Author Archive for Neil Evans


Art for arts sake…

We’re a creative bunch, and sometimes it’s fun to just make something – hat tip to Alex McDowell, who’s presently part of our successful apprenticeship programme for the design work.


The City maketh the culture

If you’re very blunt cities are just a collection of buildings, roads and infrastructure where people happen to live and work; they’re essentially just a theatrical backdrop to the daily dramas of each individual’s life – but I like to think they’re more than that.

Cities aren’t just backdrops, they define cultures and movement, some much more so than others. For years certain cities have grabbed their denizens and shown them the lights, whether it be London, Berlin, Köln, New York, Paris or Florence the greatest artistic, political and cultural movements have sprung forth from the cities that spin their inhabitants like whirling dervishes into creative thought and action.

Take the naturalistic beauty of Florence; this is a city that has inspired generations of not just artists, but real masters. You think of Florence and you think of the whole Florentine School cabal which – amongst others – gave us Donatello, Botticelli, Masaccio and Michelangelo; and to this day artists flock to Florence to be inspired, to take in the winsome tuscan countryside, the exquisite architecture and the delicate palette of colours, smells and tastes that float through every Florentine street and piazza.

Or consider the roaring seething orgy that still is Berlin – through generations this city has inspired biting satire, political activism and an art scene that could only be described as brutally honest portrayals of the world around them. Politically this is the city that saw the rise of Communism and National Socialism in the 30s, during the cold war it saw political activism like nowhere else with a plethora of strong protest groups and even today real dissent and anti-government feeling ferments with activists still keeping Angela Merkel’s coalition quite firmly on its toes. Artistically, this political melting pot drives the art scene, from the vicious social commentary of George Grosz or Kathe Kollwitz to the glorious revelry in the debauchery of the cocaine fuelled metrosexual nightclubs as portrayed by Otto Dix; and more recently the free-wheeling poor but sexy Berlin as captured so marvellously in my opinion in the joyous canvases of Ann-Kristin Hamm.

London again twists its inhabitants, the driving ever-changing scene in London opens new doors every day; one person’s crap is another person’s treasure, from the decaying East End of the 1980   that inspired the mega-canvases of multi-cultural faces in Gilbert & Georges seminal work ‘Are you angry, or are you bored’ to the gawking polemic on Britain’s celebrity obsessed culture embodied so well in Damien Hirst’s ‘For the love of God’ (better known as the diamond encrusted skull). Over and over again London like Florence or Berlin has allowed a level of expression that no other city in its shadow could foster. It’s taken in the waifs and strays and given them a canvas to play with: and that – that – is why we love our cities.

Vivid London – it’s not just a name: it defines us, the city we’re based in hones our approach. Life should be Vivid, and London inspires us. It truly is a vivid city; the cultures, languages, art, theatre, cinema, architecture, the whole simmering mass is exciting to be in – and because of that creative thought thrives.


Has Mr Murdoch scored a spectacular own goal?

MacBook Pro displaying The Times website.I’m an avid Times reader, from the headlines to the Cricket, and I’m especially rabid if there’s a new restaurant revue, or an opinion leader from Giles Coren, A.A.Gill, Jeremy Clarkson or Alpha Mummy.

It’s been almost five years since I had a regular subscription to a newspaper delivered to my house and, if I’m honest, quite a lot of that had something to do with The Times moving to the horrific tabloid layout that’s plagued its paper version ever since. I’m now a digital reader – I rarely buy a newspaper in print form, unless I’m travelling or fancying an idyllic weekend curled up with tea, papers and good books; something my iPhone and my obsessive e-mail checking syndrome almost always curtails.

As a digital reader I enjoyed Times Online, it wasn’t quite as pretty as the Guardian, or quite as interactive as the FT, but when it was redesigned I started to get excited. The layout was clean, easy to navigate and retained a certain sense that you’re reading news rather than just seeing news between a hundred flashing adverts, social media side bars and endless inane comments; but then along came Paywall Day.

