Moving Brands at 25: The ‘impulsive force of nature’ comes of age
As we mark 25 years of Moving Brands, we say a fond farewell to long-time MB’er and former MD Geoff Linsell, who has retired to start a new chapter. In this final instalment of the four-part series looks back at his Moving Brands story, Geoff recalls the unconventional pitch that changed his life and looks at how the business has evolved — and where it is headed.
Moving Brands was founded on September 22, 1998, the brainchild of five friends passionate about design, film, storytelling and technology and a shared belief in the power of creativity to push the boundaries of what is possible.
As we progressed from a group of mates winging it out of a small London studio into the strategy-led global operation we are today, some things have endured — among them the magic of the people. And it is this fundamental truth that Geoff sees as a red thread through the company’s story.
“There’s this magical, creative spark that you can find in people at Moving Brands, and that’s what has kept the business so vibrant and alive over the years,” he says. “The character of the business is reflective of the people in it.”
On a Swiss roll
That creativity — along with the self-belief to do things differently — was a key factor in winning the Swisscom bid that led to our decade-long relationship and Geoff’s move to live in Zurich.
He recalls how they received a call out of the blue inviting them to pitch for a multisensorial rebrand: “They said, ‘One of our juniors was once in a talk given by one of your creative directors, talking about the work you’ve done, and he has never forgotten you.
“Now we’re putting together a pitch list, and this young guy is insisting we put you on it. And actually, the list is closed, but I’ve put you on it anyway.”
Despite not being native speakers and not feeling overly optimistic about winning, our team was instantly excited by the project, deciding to throw caution to the wind and go for it.
“The feeling was we’re going to do this really well, but we’re not going to win because we’re not Swiss, and the brief says, ‘you must demonstrate your deep understanding of Swissness’,” explains Geoff.
Not your typical pitch
“But if you don’t think you’re going to win, you can be brave. With David [Eveleigh Evans] as the lead creative on that pitch, we went over to Zurich en masse and pitched in a rather extraordinary way.
“I think they were expecting a classic PowerPoint-type pitch as they were all gathered around a large boardroom table in a soulless meeting room. Instead, we had them all stand, push away the desks and chairs and shut their laptops. Then we put some tables in the middle of this big room, with 15 of them standing around, probably thinking, ‘Let’s get these people in and out as quickly as possible’.
“We unrolled a large sheet of paper, started talking about the strategy we were proposing and began sketching out our proposed creative route there and then in real time. And then we asked them to get involved and draw things themselves on whiteboards and all sorts of other classically atypical pitch behaviour.
”There were so many moments in that pitch where we thought they hated us. But we got called back, and eventually, we won the pitch. Amazingly, the work that they went on to launch nearly 18 months later — which took Switzerland by storm — is almost exactly what David had conceived for the pitch. It’s still being used today, 11 or 12 years after that rebrand.”
So began Geoff’s life in Zurich, where he became the principal contact for the Swisscom team as we continued working together on further projects
– such as designing the Swisscom Digital Experience – and helped foster relationships with many other Swiss clients.
The unceasing quest for excellence
Looking back now, Geoff likens the Moving Brands of those days to “a kind of impulsive force of nature” fuelled by instinctive creativity — and an almost obsessive quest for perfection.
“There has always been this desire to keep striving to do better, never quite being content, always searching for excellence and longevity in our craft,” he says. “It can be all-consuming, but again, that’s part of the magic.”
Always retaining that spirit of rigour and dedication, we’ve evolved over the years, bringing in strategists, project managers, and more to help guide and complement the creatives. Working closely with clients, the team combines strengths to create brands, products and services that truly move people.
As an example of how the company has matured since the early days, Geoff highlights one partnership which presented unique challenges.
A magical project
“It was amazing to work with an NHS trust, a world-leading cancer centre,” he says.
With a combined staff of over 4,000, The Royal Marsden is one of Europe’s largest comprehensive cancer centres. In a market where the public and private sectors compete for patients, they recognised the need to stand out.
“It was great to be able to work our magic on something which was not a tech company and not naturally a company that understood or lived in a world of branding,” says Geoff.
“We were talking to people who didn’t speak marketing or branding, they spoke hospital, treatment and outcomes, and all this kind of stuff. So it was a very interesting challenge.
‘We needed to be able to enter their world, listen to it, understand it, and play it back in a way that resonated well with them. Then we created something that still looks great today.”
We helped The Royal Marsden identify and communicate their story, founded on delivering excellence. We defined a strategy for them to successfully manage their brands and branded relationships, preparing them for future expansion in the changing face of the NHS.
“And they kept coming back,” recalls Geoff. “In my mind, that’s another measure of true success — when you forge a relationship with an organisation, and they stay loyal. The Marsden wanted us to help them with their charity, their fun run and all sorts of things.”
Our work with the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity focused on driving their overall objective to become a top 10 charity in terms of income and communicating the innovative work they fund.
And such was the strength of the relationship that we ended up hiring somebody from The Royal Marsden. “So, maybe I was the first, but I certainly wasn’t the last who had been a client of Moving Brands, who fell in love with the whole idea and then came and worked in the business,” adds Geoff.
From passion to purpose
Whatever the changes in our approach as we’ve grown and adapted, the essence of Moving Brands has remained constant: the love of our craft, pursuit of perfection and desire to create for lasting impact, the passion for play, thirst for the new and sense that nothing is impossible. And, increasingly, the deep sense of purpose and belief that creativity and original thinking are engines for positive change.
Geoff has been there to witness it all and is proud to have played his part.
“The thing I’m most proud of is helping to navigate the business through both good times and bad. And yes, you make mistakes and get some calls right and some wrong, but I am proud to have been a part of that long journey,” he says.
“I’m proud of how the company has grown up, faced adversity and challenges, and overcome them.”
Looking to the future, though we have parted ways, our paths continue to follow a similar trajectory in some respects. While we ramp up our efforts to use our design capabilities and influence to help create a more sustainable, equitable and representative world, Geoff is also looking to do some good with his newfound free time.
He will be throwing himself into his role as president of the Global Changemakers organisation and will continue to mentor former British soldiers with the Supporting Wounded Veterans charity.
As he does so, he will be keeping an eye on our progress and evolution.
Designing a better future
“Moving Brands is so future-facing and has always embraced the unknown in a way that I believe many of our competitors have been frightened to,” he says.
”‘It feels like the business is genetically coded to absorb that kind of a challenge with relish. Things like downsizing and recession may make the road bumpy, but when it comes to stuff like incoming technology and burgeoning opportunities which are completely unknown and unseeable, I feel that is the fuel that keeps us going.”
And one aspect of the company’s future is of particular interest.
“I think there is something powerful in this idea of designing for good,” says Geoff.
“The business is moving into a space where it is taking its power, or its superpower — whatever that turns into, because I don’t think it will be the same in, say, five years — and it is going to do something good with it. Something good for the planet, its people and the businesses they run. And I find that very exciting.”
“Moving Brands is a highly inspiring and supportive partner to work with. Their strategic understanding and commitment to innovative design brings out the best of a brand. Working with them to evolve our brand into a living identity was one of the most exciting and challenging experiences of my career.”
Head of Corporate Identity, Swisscom