The NNF rebrand and creative talent

by Tom Albrighton 8 March 2012 Branding

Round my way, the Norfolk and Norwich Festival has become one of the most important events in the local calendar. It brings together all kinds of performance art from around the world, from chin-stroking Philip Glass recitals through to freaky Polish street theatre.

The Norfolk & Norwich Festival logo, which no Norfolk agency could have created, apparently

Recently, NNF announced a rebrand, which was carried out by Colchester agency Silk Pearce. It’s quite a departure from the previous look, with cheerful, summery colours and a ‘contemporary interpretation of woodblock type’ (it says here).

My subject in this post is not the quality of the rebrand, although I have seen some designers express reservations about it. What I’m interested in is the fact that it apparently couldn’t be sourced from within the local area – by which I mean a creative agency located in Norwich or Norfolk.

Local talent

Having been knocking around the Norwich scene for a few years now, I’ve been involved with several of our creative agencies. And in my view, many of them could have delivered work just as good as Silk Pearce’s – no disrespect to Silk Pearce, of course.

Selection was made via a credentials pitch, not a creative one. And I think it’s fair to assume that some Norfolk agencies were probably invited to pitch. But whether local players didn’t make the shortlist or failed at the pitch stage, NNF is effectively saying the same thing: none of them had the skills and experience to handle this rebrand.

Sorry, but I’m not buying that. The local creative scene has exploded in recent years, and we now have dozens (if not hundreds) of excellent agencies, many of whom specialise in exactly this sort of rebrand. And if you cast the net a bit wider, to take in freelancers, the field gets even larger. (Have a look at my Norwich Marketing Twitter list for a quick snapshot.)

No protection

Why do I think a local agency should have got the work? Well, it’s not because of a sense that organisations should buy locally on principle. Although I respect Buy Local as a movement, I’d feel hypocritical espousing its values, because when I buy services I get them from wherever seems appropriate. Sometimes buying local makes sense, sometimes it just doesn’t matter and sometimes it can hold you back.

Also, I serve clients all over the UK and around the world, and it seems strange to say that money should flow into our area but not out of it. I’d rather work in a region that’s properly integrated into the wider economy and can hold its own without protectionism, however well-intentioned.

Familiarity breeds content

No, my reasoning is not moral or economic but practical and aesthetic. It’s to do with the quality of work you can do when you’re already familiar with a brand – and the special case of a locally focused, locally rooted brand.

In this particular case, local knowledge is very relevant. There’s an ambient familiarity that comes from living and working in Norwich and being part of NNF every year that I think would translate into better work. You can get to know an iPad app from anywhere in the world, but to know the NNF and the area you need to be here.

The same argument would apply with a campaign to promote a particular tourist area. If you’d visited it yourself, you’d be far better equipped to capture its essence in your copy, your identity or your design. If you hadn’t, you’d be operating at one remove from the customer experience.

Familiarity takes away all the initial groundwork that creatives usually have to do in order to get up to speed with a brand. Instead of grappling with the basics, you’re free to focus on the finer points of the campaign or rebrand – fine-tuning the engine instead of reinventing the wheel. And with time and resource inevitably limited, that can only mean a better outcome, because you’re spending longer on adding real value.

Real brand values

However, it goes deeper than that. Creatives who’ve been to the concerts, mingled with the audience and soaked up the vibe are more likely to understand NNF’s brand values. And I don’t mean the aspirational values that the brand owner might want to impose, but the actual brand values generated by the people who use the product.

Brands are what people think of them. If you haven’t experienced a brand directly, the next best thing is to talk to those who have. And if you can’t do that, the next best thing is to put yourself in their shoes, to the best of your ability. But that’s the least any creative should do – for best results, we should be given better ammo than mere imagination.

Now, there is a view that says a fresh approach is worth having, and that an outsider can be well placed to deliver it. But I think that’s apposite when the client or their incumbent agency has got too involved with a brand, having worked with it too closely for too long. It’s not an argument for creatives to know less about the things they’re trying to sell.

Out of town

It’s a bit like the point about the manager of the England football team being English. When fans say that, they’re not being jingoistic or racist  – they’re just expressing the crying need for a manager who knows the English league, speaks the English language and ‘gets’ English football culture. And the most likely answer to that brief is an English manager.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped us from having non-English managers of the English team – with mixed results. But the sense that something ‘out there’ is better than what we already have can be very powerful. As the saying goes, ‘an expert is always from out of town’.

I’m sorry to say that I think that’s what happened here. We have a lot of very high-calibre creatives here in Norfolk, and many of them could have handled this rebrand brilliantly. And for a project like this, I think it’s absolutely right that they should.

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