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Learning from the Radicals

The demise of Kids Company last week brought up an all too familiar question: When faced with a loss of government funding, how are those organisations reliant on it to cope and progress? It’s a question we faced last year when working with People’s History Museum (PHM) in Manchester. Now, the situation PHM found themselves in was not on the same financial scale, nor had the sensitivities and complexities of the recent Kids Company closure, but each faced the same challenge: how can we open up new streams of revenue to mitigate the effect of a reduction or withdrawal in central government funding?

In the case of PHM, we decided to take an innovative approach. The 15% of their income which came from central government was going to disappear in April 2015 and all ‘business as usual’ ways to replace or top that up had been explored. There was definitely going to be no additional public sector financial support – from local or national authorities.

Unlike Kids Company, PHM suffers from a lack of profile and it has next to no history of philanthropic support. What’s more, its core story – the development of democracy and rights in Britain – is not a subject matter closely aligned with the agendas of potential corporate of private philanthropic donors.


These were potentially insurmountable obstacles, but we preferred to think of them as brilliant ingredients for a radical and innovative solution. We created the ‘Radicals’ brand and campaign to reflect the brave actions of the people whose stories are told in the Museum and to show that Museum management was prepared to follow their lead.  How? By ‘rebelling’ against the financial status quo and getting ‘Radical’ in order to secure their future. So, a unique package of benefits was put together, to encourage donors to build a closer relationship with the Museum and its team in exchange for their financial support. A celebration of the efforts of Radicals from British history became the core of the approach, with a ‘radical’ solution, celebrating the Museum’s brand DNA, to a potentially immovable obstacle.

Thanks to the prioritisation by the Museum board of efforts to replace the disappearing government funding, a strategic plan with time to implement and our bold and brave voice to a new style of fundraising, the Museum successfully ‘filled the gap’, and more, and has a pipeline of donors for the future.

This isn’t to suggest that the situation facing Kids Company and People’s History Museum were identical; but that a combination of strategic planning, management focus, genuine courage and a willingness to innovate went a long way to heading off a potentially crippling problem. It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, but it helps to have brothers and sisters that combine strong management, creativity of approach, a genuine grasp of your own brand and the ability to leverage it in new ways.

Product of a Placement

For the last year, we have had the pleasure of hosting three placement students from the University of Central Lancashire. Anya, Beth and Dan have become a vital part of our team and it is with heavy hearts we have to say goodbye as they head off to complete their degree. Ahead of their departure they embarked on one last hurrah, Dan and Anya explain all.  

Our placement journey began last summer when we were delighted to discover that we’d be spending a year at True North. As graphic design students at UCLAN we chose to complete a placement year in between our studies to gain experience, contacts and skills that we hope will stand us in good stead for when we finally graduate and are thrown into the design world.

Although a placement year isn’t compulsory, we would highly recommend it to anybody wanting to work in the design industry. Not only have we met and worked with some amazing people, but we have gained invaluable experience and been given the opportunity to work on fantastic projects for clients such as The People’s History Museum, Royal Mail and many others.

Our placement will soon be over, but before returning to our studies, we decided to create something for the team to remember us by and for us to pass onto the students who’ll replace us; A helping hand from one student to another!


The concept of creating a handbook came about when we were comparing our daunting first weeks of placement. That’s when the idea of sharing our own knowledge and experience through a handy guide was first spoken about.

Our aim was to create an informal, interactive yet informative book containing useful information about True North. The guide is split into 4 sections. ‘Welcome to the team’ introduces the students to the team and their roles, as well as a fun fact about each team member.


‘Placement duties’ gives the students a heads up about some of the responsibilities they will be taking on (brewing up being first on the list of course!).


The next section, titled ‘Important bits and bobs’ is the boring but necessary stuff that they will need to know such as fire precautions (yawn).


‘Top tips’ is the final section of the guide, it consists of 10 tips about general studio life, and a few personal tips about members of the team that we have learnt during our time here. A personal favorite is top tip number 3, ‘Don’t challenge Ady to a game of darts,’ Dan in particular can vouch for this one!


We attempted to make each section engaging and fun by adding our own doodle style illustrations relating to each point.

Once we had the content for the guide, we looked into various formatting styles, paper stocks and binding techniques. We wanted the handbook to feel interactive and almost unfinished, allowing new placements to add content where prompted, and take things from the book if they wish. Binding screws allow this because single pages can be easily taken out or added. The colored dividers give the handbook structure and make it easy to find specific information.

We hope the future generations of placement students learn as much as we did.

Inbox Inspiration

We've been talking about Email Newsletters over on Medium. The Email Renaissance and Why Brands Should Take Note, talks about how email is more than just a sales tool and instead can be used to build lasting relationships to those audiences that matter. In light of this, we thought we would pull together a list of inspiring sources. Enjoy. 

