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This Thursday was slightly more bearable knowing that I’d have the pleasure of spending an evening with Ben Casey, The Chase’s iconic creative director.
After realising we didn’t have a clue where we were going, we got in touch with one of the bar guys who kindly took us to our venue for the evening, Twenty TwentyTwo. Being the only ping-pong cocktail bar hybrid I’d ever been to, I think you can imagine how happy I was. Come on, what more could you want?
When we thought life couldn’t get any sweeter, we were summoned into the back room. The Design Council had treated us all to a pack of fancy popcorn crisps which was a lovely idea at the time, but a complete nightmare when there’s a communal packet rustling during the presentation.
The event was called ‘Take5: Ben Casey’. The Take5 event series is run by the design council and operates all over the UK. As part of the Design Manchester Festival, Ben agreed to talk about his agency’s five brand values through lively individual stories.
Ben Casey is the co-founder and director of Manchester design agency, The Chase. Ben talked about how his company has personality, process, and philosophy.
Here are their values:
Ben attached a story to each of these values to better illustrate their connotations.
Ben worked in London in the 70’s, classed as the golden age in British advertising. It was a very experimental and ceative world, “almost like someone had turned the colour on”.
London was known to be the epicentre of the creative industries and the best work was coming from here. London got a grasp of the new age advertising and made it their own; they made it English.
When looking to promote his agency, Ben was told a story which changed The Chase and made it what it is today. When listening to a radio station, he was listening to a radio interview of someone who’d just visited India. He was talking about the woodcarvers on the street who carve beautiful elephants out of wood and when one of them was asked how he did it he simply responded: “I just cut out the parts that don’t look like an elephant”.
That thought stuck with Ben and has run right through to every piece of strategic work they’ve since done. “Every mark on a piece of paper has a reason for being. We are communicators, not decorators.”
When they started up in the 80’s, there seemed to be a divide between ‘ideas lead’ and ‘style lead’.
Ben believes that an even balance of both would be the best option. When one of his relatives took a trip to Ireland, she went into a newsagents and asked for an English paper.
The owner of the newsagent asked “Do you want today’s or yesterday’s? Because if you want today’ s, you’ll have to come back tomorrow.” The moral of the story being that even that it was a poor piece of communication, that story wouldn’t have been talked about if she’d have explained it simpler. After taking us through some of their brand identities, he proved that conceptual ideas are not be neglected over content. “If you can change people’s minds or change the way people look at things in a communication, it’s doing its job.”
If we find out what a brand is and then what it isn’t and then we start working on it, it will all be pointless. We need to stay on track. We’re always in danger of falling in love with a good idea even though it’s not quite right. We need to find things that work instead of trying to force in something that doesn’t.
One of Ben’s old friends was having panic attacks and was recommended to see a psychiatrist. One thing his psychiatrist told him to do was to note down all the details of his dreams. He asked him what his first dream was about and he said “I dreamt about Gazza”. The psychologist assumed that he was talking about the Gaza Strip and relating his problems to real world problems. Ben’s friend stopped him and said “I was actually talking about the footballer, I dreamt about being a footballer!” The moral of the story being that you can go off in the wrong direction if you’re not careful.
Ben lived in a rural valley and when he was checking the area, he ran into a farmer. The farmer said that when he moved here 30 years ago, there was very little traffic and it was a quiet area. One day he was farming and noticed a motorcycle travelling past him, then off into the distance. After a short while, he came back and asked the farmer “was there a woman on the back when I came past!?”.”Well, no” the farmer replied, so the motorcyclist went off to find his wife. The moral being that you cannot work alone, you have to work with other people.
Tenacity is vital to keep a company going solid through recessions. It’s more needed on the business side rather than the creative side. Being an avid fan of his local team, Preston North End, Ben noticed their dip in the league when he started up The Chase. Being a Catholic, he blamed himself.
With The Chase, Ben got the chance to redesign the new Preston North End stadium. He worked with architects, engineers, and footballers. He designed the seats, the museum, the floorplan, the statues, and also the promo videos to advertise it all. He said, “It took an enormous amount of tenacity to get the account and secure the deal.”
When Ben started The Chase, they wanted to be the best. Looking at a league table done by Design Week Magazine, they collated a hierarchy of marks for design agencies globally. The Chase got the top spot this year after losing out to Pentagram by two marks the previous year.
Overall, I think Ben gave an excellent insight into values that should always be solid throughout a successful agency’s work. It was nice getting tips from someone who’d built an agency from the ground up and transformed it into a globally recognised business. Thanks, Ben.
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