CLIENT SPOTLIGHT
THE EXETER

We love our clients. They’re great. One of those lovely clients is The Exeter, a health and life insurance company whose purpose is to provide more people with more peace of mind, in a more uncertain world.

We asked their Head of Marketing, Shelley Walker if she’d do an interview with us to tell us more about her role, The Exeter and what exciting stuff we get to work on together. Here’s how it went…

Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey to becoming the Head of Marketing at The Exeter?

Hello! I live in Edinburgh with my partner, David, and dog, Iggy. And most of the time you’ll find me on dog walks down porty beach, or out and about with my friends and family.

I started my career in Financial Services at Bright Grey (which would later become Royal London) in the customer service team supporting clients with their protection policies. Before this I had little exposure to the world of life insurance or income protection, but I quickly got a good understanding of how powerful these types of policies could be to our customers and their families. I started to become more interested in the communications side and, as I was speaking to customers day in and day out, I began to see ways we could improve how we engage with them. An opportunity came up to join the Marketing team as a coordinator and I leapt at the chance! Having no prior experience or training I felt this was an incredible opportunity to get a good grounding and see if this really was the right path for me. Turns out I absolutely loved it! Getting to be creative and exploring different ways of communicating with our financial advisers and end customers really struck a chord with me. After a few years in the role I was promoted to a Consultant. I then moved to another insurer, Guardian, for a year where I worked in Sales covering Scotland and Northern Ireland, before moving back to Royal London to take the role as Marketing Manager. After a few years I made a sideways move to The Exeter and after a year, I was promoted to Head of Marketing. A year on in the role and I absolutely love it. I’m lucky to be surrounded by incredibly talented and dynamic people, both in the Marketing team and also in the Leadership team. A marketer’s dream is working for a company with a strong purpose and focus which allows them to create a clear marketing strategy. So, I’m delighted to be in that position.

My career path has involved trying different roles, sideways moves, and doing a lot of “on the job” learning. I never had any Marketing qualifications, but instead learned through experience and various courses along the way. Whilst that doesn’t work for everyone, it does show if you’re willing to put in the hard work and take chances it’s possible to go from zero experience to a Head of Marketing in less than ten years. So, if you’re thinking about exploring something new but feel you’ve not got the qualifications, my advice is just go for it! What do you have to lose!

What do you love most about your role at The Exeter?

There’s a fantastic culture at The Exeter that promotes empowerment, accountability, and collaboration. And as the Head of Marketing, I’ve never felt so capable of making positive change, being heard, and that my opinion genuinely matters. We’re a small company with under 250 employees and 8 of those make up the Marketing team. Having worked in bigger corporates, I’d say there is a real advantage to working at a company of this size. Not so much a small cog in a big wheel! I really have the opportunity to influence the business, positioning marketing as a strategic function – not just a team that provides pens, notebooks, or a flashy sales aid! I love being able to say that in my role, and in our business, we put our end customers at the heart of everything we do. This isn’t just something we put in our business plan or on our website. We practise this day in, day out. We make decisions based on customer preference, behaviours, attitudes, needs and wants. We’re able to work across the business to create proper segmentation, agree our target markets, and enhance our positioning. And of course, I get to work with awesome agencies like Guy & Co!

What are some of the unique industry challenges and opportunities you and your team face?

As a company that sells personal protection and healthcare products, we’re definitely not short of industry challenges at the moment! Cost of living crisis and NHS waiting times has had a huge impact on what we do. And then we have regulation to consider, competing against household brands, and general mistrust for financial services. I think one of the biggest challenges we face is helping consumers understand the complexity of insurance products. Overtime insurance products have improved to suit the changing needs of the customer. Which is great. But it also means products become more intricate and require more explaining. I believe we have a huge opportunity to position our products in a much more simple and meaningful way. For example, nobody wants a mortgage – they want the home that goes with it. Nobody wants to pay £20 a month for insurance – they want the peace of mind that if they were too ill to work that they’d still be able to pay their bills, support their family, and be stress-free while they recover. Positioning these products in a consumer friendly way throughout our marketing material is absolutely crucial.

What recent achievements or milestones is your company most proud of?

