Capturing the message

Earlier this year, I started on the daunting task of redeveloping this site. I’d already begun the process of detaching myself personally and professionally by resurrecting sallyjenkinson.co.uk, because I wanted a place for my things, and a place for company things (projects aren’t always just me).

This site currently doesn’t feel like it reflects what Records Sound the Same has become, either in terms of its content or branding. As such, I wanted to address both as a clean slate – engaging a professional (the lovely Katherine Cory) to work on the visual aspects, and starting from scratch to think about capturing who we work with, how, and why.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this approach of taking a step back and trying to define these elements. It’s all too easy to have things internalised and to know how you feel, but it’s another matter to be able to clearly and concisely create a statement of intent in both written and visual form.

The site’s not quite ready yet (Katherine’s been doing such a great job that I’ve not kept up on the development side!), but I thought that I’d write about the other areas in the meantime.

Who is listening?

Most Records Sound the Same projects come about because of referrals or introductions from people who already have some connection, but every now and again I’ll get an enquiry out of the blue or approach someone that I’d like to work with. This means that there’s a difference in the level of existing familiarity and kind of questions that people may have, and I’ve done a bit of work thinking about how best to cater for these journeys.

At a very high level, it can be boiled down that a reader is most likely to be:

  • A person who…
  • Works for a client-side business or organisation (as opposed to a web agency)…
  • Has challenges or gaps where digital technology and skills could make a difference…
  • Needs independent, technology agnostic help making change happen, and stick.

Some of these people will be very tech-savvy and others won’t. Some will have an idea of what terms like ‘Discovery’, ‘Definition’ and ‘Prototyping’ mean, others will have no clue. Some will have a specific project boundary or requirement in mind, whilst others may need help identifying where the focus should lie. I myself have spoken in the past about my love/hate relationship with the term ‘digital transformation’, and whilst this is often the best descriptor for what we do, it often doesn’t mean anything to many and can sound a bit pompous or abstract without practical examples.

Some of our existing clients also differ from this definition - for instance we also occasionally work alongside selected web agencies, and someone trying to suss out information for that purpose will have slightly different needs.

Different types of work

These differences become ever more apparent when it comes to the different type of projects that we work on, and how we work. These range from everything from huge, slow-moving, sector-wide change through to quick sense checks and advice giving (and everything in between!). We work on projects where technology and systems are the focus, some where it’s the processes, and some where it is all about skills, culture and strategy. Some are with start-ups, some with established international businesses.

Rather than trying to capture everything we do or can do, I was inspired by Ethan Marcotte’s ‘The work I like’ recently. (Ethan’s available for hire and you absolutely should hire him, by the way).

The work I like (it’s my company, I’m keeping the right to define this for now!) includes the ability to:

  • Work with people whose cause I really believe in, where the subject matter excites me, or where they’re good people – whether that’s people doing stellar, important work for society and doing good in the world (like the RNLI and Open Data Institute), Formula 1 teams like Manor Racing or ski companies like Inghams and Ski Total, or the lovely ladies at startups like Patchwork and Prolifiko. I want to be as excited to get out of bed every morning as my clients are.
  • Provide neutral, independent advice which is totally technology agnostic, and based on the client’s particular situation.
  • Talk about everything (even really technical things) in a human, non-scary way.
  • Use experiences of different industries and best practices to bring an outside perspective…
  • …but balancing this by working directly with teams who really want to make something happen, and are committed.
  • To work in a very hands-on way - by showing as well as telling, teaching as well as doing, and collaborating rather than dictating.
  • To bring in the right selection of people and skills for the job.
  • To be able to share any knowledge learnt back with others through conferences, blog posts, or books.

Whilst I originally started off contracting and freelancing after I set out on my own, nowadays I much prefer working alongside others and not being a bum on a seat. Where I or we still work on other people’s projects, we know that we’ll be able to have a voice, and that we’ve been brought in for a specific reason.

These points have formed the starting point of our company values and goals, and have also influenced what I feel is now a really strong set of core services and products, which I’m really excited to share on the new site.

What’s different?

I’m really grateful for my 8 years agency-side, and for the ongoing close relationships that I have with people in leadership roles within that space. In my former role as Head of Technology at a digital agency I got to experience where agencies can really shine, but it’s also given me enough insight to know where the gaps are for someone to do something a little bit different.

I’ve already mentioned some key things, like being fully independent and technology agnostic – I don’t want to be pushing solutions that we happen to also offer, I’d rather work with the best team once the need is known.

I’ve grown in confidence about the concept of collectives for this reason, and my favourite explanation is still the SuperFriendly definition:

“When filmmakers make films, they pick the people who best embody the role. David Fincher doesn’t always use Brad Pitt, even though he was fantastic in Fight Club and Se7en. Christopher Nolan doesn’t always use the same lead actor either. Leonardo DiCaprio was awesome in Inception, as was Guy Pearce in Memento, as was Christian Bale in the Batman movies, but you couldn’t interchange them because of how well they were cast. Leo as the Dark Knight? “I’m the king of the world, Alfred!” Too weird. Similarly, SuperFriendly projects are made up of the people who best embody the role. SuperFriendly doesn’t keep a full-time staff. Instead, we use what we lovingly call the “The SuperFriend Model,” where we call on some of the best folks in the industry to come together and collaborate, depending on your project’s needs.”

Outside of that, the mix of technology and people thinking is a big driver towards doing great work. This is my personal happy space, and it’s hugely important to me that any Records Sound the Same projects leave behind knowledge and skills as well as just getting work done.

Differences and similarities

Throughout this post I’ve mentioned how people are different, their situations and needs are different, the kind of help that they’re looking for is different, and the teams that meet those needs will also be very different. This fluidity, and ability to embrace differences whilst also having a strong sense of purpose and clear set of ways that we know we can help people is absolutely central to what we do. It’s part of the reasoning behind the choice of “Records Sound the Same” in the first place.

As such, it’s been one of the key principles for the definition of the new branding, and I’m really, really looking forward to sharing our design story in a subsequent post once we’ve made the final decisions. Rather than a static logo, we’ve instead come up with a design system that can adapt the identity to different contexts, which I’m rather excited about.

I’m also looking forward to being able to shout about some new case studies, and to have new content that makes it really simple to see how we can help in different situations. Now I just need to finish the build!

If you’d like to get a jump on the new site and think this sounds good, availability opens up towards the end of May. If you’ve got an idea of something you’d like to talk about please get in touch!

Read more from the blog

Back in time:
Switching formats

Forward in time:
Changing to more distributed digital teams

Posted by Sally Jenkinson

Sally is the lead consultant and founder of Records Sound the Same, helping people with digital transformation. She's also a speaker, coder, gamer, author, and jasmine tea fiend.