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Creative

How a decade of Premier thinking has helped to create Clarity

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By Richard Draycott, Managing Director

February 20, 2017 | 10 min read

If you have travelled in the UK during the last decade either on business or with a young family and incorporated an overnight stay into your trip then chances are, you are already more than familiar with the work of integrated communications agency, Clarity. In the agency’s formative years, the Woburn-based creative agency was drafted in by the UK’s largest hospitality business to deliver strategic insight and creative support when their roster agency wasn’t quite hitting the mark with a nationwide rebranding and re-positioning project.

Needless to say, since Clarity delivered some clear thinking and insight to Whitbread on where its Premier Inn proposition should be positioned the hotel brand has become THE market leader in the UK’s affordable accommodation sector.

Premier Inn marketing collateral

As co-founder and creative director at Clarity, Jeremy Harvey explains: “Being there with Whitbread at Premier Inn’s real inception was a great example of how we work best as an agency; that is working really closely alongside the client, being fully exposed to their strategic challenges and being able to help them in terms of delivering relevant insights by tapping into the broader challenges within their marketplace.

“In 2005 the world was coming off the back of a crash, so with Whitbread we hit the market at an interesting time and helped them to shape the proposition and take their ‘premium budget’ proposition to the market at the perfect time.”

The creation and introduction of the now instantly recognisable purple Premier Inn ‘moon and stars’ branding and the rolling out of interior branding and collateral across the chain’s 300-plus hotels in record time set the agency on their way and proved that this agency could put a solid strategic communications campaign to bed in more ways than one.

Jeremy Harvey

“We went on to have a really rich relationship with Whitbread,” says Harvey, “working on everything across their business to business teams, their information systems teams, on embedding new systems and doing a lot of internal communications; even through to helping them conceive room and reception models. We learned a lot that has stood the agency in good stead ever since.”

Harvey launched Clarity alongside managing director Chris Morris in 2005 after the two had worked closely together at 120-man agency BMB. In fact, Morris had originally hired Harvey at BMB when Harvey was, in his own words, “a bossy 18-year-old creative”. The two progressed through BMB until they were MD and creative director respectively.

The partnership that went on to become Clarity was formed as a result of Morris and Harvey working closely together on numerous client projects at BMB, particularly in the automotive and hospitality sectors. The pair soon recognised the synergy between them in how they approached strategic challenges, as Harvey explains: “Chris and I were long term collaborators on creative projects and there was always a lot of empathy between us in terms of our creative vision, excitement and energy about what it was that we could do and deliver. There was always a lot of shared thinking and ethos. So, when it came to the possibility of us forming a partnership, it was quite an easy decision for us both to make.

Chris Morris

“In terms of our backgrounds, Chris was a creative at heart, but for the previous 20 years or so he had been focused on business side of things, so together at Clarity we had that balance of left and right brain. We were very much of a shared belief that we were not going to be a boutique agency. Yes, we wanted to do some fantastic creative, but actually what we were all about was delivering great outcomes for our clients. Chris has always been very ROI driven and that had always been instilled into me as a growing designer.”

And that ethos and approach made the pair veer away from the name Harvey Morris Associates when branding the agency – the thinking behind the agency practically created the brand for them.

“Clarity, for us, was always much more than just the name of our business. It’s a principle that we held dear and still do today. The name came to mind very quickly as we both recognised what we did historically was to take tricky business challenges or questions and using our experience, sector knowledge, creative abilities and strong communication skills to bring some clear thoughts and clarity to those problems.

With Mercedes and Premier Inn being two major brands that bought into the Clarity ethos early, the agency went on to carve out a reputation for being capable of tackling sticky communications issues and saw its roster of clients bolstered with the addition of brands such as TGI Fridays, De Vere, GMAC, FGA Capital, Best Seller and its staff numbers at its Woburn office swell to around 16.

Then late in 2012 Morris and Harvey did something quite interesting. Rather than replicate what many agency owners do – that is put in place a three-year business plan and then pass their vision down the line for the team to deliver – they did something different. On advice by former planning director of Imagination, Ralph Ardill, Morris and Harvey didn’t tell their staff what the agency would look like in three years-time, instead they asked them what they wanted Clarity to look like in 2015.

