Watch what happened when Elmwood asked employees: "What's your superpower?"
From ‘keeping the team energised through extremely strong coffee" and "talking to dolphins" to "multi tasking", "directness" and "being practically minded", Elmwood prides itself as the world’s most effective brand design agency.
We quizzed Craig Barnes, creative director at Elmwood, about what else makes Elmwood shine and what kind of people make it the best.
Craig, tell me about Elmwood and the work you do.
We have a mantra at Elmwood, which is that ‘it’s no longer good enough to be the best of the best, you have to be the only ones who do what you do.’ We stole it from The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia.
The fact is, only one brand can be the cheapest and therefore every other brand has to do something different. So what’s the point in benchmarking yourself against others, matching yourself to things that already exist and competing on price and performance? You’re setting yourself up for a life watching your margins steadily shrinking.
Instead, be the only people who do what you do. Call the tunes, determine the price, lead the market. Create design that is distinctive, memorable and extraordinary. It’s this attitude that has made us the world’s most effective brand design agency, and we’ve been doing it since 1977. That is a long time in this industry! We’re one of only a few fiercely independent agencies with a presence in London, Leeds, New York, Singapore and Melbourne, and we work with big clients like Heineken, GSK, Mars, Unilever, P&G, Tesco, and Walmart, and challenger brands like Heck, the Saucy Fish company, Jet.com, and London Beer Company.
So, do you need a superpower to work at Elmwood?
No, you really don’t need to have one single superpower to work at Elmwood. But you do need to be generally extraordinary at what you do, whether it’s design, strategy or client service. Average doesn’t cut it. I think we’re living in some pretty extraordinary times and consumers want extraordinary brands that are distinctive, meaningful and iconic. These brands need to work across every touchpoint to emphasise their iconicity and be truly memorable. For us to create such brilliance, we like to work with exceptional people who are brilliant at what they do.
Craig Barnes, creative director, Elmwood, says his ‘superpower’ is ‘thinking on my feet’.
What kinds of exciting projects can you work on at Elmwood?
We strongly believe in variety. It’s imperative to maintain a healthy mix of clients. A lot of people know us for the work we do with big retail and FMCG brands. And yes, we are great at that work. But we also work with some pretty incredible global brands in the corporate, luxury, drinks and food sectors, as well as challenger brands that are shaking up the market. We cover the whole journey from brand and business strategy, through brand identity and brand world design to execution and activation across multidimensional channels. We do it all.
What has been your proudest moment whilst working at Elmwood?
Joining! I wasn’t particularly looking for a new job at the time. I was on a self-initiated sabbatical calculating my next move and somehow found myself in front of the CD and head of strategy, passionately engaged in discussion about brands one afternoon, naively thinking it was just that. Weeks later, an offer came through for a role that I simply couldn’t turn down. What has been wonderful since then is the opportunity Elmwood has given me to define that role myself and really go for it in terms of what I can give back to help grow the client base and the family here. It's really rewarding.
What is your ‘superpower’?
Thinking on my feet. You can’t catch me out. I’ve done my homework. I’m annoying like that!
What roles are you currently recruiting for and what do they involve?
We’re always happy to hear from talented people with something to say and something to offer. Currently we’re looking for a senior design director and a design director to join our London team. Also someone with exceptional corporate experience. You may have already done work as an associate creative director. And we’re looking for somebody with great FMCG experience too. We’re busy!
All of these individuals should be able to capture the zeitgeist, have an innate passion for what they do and be tireless in the pursuit of amazing, effective design. We have high standards!
What makes Elmwood a great place to work?
Our view on the power of design to make a difference. It really does set us apart from our competitors. But I can’t tell you more – that’d be giving it away! I also love our high standards. Across the board we look for great clients who really want to collaborate with us to make a difference to their brand, the world they operate in or sometimes even the world around us all. Passionate people are infectious so we look for the same in the teams we create and those we hire in when we’re growing. I’m not alone in feeling like I joined the best in the business. Everyone who works here is really proud to, it’s great.
What’s it like to work with Framework Creative, your digital agency?
Framework Creative literally adds a different dimension to the kind of work we do. They specialise in AR, VR, 3D and motion graphics, as well as physical brand world experience. They’re mind blowing to relatively old-school designers like me who have come to the digital world as an adult. For my younger or more progressive colleagues, Framework’s offering is a natural part of their creative process, and when you watch them all collaborating it’s a real thrill. They’ve definitely educated some of us with what they do over the last couple of years and made us think differently about our approach, which I personally find really exciting. I love working on briefs with them. Our clients love it too, because it means we can offer them the full 360 on their brand – something a lot of agencies today claim they can do, but few do well.
What are some of your favourite Elmwood perks?
There are many! I unashamedly like a social, and we have a wonderful end of week keynote presentation with nibbles and beers in our big kitchen to round up the-week-that-was. One of our designers thought of it and hosts the most hysterical and cutting visual review of what went down by the water cooler, who said something inappropriate, which staff member dressed like a plonker in their big meeting and what the company dog ate by accident. Nobody is safe and everybody loves it. There are many more. Join us and find out!
What words of wisdom would you give to someone thinking of applying to work at Elmwood?
Be yourself. Show us the work you love, not the work you think we will like. Tell us what you think you can offer us that we might not yet have. Please don’t think of an interview as an exam. It’s a conversation. And if you join the family, be prepared to go on a journey of discovery. And buckle in - it’s a wild ride of hard work…and lots of fun.
What's your superpower?
Here’s what some of Elmwood’s employees say is their ‘superpower’:
- "I keep the team energised through extremely strong coffee"
- "Multi tasking"
- "Directness - I can get to the heart of the problem really quickly"
- "Coming up with an idea as part of a team"
- "I can swear in Norwegian"
- "I’m practically minded so can take big creative ideas and execute them"
- "Lots of positive energy"
- "I’m snack master so at three o’clock you’ll find me in the kitchen"
- "The ability to step back to signpost and headline stories within our creative work and get them down to something simple and intuitive that works with both our clients and consumers"
- "I can talk to dolphins"
You don’t need to be able to talk to dolphins but if you are brilliant at what you do, whether it’s design, strategy or client service, Elmwood would love to hear from you.