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Putting the #CompanySpotlight on an agency that’s kept it in the family for 50 years

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Greenwich Design, is a family-run business that “brings brands to life” by connecting them with customers in surprising and innovative ways. It started life over 50 years ago and has spent that time working with some of the biggest and smallest brands in the world.

It’s an agency with a client list that includes everything from Jamie Oliver to a local roofing company and doesn’t discriminate when it comes to quality. Indeed, ambitious entrepreneurs, blue chip corporations and just about everyone else in between has been making good use of their talents for over half a century. 

To gain further insight into what makes them tick and how they’ve managed to exist as an independently run entity for more than half a century, with caught up with company director, Arrann Diamond to shine a #CompanySpotlight on Greenwich Design.

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How was your company born and where are you based?

It all began back in 1966 with our previous MD Simon’s dad designing the original brand identity for Mothercare from the bedroom of his house in Bromley. He decided it was time to set up a proper studio, so along with two other partners, they found a space in Bromley before moving to Greenwich in 1987, and Greenwich Design was born. 

We’re still in Greenwich although we recently moved to a brand-new studio by the park. Although it’s no longer strictly a family business, it’s still very much part of our ethos and culture – we’re a close-knit team and everyone who joins really does become one of the Greenwich family. 

What was the biggest challenge to the growth of your company?

The biggest challenge has been the transition from delivering purely print work to digital. I started working for Greenwich Design over 20 years ago and the digital space was definitely where I wanted to be, but at the time, the majority of Greenwich’s client work was very much print-focussed. 

I left to work as a project manager for WCRS on the Apple account and later started my own web development agency, Pixello. Then, just over a year ago, Pixello merged with Greenwich Design, coming together to create a one-stop digital and design agency. 

I brought all my digital clients with me, and we’ve hired new staff who have digital expertise, so it’s now the perfect balance. We've increased our client roster and we’re working across many different industries, so the variety has filled the whole team with enthusiasm. We’ve also moved into new premises since the merger, which has added to the buzz. It’s taken a while to get here but Greenwich Design is thriving in the digital arena now.

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Which was the first huge success that you can remember?

I started at Greenwich Design as a Junior Designer and I remember working on a project for a stationery company with one of the original founders. He had a shedload of experience and I’d been there about four weeks. We both designed a 50th anniversary logo for this company, and the client chose my logo! I couldn’t believe it! The founder was very congratulatory, of course, but I’m sure he was secretly cursing me under his breath!

More recently, we did a pitch for a company called Lands Improvement. Everything was done by Zoom so it was really challenging not being able to sense the nuances or body language of the people on the other side of the camera, or chat with anyone before or afterwards. But we won the business, and it’s a great project for us strategically – both from the design and digital side. For me it’s a perfect example of how the two arms of our business can work in perfect harmony.

What’s the biggest opportunity for you and your company in the next year?

The biggest opportunity is probably to cross-pollinate our clients across the business more. So, for example, we have one client that we only ever do print work for. A lot of that work is packaging but some of it involves brand guidelines and toolkits, which often become obsolete very quickly if they’re printed and then something needs to change. 

We want to get to a stage where we’re encouraging our print clients to experiment with digital where it makes sense to do so. Likewise, we want our digital clients to remember that if they ever need a printed brochure or other non-digital design, we’re their first point of call – we have a brilliant team here to work on that.

I see another opportunity with the many start-up companies that are coming out of the pandemic. We’re finding smaller companies approaching us because they need something done properly – they realise if they want results, they can’t just chuck something together themselves anymore, so they’re coming to us for branding and websites. And another area for us is in the digital marketing arena, helping clients with their SEO and Google Ads promotional campaigns.

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Can you explain your team’s creative process?

Yep, broadly speaking, we have a 4-step process that goes something like this:

1.     Immersion – Tell us what you want and what’s holding you back. Go deep.

2.     Insight – Let’s see what secrets you’ve got hidden away in that business of yours.

3.     Analysis – We’ll have a good look at your world and figure out where you want to be.

4.     Create – Taking all that lovely knowledge, we go make you some brilliant stuff!

How does your team remain inspired and motivated?

I find having a wide variety of projects to work on really motivates people so winning new business across lots of different sectors helps, rather than working on the same sort of projects all the time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that we have retained clients that provide a steady flow of work but it’s good to mix that up with one-off briefs that get people thinking differently.

Moving into a new studio has really shaken things up as well, and the sense of renewed energy amongst our staff is palpable. You can feel the buzz amongst the team, and we’ve also hired some new staff, which adds to the positive vibe, especially doing this through the darkest days of the pandemic. All this feeds into increased creativity and better design output.