I’m particularly proud of our recent member segmentation work that we collaborated with the Guy & Co team on. For any business to be successful it’s so important they’re customer oriented. And to do that you need to live and breathe your customer. Understand their wants, needs, attitudes… pre-empting their next step. To help us do this, we underwent a project to overlay our customer demographic data with various third-party data to create six core segments that make up our membership. Our membership profiles detail things like digital confidence, attitudes to different financial products, hobbies and interests, and what the future looks like for these customers. This has allowed us to position ourselves in a truly personal way to our members, serving them with the most relevant messages and support, improving customer outcomes and creating brand loyalty. We’ve only just really scratched the surface on this work and I’m really excited to see what else we’re capable of doing as a business with this new insight.

What were the key factors in choosing us as your creative partner?

Having seen previous work from Guy & Co I knew they were bold, brave, and their campaign execution was always slick and professional. But for me it’s more than that. When I work with a creative agency I need it to feel like a partnership. A two-way relationship where you feel like you can be open, honest, and constructively challenge each other. It’s about cultural compatibility. And that’s exactly what we’ve found in the partnership between Guy & Co and The Exeter. You can see our vision, understand our identity, and share the same enthusiasm and passion as we do for helping our customers. Strong communication, collaborative ideation, and energy are qualities I value the most in our partnership.

What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?

When I first became a people manager I attended a ridiculous amount of “leadership courses” that talked about the importance of strategic planning, and communication. But nothing around emotional intelligence. I explained to my line manager at the time that I wasn’t getting it… surely there’s more to being a leader than just good planning. And he gave me advice that has stuck with me since. “Be the leader you always wished you had.”

I’m very fortunate to say I’ve had some great leaders and line managers over my career that have helped me get to where I am today. But I’ve also seen some not so great leaders. And they’re the people who have shaped my leadership style more than anything. Yes, being a good leader is about clear vision, transparency, communication, planning… But for me it’s also about being human. Showing empathy, integrity, flexibility, understanding and compassion. I’m much more likely to be productive and positive for a manager that I feel understands me, empowers me, and is available. So that’s what I try to be for my team.

If you could describe our agency in three words what would they be?

Fearless, dynamic, fun.

Where can people follow your company’s journey or get in touch for more information?

We’re working on some big things at The Exeter so follow our journey on LinkedIn or through our website. Or connect with me directly!

There’s a lot of reputational baggage for agency account handlers – the Roger Sterling figure, with a first-class degree in wining, dining and all-round shmoozing. And in the modern-day procurement-hefty marketing world, we’re faced with more RFPs, SoWs and SLAs than ever before. Don’t get me wrong, those will always be key functions in Client Services, but I don’t think anyone would say it’s what gets them out of bed in the morning!

Reflecting on my own career and journey at Guy & Co, from starting up as a lean team in 2013, it was inevitable as an account director I’d write strategies and pseudo-direct creative work, especially when we used a large freelance network. But now with a robust team including top-notch Creative and Planning Directors, it begs the question – where do we add value in Client Services? And how can we elevate beyond the old Madmen stereotypes or modern-day-to-day hygiene factors?

Here’s some things that I think come into play…

1. Understanding what keeps our clients up at night

It’s an obvious one, but our clients’ business really should be our business. Which means understanding the metrics that really matter to them – the short-term results, yes, but also the long-term vision. Understanding how you can help them shift the dial and challenging them if what they want isn’t necessarily what they need. We’re advisors, not ‘yes men.’

It’s about working collaboratively and leaning in closely to what success looks like for each client – not just a similar company or challenge you’ve worked on before. It’s easy to fall into the agency trap of reporting on vanity metrics, which they’ll never pass upwards in their organisation. But what are the stats or sparks which can really be transformational?

I believe in the rhetoric that you should never ask a senior client how business is. With a laser eye on effectiveness, we’re helping drive it, so we should know it. If we don’t, how can we get closer to results?

It’s also naturally about finding ways to make our clients’ lives easier and to make them look good in their roles – to their boss, their company and industry. They’re people, after all. And whilst there’s a time and a place for small talk, what are their pressures that day, week or year?

