Moving Brands at 25: One man’s journey from ‘Mad Men’ glamour to MB MD madness!
As we mark 25 years of Moving Brands, we say goodbye to long-time MBer and former MD Geoff Linsell, who has retired to start a new chapter. In the first of a four-part series looking back at his fascinating Moving Brands story, Geoff reveals his initial impressions of the company that was to draw him in for almost two decades.
“I can remember thinking, ‘Wow, it’s a rough diamond, but what a company. These people are amazing — I’d love to work in a place like that.”
It was in 2001 when Geoff Linsell first encountered Moving Brands. At the time, the former advertising exec was heading up a rebrand of Telewest Broadband, which later became Virgin Media.
Geoff recalls: “It was a pretty cut-throat market back then, dish versus cable, so we wanted to be cutting-edge and knew that if we were going to consolidate all of these little companies into one big one, we needed a fantastic master brand to take on Sky and Freeview.”
Geoff looked for a company that could help bring the brand to life on screen in a new way that only a few TV companies had so far attempted.
“We needed to have a mark capable of moving, of having emotion, and that could live on a computer and a television,” he said. “It was that crossover moment when there was still lots of money spent on things like press and posters. So, I was privileged to be around at that time when everything came together: being able to play in both worlds — an online world and an offline world.”
Enlisting North Design agency as their partner in the Telewest work was a defining moment.
“When we were talking about animating this marque that North had designed, they said, ‘We think you need to speak to these amazing people called Moving Brands’,” he recalls.
“We met Ben (Wolstenholme) and Toby (Younger) in this building on Charlotte Road in Shoreditch. It was quite an extraordinary place.”
The building, which remains our studio to this day, was only partially occupied by the MB team back then.
“We went there not understanding exactly what we were getting into, to be honest. But it was a case of, ‘We need to make the marque come to life — can you help us?’ And they did. They did an amazing job working very closely in collaboration with North.”
Throughout the project, Geoff was a regular visitor to the MB HQ, and one of those occasions brought a moment of epiphany.
“It was probably the second or third meeting there,” recalls Geoff. “I went there with my colleague and boss at the time, and as we left, we had to go down that concrete staircase to those double doors, which were pretty much similar to how they are today, and out onto Charlotte Road. That’s when I turned to my boss and said, ‘I’d love to work somewhere like that’.”
With his background in the shiny, corporate advertising world, with its Ferraris and Mad Men-style excess, Geoff was struck not only by the intense creativity on display but also the rawness.
“The building was raw, unfinished,” he says. “The floors were painted, but badly, the doors were scuffed and kicked, and none of the furniture matched.
“There was a drinks fridge standing there. It had Cokes and beers and things in it, and when we got talking about it, I think it was Jim (Bull) or Ben who said, ‘We found it on the street and dragged it in.’
“And there was an old red Chesterfield sofa, leather but battered to f***. It was on its last legs. But for me, it was an almost iconic feature — that red sofa was the one soft place you could sit in this studio.
“I think they found that on the street as well. So this was a company where it was all sort of plywood: rescued furniture but brilliant thinking. Unformed in a way, but with a very cutting-edge way of thinking and talking — a place where nothing was impossible.
“There was a realness and authenticity that made it the antithesis to that glamorous, very showy world of my previous life.”
After the new brand launched a year or so later, Geoff was headhunted to become a consultant with the Land Registry, a UK government department which wanted to become more commercial.
“It’s a long story, but we managed to work with North Design again,” says Geoff, “And this new government brand was going to live partly on screen, so it made sense that we should also work with Moving Brands.
“So, we had two long stints working together as client and partner. And then around the end of 2003, when that rebrand was coming to a close, I met Ben for lunch, and he said, ‘Would you consider coming and working for us?’”
Accepting the job offer somehow felt inevitable.
“I can remember going up to that door, somebody buzzing me in and then walking up the stairs on that first morning thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m working here.’ Maybe somebody in the universe had been listening to me three years previously because there I was, walking up those concrete stairs on my first day, employee number 13 on the payroll.”
Raw as it may have seemed back then — and still is in many ways — that Charlotte Road studio will always be at the heart of the Moving Brands story, a hub of intense curiosity and rigour built from a shared spirit of possibility.