Some predicted it would be like all the lights going out (you won’t be able to survive without it), others (sneakily calling themselves the majority) thought otherwise, but a month and a bit in, the Paywall hasn’t destroyed The Times, at least not yet.

The most obvious change was that the amount of articles, carrying significant amounts of user generated comment, dropped dramatically; the blame americans/europeans/arabs/the left (delete as applicable) ramblers and loons have been silenced, replaced instead by people that understand the importance of an argument and capital letters. Threaded comment system has also made it possible to engage users directly, resulting in branch topics and a real ability to pull up those who haven’t thought their comments through or are, in your opinion, just plain wrong.

The quality of the articles has also increased – almost all feature pieces have video, photo galleries and associated stories surrounding them; something that the previous incarnation of the site used to struggle with, So it’s here that I’m seeing the real value of the subscription; The Times is now regularly rivalling the BBC on the integrated nature of its copy, and that can only be an improvement to the often trivialised articles that appear as fillers on other news sites.

So it’s all good? Well not quite. There’s no denying, it’s a quieter site than it used to be – there’s still a significant amount of similar content available free elsewhere, and it’s clear that The Times is going to have to work hard to get people into its site. What is interesting is that with the exception of the initial trial period when the website launched there’s now no sample, no tasters, no giveaways – nothing, nadda, zip. If you want the Times, great, if you’re not sure they give no reasons to reassure. It’s this lack of a reason to buy that I think is their main barrier to increased subscription sales; only time will tell if Murdoch’s real conviction that content should be paid for acts as a limiter or an enabler for The Times. What is for certain is that other than rumours that other News International publications might follow, The Times is currently standing alone on the shoreline, and only time will tell if the tide washes over them or they change it’s direction.


The right person for the job

The Right Person For the Job Left

Over the years you will have been told that it’s always better to put someone ‘on the frontline’ in front of the media – and this advice is still true. It’s clearly a better choice than a faceless spokesman, and a country mile better than using someone from your news or public relations agency, but let’s be quite clear: ‘frontline’ can mean the boss – but it doesn’t necessarily always need to be.

The Right Person For the Job Right

The right tone, and the person with the right tone, is so much more important than it being the most senior person you can throw at the media.

Recently we’ve seen some awful CEO performances – BP’s chief executive just doesn’t know how to speak ‘American’ – and shouldn’t be allowed to: he doesn’t get that what Britons perceive as a stiff-upper-lip, ‘get on with the job resolve’, can be seen in America as being uncaring. Tony Haywood would need to be blubbing to really touch the cord of deep sorrow that is expected of him presently. That’s something that he probably can’t do.

From a Brit to an American, Mark Zuckerberg is an appalling frontman for Facebook. He’s a geek, born and bred. His geeky humour and track-record of speaking straight from his dorm room instead of his boardroom is not what’s needed from one of the world’s most connected brands; especially when it’s fighting an uphill PR battle against the power privacy lobby.

Given the amount of times that bosses make awful PR gaffes, you’d think that agencies the world over would wise up to the mantra of picking the right person for the right job. Of course, it’s not always the agency that makes this choice – but the top-down ethos that only the most senior person in the organisation can be a viable spokesperson is inappropriate for today’s media landscape.

Think wisely about your message and work with your PR and media agencies to hone a message and a tone that’s appropriate for your audience. Don’t box yourself in to being the lead voice – being the media face of a corporation simply isn’t for everyone, and it’s not even always appropriate for the organisation. A spread of faces who understand their areas of specialism and speak the language of that niche are going to make your communications strategy far easier to manage than a one size fits all approach.

Most importantly – never forget that the time when this strategy will be tested the most is under crisis conditions: so plan right from the beginning to spread the load, control the message and make it appropriate for your audience to avoid the awfulness of saying something, or being heard to say something – whether you meant it or not, that you later regret, and your shareholders regret even more.

Neil Evans is Senior Partner and Creative Director of Vivid London.

Image by Anisha Chandarana, Junior Design Staff at Vivid London.


Three reasons why you should shake up your retainer.