2. Adding value by defining value

The perception of value is finally changing in adland, and at Guy & Co we’re shirking our old-school agency habits and shifting our focus from services, deliverables and ratecards – to outputs and outcomes. What’s the point in what we do, if it doesn’t actually deliver?

We believe in bravely effective results – and that can’t just be all talk. We try to understand how we’re really contributing to a client’s bottom line, and use performance-based models to put skin in the game. (As an indie, it’s nice to have that freedom).

And value isn’t just derived from quant metrics – the business, marketing or channel outcomes. It’s also the qualitative side – what the client (or indeed, procurement team) values from the agency relationship. Have we exceeded service levels, synced our ways of working effectively, freed up internal capacity, or upskilled their team?

For agencies, it’s vital we know and price our value – not just our time.

3. Be the voice of the client

Finally, within the agency cogs, it’s the account handler’s role to champion what the client needs and expects throughout the project lifecycle, and to challenge colleagues if we go adrift. (Vanity projects have no place). To have empathy for the commercial priorities and pressures, and to spend a client’s budget as if it’s our own.

We can also be that voice within agency rosters – what’s in the best interests of the l project and client, not just our own? We can be the champions of integration and effectiveness, coming back with truly joined-up thinking. In what can otherwise be the ‘murky, messy middle’ (as Campaign quite rightly calls it), between creative and media. Our clients value collaboration – not silos, and it always leads to much better results.

To round off, I asked some professional pals from both client and agency sides how they value the role. Here were their musings…

“Being an advisor. A trusted partner who collaborates, listens and challenges. Challenges their clients, their colleagues and partners to drive demonstrable results whatever the agreed objective may be. And being accountable for it.”

“Building a relationship that is based on trust and communication. Working together to foresee challenges and opportunity. That also means having the difficult conversations, being the person in the room who disagrees.”

Do you agree? We’d love to hear from you!

If you’d be keen to chat with us about our ambitions and how we can add value to your brand, get in touch!

We’re thrilled to announce we’ve won our biggest ever pitch to be appointed as lead creative agency for the esure Group across their two iconic insurance brands, esure and Sheilas’ Wheels.  

We fended off competition from global networked agencies, and will be responsible for creative strategy and integrated campaign delivery across the both brands. VCCP Media have been appointed as media partner and we look forward to working with them to bring our campaign ideas to consumers across the UK.

David Guy, Founder at Guy & Co, said: “esure is all about giving their customers confidence in how simple their brand of insurance is, and we’re thrilled to be appointed as their lead creative agency to deliver bravely effective results. It’s been a while since the Brands’ most famous work and we’re looking forward to the ride ahead.”

Gareth Haggerty, Head of Brand Marketing at esure Group, said: “Guy & Co share our excitement about the huge potential within our two sleeping giant brands. The team’s drive to create bold, brave, impactful work is a fantastic fit with esure’s desire to shake up the insurance sector and reinvigorate our iconic brands.”

Who wouldn’t want to work on a global mega brand? When people ask, “so, who do you work for then?”, they nod enthusiastically and share a story about swooshy trainers, high-flying airlines and sweet brown carbonates.

But if you don’t it doesn’t matter, because getting to work on truly ‘super-creative’ work is a vibe that can come from anywhere.

We love that maverick clients are alive and kicking across the full spectrum of brands. We see it in wi-fi to whisky, car insurance to carbs (potatoes!), pickles to pensions and all the way to the end of the line in funeral care. We love working with Marketing Directors who ask us to solve stuff, that like all great challenges, start out as rather big and un-figure-out-able.

The emotional intelligence of a brave Marketing Director fused with a joint desire to push for genuinely meaningful and distinctive ideas is what we crave. Open to setting a clear value on what success looks like – they embrace our counterchallenges and share one of our agency values – hard on the work, easy on the people.

These are the personas who push us to do our best work and share their ambition on where they want their brand to go in the near and not so near future. And when it all comes together, we get to the commercial value results we aligned on together – and that makes everyone happy – especially Finance Directors.

As we look ahead to brighter economic times, we gauge new client relationships and potential pitches way past the budget and the brand name. For us, it’s more about challenging each other to do things together that positively changes the game. That’s what really matters.

