The Art of Pessimism and why it can work for you.

This post was written by Art Department associate writer Miranda Birch, Miranda Birch Media. Miranda draws on her journalistic background at the BBC (Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and Desert Island Discs) to find the stories hidden within companies – stories that reinforce their brand and demonstrate the value they bring to their clients.

The Art Department is a brand-building consultancy with enviable business nous.

Its creative team of thirteen punches well above its weight in the design world. They have internationally respected clients (The Famous Grouse, The Macallan , Macduff and Subsea 7 et al) and associates in Norway and China.

Their numerous accolades include awards for their business effectiveness as well as creative excellence.

Underpinning all this is an intriguing form of pessimism. It belongs to the founder and Managing Director, Gerry Kelly.

How the pessimism began.

Gerry set up the Art Department in the space of four frenetic weeks in 1993. “It was a moment of madness, but it felt right at the time.

“My daughter was two and my wife was about six months’ pregnant. So we had a mortgage and everything else. And here’s me, giving up my job with no guarantee of any success whatsoever.”

In one sense, Gerry was well established. He had already worked with three very different design and production companies. He’d met some very talented people and learned a great deal.

What was sobering was that all three companies were to fold at different times and for different reasons.

One failed to recognise Apple Mac technology as a serious competitor to its own production methods; another managed to create a successful image but lost control of the finances behind the scenes; the third underwent an ill-advised merger and lost its identity and buzz.

Gerry and the Three Implosions.

Taken as a group, they became Gerry’s personalised morality tale; the backdrop to his business ‘childhood’. Of these early days, when he was cutting his entrepreneurial teeth, he says with his wry sense of humour, “It sounds like I came from a broken home, doesn’t it? I didn’t!” But like all good folk tales, it still lingers at the back of Gerry’s mind, even today:

“Yes, I’ve had a really good education on bad business decisions! From companies that one minute seemed to be doing okay to the next minute something caught up with them without their noticing really. When you stand back and look from the outside in, you wonder why on earth you didn’t see that coming. It was so obvious. I like to think I’ve also learned from the positives of those companies. But they’ve made me very astute. I’m always on the radar, thinking, ‘Where are the issues, what are the problems from these three companies?’ These previous implosions totally shaped my way of running a business.”

Thanks to this sobering ‘Three Implosions’ background, the Art Department are alert to the fact that every element of brand building must be assessed on how it contributes to the bottom line of your company. Is it essential? Will it deliver in billable sales? If you overlook something, what might happen?

Bottom line before beauty.

At one level the Art Department are about creativity and inspiration. Their team of designers reinvigorate busy CEOs by presenting them with a stunning vision – a new perspective – of their company.

You see your organisation with fresh eyes, in a way you’ve never appreciated before.

Of course, beautiful work is what you’d expect from a design agency which tells the stories of global brands such as The Famous Grouse and The Macallan. That’s a given.

But what is really clever about the Art Department, what makes them stand out, is that they present you with a rigorous business case first.

This rigour goes back to Gerry’s wary entrepreneurial upbringing. Always alert to the fact that any aspect of design has to be judged on its ability to build business. New leads, better conversions, increased profits.

So before all that beauty and boundless creativity comes the hard-nosed bottom line.

Pessimism focuses your attention.

If you’re thinking, ‘This is marvellous, but I have got 300 mouths to feed and my factory heating and lighting bills to pay’, the Art Department presents you with a reassuringly robust audit. It’s a meticulous summary of exactly where your communications strategy – your brand – is working and, crucially, where it’s falling short. Where you are incurring invisible penalties through lost opportunities. It’s the equivalent of leaving the factory lights on overnight. Wasted energy.

As the Art Department make clear, brand building is about how powerfully you communicate to the people your business needs in order to thrive. You might have the best service in the world, but if you’re not telling the right people about it, in the right place and at the right time – if your teams are half-hearted or woolly about what you are offering – then, in effect, you’re turning people away. Or you’re allowing others to elbow you out of the way.

What’s really worrying is you might never know how many lucrative deals you’ve lost, simply because you’ve not said things in a way that will hook your audience. Or worse, you’ve not said anything at all.

Pessimism inspires you.

But once the Art Department have carried out their meticulous and supportive audit, you will know.

It’s presented in the form of a deceptively simple matrix, so you know exactly what you must do to reach the people you need.

You’ll be clear about what each element – identity, print, digital or environment – must do to earn its keep. No more wasted effort. As the Art Department take you through it, surefootedly, step by step, you’ll be sitting forward in your seat, craning to listen.

Now we’re talking business. You’ll feel as excited about this hard-nosed analysis as the creative vision it leads to.

You’ll also realise that after heating, lighting and staff, brand building is next on your shopping list of essentials.

The Art Department’s brand of pessimism is a precious commodity in other ways – as Part Two will reveal on our next post.

To view part two click here

Next Article

Brand Complacency: The silent killer and how to avoid it.