Retainers are for all agencies the gold star – a retained client paying monthly or quarterly is exactly what most agencies strive to get: yes the big projects are all very nice, but a client paying you regularly… well that’s gold dust.

But does it encourage agencies to work harder for their clients?

The answer to that question in most cases is unfortunately no. It’s one of the reasons I started Vivid all those years ago, I got so depressed working at large agencies seeing great accounts lose their spark the minute they became retained. All to often in this industry, retained work becomes expected and standard, clients you’d once have fought for become clients that are just there, they pay and you deliver what’ll keep them happy, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with retained work, it must be treated with respect by the agency and an iron fist by the client, because otherwise it’s bad for you, and it’s bad for the reputation of our industry.

Firstly let’s look at you, it’s your money after all. At first you think you’re getting good value, you’ve got an almost ‘in house’ team – they deal with everything and you very rarely have to get into the bowels of the work, after a time things become routine, a few press releases a month, an issues awareness day or week, your happy face in the media when the easy picking stories come up for you to respond with, what’s wrong with that?

Well quite a bit – the routine falls into motions, easy to go through, well practiced – but essentially the same, day in day out. Good public relations and marketing is reliant on innovation and creativity, it relies on a hunger to find or create the good news, as well as just responding lazily to the bad. The second your retained team fall into that routine the quality of your press and marketing plummets, you need the fire of the pitch or at least an agency that retains the fire of the pitch to stave off the familiarity that breeds mediocrity.

Second, it’s bad for the agency: yes the money is nice – but a retained client is an agency football, yes the big guns are brought out for important matches, but the rest of the time the ‘b’ team will do – one of the reasons I got out of big agencies was because I was fed up with accounts being passed off to junior staff and interns the first time the client wasn’t looking: they’d bill the time as if it was the full team, but often that team was off working on new business – fighting hard on new projects because they’ve won the fight already on yours.

Third, it’s bad for the industry, it promotes laziness a worrying lack of transparency between the ‘account directors’ who meet with the client and those people who actually do the work on your retained account, but most concerning it promotes a culture where a complete lack of creativity is the norm: ‘it will do’ solutions overtake cutting edge thinking, the easy option becomes the only option – and when that happens it dulls the edge of our whole industry.

So what can you do? Well first – look long and hard at your agency, working with them should feel as fresh ten years in as it did when your first worked together; there should be a real sense that they know what they’re doing of course, but the thinking should still be filled with excitement and not tinged with cynicism.

Then, talk to your agency, don’t be afraid to ask exactly what they do for the retainer, if you think they should be doing more then make that clear, and a good way to start is to build in a monthly creative briefing – make them think for their money, good ideas will allow you and them to innovate and reach new goals.

And finally, talk goals – don’t let your agency get away with presenting a cuttings folder as ‘proof’ think hard about whether it’s met your goals, where is your return on investment – any agency worth their salt should be able to talk ROI, don’t be fooled by impressions to view or estimated worth, tie them down to how it impacts your business.

And if all this still doesn’t get you a better press and marketing service, why not talk to someone like us – never afraid to talk about your bottom line, and always happy to create and innovate, because we realise that real, measurable growth in your business is critical to the success of our own.


Social media is bollocks

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that people in marketing will exaggerate, obfuscate and complicate to make basic services that rely on creative force sound far more complex than they really are. It’s the ‘Witch Doctor’s’ pretext that sold plague “cures” 500 years ago, and the sad truth is, there’s more people out there doing it today than ever before.

A day doesn’t go by without some utterly fatuous piece of research proclaiming social media as the only way that anyone is ever going to get any message across in the 21st century, but really, we’ve heard this before.

In the 80s it was FM and aspirational TV adverts that moved away from ‘buy this now because…’ prevalent through advertising since the first recognisable adverts. In the early 90s it was quirky adverts on TV with magazine-spread teasers mixed with a new mode of public relations. It’s modus operandi was to make an advert so odd it’ll get press coverage but won’t necessarily have anything to do with the product (a la Tango et al). And finally as the millennium passed and we moved into the naughties it was first ‘the internet’ and then ‘social media’ that became the words advertising, marketing and public relations agencies flourished around.

