Pause for thought

Since starting Salt with Kath over 3 years ago I continually ask the question ‘are we still striving for and achieving what we set out to do when we started?’ (Go on, ask Kath. she’ll tell you it’s my favourite question). The reason I do this is because we wanted to set up a business with different priorities to ones we’d previously been working within, and wanted to offer companies within health something different. And not just to be different for the sake of being able to say, ‘look at us, we are sooo different, isn’t that great’. But because we want to be able to make decisions based on our beliefs and mindsets, and based on being able to offer our clients something more, something deeper, to challenge them, and to be able to have an impact on both them and their brands.

These foundations are really important to us, and my worry is that it is all too easy to slip back into ‘how things are always done’. By continually asking my question I am sense checking that we are still on a path that we want to be on and if we are starting to veer off in a direction that doesn’t feel right, we can plot a better course, deciding together what that might be and where we want to go. Being in a partnership with someone who shares my outook, and in fact champions our joint aspirations (to greater effect than me) is refreshing and exciting. I like to think that we push each other in that way.

Although I am not currently having one of these freak outs, I find myself in a rare moment of contemplation. Not about whether our offering and set up is beneficial for our employees, our clients and the patients they support, but about our impact on the world. We have woken up in 2021 to a world on it’s knees. The global pandemic is ever present which, beyond the horrific death toll, will undoubtably result in profound long term effects for people both mentally and physically. Family pressures, isolation, job securities, people’s livelihoods, the economy and the future of business in general to name but a few. And that’s not even scratching the surface of the wider impact. What about the all the essential money the governments are injecting into supporting families out of work? What does that mean when they are tightening their belts after this? The continued and increased cuts to public services? Then the knock on effect of that! What about the world we live in, the environment, where do we start!? Well that’s a scary question.

In amongst the negativity and heart ache of the past year there have been some really warming moments. Community spirit, rallying together to support the less able, innovations to reach the more isolated and lonely, companies offering discounts to essential workers, a reduction in air pollution and the renewed understanding of the importance of personal hygiene. What I’ve really liked is how people have adapted and innovated using what they have available to make a difference. 

At Salt I’m pleased to say that we had started thinking and doing this already. We make sure that we think carefully about the travel we make and offset our carbon in order to be carbon neutral. We have joined onepercentfortheplanet.org, donating 1% of our gross income to environmental nonprofit organisations. We are actively using our expertise to offer pro bono support to people and charities we are passionate about to enable them to do more. We are also looking at ways we can credibly support people starting out on their career and have  interest in the area we work in. But like my continual question I opened this with, I’d like this to be one too that I regularly return to, to ensure we are giving back and investing in our planet and the people who live on it. This is something Kath and I, as well as our whole team, believe in whole heartedly, making sure we are responsible in our actions and continually looking for opportunities to actively make positive influences on our world.


The year that was

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This year we have started a partnership with the RCN Foundation, so we wanted to take the opportunity to show our support. Nurses and midwives have been some of the hardest hit through the pandemic, and people like the RCN Foundation are there to help give them the support they need. This year more than ever the amazing work that nurses and midwives do has been in the spotlight, but it’s not just this year, it’s every year. A profession we should never take for granted – thank you, on behalf of all of us.
To donate: https://lnkd.in/db2HM_x

Salt // three

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Would you Adam and Eve it Salt is three today! Well I think it’s fair to say that year three was certainly not what we expected… well not what anyone expected really. January feels like a lifetime ago, back in the days when you could work together in real life, have meetings, see people, travel. We miss all those things, especially people. Despite the pandemic we have been able to continue working hard and build the agency whilst remaining true to what we set out to do. We have, like everyone, had to pivot our direction, embrace new challenges and find new ways of working. Coupled with lockdown and home schooling it certainly hasn’t always been easy, but we have certainly achieved a great deal that we are proud of.

We are lucky to be able to say that we still love every minute of what we do, are incredibly proud of our team and what we have achieved together, and thankful for the clients who have put their trust in us. Let’s hope year four doesn’t throw quite as much at us as year three, but whatever it has in store, we’re ready for it!


A set up to fail

This blog covers a subject that has vexed me and that I’ve wanted to address for a long time. Certainly people that know me will have been subjected to some of the following in various incarnations over the last 5 years and are probably rolling their eyes right about now.

A companies’ branding needs to be more than just a façade, it needs to be seamlessly stitched into the fabric of every part of the business; how you behave and act as well as look, in order to be believable, build trust, advocacy and happiness in your customers. 

