In the Studio With — Rainbow rooms and radical rebrands: Meet Bristol-based brand agency, Halo

Posted 18 July 2017 Written by Marianne Hanoun

From websites for well-known comedians and music festivals, to rebrands for beer and American tech giants, there’s not much that brand agency Halo hasn’t tackled. “We’re very lucky” says creative partner Nick Ellis of the Bristol-based agency and their extraordinarily varied client list. Strategic thinking, good ideas and finding clients they click with are at the core of their creative process. So whether they’re honing the typographic details on a new logo, or getting to grips with the Mexican agricultural market, they’re still every bit as wilful as when they started in 2004. Here, Nick talks us through Halo’s philosophy, process and space – including a rainbow-themed conference room!

Halo

Founded

2004

Based

Bristol

Team

25 full-time, 3 part-time (12 Creatives, 5 Developers, 8 Client Services, 3 Operations and Finance)

Hours

9am–6pm

Clients

Live Nation, Associated British Foods, Ticketmaster, Sainsbury’s, Butcombe Brewing Co., T In The Park Festival, AXA Wealth, Day Out With The Kids, Lovehoney, Ashton Press Cider, Hitachi Maxell

Website
Social Media

Overview

Halo is an integrated brand agency specialising in strategic positioning – connecting brands to their audiences. We work with household names and challenger brands, on packaging, online, outdoors, in print, with experiences, on film, on walls, on TV – in fact, every touchpoint where audiences can connect with brands in a meaningful and compelling way.

We work extensively within live music, sports, events and ticketing. We also have a large client base in FMCG [Fast-Moving Consumer Goods]. We create brands that grace retail shelves globally: food and drink, alcohol, beauty, electricals and even sex toys come through our studio. Our other key area of expertise is corporate branding. We’ve got some really interesting and creative clients in agriculture, professional services and wealth management – brands that are not everyday consumer names. Sometimes these corporate brands are where we’ve done our most beautiful work. We’re very lucky.

“When we started in 2004 we were in our 20s. We thrived on all-nighters, over-servicing accounts and burning the candle at both ends.”

Founder and creative partner, Nick Ellis

I’ve done my time with big ad and brand agencies. Like any founder I believed that to do the best work with clients who shared the same vision, meant going it alone. When we started in 2004 we were in our 20s. We were fierce, without compromise – working with clients as varied as Peugeot, Wolf Blass, Bacardi, and a load of small start-up clients and brands. We thrived on all-nighters, over-servicing accounts and burning the candle at both ends. 

Today our client list is as varied as ever, with the right mix of big brands and challengers, but we’re a tighter (and much bigger), more professional team and we’ve got better at being a business as well as a creative studio. We’re still wilful and fierce, we still burn the candle at both ends, not compromising or playing the agency game that well, but I think that makes us special. It’s certainly why our clients choose to work with us.

Outside Halo, in Bristol’s Temple Studios

Inside the studio

Inside the studio

Inside the studio

Inside the studio

The Work

For us, everything really comes down to good ideas. Things start and end, succeed or fail through the quality of ideas. We take on projects that interest us with clients we connect with – applying a brand-first approach to everything we do. If we pitch, we only pitch one idea, fully explored to its fullest potential. Why? Because if you do the classic agency thing of at least three routes, the client will ask ‘Which one do you like best?’ So we show the one we like best. Win or lose on something you totally believe in and forget everything else.

The rebrand of Butcombe Brewery has been big for us. It’s a really well-loved brand with a committed and loyal audience, so we knew there would be a lot of opinions on what we did with it. We transformed the premium traditional beer range and then designed an entirely new range of specialist craft beers based on the events of 1978 (the year of their birth). As it is, it’s been incredibly well received by the public and really successful for the client. As a result of this we are working on a rebrand of Ashton Press cider and with a start-up craft brewery.

“Everything starts and ends, succeeds or fails with the quality of ideas.”

Alongside all this, our relaunch of T in the Park and Gigs in Scotland were exciting – big digital projects that tested our team to the limit but have landed well in a challenging and competitive market. Our global rebrand for Crestron – a huge tech giant based in New York – was thrilling. They were completely different to any other client we have, but the opportunity to work across so many disciplines defines why Halo is such an exciting studio to work in. Our rebrand for Day Out With The Kids – the number one website for family friendly adventures in the UK – was also brilliant. They are a big brand (with 17-million regular visitors), and we got to completely and radically redefine their proposition, designing a dynamic identity as part of this reimagining.

Halo's rebrand work for Butcombe Brewery

Halo's rebrand work for Butcombe Brewery

Halo's rebrand work for Butcombe Brewery

Projects always start with strategic insight and proposition. This planning is at the heart of the creative brief and offers the direction of all design thinking. My first task on any new project is to bring that clarity of thought and mission. I work closely with the client services team at this stage to birth the brief. We might work with external insight agencies if we are exploring new markets or global territories (we recently had to understand the Mexican agriculture market for a new product launch). This research feeds directly into our planning and insight work.