Want to chat to us about your ambitions?

Just give us a shout – we’d love to help give you the confidence to challenge for bravely effective results. The more un-figure-out-able the challenge, the better.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since we first opened the doors of Guy & Co.

October 2013 was filled with nerve-wracking onboarding meetings with our founding clients. We owe a debt of gratitude to Albert Bartlett, Edrington Group and Scottish Fine Soaps. They took a risk on us, and I hope we’ve repaid that debt with dedication and marketing ideas that worked. Those early days were the start of our agency journey, and lead to the bravely effective work we make today.

After surviving the first few years and achieving steady growth, we had a good look at ourselves. We wanted to know what was driving the great bits of work around the agency. Turns out, it was down to our innovative streak and curiosity. We were always hungry to learn what was effective and why. And forever looking for different ideas that could build momentum for our clients.

This came from our experience with innovation system thinking and productive creativity techniques. They lead me to the idea of integrating these systems into all aspects of our work. By 2017, we’d nailed how to be a creative and research agency. It’s been great growing a culture where we have the confidence to challenge anything. And have fun doing it.

Now, in this milestone year, I’m proud to look back at what we’ve accomplished.

We helped Edrington test, and bring to life, innovative new brands across the pond in Rhode Island. We helped to celebrate the fieriest Border Biscuit of them all on TV. We took a deep dive into the secret life of pensions with Royal London. And empowered Smokehead whisky to embody its brilliantly rebellious positioning.

Oh, and we produced Albert Bartlett’s most extraordinary TV campaign yet. Our cinematography needed to live up to our epic idea, so it only seemed right to use the same camera that shot the original Star Wars. Most recently, helping Go Fibre on the way to becoming Scotland’s leading full fibre telecoms network. Bringing Digby, a hardworking minty green hardhat wearing gopher, to life.

Of course, we all did it together. I need to thank our amazing team of strategists, creatives and client services. They share an innovative spirit and love for making challenging work that gets brands bought. A special mention goes to Cat Summers. Since day 1, she has been my right-hand gal and the Yin to my Yang.

Lastly, thank you to our incredible clients. You made it all possible. Each of you put your trust in us to crack marketing challenges year after year.

As we move into our 11th year, we have exciting projects with old and new clients on the horizon. There’s lots of gas in the tank and we’re raring to go.

If you’re scratching your head with an un-figure-out-able challenge, then get in touch at lhutt@guyco.co.uk. See how we can confidently bring brave effectiveness to your brand.

We’re over the moon and back – not once, not twice, but six times over, thanks to the tremendous recognition at The Marketing Society Scotland Star Awards!

Six award wins are now twinkling proudly in our trophy cabinet, illuminating our commitment to the art of innovative marketing and never turning down a challenge; the more difficult the better.

Astonishingly, four of these are gold – gleaming testaments to our work that not only catches the eye, but also truly delivers. We’ve made a mark in Advertising and Food with Albert Bartlett, as well as Brand Development and Integrated Marketing with GoFibre. You heard it right, not one, but two golden acknowledgements for each!

But we didn’t stop there. A pair of bronze awards joined the constellation, celebrating our efforts in Brand Development for Smokehead and our eye-catching Design Strategy for Dark Art Distillery.

Being recognised for our creativity and effectiveness is immensely rewarding, but the glory is shared. These accolades are the result of the collaborative brilliance of our Guys and our extraordinary clients, working hand in hand to create magic and results that shine.

Furthermore, amidst the sparkling stars were 5 additional nominations, spanning coveted categories like Agency of the Year, Rising Creative Star, Inspirational Agency Leader, and Financial & Professional Services.

Here’s to the hard work, the creativity, the strategy, and, most importantly, the incredible partnerships that make these achievements possible.

The galaxy is vast, and we’re just getting started. Until the next spectacular starry night at The Marketing Society Scotland Star Awards!

Until then, we’ll continue to push boundaries, defy norms and create extraordinary work, together.

Visit our views and news page for more details on our brilliantly effective work, or get in touch at dguy@guyco.co.uk to see how we can bring award-winning creativity and research to your brand.

