entire team has been working on it, living with it, regurgitating and reviewing it.

Ultimately, we’ve taken the time to redesign the business, not just the brand, at a time when our market and model are shifting.

Famous final words, but you shouldn’t expect to wait for the next annual instalment in the series to see and hear more about the next step in our journey.

In the studio: Working with industry innovators Gymbox on their digital platform for at-home-workouts