18 thoughts from Nick Ramshaw: Managing Director

by Nick Ramshaw

“Everything stems out of the brand…make the most of its potential.”

That was the advice of Nick Ramshaw, Managing Director, New York Festivals Awards Judge and former President of the DBA, when he opened up to us in a 2015 interview for our blog. And it’s as applicable to the businesses we work with, as it is to talented individuals working here in the agency.

Now we’re three years on, has anything changed?

  • Would he still give his 21 year old self the same advice?
  • Is trust still the holy grail of brand assets?
  • Has his take on working with brands you don’t believe in changed?
  • What’s to come in the next 5 years?

Here’s the 2018 Q&A reboot. Read on for some of the points of view that drive our brand strategy, the values that underpin our culture and the experience that has delivered solid results for our clients.

  • Above: (l-r) Thompson MD, Nick Ramshaw and Digital Director, Chris Kemm

    On branding and business

    Does the perfect brand exist?
    No, not in my opinion. As soon as a brand establishes itself, times and tastes change and everything needs to move on. I talk about ‘building’ brands. It’s a long-term job. Brands need to offer new things to their fans, so being in a state of constant change is a very good thing. Perfection is not a concept that exists in branding.

    Is it possible to work for brands you don’t believe in?
    It’s very hard. If it is a question of ethics, e.g. cigarette brands, then you need to ask yourself if you want to do it. This will come down to personal and agency values. If it is a brand that is simply not good enough to succeed, then the decision is easier. Even though we work in a business and our people have mortgages and rent to pay, our approach is always to do the right thing. Think about it as a group and let everyone have a say, then make a collective decision everyone is comfortable with.

    What differentiates the interesting briefs from the mundane?
    I think all briefs are interesting. All contain a communications challenge, and all need thought and creativity. One of the best solutions I remember was for porta-cabins, which is about as mundane as you can get. For me it is up to the design team to make the most of the brief, rather than complain if the subject isn’t very exciting.

    How important is face-to-face?
    Very. Our work is all about relationships. The best relationships are built on trust, which can only be achieved when you know someone and are able to understand them. That doesn’t mean you need to meet clients for every decision. Meet when it makes sense. Make it your business to know their business, and get to know them as people, so you understand how they are and behave.

    Are language and image equally important in branding? Is a successful brand one which is instantly recognisable though its colour scheme or logo alone?
    The best brands are instantly recognisable, even if you cover up the name. Brands communicate with behaviours and attitude as much as their visual identity. Think of Richard Branson and you recognize Virgin instantly, even before seeing their distinctive identity. Their tone of voice can is extremely powerful. Brands like Innocent use this to great effect, adding a deeper layer to the way they connect with customers.

    How do you respond to claims that branding and advertising are creating false ideals that can’t be realised? Does the industry fuel the increasing gap between what we see on screens and what we see in the mirror?
    Successful brands need to be built on the principles that are within them; things they truly believe in. If they pretend to be something they are not, people will suss them out. They always do. You cannot hide bad stuff anymore, the internet has seen to that. As soon as brands start to peddle things that people know are wrong, the pressure to change comes very quickly. We’ve seen this with size zero models, payday loans, credit card charges and now, the secondary ticket market. Viagogo beware!

    Should everything we see that is a product of the industry be taken with a pinch of salt?
    I think you need to be discerning and look for evidence that it is what it says it is. This and a knowledge that brands need to build trust. Take McDonalds for example, they are trying very hard to offer healthier food and are starting to succeed. Take Nike, they were found out to be using sweatshops to manufacture trainers, took a big hit, but have come back by reassuring customers of their working practices. Are they fully trusted now? You need to ask the customers.

  • On working in the creative industries

    What is the most exciting thing about this industry?
    Being able to influence how an organisation thinks about itself, its vision for the future and how it fulfills its dreams. When we’ve rebranded an organisation, it’s great to see how proud the employees are of the thing they work for. We can unlock this pride and it’s great to see the positive impact it can have on so many people.

    What should aspiring creative and copywriters to be doing now?
    Gaining experience of the world; travelling to places; watching people; working out how things work; forming your own opinions of things; having experiences and absorbing information. That, and gaining understanding of how brands work, practicing your writing and getting into as many organisations as possible to widen your experience.

    What do you do if you’re struggling to come up with new concepts?
    Share the brief with more people. More brains usually come up with more ideas. Also try thinking about it in a different way or a different place. Interrupt your usual ways in order to stimulate new thinking. The ideas then need an open mind to help with gestation.

    Can you learn or teach creativity?
    Partly. It’s a way of using the mind. An openness to change and the new. It’s a way of problem solving. There is a difference between idea generation, much of which might be rational, and more emotive creative thinking. Having said that, you can learn techniques and ways to be creative. The trick is to try different environments and approaches, and work out what is best for you.

  • On the future

    What are the biggest opportunities and challenges you see for branding in the next 5 years?
    Standing out from the crowd remains the biggest challenge. In a world where almost everything has been tried, the threat of being a me-too brand is huge (pun definitely not intended). In terms of opportunity, originality can come through technology and innovation, but it seems that brands that solve simple problems are going to be the most successful. Take Uber for example. It combines practical and useful tech to provide a new, convenient way to do something we have done for years. It does it in a way that makes you feel like its not real money either, so you use it more. And it does it so well, we all love it. Well everyone except Hackney carriage drivers maybe.

    Is there going to be any place for print in the next 20 years?
    Definitely. Print is ideal for luxury finishes and communications that need a certain touch. Some things are also more effective when they’re not on a digital screen. It depends on the user. What is best for them? And what is best for the environment?

  • On himself

    What do you wish you could tell your 21 year-old self?
    Make the most of opportunities and time, and do what you really find interesting. Believe in yourself and your ability to make things happen. Recognise a good opportunity and do anything you can to make it happen. Go way above and beyond, as you’ll need to learn this to win anything going forward.

    What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
    Always do the right thing and finish the job to the best possible quality. If you do the job well, it will be remembered. If you overcharge or undercook a job, it will come back to haunt you. People always remember a good job, and come back for more when they need help.

    Why branding instead of advertising?
    Because it impacts on every aspect of an organisation (and life), from behaviours to communications, internal and external, and it impacts on overall performance and reputation. In my opinion, everything stems out of the brand, so it’s crucial to get it right and make the most of its potential power.

    What’s your favourite project you’ve worked on?
    Its quite an old one now, but the rebrand of STV, ie ITV in Scotland. Seeing our work on TV every night was a real buzz. The rebrand also helped the STV develop itself into more of a multimedia business rather than a traditional TV channel.

    What’s been your biggest professional regret?
    Not getting into the industry earlier. I followed a more career-orientated route into commercial property with absolutely no support from my school. I had no one to ask questions like ‘Have you thought about this? What are you really interested in? What could you be doing to help make this happen?’ The creative industries were relatively undeveloped at that time (quite a few years ago!), and there are so many more opportunities now, which is good for those at an earlier stage in their career.

    If you have any thoughts you’d like to share, then comment below.

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