The Clarity team

Guided by Morris and Harvey’s own vision for the business, staff were briefed with defining what Clarity would look, feel and operate like in the year 2015. The project became known internally as C2015, as Harvey explains: “We gave the team the brief and we had sessions where they could come back, ask questions and test some of their thinking on us. They had the opportunity to predict everything from what sectors Clarity would work in, what Clarity’s services and products would look like, what’s our strategic future would be, what our financials would look like, what awards Clarity would be winning, what type of people we’d employ and so on. The team excelled.

During one day at Shoreditch House the Clarity team delivered their vision for the future and it was a tome of background intelligence and detail about every aspect of what the business was going to be in just three years’ time. The core piece they produced was a seven-minute film, a day in the life of Clarity, which is used to this day as part of the induction process for new staff.

“It was all done within a framework and a structure and obviously Chris and I had our ideas of what we wanted our business to become, but I remember pointing at the screen at the end of the film and saying I want to work there. They’d hit everything, from the locations that we had and we’d be working in, some of the strategic sessions we’d be holding on behalf of our clients, some of the skillsets that our team would have. Now sitting here in 2017, I’d say we have hit most of what we wanted to. Now we are looking at the next three years.”

Not only was C2015 a masterclass of staff engagement and ownership, but a number of guiding principles that steer Clarity today came out it.

Harvey says: “I’d say that up to that point we’d been good creative generalists, but there were certainly areas in which we had genuine strength. So, in 2013 we took a bold decision to focus on three core business sectors – Hospitality and Leisure, Automotive and the Built Environment.

“They were chosen not only because they very much played to our strengths, but also because there was a connective piece across those sectors. If you think of it in terms of the consumer, we have insight and understanding of the houses they buy, the spaces in which they work, the cars they buy, where they go on their holidays and what they do with their leisure time.

“We don’t just play in those areas, we profess to have true specialism. When we recruit, we look to recruit people not just from the agency world, but from the business sectors in which we work. We have account managers who have worked within some of the largest hospitality businesses. A fantastic example of this sector specialism is Chris Kirby who heads our automotive division, which works with leading brands including VW and Mercedes. Chris who has previously held positions at FGA Capital UK, Jaguar Land Rover and Ford amongst others, is able to bring that automotive heritage and experience to take strategic leadership around some of these brands initiatives and products. By bringing clarity to bear in their businesses, helping them to unpick what are very legislative environments and helping them to create really compelling content that is new and challenging for them, we can hold their hands through it because we have an understanding of their marketplace and of their audiences.”

C2015 also introduced the CLEAR process to Clarity, which today is used as a guiding process for all strategic and creative work that goes through the agency. CLEAR (standing for Context, Learning, Expression, Activation and Results) not only ensures that everyone in the Clarity business is guided by the same professional principles on how they approach projects, but also guarantees clients that all of their challenges are met with a high degree of rigour, process and transparency

CLEAR has most recently been brought to bear for Costa Coffee as Clarity created a new proposition for the coffee shop chain, which sees it pushing more into the fresh food space in the London area. That project has been much broader than just how that concept is marketed and has seen Clarity working with Costa on storytelling within their stores, from thinking about colour palettes to artwork and wall coverings to fixtures all aimed at embedding a sense of freshness. Likewise Clarity has recently been involved with re-inventing the Sizzling brand for Mitchells & Butler.

Costa Frescho

In recent years Clarity has also grabbed two golden opportunities to expand internationally and now has operations in Dubai and another in Seattle. Still very focused on its chosen business sectors both offices are not only generating new business opportunities, but also bringing a lot of insights to the agency here in the UK. For an agency working in the hospitality sector can you imagine anything better than having access to insights from markets such as Dubai and the home of takeaway coffee, Seattle?

Now with a team of 46 people, Morris, Harvey and their management team are revisiting C2015 and establishing what the next three years will look like for the agency. Already Harvey says a graphic representation of what Clarity will look like in 2020 has been created and will be hanging on the wall in the coming weeks to ensure that the principles that it sets out will never be overlooked.

As Harvey concludes: “The C2015 process was a journey of genuine engagement and ownership for our team and gave the whole business some incredible inspiration and added layers of extra value and excitement to this business. It has given us complete faith and now looking at the vision for 2020 we all feel we have a bloody good chance of getting to where we want to be.”

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