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BRUTALLY HONEST AUDIENCE BIOS

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A few months ago, our creative team stumbled across these brutally honest freelance bios from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, a satirical website. As we laughed our way through them, it occurred to us that it would be really interesting to see how our own teams think about their jobs.

Because the thing about most online bios is – they’re dull. Informative, perhaps, but usually something of a slog to get through. So we thought we would ask our team if they had ever wished they could share their hilarious/lightly scathing exaggerations about  their work. The kind of response to “What do you do?” that culminates in a deadpan “I transcribe handwritten post-its from blurry photographs into global best-practices”? You know … deep reflection about your work.

We sent out the challenge. Here are our favourites. (Actually, if we’re being brutally honest … these were the only ones sent in. Because it’s summer and holidays and *cough* that’s how it all rolled out. But we love them! Honestly!)

 

Paul Bremner (Creative Director, CA) is staring at his computer screen, trying to write something clever for his “Brutally Honest Bio.” He does this often—stare at his computer screen, watching the cursor as it blinks. Soon he will take a nap, and he will have the idea for a half-baked meta approach, which you are presently reading. Even though Paul has billable work he should be doing, Paul finds the “Brutally Honest Bio” challenge much more fun, so he will focus on that first. This probably explains the state of Paul’s bank account. Eventually this will lead him to seek out more paying work, hopefully from Audience.

And so it goes.

Mike Hewlett (Creative Director, UK) is a writer, ideas conjuror, concept fixer, content meddler, words masseur, apostrophe fixer, book cover judge, bigger picture seer. To keep it brief (unlike the briefs we get), Mike can write half-decent copy, direct creative ideas, and go toe-to-toe with clients on their agenda content. He also knows a lot of pointless stuff from the world beyond communications, understands the psychology of winning at rock-paper-scissors, and even used to DJ across south London pubs in Peckham, Penge, and Plumstead. This was primarily for the glamour and still comes in useful when helping to choose walk-on music for the great and the good in PDMA. He is writing this himself using the third person.

Howard Gopsill (Managing Director, CA) does not like to wear shoes.

Nicolas Kopp (Managing Director, SA) wouldn’t be caught dead wearing flip-flops (or t-shirts, or shorts) to the office.

Brandy Ryan (Creative Director, CA) manages her creative chaos systematically (as in: her systems have systems). This involves: colour-coding her handwritten notes. Cleaning whiteboards with hand sanitizer. Pushing chairs back into the table after she (and everyone else) has left. Clearing her desk at the end of each work day. (She will resist tidying your desk if you leave it a mess while on holiday, but only for one week.)

Mark Higgins (Creative Director, CA) is a collector and purveyor of rare and precious items, such as the semi-colon.

The Cohesive Creative

The Cohesive Creative

 

Our favourite kind of creative concepts are those that run deep within a project. Think less “theme,” and more “creative platform.” Beyond a single word, tagline, or logo, the creative platform has nuance and richness. It extends naturally into elements that can go in multiple, diverse directions. And it is always clear and accessible to the audience. The creative platform doesn’t need to be explained at every turn; it simply is the fullness of the experience.

We had the chance recently to build and realize just such a project, and we’d like to share some of its highlights with you. A quick note, though: don’t read this if you’re hungry.

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Organizational Binaries, Revisited

 

The CCD

We posted back in March 2016 about our efforts to find the sweet spot between creativity and organization, complete freedom and rigid order. Over this year, we’ve moved deeper into the idea of mental models, designing and building a Creative Concept Database to house some of our best work.

The process of thinking through what we want to catalogue, as well as what makes a project exceptional, has been revealing. We’ve identified certain creative patterns and design processes within these 5-star projects—and identifying them has led us to solidifying the workflow and clarifying the deliverables. And while it might seem backwards to do this organizational work after the fact, rather than mapping it out beforehand, it’s proven invaluable. We’re learning more about ourselves, our clients, and our audiences as we invest this time.

Time and Space—Away

We’ve also learned that one of our best creative habits is to get offline and away from the screen. Whether that means going for a walk, writing by hand on paper (writing, not printing!), or taking five minutes to chat with colleagues (about anything, but most especially about anything outside work/jobs/clients), our teams are breaking up time and moving into different spaces.

