Business Unusual

I started my own business on 12th September 2001. That’s right, a day after 11th September 2001. On that fateful day I was flying back from the Caribbean after a two week holiday and had just landed at Heathrow when the first plane struck the North Tower. The next day I went back to work to find the company had gone bust. Completely unrelated to 9/11, but certainly a very strange and un-nerving couple of days.

I was creative director of a mutimedia firm. Don’t let that title throw you, I wasn’t on the board and I had no insight into the accounts or general finances of the company. My job was mainly to manage and do the jobs in the studio. I did know, however, that the boss had recently employed a friend of his on something like £42k as a senior programmer for whom there wasn’t very much work for him to do. I knew that the value of the work coming in couldn’t possibly cover the salaries going out which had been propped up with loans secured against the boss’s house.

The company had been set up ten years earlier to build bespoke PC systems that were used for multimedia presentations. Most of that market had disappeared due to the advancement of PCs and the availability of straightforward software like Powerpoint which virtually did the job for you. Why spend thousands on a bespoke system when you could pay hundreds for an off-the-shelf one that was better?

I saw my role as attempting to guide this outmoded company into the much richer vein of design-led graphics. The company could easily pick up branding, print design and of course web design as well as still doing high-end multimedia such as CD-ROMS which were still in demand. My team created a new identity and marketing campaign along with a brilliant (if I don’t say so myself!) website, that I was sure could have attracted press attention, if not awards, if it had been launched.

But the boss had put the brakes on. He just wasn’t comfortable with ‘creativity’ and ‘design’. He wasn’t comfortable with newer technology, especially the new iBook that our programmer bought. It was able to do exactly the same job that the bosses hot-wired custom built editing suite could do, except that it was faster and didn’t take up half the office. The boss wanted to be fiddling with PCs with their cases off and discussing servers over a pint of ale at lunchtime.

While I was on holiday I had come up with more marketing ideas and the concept of a ‘sub-brand’ that could be used to sell the new design portfolio without appearing to impact on the more staid and traditional image the boss wanted to cling onto. I did a lot of thinking about creativity and how it can be used to solve companies marketing and branding challenges and came up with ideas for names such as ‘Ideas Workshop’ and ‘Ding!’.

So it wasn’t exactly a complete surprise that the company was no longer in business when I got back.

The next day I started my own company and began to put all the ideas I’d come up with into practice. Sometimes you need a kick in the teeth to actually take action and get on with things.

Why did that multimedia company fail? To an outsider it appeared to have everything going for it. Except for clients of course. Inflexibilty, stubborness and fear of change were characteristics of the boss. Not being able to see the bigger picture, to understand where the market was moving was another. The downfall came because of a lack of creativity and a fear of creativity and doing the same things and expecting better results.

Once, perhaps, creativity was a luxury, but not now. Now you have to be creative in business.

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