Welcome to the latest episode of our written podcast. (Yup, we’re sticking by that gag.)

This time around, it’s an all-gal Guys’ takeover to celebrate International Women’s Day, as Digital Account Director, Siobhan McMorran passes the baton to our Account Executive, Lily Strachan.

Would we be more likely to find you in the agency bar or coffee shop?

Both, espresso martini please! But it’s nice to grab a coffee out in Princes St. Gardens too and get some fresh air, we’re really lucky having this on our doorstep.

Do you have any resolutions or world domination plans for 2023?

To read more! I used to read a book a week, then TikTok appeared in my life. I am embarrassingly a little addicted.

Are there any female industry leaders or mentors that you look up to?

Stef Sword-Williams. She spent seven years working in advertising becoming an expert in storytelling before she started teaching people how to tell their own personal stories. She hated seeing talent slip through the net and the lack of diversity in the industry, so she created Fck being humble – a platform that helps women in the industry find their voice and confidently speak about their talents. Since launching in 2018, she’s become an author, delivered a TEDx talk, made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, got her own radio show, named one of 100 women changing the creative industry (twice), and recognised by the Royal Society of Arts for making a significant impact towards social change. I think she is pretty awesome and would love to hear one of her talks in person! 

What’s the most unexpected thing you’ve learnt since starting your career in marketing? 

That you can become an expert in very random and sometimes niche fields! In an agency you’re quickly immersed in different brands and industries – I know a lot about fibre optic broadband from the past few months alone.

Do you have a favourite advertising jingle or strapline that always gets stuck in your head? 

The Just Eat song with Katie Perry, and I blame TikTok for that one! It was trending last month and all over my FYP. 

What brands are impressing you just now?

The MSCHF art collective. I say this cause they not only challenge themselves but also challenge the consumer. They just released these comic books, Big Red Boots, that hold a really hilarious lens on hype culture. The brand releases products that are upweighted as challenges, like Museum of Forgeries, which allowed customers to possibly buy a real Andy Warhol painting that was in an online store amongst 999 forged copies.

One of their recent campaigns was called Severed Spots, where they chopped up a £30K Damien Hirst spot-painting ‘so everyone could get a spot’. I just think they are hilarious, clever and have a great habit of reminding us not to take it all too seriously. That, and you never really know what you’re going to get from them next.

What’s the most creative way you’ve seen a brand celebrate International Women’s Day in the past? 

Less of a brand but a very clever bot on Twitter, whenever a company listed on the Government’s gender pay gap service tweets International Women’s Day key phrases, the bot automatically responds with their median gender pay gap. A great way to keep people informed and stay relevant!

Which industry trends are you most inspired or intrigued by?

I heard the term ‘climate positivity’ for the first time at a Marketing Society event, and it makes so much sense to me. The scare tactics of climate awareness groups just aren’t doing the trick anymore. And with the world in the sorry state it is, I want to see more brands taking a positive approach to building towards a brighter future. We all need hope and positivity to get through the day!

What do you think is the most important quality for success in account handling? What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting out?

If you are fresh to account handling like I was, it’s a lot to take in and can feel overwhelming. But trust yourself and learn through the experiences and challenges you face, and they will quickly become second nature. Listen and be inquisitive, but also don’t forget to be yourself.

It takes time to find out what works for you. Each job that didn’t feel right, or like it was going nowhere, pointed you in the perfect direction. The years of figuring out what does work for you will be the biggest life lessons you learn – and most fun you will have!

Lastly, what are you most excited about doing in Guy & Co’s tenth year?

Just constantly learning. Everyone at Guy & Co is so talented and you can learn from just being in the same room with them. All the experience and creativity, it’s pretty epic to sit and absorb!

Big challenges are what get me out of bed in the morning. You don’t join a start-up for an easy life. And when I joined GoFibre as Consumer Director last year I knew we had a good few to tackle.

The broadband market is dominated by the big players, with over 85% of UK customers signed up to BT, Sky, Virgin Media or TalkTalk. So how do you stand out amongst their noise, and create a memorable, relatable, educational brand, especially when broadband has become a hygiene factor?

