Diary of a start-up: How we made a major ad campaign in lockdown

Following the launch of their new campaign for Halifax, NCA creative team Charlotte Prince and Loriley Sessions share their top lessons from making work in lockdown.

“We’re going into lockdown tomorrow.” 

Five words you really don’t want to hear when “tomorrow” is the day you start shooting the first major brand campaign for your agency’s first client. 

But as they say on the internet – we move. 

For the past nine months, it’s been a Halifax thing. After winning the business on day 12, we knew launching a new brand positioning wasn’t going to be easy, but throw in three national lockdowns – that’s something you can’t even write. 

Here’s what we’ve learnt from it all:

1. Teamwork 

There were more obstacles than ever, and an “us and them” approach was never going to work. A total team effort was the only thing that would get us through to make work we were all proud of. 

Halifax’s new platform,“It’s a people thing”, means even more now. The campaign couldn’t have gone ahead without a determined and hardworking team of people. Account managers wrote lines, clients concepted art direction and creatives even made spreadsheets. Fear not, it was very colour co-ordinated.

2. More than a TV ad

The NCA model is a completely different ball game when it comes to writing ideas. When customer experience is so deeply embedded in the agency, the idea needed to work for the whole business model. 

This has been a big eye-opener for us – the importance of a working customer journey that sets the foundations for creative. So when our family and friends wondered why it took NCA nine months to make an ad, this is why. 

3. Write for the people

Sometimes you work with brands that need to make disruptive work to get noticed. Creatives love these briefs as they often result in a cheeky trip to Cannes. But Halifax has always been a brand known by the nation. We just needed the people to fall back in love with it. It was as important for us that the people who worked for the bank, who have gone above and beyond, also felt proud to work for Halifax when they were introduced to the new positioning and creative work.

4. Mass media really does mean all eyes on

It’s good to be reminded of how important the general public’s opinion is of what we do. 

As ex-community managers, the first thing we ever do when our work goes live is head straight to Twitter and see what the public has to say. Over the years, we have learnt as much from Twitter comments as from our creative directors. 

You’re never going to please everyone, but to see people go out of their way to say how they enjoyed it really means a lot to a lot of people. Thick skin is also required for those who did not!

But at the end of the day, if people have talked about it, then you’ve done a good job. 

5. Trust the process 

Like most creatives, we are control freaks. We like to over-analyse every single comma and double check every pixel. But the reality is, in lockdown, you just can’t do that. 

The grade will never look the same on a laptop, and the sound will never be the same from your tinny headphones as you try to recreate a sound studio from the quietest spot at home. 

But there is a reason you choose your director and production company. To trust them. So do just that. As we’ve learnt from working with (directors) ThirtyTwo and Pulse, they won’t let you down. 

6. The ghost of Howard

As soon as we won Halifax, the question on everyone’s lips was: are you bringing back Howard?! Sorry to disappoint. But we gave the public Liam and Noel instead, something they both actually had to agree to. One miracle at a time.

7. Craft your craft

For many years, we took pride in being “hybrid creatives”.  But what working remotely in this new world has made us realise is that this approach creates a jack of all trades, and sadly masters of much less than we’d hoped. These past nine months we have been forced, through no longer sitting side by side, to really hone in and work on our individual crafts as art director and copywriter. And the work feels better for it. Charlotte is particularly chuffed about this, as she no longer has to write radio ads. 

8. We miss being together

All our relationships across our lives are being stretched with either absence or intensity. A creative team is no different. Sometimes you forget just how important that cheeky pint in the pub at 2pm, desk therapy session, or even just eating lunch together is for a team. Be kind, be patient and appreciate each other. 

9. Be proud

It’s a lot like groundhog day out there. So if you’ve made any work in the past year, it’s really something to be proud of. We’re in an industry where we’re always trying to push ourselves to be better and do more, but cut yourself some slack. (And turn it off sometimes too!)

10. And lastly, if someone makes a spoof, you know you’ve done something good

We’ll just leave this here.

Charlotte Prince (left, top) and Loriley Sessions are creatives at New Commercial Arts


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