A Manchester-based brand agency that “hates bad design,” Dawn Creative has been building, developing and amplifying brands for over 20 years now. This week, we’re talking to Creative Director and agency Founder David O’Hearns to discuss where they’ve been, where they’re going and how they’re going to get there.
How was your company born and where are you based?
I founded Dawn Creative back in 2014. We’re based in Cheadle Hulme, just South of Manchester.
What was the biggest challenge to the growth of your company?
Genuinely? The increasing number of companies using an in-house only model when it comes to design and digital. Although I honestly believe that agencies and in-house teams can work beautifully together.
Filling in the gaps for each other, and using combined skill sets to create a brilliant output for the company that we’re both ultimately working for. Some in-house roles would hugely benefit from working closely with experienced designers that can also help train and improve in-house skills while collaborating - win, win!
Which was the first huge success that you can remember?
Everyone talks about their biggest client. The one that’s really exciting to namedrop. And in the past I’ve worked with clients like Bentley and Adidas, but I think the first huge success of this agency is starting the relationship with Zen.
It’s been a great relationship from the start, with brilliant people to work with and we’ve continued to work together for the past 8 years. I’d say that’s a pretty big success.
What’s the biggest opportunity for you and your company in the next year?
Our growth in the motion category, definitely. Too many brands just don’t move, or make a sound. Bringing change in the industry in that respect is going to be massive for us in 2023.
Can you explain your team’s creative process? What makes it unique?
Sure. Our process is actually branded. As you’d expect! It’s called 18 degrees. When the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon, it’s officially Dawn. We bring brands out of the dark and into the light.
This process is split into three parts: 18 degrees, 12 degrees, and 6 degrees. At 18 degrees, it’s about learning and planning. We’ll meet with you to understand your business and open our eyes to the challenges that you face.
Here’s a few things that we will consider and explore: A Brand Workshop, Brand Asset Collation, Competitor Analysis, Customer Surveys and Internal Surveys.
Then, it’s on to 12 degrees - shaping and defining. Using our learnings from the Brand Workshop, we simplify or create your Brand Core Strategy. This drives decision making for everything your business does and how your brand identity will look, from your brand purpose to your USPs.
Finally, it’s onto creating and refining. This is when we shape your brand identity. So much goes into this part, but in a nutshell, it’s the visual elements that will go into your brand guidelines, such as the type, graphics, colour, imagery, tone, motion, sound, logo, and how this may play out across various brand touchpoints.
Once approved we’ll create your Digital Brand Guidelines and provide access to all your new assets. Phew!
How does your team remain inspired and motivated?
Great question. That’s one for the team. This is what a couple of them said:
Wayne, web developer, said: “Biscuits, coffee, and a drive to push the business forward. Project challenges definitely give me the drive to learn more and expand my knowledge further”.
Oli, lead designer, said: “I look at what other people are doing, how they are adapting to new technology, and follow other great creators. Creativepool is actually great for me in terms of getting inspired”.
How has COVID-19 affected your company?
Remote working. It’s allowed us to work from anywhere. I love that, and we take full advantage of this new way of working.
Which agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?
We like Ragged Edge because they lead with beautifully considered copy led ideas, and brilliantly simple execution. We like DesignStudio for their unique and original motion-led branding. Any agency that is really creative, intelligent, pushes boundaries, has immense pride and won’t settle for second best is pretty inspirational.
What is one tip that you would give to other agencies looking to grow?
Do great work. Be honest. Efficient. And easy to work with. Growth will come - but without honesty and integrity, you’ll surely lose those partnerships you create. And for me, long-standing partnerships are the best way to grow.
How do you go about finding new clients/business? (Pitching, work with retainers, etc.)
We have what we call Outshine, which is a non-contract retainer. It’s a partnership between a company and our agency, so that the client gets ongoing design, digital and motion support on the fly. We find that’s the best way to ensure their brand is properly managed, and we keep them as a client as long as we can.
In terms of new business, people tend to come to us. Sounds arrogant, but we’re not really about the cold sales techniques. Most of our clients have heard of us through someone else, or seen our content, opinions and great design work on social media and reached out.
What’s your one big hope for the future of the industry?
That people stop the need to rebrand drastically. It should be set up well and evolve over time, staying current and pushing ahead. Don’t invest and then let your brand degrade over time (or weeks from what we see).
All brands need to be managed properly. If you don’t have a brand manager in-house, then you need an agency to do it for you and make sure your output is consistent, and on-brand. That’s a hill I’m willing to die on. Oh, and creative people need to be in higher positions in companies. Creativity is what will make the difference.
Do you have any websites, books or resources that you would recommend?
The Chimp Paradox & Predictably Irrational for human behaviour and They Ask you Answer for sales and marketing. In terms of design, obviously our “Branding. Done.” series. This year we’re having guests come and speak about all the different areas of branding, for 18 minutes per episode.