Well I was inspired by our CEO, Alex Cacciamani, (a fellow Kiwi, which also helped), who founded GoFibre in 2017 when he moved from London to a small town called Duns in the Scottish Borders, and was frustrated by a chronically-poor connection. His philosophy, and now GoFibre’s, is that fast, reliable broadband should be available to everyone, not just city dwellers, so we’re focused on connecting towns and villages often forgotten by the telco heavyweights. We’ve got an ambitious plan to enable half a million homes to connect to full fibre in the next 3 and a half years, which comes with some big sales targets.    

When I wrote the pitch brief for a brand and creative agency earlier this year, I was looking for a partner that would relish this challenge as much as I do. We needed a big and disruptive creative platform, but rooted in our everyman values and local proposition, since our product isn’t readily available everywhere just yet. Our business model is based on demonstrating commercial viability before we can dig our full fibre cables and connect towns, so the marketing needs to ramp up interest location by location, but carefully manage customer expectations.

I’m a big believer in creative simplicity and trusting your gut when building a brand, and when I was presented with Digby the gopher it was hard not to get excited about his potential to front the GoFibre campaigns. I’m a big believer in fluent devices, too, having been the Marketing Director behind ”That’ll Do” with Plusnet Joe, who delivers their brilliantly basic positioning and distinctive Yorkshire identity. So having a charming character to bring to life the digging work that GoFibre are doing, and to make a virtue of it, was a big plus. It was really important to create a positive brand from the outset – not one that would go about bashing competitors, or making claims they couldn’t deliver on. I also loved the earworm of a gopher telling people to ‘go for it’, language that we’re already seeing being picked up freely. And it wasn’t just me; Guy & Co tested a number of different creative concepts with target consumers and Digby was a clear winner. My personal favourite quote from research; “It’s such a terrible pun, I love it!”

I also challenged Guy & Co – and our wider agency partners: Stripe PR, Lane Media and Clickboost, to go fast. In the alt-net goldrush you can’t hang about, and summer is primetime to connect broadband customers. We didn’t have the luxury of time (or arguably, budget) to give Digby the same CGI treatment as the likes of the Meerkats, but nor did we want to. Part of Guy & Co’s creative approach was about making him feel real to help create that charm – think Gordon from the broom cupboard. (Or so I’m told from people that grew up in the UK).  

Digby’s got a lot of work to do and hats to wear – we’re using him across both B2C and B2B, across a complex customer journey, and executed across very localised media plans as we roll out town by town. But we believe he’s up to the challenge, and are confident in why we picked a challenger agency in Guy & Co to partner with us.


“I’m Iron Man” was not an admission that I ever thought I’d hear our Technical Director say. For the record, he is not Tony Stark, however, for the purposes of an internal workshop he was!

I’d been tasked to reinvigorate our company values and, through word of mouth had found and contacted Guy & Co to help.

Getting corporate values right is as essential as it can be hard to do. On the one hand, you can end up with values that are too general and don’t act as a call to action. And on the other hand, they can be far too specific and then don’t necessarily resonate as they should.

Angel Trains is a fairly unusual company in that we operate in a highly regulated market, with a pretty fixed customer base, with well-established competitors. Our ability to differentiate ourselves by what we do is therefore pretty limited.

The challenge that we set Guy & Co was, in this context, to help us to identify values that would set us apart from the competition, resonate with our employees and be authentic. Simple then.

From the start, the approach they took hit the mark. Their initial analysis clearly showed that in a very small space of time they understood the market dynamics. The workshop approach we then took applied a method with candour and no small amount of challenge. It was insightful in a way that not many of us who took part expected.

Having established a working framework for discussion Guy & Co helped to pull together the output from a series of cross-company working groups designed to tease out values that came from the people within the business. We wanted to ensure that these weren’t value dreamt up at a senior leadership team offsite, but ones that came from the real lived experiences of everyone in the business.

At all times during the process, we were constructively challenged to ensure that the values we were identifying truly reflected our business. With a room full of finance, legal and engineering experts this wasn’t always straightforward, yet the Guy & Co team were able to help us keep to the right balance of detail and debate.

I’m happy to say that the five values that came out of the process were ones that every member of staff felt like they had a stake in.

