Martin Lambie-Nairn, creator of the Channel 4 ident and chief executive of Lambie-Nairn, is not a very happy man. He should be, because last month cable and satellite channel European Business News announced it had awarded its 1.5m advertising and below-the-line account to Lambie-Nairn in partnership with PHD Compass, replacing Bates Communications and CIA Medianetwork respectively. So what’s the problem?
EBN’s press release left several publications, including The Times, wondering if Soho would ever be the same, with designers muscling in on the lucrative territory of sharp-suited ad execs. What next? Product designers putting copy writers and their families out on the streets? Modelmakers directing commercials?
Lambie-Nairn doesn’t see it like this and most definitely wants to set the record straight: “The reason people jump up and down about this EBN thing is that they automatically have misconceptions about how this business operates. They see people who do advertising and people who do design as separate things. It’s always them and us, and designers are perceived as knowing sod-all about marketing. The way our business has developed is that we set about trying to solve our clients’ problems, we don’t actually start from a design solution… that’s why we get other people with different skills involved early on and then we decide how to solve a problem.”
When he explains it like that, it all seems like a natural progression to have taken on EBN’s advertising. Lambie-Nairn has worked closely with the channel from way before its actual launch, having been responsible for packaging all its on-screen aspects and creating the channel idents. As David Robinson, Lambie-Nairn’s account director for EBN, explains: “We’d been involved in creating a brand for EBN since the beginning. It’s an evolution from doing part of the branding to doing all aspects of the branding. And part of that is above and below the line promotions, including advertising. It’s simply a full brand communication exercise.”
Did EBN feel they were taking a risk replacing an established agency with a relative newcomer? EBN marketing director Frances Whitehead firmly refutes this suggestion: “We gave Lambie-Nairn the job because they have a very subtle and profound understanding of the EBN brand, and they’re well versed in TV culture. They really understand what we’re trying to be in a very crowded marketplace and they’re always surprising us.”
It certainly helps that EBN doesn’t perceive Lambie-Nairn simply as a design group but more as a brand specialist. Looking back over the consultancy’s track record it seems clear that its work has always offered more of a strategic solution rather than simply an on-screen identity. “It was a conscious decision after an Anglia TV job back in the late Eighties,” says Lambie-Nairn. Unusually, for the time, the group was present at the agency’s marketing presentation. This led to the realisation that it could offer a strategic solution alongside design skills to project the channel, and that, in turn, led to an involvement with media planners and other “advertising” type skills.
In explaining why the group wanted the EBN job, there’s a lot of talk about “seizing opportunities”. As Lambie-Nairn points out: “We’re not stupid. We have a reputation to keep up, we wouldn’t have pitched for this job if we didn’t feel we could do it. It’s something that’s right for us, but we’re not going to start telling people we’re experts in advertising.”
The full-on Lambie-Nairn approach to advertising will be launched next year with the promise of some surprises, but the details are being kept very much under their collective hats. In the meantime, design work for EBN continues with the titles for the channel’s new autumn programmes, under the guidance of Brian Eley, Lambie-Nairn’s group creative director. The channel’s intention is to broaden its output and, as they put it, “to appeal to the business person in everyone.” To this end there’s a series on motoring and money, Auto Motive, alongside Your Money, a personal finance show. The new titles are very much in keeping with the clean and simple look that Lambie-Nairn created for the channel’s launch 18 months ago.
To Lambie-Nairn, the media’s stance on the EBN deal has been a lot of fuss over nothing. At the Beak Street HQ it’s very much business as usual, and Robinson makes no promises about what happens next: “Our evolution will continue as it has over the past 15 years, and as we go along, the things we learn we then use. Who knows where this will take us?”m