And we’re not alone in this: It’s Nice That posted about the connection between switching off and creativity; Mashable reminded us what it was like to have a phone that was just, you know, a phone; and Wired acknowledged the value of leaning into boredom, rather than Netflixing (or Instagramming, or Tweeting, or Snapchatting) it away. When was the last time you were genuinely bored? It might be a good time to revisit that experience, and see what you can create with it.

The Well

Which leads to our next (re)discovery: creativity needs to be fed. Regularly. It’s easy, especially in our industry, to devote all our time to clients. Because we’re trusted with their projects, and because those relationships matter to us.

But when we’re not taking time off/away, particularly in creative environments, we start to run dry. The usual tasks can become harder and slower. We’re proud of the creative, offline work of our team: we have musicians and photographers and artists and singers and hockey players and chefs and DIYers in our ranks. But we realized, this past fall, that we haven’t been prioritizing creative encounters in/as teams.

The RGD DesignThinkers Conference—where we sent members of our Creative and Account teams—was electric. Inspiring. And so deeply resonant: we’re still having conversations about what we saw and heard there. Letting our creativity hang out with the creativity of others is unsurprisingly rich in its results.

So here’s to more of all that, as well as a glance back to where we were last year…

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Audience Map 2017

Going Global – Redux

 

New Year, New Venture

A new year seems like a great time to spin the globe, so we’re thrilled to announce that our prospective-in-2016 Singapore office is a 2017 reality!

Engage! Communications by Design Pte. Ltd. is a unique partnership between Audience Communication and Unicblue (http://unicblue.com), a design firm we’ve had the pleasure of working with across Europe and Asia. Freshly incorporated and locally led by the multi-talented Felix Grube (Director of Production), Engage! offers a unique matrix of services:

  • Audience Corporate Communication and Strategic Services
  • Unicblue Congress Design services
  • Julia Williams’s conference services (travel, accommodation, F&B, logistics)

Lovers of collaboration and connection that we are, Engage! brings the APAC region a talented trifecta (a.k.a. “one-stop shop”) of communications and events.

And if you’re curious about how we got here…

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What if… (Design Thinking + Live Events)


Letting Go

We’re still talking about our experience attending RGD’s DesignThinkers 2016 conference a few weeks ago, in part because design thinking has been on our minds for some time now. It’s easy, in the world of live events and communications, to do things as they’ve always been done, especially when you’ve built a solid reputation for doing them that way.

But what if we took some time to reflect on what it is we do, as if we were designers tasked with rethinking the concept of live meetings? This calls to mind Leland Maschmeyer’s discussion of reimagining lip balm (for EoS): letting go of the traditional tube shape and structure was, as it turns out, a risky but necessary first step. (EoS’s round, pastel lip balms have taken the market by storm, knocking ChapStick out of its market dominance.) When you move away from how something’s always been done, you open up possibilities that can strike deeper resonances with your target audiences.

And given that, well, audiences are our thing, we’re curious about what it might mean if we looked more closely at events from a design perspective.


Unknowing the Meeting Experience

As the events industry is now into its second century, we’re seeing interesting shifts and an appetite for change. More interactivity, fewer PowerPoint slides (Rule #1: you always have too many PPT slides), shorter sessions. But it seems like even when we try to change the way meetings happen, we always end up in the same place. We can call a meeting a “Summit,” but unless it does what a Summit does—coming together to discuss things as equals—then it’s just a conference by another name. Ditto for forum, colloquium, symposium.

But our two days with designers have us thinking that even those arrangements might still be within too narrow a paradigm. Rather than focusing on what we know, what would happen if we spent time with what we don’t know about meetings? This brings us necessarily back to Kenya Hara’s “Exformation” theory: that we let go of what we think we know about meetings, and explore the concept of “meeting” by consciously entering into a position of unknowing.

Paved Path   Trodden Path

It’s a bit like walking-paths, which inevitably seem not to be one’s natural walking inclination—as evidenced by the proximate grass-worn paths that people make as they walk where they are inclined to go. The corollary to this is Sheila Heti and Misha Glouberman’s The Chairs Are Where the People Go, which pushes us to rethink something as simple as chair arrangement. Rather than placing chairs and directing people to them, as we’ve always done, why don’t we see where the people go, and place the chairs there?