Angel Trains values

To help demonstrate this, Guy & Co created an internal video in which members of staff were asked a series of questions on how the values resonated with them. It was the perfect medium to communicate back to ourselves the emotional attachment that people felt.

With the help of the Guy & Co team, our next steps are to continue to embed the values in our business and to use them and the positive behaviours that they drive, to truly differentiate ourselves from our competitors.

I was thinking about how to end this piece, but I think I’ll just use the words that Malcolm, our CEO, said to me just after one of the first workshops with the Guy & Co team. “They get us,” he said. He was right.

I’m Fi – a Festival-loving Activation Manager at Guy & Co. It’s certainly been a challenging couple of years for brands, and none more so than in the activation space, so I was intrigued to see which brands would take a leap back into the world of experiential during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year, in its IRL reboot. As well as seeing around fifteen shows outside of work, I was lucky enough to oversee various Festival activations for our clients, like pop-up bars and on-trade installs for Blue Moon and Madrí. Anyway, this piece is not about our work, but rather to highlight some of my favourite activations throughout the city in August…

TikTok: Find More Funny

TikTok launched in the UK back in 2018, but it certainly wasn’t a well-known social channel before the pandemic. It’s now a completely different story, with over a billion users globally, and this year TikTok positioned itself as the Fringe’s first ever official virtual stage, giving the TikTok community ‘the best seat in the house’. Its main installation appeared in a prime spot at the bottom of the Mound, and it didn’t hold back with surprises. As well as giving out free coffees daily, there was also the opportunity to win prizes like tote bags, which became must-have accessories (and cunning brand visibility pieces) across the city. This felt like a fairly unique concept at the Fringe this year, at a time when brands could have understandably been tightening their purse strings. It also hero-ed its most prized assets – TikTokers themselves. Some of Scotland’s biggest TikTokers got involved, with a giant screen on the Royal Mile showcasing their reels. I loved this activity as it cleverly put the TikTok community at the heart.

Naked Malt

Recently rebranded, Naked Malt was an unexpected pop-up that was enjoyed by many passers-by looking for a refreshing whisky cocktail in the heart of Festival village. Naked Malt’s positioning is ‘whisky at its most uncomplicated’, which was reflected in the space it took over. Hidden away behind big venues like McEwan Hall and Teviot, this bar was perfect for avoiding the lengthy queues and crowds mere metres away. As well as its more chilled atmosphere, it also had a clear roof, perfect for sheltering with a drink when the heavens inevitably opened. The décor had a warm and inviting feel to it, with foliage, soft furnishings and illustrated fruits, which first tempted me in. I enjoyed many evenings here in August and hope to see the brand pop up elsewhere in future. 

Arbikie: A Club

Table-served cocktails can be hard to come by during the Fringe, especially before a show. I was pleased to see that the ‘A Club’ had returned to Merchants’ Hall this year, an iconic venue that featured a brilliant range of music acts, from tributes to traditional folk. It’s not easy to dress the front of a listed building, but Arbikie did a great job, making the venue eye-catching and welcoming. Arbikie have recently opened their Highland distillery to the public, and were able to use the A Club as a bit of an outpost. This immersive experience is one not all drinks brands could pull off, and is an unexpectedly brilliant addition to the Fringe.

RZSS Edinburgh Zoo: Giraffe About Town

Finally, this genius little idea from Edinburgh Zoo has surprised and delighted both tourists and locals alike throughout summer. 40 giraffes could be spotted across the city, each one designed by a different artist and community to help celebrate Edinburgh’s extraordinary heritage and cultural diversity. Finishing on the same day as the Festival, they’ll now be auctioned off to raise vital funds for the zoo’s conservation work. This activation was brilliant simplicity at its finest, appealing to kids and adults alike. I used to walk past three on my way to work every day, (not to mention the miniatures that could be spotted in shop windows), so I’ll really miss them.

So, from gin-fuelled Abba tribute nights to tartan giraffes, I for one am delighted the Festival is back. And whilst much more is worthy of celebration, for me the most exciting part is the clear signal that brand activation is firmly back on the menu. Bring it on.