For example, in September 2017, SWR, formally South West Trains, unveiled their new branding. As a designer, and a customer, I was pleasantly surprised, ‘Forpeople’ had done a cracking job and the newly refreshed brand looked slick, professional, clean and approachable, with a nod to happier train times in the new name, and hope for a happier future. With that and new ownership, anticipation for a better rail service was high. Unfortunately these two components aren’t enough on their own to change a service. If, as a customer, your experience doesn’t reflect the care and craftsmanship that has gone into the visual communication (and hopefully strategy) then all this hard work is wasted. If you did a survey of SWR customers about their experiences on their trains since the change, I can well imagine that it would be overwhelmingly negative.

Surprisingly some companies not only are all talk, forgetting to walk the walk, but actively set up their customers to fail. A number of mobile phone companies, TV subscription contracts, insurance and other policy renewals to sadly name but a few have been doing this for what seems like years. Instead of rewarding customers for their loyal service they choose to automatically raise the cost for these services once the contract expires, far beyond the going rate, hoping to catch out people with busy lives or those who are vulnerable. Leaving the best deals for new customers only and a bitter taste in existing customers mouths. Others, like SWR, simply hide or make it difficult to claim valid refunds or return faulty goods.

So why do some companies choose to alienate and disappoint, instead of looking to embrace and support? Enticing new people to your brand through exciting offers, product innovation and sparkles is all well and good but if once they are bought into your offering, behind the curtain doesn’t live up to the hype this enthusiasm will quickly wane. a consistent voice, integrity, belief and honesty doesn’t have to cost the earth and can create positive associations and change in both the people who work for them and the customers who want and need what they sell. A virtuous circle that really is win-win.

I recently attended a talk by Huw and Becky, founders of Paynter Jackets, who for me are the epitome of how to get this right. They have thought carefully about their offering and what is important to them and their customers. They have been clever about their business model and have created something different that people want, both in product and experience. They have then executed on these decisions to the letter, giving equal importance to customer relationships, genuinely caring for who and where their jackets go to, as well as to the crafting of the jackets themselves. Ensuring that the Paynter brand experience, as well as the product, is top draw. As a result, retention, advocacy, and brand love is sky high.

I’m not saying that doing all this isn’t incredibly hard work and a labour of love, but that love and hard work is not lost and can be seen in the smallest details; stitches, labels, buttons, emails and instagram posts. In fact on every surface that Huw and Becky touch.

All brand experiences should be like that. Not hoodwinking people into staying ‘loyal’ because it’s too hard not to, but building genuine brand loyalty through knowing and understanding your customer and ensuring the experience they are lucky enough to enjoy is one to be proud of. Not setting people up to fail, but setting people up for the best experience you can give them.

 

#paynterjacket


Believe

We at Salt have been chatting a lot recently about the fact that we’ve not written a blog since last year. It’s sad how these are the things that are first to go when there is a lot of work on, and given our last post was about the joys of cashflow it was pointed out to us recently (thanks Stuart!) that we may have left the wrong impression. Thank you for the nudge, we are back writing again, talking about what we believe in, ensuring we don’t forget the details or what’s important to us as our business grows.

Something that has been niggling in my mind for some time is around continuity of thought. We are living in exciting times, communication wise that is, before anyone points out the political and humanitarian climate that sometimes quite frankly beggars belief. As an industry, we’re investing more and more time into really understanding business challenges, ensuring we get to the crux of the issue, and our audiences, to find out what makes them tick, what type of behaviour they exhibit and how can we connect emotionally with them in order to ultimately change behaviour. Essentially, how can we make it less ‘us and them’ and more ‘we’.

Coupled with outward exploration we are also spending more time with brands and their teams, to understand them, in better ways than ever before. It’s incredibly powerful to look not only at our customers but also at ourselves, to decide who we are and how we want to be seen. Ensuring the team is aligned on the approach so we are united and empowered to do the best we can, together, and creating positive change as a result.

Unfortunately, these valuable preparations all too often fall at the final hurdle when we look to deliver on them. Without implementing this with the conviction and belief needed, or without using all these learnings along the way, we will end up just talking the talk rather than walking the walk with our heads held high. The people we’re looking to influence aren’t stupid and will be able to see this a mile off, or completely miss the original intention of what we are trying to say. They need to be able to join all the dots and do so very quickly to feel a connection and relate to what we’re communicating.