We’ve become so accustomed to prioritizing a set of things (chairs, stages, slides) rather than the people we want to engage. Focusing on the experiential aspect of “meeting” as idea, exformation—which is really the idea of setting aside all we think we know, and approaching the concept as if we’ve never encountered it before (think of this as the opposition of “information”)—gives us the space to reprioritize and open up to possibilities.


The Answer is in the Question

So … if you could design the first meeting, ever, what would it look like? What would it sound like? How would it feel?

What if, like the strongest relationships, meetings weren’t one-off events—but approached as part of a series of integrated, continuous communication pieces?

How could we create an experience that felt more like one of your most compelling life experiences, and less like an obligation?

What would we be willing to risk to find out?

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Cost-Effective Meetings

 

The Thing About Fall

Shorter days. Crisp leaves. Back to school. Those might be the thing about Fall for many folks, but for us, it’s a return to the intensity of live events and meetings. Because that’s the best cap to a good, hot summer, yes? Sitting in a windowless room with hundreds of your colleagues, as PowerPoint slides take the place of “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” stories.

We’re excited, honestly, about the return to our busiest season. And as we’ve noted before, the Events industry has changed radically over the last two decades. Gone are the days of dreamy budgets and endless resources. Here are the days of tight budgets and select resources. This can be a real challenge, for clients and agencies alike.

To help mitigate that challenge, we thought we’d offer some of our tried-and-true ways to manage meetings differently—and save some budget pain as a result.

Internal Resources

Our VP Client Services, Sandy Dizon, notes that sometimes the simplest thing to do is tap into the talent of your client’s team. When you know your clients well—which is what we all aim to do—you know that Peter is an amateur photographer. You know that Alexia would make an amazing host. And you know that Simon can take on whatever minor admin tasks there are.

For minor or less demanding tasks, talk with your client about using their in-house resources. Having one of their team pick music, take photographs, or host the event can save significant costs to your budget. Knowing the creative base your client brings also lets them draw on skills and expertise that they might not otherwise access in the regular day-to-day.

DIY Videos

We know the value of professional videos. But it’s important to recognize when and where doing simple videos in-house is a realistic choice for coming in under the black line. Current technology—and our own tech savvy—has progressed far enough that most of us can use video template programs, for the simple videos (event teaser, walk-in loop, bumper video, “happy snap” video of event highlights) typically shown throughout a meeting or event.

iMovie and Animoto allow you to insert photos and video clips into any number of templates. You can build interesting transitions and create your own soundtrack from their collection of stock music. The great thing about these programs is that they’re easy to use (really! we promise!) and the videos look great.

Theme Cascade

themes_before_v2themes_after_v2

Many major business meetings (NSM, GIM, etc.) have brand/franchise sub-meetings, which often means we’re designing an overarching theme for the meeting and separate individual themes for each brand. Those costs quickly add up, because the main theme and sub-themes need to be connected enough to, well, be connected—but different enough, in this context, to be distinguished. That’s 5-6 distinct event identities and designs.

You could do that. Or, you could create a “Master Theme” that sets a predominant tone and design, and cascade each brand session from that design Picking out colours or symbols from the “Master Theme” allows you to differentiate all sessions, while ensuring overall coherence. When we do it right, you get a consistent look and feel throughout the venue that persists from the moment your audience walks in.

 

In a world where we’re all trying to cut back on the things we don’t need and focus more on the things that really matter, these are some suggestions to “KonMari” your next meeting. We can’t promise that being on, or under, budget, is “life-changing”—but it is smart.

Organizational Binaries: Creative Freedom v. Reliable Processes

The Creative Myth

As an agency that relies on the (mostly) unfettered creativity of its teams, we find ourselves navigating a changed market with different expectations. Our clients need to do more with less, which means we have to offer creative solutions at lower costs, within shorter timeframes. As a preferred supplier, we have to live up to our reputation for creative quality and consistency. But there’s a myth in our culture that genuine, authentic creativity can’t be structured or routine.

freedom vs processes

According to this myth, if creativity were a spectrum, at one end lives sheer chaos: out of the storm of images and words spinning furiously in the air, voila! the perfect idea metabolizes in a single, pure form. At the other end sits quiet order: in a highly organized and strict routine, the perfect idea must fit the right template for this task and neatly fill in the required “creative” notes.

