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“Clients get the work they deserve”: How British Gas and The&Partnership showed they are 'Here to Solve', even during coronavirus

Gone was Wilbur the Penguin and the animated world; in his place was ‘Here to Solve’ focused on driving a change of perspective and shifting consumer perceptions.

Izzy Ashton

Deputy Editor, BITE

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The past few years has given rise to the growth in popularity of user-generation content (UGC) showcasing the messier aspects of real lives being lived and the real people living them. This has been particularly true during the current global crisis as the extended lockdown period placed tight restrictions on production. The term ‘in-house’ swiftly moved from being about brands creating their own work, to agencies asking consumers to produce work entirely within the four-walls of their own homes. 

Gone are the swish sets and shot-on-location films. In their place come shaky clips and home videos, something that British Gas and The&Partnership have used to full effect since the brand’s repositioning in early 2020. Gone was Wilbur the Penguin and the animated world; in his place was ‘Here to Solve’ focused on driving a change of perspective and shifting consumer perceptions.

The brand used footage of real families, capturing the quirks of individual relationships to showcase the effects of a broken boiler, blown fuse box or leak on the normal flow of life. With the coronavirus crisis hitting the UK, what consumers needed was reassurance that the brand would still be there for them throughout this difficult period.

For the next instalment of the Creativebrief Explores series on Thriving Creative Partnerships, Creativebrief’s CEO Charlie Carpenter spoke to British Gas's Margaret Jobling, outgoing CMO of Centrica, and The&Partnership's CEO and Partner Sarah Golding about how the creative partnership, which has lasted for 14 years, evolved amidst the crisis.

Carpenter opened by highlighting the reality that perhaps more than ever, there are less and less enduring brand/agency partnerships. But he said, British Gas and The&Partnership buck that trend and are, he said, “close to becoming one of the industry’s best known double-acts.”

Like any other marriage, you have your good days and your bad days but the most important bit for me is communication.

Margaret Jobling

Brutal honesty

“I’m a massive believer in the work’s as good as the client's relationship with the agency,” said Jobling as she opened by talking about both the personal relationship she has with Golding, but also the one that exists between the two businesses. She revealed that while the two of them don’t always agree, “we’re focused on output and actually that’s the most important thing.”

Golding echoed Jobling’s feeling by explaining that, within a partnership such as theirs, “the pressure is much higher in those relationships because you’re so much more invested.” She says that the secret to the teams’ success has been to make sure they all work the same way, to avoid the politics that often permeates into professional relationships. Fundamentally, she adds, “the secret to our success has been brutal honesty with each other, with our teams.”

Jobling puts it best when she says that, while it’s a great working relationship, “like any other marriage, you have your good days and your bad days but the most important bit for me is communication.” That means that if something’s not right, Jobling believes, you should talk about it. Equally, if you like it, recognise that.

For Jobling, the client is as much responsible for the work that’s produced and the working environment that exists as the agency is. She feels there is a “direct correlation” between quality of relationship and quality of work and that ultimately, “clients get the work they deserve.”

A moment of reset

In 2019, Centrica as a whole went through a large global pitch, a moment Carpenter labels as one of “reset and restructure.” Jobling reveals that at that point she realised that the business was quite disparate in how it communicated. She wanted to examine the data on offer to the brand and explore how they could use it more effectively, to bring about change and transformation. While the brand had a huge amount of data on their consumers, they weren’t making the most of it in their marketing or internal behaviour.

Jobling explains: “We really wanted it to force us internally to think differently about how our brands show up, how our marketing model operates and how we leverage actually what is a competitive edge for us, which is data.” The solution, they felt, was to create a wholly integrated system, a creative platform that would engage both internally and externally.

Golding says that when it came to the pitch process, they had to prove themselves to Jobling and her team but that “Marg respected that we knew some stuff, that we knew things about the brand and the business that could help her and then she gave us that chance.” It was, Golding adds, “the brave thing to do.”

Golding talked openly about the difficulties the agency faced coming into the process as the incumbent agency, particularly after 14 years of working together: “It’s really hard to win because when the brief is, this is a reset moment for the business globally, you’re not seen as the reset guys. You’re seen as the old guys. You’re seen as the past not the future.” Jobling echoes Golding’s view, likening the incumbent to “a comfy pair of slippers. How do you make sure you don’t just show up the way you’ve always shown up?”

So, Golding and The&Partnership set about to build a new team from scratch, to create a team that was “a combination and a good balance of old and new. So, faces, personalities and talents organised together to drive growth.” This team made up of a selection of WPP agencies including The&Partnership, MediaCom, WundermanThompson and BCW, was labelled Nucleus, a new assembly that allowed the agency to organise themselves differently. This combination of old and new was, says Jobling, the “rocket fuel” they needed.

