Chinese New Year China Feature

Diary of a creative

By The Drum | Administrator

February 1, 2006 | 7 min read

True North, presumably like many other agencies, has a fairly relaxed arrangement when it comes to when the working day starts and ends. Their policy on this particular grey Monday in Manchester is that the staff were \"likely to arrive as early as quarter to nine but no later than quarter past\". And so, not wanting to be too early and having unintentionally walked the long way round to the Hilton Street-located offices, Adline arrives smack on the hour.

We\'re greeted by Martin Carr, the managing director and founding partner of this (nearly) five-year-old design consultancy, who instinctively recognises the need for a cuppa and puts the kettle on. It’s over the resulting brew that Carr explains the plastic sheeting that is wrapped around all the chairs and the smell of smoke that drifts throughout the building. Five days prior to Adline’s visit, the team of True North (along with the other patrons of the building) were turned away from work following a particularly nasty fire that had taken place the night before. The blaze itself may have begun on the basement level of the opposite wing of the building to True North’s fourth floor offices, but the smoke was still able to cause damage and inconvenience – including a printer that now refused to function and examples of work that looked decidedly off colour. Reasurringly, Carr and the team did what every respectable design consultancy would do in this situation and regrouped at the local pub. Unfortunately (in the sense that we\'re quite partial to the odd \'working from the pub\' day) the unabated True North team were back in the office come the day of Adline’s visit and it was very much business as usual.

Our presence today is to oversee the goings on of a thriving creative agency, observing the dynamics of the team, how they work and how the ideas are brought to life. Our subject, True North, was borne out of a meeting some five years ago in a Safeway café between Carr, and creatives Ady Bibby and Craig Webster, the latter of whom was bought out of the business less than a year into the proceedings. The two remaining partners – one a suit, the other a creative – saw a gap in the market for another first class design agency and felt that their combined talents would be the ideal foundation for such a firm. It’s hard to argue with those first instincts, as four years down the line True North was making waves in the industry, scoring countless awards and an ever expanding list of top-notch clients.

Having now finished the cup of tea, Carr begins a tour of the agency and the smoke damage and introduces the team. Much like any other working environment, the first half an hour of a Monday is spent chatting about the weekend. However, once the gossip is out the way, the senior team sits down for a progress meeting, which Adline is sitting in on. It’s here where they go through the work in progress, discussing and assigning the challenges they’ll face throughout the working week. For obvious reasons, we can’t reveal many of the projects that True North has on the go but rest assured that things are looking pretty rosey for the agency.

Once completed, we decide to hover around the two creative teams led by Bibby and his joint creative director Alan Herron, who joined in November. His arrival came as a result of Bibby and Carr\'s efforts to consolidate the agency\'s reputation as one of the most creative design agencies in the UK, let alone the thriving Manchester scene, and to help cope with an increased demand from clients. The search ended with Herron who, for the last six years, had been creative director of The Chase.

Upon floating around the office, the first thing of note is how quiet, in the literal sense, the creative department is. The teams are getting on with a number of ongoing projects and show tremendous concentration in doing so. Our surprise in this may be attributed to hearing too many stories of creatives sitting around thinking, spending hours in the local boozer or playing on video games. The agency isn\'t without its PlayStation2, incidentally. It\'s located in a back room but has remained untouched throughout Adline\'s stay. Instead it would appear that designers, or these ones at least, know how to get their heads down and work.

Projects on the go include work for Sport England – a new client of the agency – and Liverpool Capital of Culture – which recently signed up the agency on a two year deal to help change perceptions of the city.

Another team is busy finishing off a packaging project for airline, BMI, which is due to be presented to the client later that day. Six concepts have been developed and are getting the once over from the creative chiefs ahead of the meeting.

In a quieter moment, Carr takes time to show Adline the credentials presentation that is shown to prospective clients. Within it are pieces of work that we\'re very familiar with. In fact, over the last few years, the agency has had its fair share of headlines in the magazine, making it a firm that has been impossible to ignore. The stunning work for Imperial War Museum that swept numerous Roses gongs and hard-hitting creations for NRSI are just two examples of the agency\'s pedigree of which we and the rest of the creative industries are very aware of.

\"It’s the most fun you can have without breaking the law,\" reflects Carr who, much to the relief of Adline, is not breaking the law at the time of making the statement. \"I\'m of the opinion that working is for fools and I include myself in that. But if you\'re going to work, you have to enjoy it and we really do. We love creating fantastic work and I truly believe that design has a very important part to play for businesses.\"

News arrives in the afternoon of a new job for the agency. The Royal Mail, which recently commissioned True North to tackle a series of special projects had called with another brief. It\'s yet another example of the agency\'s ability to let its creativity do the talking.

In truth, and a fact conceded by the staff, it has been a relatively regular day at the office for the True North boys and girls. There were no scarves being worn indoors for us to moan about and we were kept thoroughly happy by a bowl of Toblerone chunks being circulated (by returning skiers) all day. Agency life, to conclude, is like so many other office environments. Sure, half the staff wear trainers not shoes and combing hair is optional, but computer desktops are still decorated with wallpapers featuring pretty ladies and when there\'s work to be done, it gets done. And when the work is as good as this, who can complain?

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