Happy Client

Friday evening, 10 o’clock, and the phone rings at home. It’s Patrick, one of our Nigerian clients, who supplies card issuing sytems to banks and financial institutions. He phones on the off-chance that we might be able to do something for his sister.

Maris runs the St Maria Goretti school in Nigeria and  has recently returned from a cultural school trip to the UK. She needs to produce a memorial brochure for parents and children but there’s a catch: the printed brochures need to be in Lagos by the following Friday. Producing a brochure within a week in the UK is not terribly difficult but we know from previous experience there’s a major transport issue, delivering material to Nigeria.

Before making any sort of decision, I need to see what we’re dealing with so Maria e-mails a draft of the proposed brochure in Word. On the face of it, it all looks reasonable straightforward but I need to check transport before commiting – and that can’t be done until first thing Monday.

And Monday is the 5th day of the Lord’s test with every chance of England beating Australia at Lord’s for the first time in years so I can’t miss that. The stewards at Lord’s are very hot on mobile phones so it’s back and forth between seat and the back of the grandstand making calls, trying to resolve the transport issue. Doesn’t look good when it becomes apparent that the brochures would need to be at Heathrow by tonight to clear Lagos customs in time for Friday delivery.

But what are friends for? Another of our Nigerian clients, Rockson Engineering, has a private plane leaving on Wednesday afternoon – if we can deliver brochures to Kensington by 3pm they’ll take them for us. Game on.

Fortunately Freddie destroys the Aussie resistance and it’s all over by lunch – shame in a way, as the atmosphere at Lord’s was simply fantastic.

Back to the office, and by early evening a draft design is on its way to Nigeria. A few corrections and tweaks on Tuesday morning, and by early afternoon we have approval and the PDFs are en route to the factory.

Sterling work by Prometheus to print the brochure overnight and have sheets drying on the floor by breakfast in time for folding and stitching. By midday transport is on its way to collect and deliver safely to Kensington (with a few minutes to spare!).

Late on Thursday I have a call from a very happy Maria.

The Search for a Unique Selling Proposition

The Holy Grail of New Business

In November of this year we’ll be celebrating our 20th birthday. Having been born out of the last recession we reckon it’s as tough now as it’s ever been – particularly when it comes to acquiring new business so time for a light-hearted look at our search for the NHA Unique Selling Proposition – the Holy Grail of new business.

First up a bit of background: Like many in the service industries we’ve always had a particular problem describing exactly what we do – we operate in so many areas and use so many different skills and experiences for any given project that describing the NHA Service in a word or two has proved very difficult. Yes, we’re designers; Yes, we’re printers; Yes, we’re copywriters; and so it goes on.

When you make a new business approach in whatever form, the majority of prospects will try to pigeon-hole you in a suitable category to make the proposition easier to understand – something that ties in with the way they work. To begin with it was relatively straightforward: we were a below-the line agency handling just about everything to do with marketing (except press, tv and radio). We concentrated on designing and producing brochures and other marketing material with the odd promotion, point-of-sale item and premium thrown in. Printers were still perceived like devils-incarnate and service was a dirty word.

We used freelance designers, copywriters, photographers and any other skills required, pulled the whole project together in one package and then bought the repro (remember repro and typesetting?) and print to deliver a complete package to the client. Our USP then was, what has now become a much-maligned phrase “The One-Stop Shop”.

Then “below-the-line” became increasingly irrelevant as a phrase: Sales Promotion agencies appeared; designers started buying print; printers started giving away design and providing a decent service; typesetting disappeared completely (together with the absurd union practices of the time – NGA sticker anyone?) and everyone started treading on each other’s toes, blurring the distinction between the various skills.

Around the mid-90s we didn’t want to be perceived as “just” designers or “just” this or “just” that as the service NHA provides is much more comprehensive and experienced than that. So we muddled along without a USP and really struggled to promote exactly why NHA was a better bet for that project than the local designer, for example – our proposition was too complicated to be easily communicated and so the new business efforts fell on stony ground. We tried telesales, direct mail, cold calling and all the standard stuff, with very little to show for it.

Come the Millennium and fortunately our computers continued to work, unfortunately the lack of a USP and clear sales message didn’t. We interrogated clients (well… fed and watered them ‘til their defences were down) to try and identify what “they” thought we were and how “they” perceived us rather than what “we” thought we were. Some thought of us as Designers, some as Printers, others as a soft touch for lunch! There was no consensus but the conclusion we did draw was that our clients didn’t really know how to categorise our services either – and us a communications company.

After plenty more discussion and exploration we became “Creative Project Managers” – described beautifully what we do, provided one didn’t immediately relate project management with the building industry.

Despite all of these shenanigans, our best source of new business over the years has been, unsurprisingly, personal introductions or recommendations from existing clients. This is true for almost every industry for one very simple reason: you don’t have to win someone’s trust “before” they give you the business – unless you turn out to be a complete idiot. A personal recommendation brings with it a level of trust: “if you’ve done a good job for my friend/colleague or whatever then I know you’ll do the same for me.”

And so the search for the definitive USP continues.

Any suggestions will be gratefully received…

Brochure or Catalogue? What’s the difference?

nha_brochure-design-250Not a lot you might think. But you’d be wrong – when it comes to design the two are as far apart as breakfast and dinner on a bad day.

The two serve quite different purposes and need to be treated as such if the resultant product is going to be anywhere near meeting its targets.

Wikipedia describes a catalogue (or catalog) as “an organized, detailed, descriptive list of items arranged systematically….. The word comes from the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women or Eoiae.” And a brochure, rather less grandly as “a leaflet advertisement. Brochures may advertise locations, events, hotels, products, services, etc.”

For normal human beings that translates to catalogues (usually) want to sell you one or more products from a whole list of goodies with prices while a brochure is more of a touchy-feely marketing tool – and if any smarty-pants asks why holiday “brochures” are called brochures and NOT catalogues I shall summon dark forces to make your tea go cold.

Does it matter?

In design terms it is massively important. Catalogue design, particularly if you’re selling off the page is far more of a science than you might imagine.

For a catalogue to achieve its full potential, you’d be wasting your time without an understanding of square inch analysis and product density; knowing where the important “hot spots” are; understanding how to change the pace at which a reader is scanning the catalogue with “stoppers”; how to use “heroes”, and so on and so on.

A brochure is less scientific but no less important for all that. Without the need to achieve specific performance (in terms of sales) from a given area or number of pages, a brochure provides more scope to explore other areas of creativity.

Having said all that the most important consideration for a designer is understanding the difference in such a way that they can produce the best possible designs for any given application.