“It allowed us to reinvent ourselves, bring in the new model, be truly data and customer first, properly integrated, modern in our thinking and our output,” explains Golding, revealing that she eventually came round to the idea that Jobling had been right all along. “So, was it worth it? Yes, it was in the end, but I did age about ten years,” she adds with a laugh.

It connects, it resonates, but it gives the brand a much more active role, both internally and externally.

Margaret Jobling

A mutual manifesto

What became vital, once Nucleus was appointed, was to create a set of mutual behaviours, to pull together a manifesto around which both teams were aligned. So, they sat down around a table and, moderated by an external agency, put forward what they both wanted and didn’t want. As Golding said, “the reset has to happen on both sides.”

The result was a co-created set of behaviours signed by both businesses across every market. There was an important addition at the bottom that said, if anyone felt like the behaviours weren’t being realised, they felt comfortable to call them out. “We live by it,” says Golding. “And some of it’s just really good discipline,” adds Jobling as Golding reveals that, when the two of them were in a particularly heated discussion about the right music for a campaign, the pair kept coming back to the manifesto: “It really helped us do the right thing and make the right decision.”

Having read the manifesto, Carpenter added that it felt like it is also “allowing the agency to genuinely feel like they can speak up as well.” This mutual respect extends to a number of 360s that both businesses do to one another; agency on client, client on agency. Golding reveals that both parties pay for the reviews which, she adds, “allows us to stay equal in terms of point of view and keeping ourselves honest.” The 360s purpose fundamentally brings the teams back to why the behaviours exist in the first places. As Jobling says, they force each individual to ask of their colleagues, “are we living the dream of the manifesto we put in place?”

Here to Solve

With the manifesto in place, the Nucleus team set out to examine the data in hand, to discover what the consumer really felt about the brand. What the data revealed, says Golding is that “customers most valued brands that solve.” Out of the research was born Here to Solve, launched in February 2020 as a creative platform that became an organising thought for the business.

“The objective for us was to truly move beyond invisible energy or utility to a visible service organisation,” says Golding. The aim of the campaign, as briefed in by Jobling and her team, was to speak to the customer but to also bring about an internal shift.

The agency chose to focus on “British Gas’s moment of glory”, the leaky pipe or the broken boiler in people’s homes. Alongside that, it became essential to place a spotlight on the company’s people, or what they are now called: “Solvers.” As Golding explains: “We wanted to put our Solvers front and centre and then galvanise them around the true difference they can make in customers’ daily lives.” Jobling adds that it is the creative platform’s humanity that is key to its success: “it connects, it resonates, but it gives the brand a much more active role, both internally and externally.”

While created after the pitch, Jobling reveals that the concept of Here to Solve was “an evolution of some of the thinking that we got into the pitch.” She is proud of the work the team produced, recognising the “power of something that really galvanises internally and that is really resonating with customers.” She reveals that while Here to Solve has resonated with people, both customer and non, it has also landed with British Gas employees; “pride in the badge has gone up,” she adds.

You can have a brilliant model but if you haven’t got the work that goes with it, I think it’s pretty pointless. The two things together are the silver bullet.

Sarah Golding

The power of the Big Idea

Ultimately, Here to Solve is a powerful creative idea, one which Jobling credits as being part of the agency’s appointment at pitch. The thinking was there, and the Big Idea came next. “I’m a great believer in the power of a big idea and creativity,” says Golding. “You can have a brilliant model but if you haven’t got the work that goes with it, I think it’s pretty pointless…The two things together are the silver bullet.”

With the premiere campaigns only launching in February of this year, a nationwide lockdown only demonstrated the power of the platform, as Golding explains: “because of the power of that platform, because it’s so true to the brand, because in its execution it reflects real modern British households of all shapes and sizes at their vibrant best, it allowed us, even in the eye of the storm to stand out, to create impact and create positive conversations around the brand.”

Golding is proud that, amidst many of the more downbeat messaging brands were producing around COVID, Here to Solve stood out because, while it was “responsible and respectful of the environment we were all finding ourselves in…it had a different tone to it and it had an authenticity.” For Golding this authenticity came from the Solvers, who shot themselves for the latest campaigns on their phones and laptops. That, she feels, “allowed us to really push the brand forwards.”

Jobling says that what she has seen internally is that there is now a degree of belief and excitement in the creative platform that has allowed the idea to continue its success, even in the midst of a global pandemic. It is the pride in the organisation that Jobling reveals has been a significant outcome of the campaign as well.

With a creative platform only newly debuted, the pair are excited about what the future might hold. As Golding says, “we’ve only just begun with that platform. I feel like there’s so much more we could do with it in service of British Gas.” With an honesty that underpins all that they do, Jobling and Golding demonstrate what it really takes to have a creative partnership that thrives, global pandemic or not.

To watch the full interview, visit the dedicated Creativebrief Explores page

Tune in this Thursday 9th July at 2pm to find out how Jägermeister and ENGINE got the (virtual) party started.

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