I think after working remotely through the pandemic, we’ve also become much better at sharing our inspiration with each other. We use Slack for team comms and we encourage everyone to share whatever they find inspiring in a Slack Design Channel. It can be anything from a great animation to a feature they like on a website – they grab a screenshot or record it and share it with the team. It’s so easy to do and everyone sees it instantly.

Ramping up the creative output for our social media channels has been lots of fun too – it allows people to be a bit tongue in cheek and mix things up. And lastly, I’d say that winning awards is a great motivator for the team. We recently won a Gold Transform Award and everyone in the studio was on such a high. Even those who didn’t work directly on the project felt a sense of pride being part of the Greenwich team, so that’s great for morale and motivation.

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How has COVID-19 affected your company?

We had to rethink how we did everything – from moving from desktop machines to laptops and monitors at home, to setting up a VPN so we can securely access our server remotely. We had to do it really quickly, but I don’t think we would choose to go back to the way we worked before.

From a creative standpoint, the hardest part was not being able to chat and bounce ideas off one another and it was difficult not having face-to-face meetings with clients too – especially when we had to present ideas or creative concepts. That’s a lot more difficult to do over Zoom.  

Having said that, we’re a lot more flexible now with our working patterns. People still come into the studio but they can come in later or leave earlier to avoid rush hour, and work from home when they need to. We do have core hours and core days that people need to be in the studio – I think that’s important to keep the creative vibe alive, and also the ‘family’ culture that I talked about earlier – but there’s lots of flexibility around that.  

Which agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?

I’d like to give a shout out to Ryan Wylie currently at VMLY&R, one of the partners we’ve worked with who has just been brilliant over the years in terms of offering advice. He’s the person I go to if I need to run something by someone, or if I need to get a sense check on anything. He has a lot of useful knowledge as well as being an all round top bloke!

We’ve worked for a global business over many years and have frequently found ourselves working in collaboration with other agencies. The idea that a client can create a virtual agency by taking the key expertise from a range of agencies has been a very fruitful way to work.

It has made us really understand how a total communications package needs to work as one. Our MD, Simon, has thoroughly enjoyed working with David Davis at 3Ds on projects where we have been able to combine our skill sets.

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What is one tip that you would give to other agencies looking to grow?

Look after your staff – they are your most important asset. I’ve been on the other side of that and I know what it's like when your boss is unapproachable. It’s so important that people feel like they can come up to you and have a chat and an honest conversation with you. 

People need to feel valued and heard. And I think that’s one of the reasons that we don’t have a high staff turnover at Greenwich. It’s the same if someone has an idea about something – I want them to speak up. Everyone’s opinion is valid and it’s great to hear ideas coming from all over the business not just from the top down.

How do you go about finding new clients/business? (Pitching, work with retainers, etc.)

We’ve been very lucky in that we’ve always had a lot of word-of-mouth recommendations, repeat business and longstanding retained clients. That said, we are being more proactive about finding new business for the reasons I mentioned earlier – having a wide variety of clients keeps everything fresh and keeps our designers happy!

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What’s your one big hope for the future of the industry?

I was chatting to our MD, Simon about this one, and we agreed there isn’t really one stand out hope, but lots of little things that should come together to secure the future of brand design. Over a very long period, we’ve helped one of our larger clients to move ‘brand’ up to board level. Not just us of course, it’s been a collective effort over the best part of three decades to do it. 

There has been an increasing understanding that brand has a real value and that the maintenance of the value is hugely important for any business - large or small. Over the 40 years or so that Simon has been in the business, he’s seen it become ever more professional. The old throwaway attitude that designers just ‘do colouring in’ has been largely replaced by an understanding that we deliver way more than that. 

I think we’d all like to see that development continue and be reciprocated by the industry. It’s important that the industry increasingly fosters a desire for agencies to truly understand the businesses that they work for. We have a number of clients, usually start-ups, where we’ve become more involved than simply getting a fee for the work we do. 

We become shareholders. By doing so, it isn’t just about helping their brands to look the best, it’s about us really understanding the business case that each of them has. Of course, the cynics will continue to regard design as an expensive luxury that they will do all they can to avoid. The challenge of the industry is to clearly demonstrate to them that what we do will affect their bottom line. 

Do you have any websites, books or resources that you would recommend?

In terms of website / digital ideas Awwwards.com is one of my go to sites – there are some great website examples on there and lots of inspirational stuff. In terms of development, codepen.io is good if you’re looking for animations or little details – how menus open and close for example.

Simon, our MD always reminds us that inspiration is all around us, if we choose to see it. That’s not just in books or online. It might be looking out of the window and really seeing what is out there. He regards the supermarket as an art gallery as well as a shop because there is so much stuff in there that’s really beautiful. Sadly that means his weekly shop can take a lot longer than it should!

In terms of resources, I’d recommend that any business in the market for brand identity design or web development have a look at our website to see what we do - we’d be happy to help them out! ;-)

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