Guerilla: Behind The Scenes
Web Designer talks to the folks at up-and-coming Newcastle-upon-Tyne digital design force Guerilla. They tell us how they spend a lot of time on planes, love the iPads, are pro HTML5 and how teamwork keeps everything fresh and interesting
GUERILLA IS A full service creative marketing agency… which means it offers a full range of integrated creative services, from digital media and traditional design for print to branding projects, marketing strategies and PR. This integrated proposition has led to the
Newcastle-based agency successfully competing to win an incredibly wide range of projects for a diverse client-base (including Nike, Durham University, National Trust and Numark). Another benefit has been the level of experience the tight-knit core Guerilla team have gathered in their eight-year existence, experience they now offer to their clients. With recent projects ranging from full marketing strategy and rebranding programmes to innovative digital communications, TV advertising campaigns and interior retail environments, one thing is for sure, life at Guerilla is never boring!
JA: James Allen – managing director
GF: Geoff Foots – creative director
RP: Rob Palmer – head of digital
PG: Paul Galloway – studio manager
AL: Alex Lockey – senior designer
WD: How, when and why did Guerilla get started and what was the inspiration behind the name?
JA: Guerilla was set up eight years ago, when eight staff from a previous agency decided that a new challenge was needed. The aim was to launch a highly nimble and creative agency that would have the skills and experience to excel in delivering projects of any size or complexity. Soon the need to provide effective communications solutions for any given media meant that we needed a forwardthinking digital solution as part of our integrated offer. We believe that the idea should be applied to the media and that all media channels should be open to our clients, long gone are the days where clients should be channelled along a commissionbased media solution. The name Guerilla was chosen as its essence represents a tight-knit and dedicated group of individuals that employs highly effective solutions to overcome powerful adversaries. So, when we say join the resistance, what are we resisting against? Simple; bland, over-stylised communications with little or no core thought behind it.
WD: What was the original vision for Guerilla and how has the agency evolved since the early days?
GF: When Guerilla opened its doors in 2002, traditional agencies would produce either advertising or design work, our vision was to create a small, agile, full-service creative agency that combined strategic thinking with creativity to produce work that looked great and was effective for our clients. We’ve never respected boundaries or recognised any ‘line’ between advertising and design, which is why we continue to work on such a diverse range of projects – a good idea is a good idea, regardless of media channels. We’ve had to grow up in public very quickly, in the early days we would operate by the seat of our pants to a large degree. We were all packed into one open plan office, there were very few processes in place – we had no formal proofing procedures, no HR or recruitment policy, we’d regularly work 36 hours straight to complete a project on deadline, (come to think of it, that bit hasn’t changed). We’ve recently bought our own premises, so there’s a lot more space and a real air of permanence. We’re also more structured now and have developed tried and tested procedures and we’re a lot more professional, but we’ll never be corporate.
WD: Guerilla is based in Newcastle and a number of the agency’s projects are for locally based businesses. To what extent do you think that your location determines the projects you get?
GF: The short answer is it doesn’t. When we set up Guerilla, none of our clients where based in the north east. Then we won The Drum’s North-East Agency of the Year in 2005 so we thought we’d better start working for some clients based in the region, but seriously, it was never a conscious decision. Our biggest client is Rowlands and Numark Pharmacy, a national retailer based in the north west, we also work with clients in Europe and the States – we spend a lot of time on planes. We have never seen our location as a hindrance – ultimately, if your work is good, people will want to work with you regardless of location. WD: The Guerilla website is a beautifully crafted piece of design that immediately draws in a visitor. How much importance do you attach to the quality and functionality of your site? RP: We managed for quite a while with an underperforming website created way back in 2007, our traffic was poor and our self-generated enquiries were also low, we were relying solely on alternative means of promotion to gather business and promote our services. But since the launch of our new site we have seen traffic increase by 300 per cent and it has certainly rumbled up as a talking point with our current and new clients. We strive to make our digital solutions not only look good but also perform from a functional level and be highly accessible, so we felt if we were offering this service to our clients, the only decent thing to do would be to echo this level of work on our own website. More to the point, our website acts as a huge cog in the promotion of our agency, if it fails or is not doing its job, then a whole range of other promotional material will fail, as a great deal of our directed traffic is pointing to our website. It needs to be our USP, our voice and our values all bundled up into one. We put a great deal of time and thought into the desired workflow within the site, how it looks and feels and how we want our users to feel when entering, browsing and leaving, and the aim summed up in one word was ‘memorable’.
WD: How much impact does a successful campaign/project have going forward when looking to win new clients?
GF: It’s all that counts, our promises as a creative agency mean nothing if the work we produce isn’t successful for our clients, it’s how we’ve built our reputation. Word of mouth is the most effective form of advertising, you can take part in creative pitches until you’re blue in the face and fill in as many tender documents as you like, there is nothing more effective in securing new business than ringing endorsements from the people who you’ve worked for.
WD: Guerilla has a cross-section of services including digital, web design, brand creation and public relations. How many people work at the agency and what are their roles?
GF: Having the right people is key to the success of our business. We currently employ 17 people, all of who are specialists, incredibly self-motivated and excellent at what they do. Teamwork is very important, it allows people to play to their strengths while building up a broad skill set. The team will always be stronger than an individual, and providing an integrated service is simply a case of putting the right combination of people together and working as a team – with 17 people there are a lot of combinations, it keeps everything fresh.