Now I know we don’t live in a utopian world where everyone runs through fields of corn without a care in the world, but even if we are working with budget restrictions, historic campaign equity, and multiple stakeholder views we still need to ensure we stay on course and true to the core insights uncovered at the beginning of the project.

We need to keep the momentum going. Continue to challenge the status quo, stay true to the decisions made with the same passion we had to begin with, and don’t compromise on the core brand as this is who we are. Invest carefully in execution, the craft and detail all matter, and ensure it is based on all this wonderful and valuable research and nothing else.There are so many points along the journey when you can take the easy path, and it takes a lot more time, effort and commitment to stick with your beliefs when timelines and budgets may tempt you away. But if you do, what you produce and the impact it has will be so much richer and more rewarding in return. So let’s keep doing it.


Salt // one

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Last summer, over beer, wine and chips, we discussed our passion and drive for change and to do things differently. A few months later Salt was born, and now we are turning one.

Why did we do it? We wanted to feel free to enjoy what we do, put our experience to good use, make a difference, and to simplify and streamline the way we work so we can offer people more. We had a vision of what we wanted it to be, developed that thinking into our name and brand, and started getting more and more excited about what it could become. Then we took the plunge – with no money, no funding, no loans and no clients. We started with nothing. The last 12 months have certainly been a journey and a half, but an amazing one, and we’ve loved every minute of it.

It was hard to get started – everyone told us it would be, and they weren’t wrong. Days and days of relentless hard work and getting very little back. We had no idea if and when things would take off, but we persevered with complete faith in what we were offering. It’s funny to think back to the first time the phone rang and how excited we were! Of course, it was a recruiter keen to jump on the opportunity of a fresh new client to work with…but our second phone call became our first real-life, fee-paying client. And from then on, we haven’t looked back.

Sure, there have been times when we wanted to tear our hair out, but only a couple and always short lived. Much more significant and memorable are all the amazing times; the fun we have every day, the excitement of a new opportunity, the process of coming up with new ideas, being bold and not afraid of taking a brief to weird and wonderful places, and the difference we can make to the challenge at hand. Over the last 12 months we have been constantly amazed by people’s generosity with their time, expertise and skills, and also with how much it is possible to achieve when you work with constraints, stay true to yourselves and love what you do. We had no idea where it was going to take us, and we still don’t. But if the last 12 months are anything to go by, it’s going to be pretty damn exciting.


I love it, but can you make it blue?

Where do ideas come from? Truly come from? The great ones, and even more so, the exceptional ones, are brought about through a need. A need to fill a gap, a frustration of something not working properly and wanting to make it better, to express something in a new and interesting way, or to overcome a problem that hasn’t been solved.

The journey to forming ideas can take you to some really exciting places that you never would have imagined from the outset. Whether I like blue or not, relate R&B to a form of sadistic torture or spend a large proportion of my time thinking about food is largely irrelevant in most cases. What matters are the thoughts, behaviours, and lives of the people your ideas need to make a difference to.

Ideas need to be brought to life and made great through interrogating the need. Understanding the root of the problem, the target audience and constraints, looking at it from every angle to ensure that whatever the solution, it is as robust, distilled and impactful as possible. This means, especially in the area of health, that it needs to be evidence based. Rooted in an understanding that makes the answer undeniably right and strong.

We recently developed some ideas for an engagement programme to empower a traditionally hard to reach community to take control of their health. One of the core initiatives we proposed was, on the surface and out of context, really random. I’ll admit it was an idea out of my comfort zone and something that wouldn’t interest me in the slightest. In fact, it’s the kind of thing that would make me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious. But then it wasn’t aimed at me. All of the research we conducted and insight we gathered suggested that this was a great way to reach this particular community and motivate them to act.

Being able to separate yourself from your predilections, to open and allow your mind to explore new ideas and ways of thinking based on strong and relevant insights, can really create incredibly powerful results.

If an idea is rooted in good insight, then it is hard to refute. If it truly solves the problem or need set out in the first place then personal tastes, feelings or opinions shouldn’t hold any weight. Subjectivity has no place here.


The illusion of balance

I doubt that anyone would disagree that a good work/life balance is a good thing, but seemingly this, for many, is only a theoretical aspiration. Why does this possibility go out the window when it comes to practice?