Every second graduate is now claiming they’re a social media executive, while all they’re really doing is taking press releases and cutting them down to 140 characters for Twitter, missing the point of interaction altogether. The vast majority of these practitioners are simply rehashing their Media Studies training, putting out the same old ideas on a new platform hoping it’s the platform that’ll make the difference.

This is of course only compounded media willing to publish anything with a buzz word in; the result? Dodgy article after dodgy article heralding ‘new ways’ of talking to consumers using social media as the messiah platform.

It’s not. The platform is irrelevant, it’s the message and the audience that matter.

While undoubtedly social media has changed the way that brands talk to consumers, and will continue to change the way people talk about brands, services, companies and their advertising, it’s just another platform. TV changed the way people interacted, so did the telephone, so did the Web1.0 internet, to think that Web2.0 social media is going to be any more or less influential is silly.

Concentrate on the message, listen to the feedback, and if they’re good, thorough, and appropriate for the audience you’ll win every time. So the next time you see a percentage thrown randomly into an article about social media, consider where that might have come from, think hard about why it might be there, and always read the small print; because often it’s not saying quite what you think it might be saying on first glance… because after all; that’s what witch doctors do.


Three ways to be noticed in a cluttered inbox

On any given day, if you’re an average internet user, you’re now more than likely to receive five or more solicited marketing messages a day. Five is of course the minimum; many of us, myself included, often get many more. Whether it’s Amazon stalking my movements through their site, stuff from my favourite eBay sellers, another cheap television deal from Misco, or news that London Underground is broken (again) from TfL, the information doesn’t stop coming.

What do you now have to do to make sure that your marketing message isn’t lost in the ever-mounting virtual inbox?

There are, of course, the obvious technical tips: ensuring that your message doesn’t upset spam filters, making sure that your lists, especially the opt in and outs work, and ensuring that your e-mails are set up to make links and calls to action obvious. But there are other tricks to ensure that your marketing stands head and shoulders above the clutter.

Make sure you’re consistent

A consistent look and feel across newsletters will make a huge difference. By keeping the design and tone consistent, you help to build, maintain and strengthen your brand. This builds trust with your subscribers, which will encourage them to take your recommendations and make it far easier to close sales when they follow your links.

It’s not just the look and feel: timing is everything. Once you’re into the swing of sending out marketing mail, make sure that you’re sending your mail out at the same time each day and at the same interval. So if your newsletter goes out on a Tuesday at 2pm then it’s a fair assumption that many of your subscribers will come to expect your message to arrive every Tuesday afternoon. Many may even subconsciously clear some space to read your content and will generally be more receptive if they’re expecting your message to arrive.

And while we’re talking about timing…

Studies have consistently shown that people are more receptive to marketing by e-mail on Tuesdays and Wednesdays: they’re more likely to read your mail, click your links and follow through to buying or subscribing to your service. There’s good reasoning behind this: catching people just after they’ve finished recovering from a hectic weekend and before they’ve begun to get bogged down with end of the week work-rushes and weekend plans, they’re more likely to concentrate on your message. If you send your e-mail between lunchtime and 3pm you’ll get noticed more by people trying to defocus from work while they have their lunch.

But they’re not just subscribers…

They’re people, they’re your customers – so tell them that you love them. Personalisation is key: it might cost a little more to code, but think about it: if you’re in a crowded room and someone calls you by name, you’re so much more likely to turn around than if they just say ‘hello’, no matter how familiar the voice might be. Research into e-mail marketing has shown that you can increase both your open, read and click-thru rates by up to 650% simply by personalising your marketing by adding your subscribers name.

These are just three simple ways of increasing the visibility of your messages. In my next blog I’ll be looking at more complex ways of maintaining subscriber loyalty, the importance of ‘above the fold’ content, and how you can turn your marketing into genuinely appreciated sources of learning.

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