Sarah Hardman, Designer, on The Skimm

"Amongst the spammy emails that I either trash or let accumulate and never read, there is one email that I particularly like to receive: The Skimm. It's a daily email that briefs you on what's going on in the world.  Their subject lines are witty, adding some humor to my morning routine and the copy provides a source of objective, amusing and intelligent content. A good read!"

tumblr_inline_ngqk02xiy91qztrrd.pngNeil Mason, Director of Brand Strategy on Noah Brier

"I think he gets a nice balance of it feeing personal ie his own opinion without it feeling too preachy or bandwagonny. Some bloggers like the sound of their own voice (or words) too much and try to show how clever they are but with him it’s definitely less-is-more - it feels like he’s genuinely trying to be helpful and informative. He poses as many questions as he answers and he backs up all his thoughts and stories with links to real stuff. Even when he’s just signposting to other stuff, he manages to do it with a sublet and succinct viewpoint."

Graeme Rutherford, Digital Strategy and UX on Invision

"Every article is a must read for me. They are setting the agenda and are always totally relevant to what I'm doing (or, want to be doing) and the way I’m doing it (or, want to be doing it)."


Ami Guest, Brand Communications Manager on Ann Friedman

"This feels like an email from a friend, with loads of great links to articles I would have otherwise missed or never seen. I have been introduced to so many publications through this newsletter and look forward to reading it." 

A Legacy That Lasts

Athletes at the London Olympics 2012

Following the publication of Sport England’s annual Active People Survey earlier this week, which brought mixed news on the London 2012 Olympic Legacy, Account Manager Emma Bluck explores what really encourages us to get active.  

The BBC’s show Twenty Twelve made a bit of a joke about the Olympic Organising committee and their commitment to legacy, but really when it all happened weren't we all feeling more than a little inspired to explore our own sporting potential? We here at True North certainly were, with a worrying number of the team planning to add professional sports personality to their CV. “If we started training now, I’m fairly confident we’d make the Rio 2016 Archery team.”

Although recent participation figures published by Sport England showed a peak around the Games (with cycling and athletics seeing continued growth), it now seems like most sports participation figures are dropping. Could this be because of the way the Olympics portrayed sport to us? Anyone who has tried to take those steps towards a more active lifestyle will know that there’s no crowds cheering you on when your legs start to ache, no gold medal after finishing boot camp and no Claire Balding pestering for a post event analysis. In fact it couldn't be further from a “true” representation of what it’s like to be active.

In late 2012 True North were engaged by Sport England to work on a pilot scheme that would promote a more active lifestyle to women in Bury. Inspired by research showing that friendship and camaraderie are often the most successful triggers in getting those who are sport shy moving, we came up with a solution. I Will if You Will is a community-led brand designed to encourage involvement by engaging the support and ownership of women in Bury.


It took a more direct and personalised approach, putting participation and female to female empowerment at the heart of the idea – I Will if You Will encouraged women who were active to encourage their friends to get started. Women who were inactive to find a friend to get started with. And those who were already on the journey to help build a community that could encourage and support each other – providing the ‘cheering squad and crowd support' along the way. 


And the results so far are positive. Three years after the brand’s launch, 2,000 more women are now active in Bury proving that this approach works. In April this year, Sport England took the findings from I Will if You Will to inspire the brief for This Girl Can, rolling out a national campaign of female sporting encouragement.


Although we look back on London 2012 with great fondness and will no doubt be enthralled when our athletes head to Rio, we’ve learnt a huge lesson. Our sporting hero’s are incredible human beings, but it won’t be them who finally get the nation moving. It will be me, you and the women of Bury.

Fourteen Years of True North....

On the morning of the 9th July 2001, True North came into the world.

Weighing in at three people, two macs and a printer, we were a tiny new life. Fourteen years later we’re twenty-five people high, 3 printers wide and have more macs that we’d care to admit - boy how we’ve grown.

Over the years we’ve had the opportunity to work on an amazing range of projects, with a wonderful range of inspirational clients. We asked some of the team to talk about the projects that really had an impact on them. This is what they said: 

Tree Tabernor, Head of Operations remembers working with The British Empire and Commonwealth Museum on the project Breaking the Chains. 


"In 2007, as part of a programme of events to mark and reflect upon bicentenary of the abolition of slavery, True North was selected to design the exhibition graphics and marketing collateral for ‘Breaking the Chains’.

I remember our reaction after first reading and digesting the sensitive and sometimes shocking content of the exhibition, and understanding from the start the importance of getting the job absolutely right. 


On seeing the creative concepts, the eventual chosen look and feel leapt out of the page. It was bold and striking, yet simplistic and clear. I felt very proud to play a part in bringing it to life, using it as a way to weave all aspects of the exhibition, print and marketing together to create a successful and impactful exhibition.

