Poke Marketing is a creative agency that look at things a bit differently. We sat down with founder Andrew Binns to hear about their approach, their experience with Gather, and how they are using creativity to support diversity and inclusion in a male-dominated environment.
Poke is a relatively new kid on the creative block, why did you start the agency?
I worked in Liverpool for 15 years with Mando Group and Rippleffect before spending 5 years in Chicago and New York with Ashfield and Havas. My time in the US gave me a new understanding of the client/agency relationship – an approach I wanted to bring back to Liverpool.
I wanted to set up an agency that delivers genuine impactful business transformation through marketing. Coming back to the UK, it seemed to me a lot of marketing was tired, a little bit bland, agencies and clients seemed happy to settle for ‘OK’. We want to challenge that. I’m a huge advocate of the Com-B behaviour change framework. A framework that allows a deep understanding of the psychology of the various audiences, ensuring contextual messages are created that genuinely resonate, and plotting out the right channels to disseminate the messages. That strategic approach is at the heart of what we do at Poke.
As our name suggests we try and be a bit disruptive and we find it best to partner with businesses who are really looking to grow, change and evolve. The inclusive signage project we did with European Metal Recycling (EMR) is a great example of this.
Making signage more inclusive in a male-dominated sector must have been a challenge?
The project with EMR was one of the most challenging I’ve worked on. When Sam Grierson, their Change and Inclusion Director, approached us to take the current male-bias signage and replace it with more inclusive signage I realised I’d never looked at a ‘men at work’ sign and questioned it. But as with so many signs that have been a fabric of our everyday lives for so long, it’s not fit for purpose anymore – it excludes, devalues, and identifies people in a way we shouldn’t be doing in 2021.
Using our experience in driving corporate change in big organisations Sam asked us to initially take on the challenge of transforming the signage for one of EMR’s UK sites.
Because we were transforming – and disrupting – something that people are so familiar with, internal and external workshops were so important, to get input and buy-in from those on the ground - so it wasn’t seen as ‘box-ticking’ or ‘political correctness gone mad.’
The project really inspired the creative team, but we had to make sure we balanced this creativity with the function of the signs – safety and clarity was always front of mind. And beyond the figures themselves we focused on making the message more empathetic and benefit-led – we wanted to move away from the dictatorial and demanding tone.
How has it been received?
One of the most rewarding things for us was seeing the real shift in mindsets. When we first showed the campaign to a number of key stakeholders – they did question the need for change. But we talked them through the research and the impact the signs can have, and they became massively motivated. So much so that they were calling Sam and identifying new signs that needed to change. With over 500 sites it’s a massive commitment for the business, but every time a site gets redeveloped, or a new sign is needed, the new versions will be installed.
We’re hoping it even goes beyond that, that it can play a part in provoking wider change. We held a webinar recently about the project and some massive organisations attended and there seems to be a real appetite for looking at how we communicate with people in the built environment.
Do you think it’s important for agencies to partner with diversity and inclusion experts like Sam on projects like this?
That’s definitely important, I guess this project has reaffirmed to me the importance of empathy in marketing. To be empathetic you need to put yourself in someone else’s shoes – and even with all the research and insight, as a middle-class white guy I’m not always the best person to do that. Agencies shouldn’t presume they know all the answers, you’ve got to bring experts in, and perhaps even more importantly, engage with the right people.
It’s something that’s come into focus working with Writing on the Wall too – if you're trying to reach out to a community in Toxteth about the L8 riots then you need to engage with people who were there, who are part of that community.
How has Gather supported you?
I recently attended the Shift programme and the time to focus on our proposition and think about how we can always stay true to that was really useful. The ‘Why’ is always central to our internal and client work but the Gather team enabled me to drill down into it: what is our USP, what makes us really different. Off the back of that we had a strategy day and the team came up with ideas for how to communicate our why – encouragingly for me it was Molly, our very talented 19 year old apprentice, who nailed the articulation of our why.
What’s so valuable about Gather is that you get best practice from respected leaders who have been there and done it. The networking opportunities are great too, we’ve made good connections with some agencies who complement the work we do.
What’s next for Poke?
It’s been an incredible start for Poke, we’ve quickly grown to a team of nine and just passed our first birthday! Looking forward we want to continue to work with the right clients. Ambitious clients who see the real value of marketing and want to change the world we live in and the communities they work with.
I’d like to have more of an influence on how the Liverpool City Region is perceived as well. I think there is huge potential to really shift how the region markets itself to investors and global companies. Again, I think empathy is key here. Understanding what the external audience need to hear – not necessarily what the loudest voices in the city want to portray. Perhaps there is a role for Poke in this area too.