WD: Every digital/creative agency relies on a suite of software to complete any project. Is Guerilla an Adobe-centric agency or is open source the preferred choice? And what were the reasons for choosing specific software?
PG: Guerilla uses Adobe Creative Suite as the base for expressing our creative ideas across all aspects of design. However, we believe in using the right tools for the right job. Our clients challenge us with such a diversity of work that we need to be flexible and can’t be limited in our thinking by the software we use. The idea is king and whether it is Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, Dreamweaver, InDesign, Quark Xpress or a combination of all of them, the quality of the visual presentation of that idea is all that really matters.
WD: HTML5 is being heavily promoted by Apple as the alternative to Flash. When designing for the web how do you deal with the problem of unsupported technologies, eg CSS3 and Flash in certain browsers?
RP: We feel at the moment with the push of HTML5 and CSS3, and with the movement of mobile applications, there is a lot of pressure to keep up with the game and be a part of this way of working, but we feel as the industry stands at the moment, there needs to be balance. When beginning a digital project we do a target audience analysis, we then weigh up the best solution for each job on a per project basis, we don’t simply work in a single manner and offer a closed solution, which can prove disastrous. For example on our website, we know we have the skills to build it in HTML5 with CSS3 and Typekit font replacements throughout, but in order to hit our preferred target audiences – which is vast and ranges from the public sector through to bespoke start-ups – we found our balance, we used CSS3 sparingly on non-structure critical items, and crossbrowser checked everything to make sure our users’ experience is just as good across the board. So as much as these tools and techniques are available and we have the skills to apply them, we always revert back to the balance. We are very much ‘pro’ HTML5 and CSS3, but in commercial projects our view is very much that they need to be used under consideration.
WD: The iPad is a device that looks set to kick-start the consumer touch screen revolution. What are the agency’s thoughts on the device and is it a product that has a practical use at Guerilla?
RP: We find the iPad a total revolution. It has changed the way we manage presentation within the company, enabling us to present our thoughts and ideas to clients. It is a great tool for meetings to gather notes and dictation and from a practical perspective we have found it very useful. It all depends on how you use it to whether you find it useful! We have applications on ours for printing wirelessly, running Pages and Keynote for presentations, remotely updating websites through the Markup app, and we also feature it heavily in our new business offerings for clients who would like to see how their solution would look on an iPad, even if they do not own one themselves. Being kitted out with iMacs, Mac Pros and Apple software it was much easier to integrate the iPad into our way of working, but we can see huge potential in it and see the benefit from developing our own applications for future projects.
WD: A social media presence is seen as an essential form of communication for a digital/ creative agency? How important do you think such a presence is and what benefits does it bring to the agency?
AL: Social media sites have become a part of most people’s everyday lives. It was recently announced that globally, Facebook has 500 million users. If Facebook was a country, it would be the third largest in the world (apparently) with 26 million of those users in Britain alone (that’s more than a third of the population). Communication is our business, it would be crazy for us not to get involved in such an important channel of communication on behalf of both ourselves and our clients. The use of Facebook applications can be a great way to build brand awareness and develop consumer engagement with your products or services. They can act as a useful tool for seeing what users are saying about your services and your brand. As long as an agency is prepared to put time into these sites, keeping posts and discussion relevant and engaging to their audience, then the social media phenomenon will take word of mouth to a whole new level. Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd… both Facebook and Twitter are attracting quite a crowd. The importance to have a strong presence demonstrates that your business is in tune with a rapidly evolving world and is able to react and evolve with it. How can an agency talk to their client base about the strength of social media without having a presence themselves? The benefits to an agency will become clearer as more and more businesses push the boundaries with what is achievable with social media. Personally, I don’t think it can do an agency any harm as long as they respect the nature of the media and the risk it could have if abused.
WD: What elements do you think have the most success in driving traffic to a site?
RP: A good digital offering can have so many strings to its bow now the way to promote a site depends entirely on the target audience. Social media marketing is definitely high on the list, although there are some situations where it can be a waste of resources. With the Guerilla website, we have tried to play to the strength of the brand and portfolio, the result being a content-rich interface that leaves the end user with the feeling of a quality, forwardthinking product. The launch campaign earlier this year was backed up by a quality print and direct mail campaign and eShots to existing and prospective clients, which along with a positive interest from the design community helped the launch to be a great success. The supporting digital elements including the blog, Twitter and Facebook act as teasers showcasing the team, the brand and the portfolio, all with the view of driving users to the website. At the end of the day it’s all about delivering relevant content to your user base.
WD: What make’s an agency successful and exciting is the people who work there. As an employer what do look for in a prospective employee? Plus, what advice would you give to anyone looking to break into the industry?
GF: That’s absolutely true, it’s also the hardest part to get right! Processes and skills can be taught, but there are certain qualities we’re looking for that can’t be. It’s difficult to use words like talent, commitment, passion and self-motivation without it sounding cliched, but of course, we’re looking for all those things. It’s also important to us that any employee would be a good fit from a personality point of view, we always end up asking ourselves “is he/she Guerilla?” – we look for team-players so ‘me-too’ egos are a pain, you’ve got to be able to collaborate creatively with others and have respect for the client and your colleagues. The only advice I could give to anyone looking to break into the industry would be to be tenacious, be articulate – talk passionately and knowledgably about your subject and remember, getting the job is just the beginning. The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating – and that’s your opportunity to demonstrate to your new employer that your passion and commitment is more than just a cliché!