But the real pleasure working on this project for me, despite deadline pressures and long hours, was that it felt effortless because of working with such a great, professional team. Anne Lineen, the exhibition Project Manager was always honest, passionate and totally trusted us to handle the work with skill and care. The design team worked around the clock to lovingly craft the panels and get maximum clarity and impact, leaving no barrier between the audience and the story they were designed to tell. The results were that visitor numbers exceeded initial target figures, an Art Fund Prize top 3 placement (an event at which I sat at a table and chatted with Joan Bakewell, which was a personal thrill!), and lastly a benchmark for me of how a successful project could and should work."

Ady Bibby, Creative Partner on Imperial War Museum North.


"Imperial War Museum opened its ’Northern branch’ on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal, in the summer of 2002. As a newly formed creative trio, the chance to work with and launch such an iconic project was high on our wish list. We pitched as rank outsiders against the good and great of the creative world and were cock-a-hoop to be chosen by a brave client.


Warfare and art aren’t always natural allies so we chose to promote a series of major art exhibitions at IWMN by recreating war-related imagery in the media of each artist. Bold and thought provoking, the images conveyed IWMN as a great place to see art.


The work won us huge praise from the client and creative juries alike. And importantly, it helped cement with the three of us that brave ideas should be at the heart of everything True North produced."

Adele Littler, Designer on The Jersey Post Superman Stamps.


Two of my favourite things combined, a geeky topic and expensive print processes. The Jersey Post Superman Stamps were created to celebrate the release of Man of Steal staring Jersey native Henry Cavill. The set are something I’d happily put on my wall, alas only as an admirer as I can’t take credit for them. The imagery is Hollywood grade so the production had to match with each stamp illustrating one of the superhero’s many powers. Techniques included printing on Simili silver foil reflecting strength, transparent film to achieve the effect of flying, glow in the dark and heat reactive ink, one even had granite from Beauport Bay, Jersey. It didn’t just stop at print techniques with one of stamps triggering an augmented reality app. For me this is an example of what can be achieved when working on a vision with a client and investing in creativity and production." 


Karen Hughes, Creative Director on Peel and Gudgin.

Unfortunately, I can't take credit for this one, but for me it's ideas like this simple clever identity for Peel and Gudgin opticians that attracted me to work at True North in the first place. Unassuming, yet pure graphic wit. I can't help but feel lifted a little every time I see it. To me, ideas like this are just sat there waiting to be found, just wish I'd been the one to find it. Of course, times have moved on a lot since the days of brands living purely on a set of stationery, but for me there will always absolutely be a place in brand for these 'I wish I'd thought of that' ideas. After all, those are the ideas people remember.


Dan Horsfall, Placement Designer on the 2012 London Olympic Stamps. 


"The Gold medal stamps for the 2012 London Olympics has to be the project that really inspired me. The idea of designing for a sporting event of that size and magnitude is incredible. To successfully create stamps within a 24 hour period and for them to be completley up to date with daily sport results is an amazing acheivment."

Extraordinary discoveries, every day

On July 13th, Chester Zoo will unveil ‘Islands', a £40 million development recreating six South East Asian Islands right here in the UK. Over the past year True North have worked with Chester Zoo to create a brand positioning and identity that could truly represent this unique attraction. Chester Zoo’s aim was to allow ordinary visitors to become intrepid explorers, taking in the sights, smells and sounds of these unique habitats and enable everyone, young and old, to see the island's wildlife up close and personal. 


It was important that this brand identity truly represented not only the ‘islands’ unique spirit but also the conservation element of the project, in a way that was educational, captivating and thought provoking.

A diverse audience would be targeted through Chester Zoo’s marketing and so the identity also needed to speak to each of these. From children and their adults, to the press, local residents and tourism partners.


After considering all these factors, the brand territory was identified and “Extraordinary discoveries, every day” was born. This concept put visitors at the heart of the brand to reinforce the immersive and exclusive sensory experience on offer. From exploring the forests of Sulawesi to tracking tigers in Sumatra, Chester Zoo will provide an experience like no other. Highlighting the contrast between every day lives and a day on the ‘islands', the identity shows that no matter who you are, you’ll be given a rare opportunity to embark on your very own expedition. 


With the help of 422 Manchester we created a TV Ad, one of the main campaign outputs. We began by creating an element of mystery and surprise. We’re introduced to each character in their own natural habitat before showing that this ordinary person was actually embarking on their very own expedition. The viewer might think Peter Jones is in his own garden before panning out to reveal he’s in the tropical forests of Sulawesi and that Jackie Thomas might be at the local market before panning out to reveal she’s browsing the markets of Sumba.

We wanted to give the viewer the feeling that they were on this journey and that they to could make their own extraordinary trek.


‘Islands’ at Chester Zoo opens on Monday 13th July.

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