Once we have the brief signed off by the client, we build the creative team to lead the project. I put on my creative director hat at this stage, and work closely with the team of senior, middle weight and junior designers who all have a role to play in bringing the project to life. We tend to work in broad strokes at the beginning, always starting with pen and paper, drawing on stacks of inspiration and stimulus that we collate for the brief. Once we have some key ideas to explore, we move to Macs, again working in fast, broad strokes to get a sense of which ideas have real potential. At this stage we will offer ‘first pass creative’ to the client. This is a chance for us to show direction of travel, and for the client to get involved at the earliest viable stage in the process. It means we can take the temperature of the project to help steer the next phase of creative development.

Global rebrand for New York-based tech giant Crestron

Global rebrand for New York-based tech giant Crestron

Global rebrand for New York-based tech giant Crestron

Once we have a chosen route, we move into full design development mode. This often means engaging with illustrators or photographers if required by the route. This is also where the artworking team will start to get involved, taking key elements and refining them, for example, logo typography – before being returned to the designers for further exploration. It’s a very organic experience but is kept on track – and financially viable – by the client services team who manage budgets, client expectations and a studio of over-excited and budget-blind creatives.

“If we pitch, we only pitch one idea and fully explored to its fullest potential. We show the one we like best. Win or lose on something you totally believe in.”

Like all studios, we do loads of work that we don’t publicise. For example, we do a lot of strategic thinking and proposition work for major supermarket retailers and their suppliers. This involves loads of expansive thinking that leads to beautifully designed and realised presentations that will be seen by Sainsbury’s leadership for example, but never by the public. The results for the consumer come later. If we’re working on a full rebrand, we’ll talk about the crafted identities including films, the brand books and luxury stationery. We won’t be talking about the data sheets, PowerPoint slides or email templates – but that doesn’t mean they’re not hugely important, it’s just that they don’t get people talking or attract clients. No one ever says ‘I want to use you because I’ve seen an amazing data sheet.’ This work is part of the fabric of a rebrand, it’s just not the headline creative. All studios are the same. You only promote the really key moments. I saw Snask do a talk last year, they said they only talk about and promote 10% of the work they do. That 10% is awesome though, right?

Halo's rebrand for Day Out With The Kids

Halo's rebrand for Day Out With The Kids

Halo's rebrand for Day Out With The Kids

The Team

The creative team looks like this: a creative partner, (that’s me) one art director, one visual director, one head of art and then a mix of senior, middleweight and junior designers working across different key disciplines. Sometimes agencies give fancy names to roles, such as ‘realisation director’ when they mean production, but that’s just so they can charge more in fees. We don’t do that. Maybe we should start.

Depending on studio capacity and skill requirement, we often use freelancers to support on large packaging and retail projects. We also use a number of DOPs for the range of film work that we do. In addition to this, we have at least two interns in the studio every year. We pay them, of course, and hopefully teach them. Most join us for two or three months, sometimes longer. We are about to start a developer’s intern programme this year, where we’ll be taking one intern developer for 10 weeks.

“When adding to the team, firstly we look for creativity. It’s that simple.”

Some of the team at work

Some of the team at work

The team at work

Client partner Hannah Williams at work

The Culture

We’re based by Temple Meads Station in the heart of Bristol. Our building is an old warehouse space – so very classic agency, all wood floors and concrete walls, exposed features and utilitarian chic. The most important feature is the rainbow conference room. Every glass pane is a different colour. It’s like sitting in a stain glassed window.

We wanted to come here because it’s a creative campus. There’s loads of interesting tech start-ups, architects and product designers here. It makes for a creative atmosphere throughout the whole building. It’s also great for transport links. Which is a practical, boring but important truth as well. 

Some of the team

We love people to learn new things. We’ve sent teams to Barcelona and to SXSW in Texas to get inspired. We send teams on courses and pay for people to learn new skills. We actively try to enrich ourselves all the time. As individuals there are also a huge amount of self-initiated projects on the go. From hat making, to music making to (in my case) learning to draw in the style of Manga.

We offer 25 days of holiday (not including bank holidays). We have pension and health schemes and do company profit share at Christmas. Each month we close early and go out as a company. Our fully stocked beer fridge tends to see most action on Friday afternoons, but it’s always available. The music policy is eclectic – it’s on from the moment we open the doors to the moment we lock up; it’s never quiet. After all, we’re a creative agency, not a library. We also have a revolving cast of dogs that come in with their owners to bring joy to our teams. 

Creative Lives from Halo

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