Moving Brands at 25: Nokia game-changer opens doors to the world
As we mark 25 years of Moving Brands, we say goodbye to long-time MB’er and former MD Geoff Linsell, who has retired to start a new chapter. In the second of a four-part series looking back at his fascinating Moving Brands story, Geoff shares his take on the unexpected pitch win that became a defining moment.
If you missed part one, you can see it here.
The big break for Moving Brands came in 2005 when, somewhat against the odds, we won a pitch to redesign the Nokia website. The aim was to turn it from what was, essentially, a digital product catalogue into a more storytelling, content-rich experience.
“We were not out there as the coolest web agency in the world or even London, but somehow we beat all these cutting-edge digital agencies,” says Geoff. “The client at Nokia just got on with the spirit of Moving Brands and thought we could do it.”
Taking on a project of that size brought challenges: the company had to scale up — and grow up — fast.
“Fourteen or fifteen people is not enough to do a global website, especially when it’s very specialised,” recalls Geoff. “So we doubled in size within a few months.”
That meant finding more room in Charlotte Road, so what had been a top-floor apartment suddenly became additional Moving Brands space.
“The previous tenant had subdivided that floor with cardboard walls and doors found on skips in the East End.
“We didn’t have time to do anything, so they were our meeting rooms for the first few months. So now you had the global head of digital for Nokia coming over from Helsinki, and we would have to host meetings for him in our cardboard meeting rooms. We painted the walls, but if you pushed them, they moved.
“It was just an amazing time in those early days when we were flying a little bit by the seat of our pants.”
The business had to learn quickly as it dealt with the expectations of a global company around areas such as cyber security and the finer detail of contract legalities.
“Nokia was a real turning point. Suddenly, we had a relationship with a global corporation at the top of its game. And that led us into this world where we started working with the big shots — it gave us more money and confidence.”
A successful reworking of the Nokia website led to an even bigger project — partnering with Landor to rebrand the entire Nokia business. Moving Brands took the opportunity to pioneer its revolutionary new approach, creating a multi-sensorial brand identity system that defined graphics, sound, motion, texture and emotion. After that came the branding for the Nokia Siemens Networks merger.
Our brand was living in yesterday’s world. I had hoped you’d bring us into today’s… but you’ve taken us into tomorrow’s.’
- Are Thu, Nokia, Head of Brand Strategy, 2007
Emboldened by their success, Moving Brands looked to take their new approach overseas, with Geoff at the heart of this expansion.
Having started as client services director, his roles at the company progressed as the company became more global, from Managing Director of London to Group Managing Director of Japan, London and the early days of the business in America.
“We spread ourselves out to the world, taking with us this amazing belief that things could be done differently,” he says.
Following a period setting up the Tokyo studio in Japan, then the San Francisco office with Ben, Geoff moved to Switzerland in 2011 to head up our Zurich studio as we embarked on what turned out to be a 10-year relationship with Swisscom as their agency of record. It seemed a natural move for a seasoned traveller who had been a core member of the senior team setting up partnerships with businesses across the globe.And what Geoff calls Moving Brands’ “worldliness” has been a notable feature of our history and identity from the outset.
“We would gather ourselves up, get on a plane, and we would go and pitch for something — we would go where the work was. So we would happily have conversations in the Middle East, all over Europe, Japan, and the United States. Now, of course, we tend to do much of this virtually.
“We would pitch, and sometimes we would win, sometimes we would not. But that willingness and that courage to go and do that stood the business in good stead because the more you do that kind of thing, the easier it gets.
“Our goals, I think, made us a worldly citizen as a business. In those early days, we were people coming in with a philosophy and a belief — well-formed and ahead of their time, though presented in a very British, humble way.
“The idea was we were reinventing branding. We were taking a fresh approach beyond the traditional graphic design-led way of creating a corporate identity or design — and, with projects like Nokia, we had shown we could deliver.”
Back then, Moving Brands often felt like an underdog pitching against the corporate giants. Nonetheless, work with the likes of Netflix, HP, and Apple followed as word spread of the new kid on the block doing things a bit differently.
“Wherever we went, the people we clicked with liked that mixture of Britishness and internationalism,” says Geoff. “They liked the idea of buying their creativity from the coolest place in Europe, as London was then. They liked that bit of edginess and they loved what we could do.
“Beyond that, clients have always appreciated how we challenge them. Moving Brands has always had a creative integrity that we project and hold in front of the client — we’re never scared to try to move people and businesses forward.
“We have become much more strategic and professional and perhaps a little slicker as time has passed, but those traits have remained constant.”