Why do so many people find themselves working crazy hours week in, week out, with no light at the end of the tunnel? And at what cost does this all-consuming element have on the rest of workers’ lives?

Seemingly gone are the days of a Monday to Friday 9-5 job. What is put down as core contracted hours are rarely achievable as companies expect more and more commitment from their staff, measured by time in the office. Even to the point where colleagues who leave on time are being marked down for doing so. Or asked if they are ‘doing a half day’. Instead of being congratulated for managing their time so effectively that they are able to do so. In many companies it is seen as the only way to move up the corporate ladder. Waiting until the boss has put their coat on and has one foot out the office door before feeling able to shut down and finally leave, whether they’ve had work to do or not. According to the TUC, workers in Briton in 2016 put in 2.1bn unpaid hours.

What kind of culture are we setting in the workplace when this is deemed the norm, or an expected way of working, and what kind of message does that give to our clients?

This is not helped by the continued cuts to employees, increasing the workload for the remaining few. Not only does this add exponential pressure, but increases the chance of people working in silos, unable to afford time to work collaboratively or support one another.

Given that companies still constantly talk about their staff being their most important asset, none of these actions indicates this to be true. There must be a better way. If work becomes a chore, and too pressured then people will start to resent it. Certainly within my own section of the industry, creativity is not something you can overly pressurise without expecting something to be compromised. The answers are not a one size fits all that can be turned on and off at will. People can’t function creatively 120% all the time. Something is going to give, either the quality of work, their passion and drive in the project or their health, both mentally and physically.

Anxiety, stress, depression or burn out are the only winners in these scenarios. People look after themselves less well through lack of sleep and because they are time poor, eating crap because their body needs quick fixes. Then they reward themselves at the end of the day with alcohol in order unwind and help them get to sleep, which will undoubtedly be poor sleep and so the cycle continues. Coupled with the fact that they have no work/life balance so cracks will start to show in relationships with partners, friends, and families who have been de-prioritised.

I realise that I am in danger of going off into a rant, if I’ve not done so already, but hopefully you’ll agree this is not wholly unfamiliar.

Now I’m not suggesting that we should do a complete 180 and everyone should be slacking off. Far from it, people can work incredibly hard in a concentrated amount of time, and from places other than the office. The time spent on something isn’t the same for the quality produced. The age-old quality, not quantity saying works to great effect here. Evidence suggests that productivity actually increases hour for hour if you work fewer hours overall. And if people are less stressed they are less likely to be off work.

Trust people more, give them more responsibility and ownership of the work they have been tasked with. They know the deadlines and when work needs to be reviewed and delivered. If we can’t even do that, why did we employ them in the first place? And if they don’t deliver, they are also clever enough to understand the consequences.

With the advancements of technology, the world is becoming much smaller with many more ways to connect to people. This enables us to work more remotely, on the move, more flexibly to enable juggling work and life to better effect, suited to the needs of the individual.

We need to embrace change and the possibilities now available to us, and use them to our advantage. By thinking of ways to do more with less, and without that meaning piling more pressure on already overworked staff, we can ensure that our most important assets are respected and treated fairly, and that the work produced will be the best it can be.


The Future of people powered health

Nesta’s six months of planning and development culminated last week into their slick ‘The Future of people powered health’ event, which didn’t disappoint. And it wasn’t just down to the inspirational and thought-provoking speakers, although they left the audience with a lot to think about. The day was enriched by multi-sensory feasts provided by innovators in health, with applications in stroke rehabilitation, custom fitted orthoses, and combating isolation, as well as a hauntingly beautiful orchestral composition by the New Note Orchestra as a form of focused addiction rehabilitation. If that wasn’t enough, it was punctuated by intelligent, passionate delegates with many different but relevant points of view; some of whom we were lucky enough to engage and debate with during the afternoon break-out sessions.

If only a solution to achieving a collaborative and supportive people-powered and data-driven health system, in a time of serious financial pressure, were as seamless and well constructed. Or indeed was decided and implemented by the like-minded experts from this event.

Unfortunately, there seems to be so many hurdles to overcome to achieve even a piece of this ideal, that for an individual it can feel overwhelming and paralysing. As a result, people feel powerless to effect any change at all, so do nothing. Hence nothing changes. Some people in the system even feel threatened by change – worried about it rather than embracing it and pushing the boundaries of possibility to create something new, relevant and stronger.

During the course of the day we heard from people who refused to think like that. People who are thick skinned enough to take the knock backs and get back up again to challenge and fight for what they truly believe in, even when hope has disappeared completely from view.