The Space Between

We’ve found, though, that the ideal lives somewhere in the middle, depending on the team, the client, and the project. Some kind of order and ritual seem genuinely necessary to support our creative teams in doing their best work. But the order and ritual can’t be so prescribed or strict that it prohibits the necessary creative expression.

Our variable resource model means that we have access to creative, production, and technical professionals who bring unique, new perspectives to each job at hand. When we put a new team together with “best fit” in mind, we want them to bring those unique perspectives to our clients, but they have to represent our brand and our reputation.

The Mental Model

This is where we meet up with the “mental models” of last week’s post. Our creative and account teams have a mental model of what will work that they’ve developed together over time (and many, many failures). We know when it hits the right notes and will be able to deliver all that we need it to, because we have this model checklist in place. For us, the ideal creative concept

  • has depth, nuance, richness
  • can go in multiple, diverse directions
  • will be clear and accessible to the audience
  • doesn’t over-simplify the message
  • supports an environment in which our presenters will feel comfortable, natural, and normal.

If we’re able to check these off, we trust that the concept will be successful. This gives our creative teams a huge amount of freedom in developing the concept, and it lets them go as wild in their initial brainstorming, whiteboarding, thinkwalking as they need to—because for the concept to go a step further, it has to check off each item on this list.

The Open Map

For our Account Director, Tony Koth, this process is akin to exploring with a map in hand. There’s no single, mandatory direction—and someone can, ostensibly, get from A to B however they’d like. This method gives our creative team the time and space to try different routes, to explore the possibilities available—but it ultimately ensures they arrive in the right spot at the right time (within a tight budget, no less). They could forego the map and simply wander, because there is something to be said for getting lost and discovering something completely new. But we don’t recommend it as a daily practice.

And that is the demand of our industry: to produce exceptional creative concepts that will engage audiences and inspire action—every day. It’s not always easy to navigate the right amount of creative freedom and structure, and we don’t have this perfected yet. But we are actively working towards that sweet spot:

Venn Diagram

 

Audience Global Map

Going Global

Audience has increased its global business, working with professionals and clients across countries, cultures, and contexts. How did we get here?

Throwback to…

2012: Audience consisted of a core team of 11, working from an old house on Isabella Street in Toronto. We had a strong reputation, a solid business base, and a great network of freelance contributors. All was good—if predictable.

2013: Our CEO Tim Ferguson decided that our team and services could do more, be more, than they currently were. With that confidence, he uprooted his family and moved to be near one of our biggest client bases: Basel, Switzerland.

We’d all been flying back and forth to Europe for years, making (half-serious) jokes about the need for “Audience Barcelona” and “Audience Prague,” but this was taking it to an entirely other level.

Flash Forward

2016: We’re in a different Toronto office, and we have a thriving Basel office anchoring our global presence. We’ve developed a satellite office in London, England and have plans to open another this fall in Singapore.

With the guidance of our managing director, Stephen Hodges, we now have over 80 affiliated professionals in a dozen countries—including Canada, the U.S., England, Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, the U.A.E., and Singapore—offering expertise across 16 creative services.

Our expansion has been thrilling, but it’s definitely come with its own learning curve.

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Mad Max Moment

Implementing New Technology: The Mad Max Moment

A huge vehicle is driving across the desert at top speed. There are people on board, each doing their own thing. The drive across the desert is hot, fast, and dangerous. In the middle of this desert drive, the vehicle needs to be fixed. So the mechanic—brave soul—climbs under the speeding vehicle and up into the engine to fix it as multiple people do different things while driving at top speed across a bumpy desert. (Did I mention that other vehicles are in pursuit?) It’s an intense scene in Mad Max: Fury Road with clear stakes: the vehicle cannot stop but the engine must be fixed.

Implementing new technology while operating at full capacity is a lot like this. Our teams were knee-deep in their projects while their “vehicle”—their time, budget, and resource system—was being “fixed”—replaced. If that sounds incredibly stressful and a little unwise, that’s because it was. We took it on because we wanted to improve our project management and be able to offer our clients real-time snapshots of resourcing and budget. That’s an urgent need in our changing industry.

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