More than that, these driven and passionate innovators, pioneers if you will, understand their area of expertise through experience and listening from within their local community. Only from this well-informed position can we truly hope to understand a person’s needs rather than making assumptions and dictating solutions. We can then work together to find ways to solve the issues at hand.

They are also confident enough to make themselves vulnerable by not trying to make these changes alone in a silo, but by leaning on experts and experiences around them. Sharing their knowledge and collaborating in order to truly change behaviour and outcomes.

But how can we emulate these pockets of truly life changing projects? Should we even try Maybe a one size fits all approach is antiquated and wasteful in today’s society. Is it about understanding the essence of what these amazing teams are trying to achieve and being flexible and open enough to allow other projects to manifest themselves in different ways that best suit the communities that need them? Can we learn from, support and nurture similar innovations and harness the power of many, and make people feel invested in the future of health?

There are many interesting perspectives and proposals put forward surrounding this subject that we took away from the day, but we’d like to share two with you here. The first directly relates to the title of the event. In order to stop people feeling powerless to change, there needs to be a shift. The more balance of power we can have between people and healthcare professionals, the more invested people will be in their future health. Rather than dictating solutions, if these can be reached on a more equal footing there will be a greater understanding of why, strengthening both adherence of treatment for a diagnosis as well as reaching a diagnosis in the first place.

The second is around social prescribing. This is certainly very pertinent given the recent acquittal of the Belgian doctor who wrote his patient a sick note to get them out of a gym contract they couldn’t afford or use.

The restorative powers of social prescribing on well-being and future health can have exponential gains. Having an understanding of people’s lives and acting accordingly can unlock and rehabilitate in ways that drugs and surgery cannot, having a dual effect of relieving financial burden on our health service and time of HCPs, as well as benefiting the people in need of support and our most vulnerable. We should acknowledge the power social interaction can have on a person. Creating opportunities centred around a task or focus to give people’s lives, in many cases, more meaning and something to talk about. This can be taken a step further, in the right cases, by rehabilitating through the power of helping others to instill a sense of purpose and value.

Although everyone wants to ultimately solve the big problem of ‘people powered health’ and making our future health system workable, everyone can and needs to play their part, however small. The more people having meaningful conversations, listening, collaborating and challenging, the better. It’s amazing the ripple effect all this activity can have.

#peoplepoweredhealth #iseeu


Creativity shouldn’t be an afterthought

I had a really interesting conversation last week where I was pretty much told that what I am passionate about and do for a living is meaningless and doesn’t make a difference. On the surface I was, I’ll admit, rather taken aback. I needed to take a few moments to compose myself and construct a rational response to disprove this theory. What we did agree on is that if a creative solution isn’t grounded in solid insight and behavioural understanding to ensure its relevance, validity, and resonance, then it is unlikely to stand a chance of affecting maximum positive change. Also that this creative solution shouldn’t be limited to a list of old favourites; a video, logo, PPT, or A5 leave piece, but could be anything that best creatively solves the problem.

There is definitely room to pause here for a second to define what I mean when I talk about being creative. It is not the design or the copy alone, it is how everything that sits behind this is built to inform it, and link to how it is designed and written. To give a brand or product meaning requires an understanding much deeper, coupled with a universal belief and agreement by all parties involved to move in the same direction and act accordingly. I remember one of the hardest projects I ever had to do was when someone asked me to design a promotional leaflet, asking me to ‘make it look pretty’! I didn’t know where to start; who is the audience?, what is the key message?, what do we want them to do?, where are these leaflets going to be handed out or placed?

In order to achieve as much impact as possible, creativity needs to be considered much, much sooner than it usually. It should be integrated from the start to ensure everyone and everything is aligned and so that the ideas that are built off the back of the strategic approach are not rushed, are thought through and are robust enough to do all the initial hard work justice. It seems crazy that all of the upfront thinking is given weeks to build and develop, done in isolation away from the full team, and then when all of this great thinking needs to be developed into an idea and brought to life, the people tasked with doing so are hitting it cold. And they’re often hounded and rushed to execute it.

Creativity doesn’t start with copy and design, it starts with thinking differently, right from the start, about strategic and creative approaches to problems. Changing the antiquated habit of treating creativity as an end product will ensure that the results are more aligned, impactful and will make the differences that was hoped for at the beginning of the project.