Here’s a fun statistic for you. Two in three small businesses don’t make it to year ten. You’d think that if you’ve struggled through those first five, how much harder could it get? And yet, the finish line isn’t crossed for so many businesses.
And that statistic isn’t factoring in the possibility of one of those ten years being a global pandemic, a complete joke, a punishing bully of a year.
Happy 10th birthday Buffalo 7, you absolute diamond.
We were planning some huge celebrations this year. Picture confetti cannons, a brass band, a life-size buffalo cake, the whole shebang. But you know what they say about the best laid plans.
Instead, we’re sitting in our separate homes, a little bruised by the year behind us, and a little anxious about what 2021 is going to throw into the mix. But we’re also proud and, most importantly, closer than ever as a team.
Buffalo 7 isn’t just still standing after ten years. We are ploughing forward. Get this damn year behind us.
We’re not going to pretend this year has been easy for any of us. We’re not immune to the negative impacts of a global pandemic, and we’ve had our share of the hard times. There’s no point us pretending this year has been the long celebration we’d had in mind.
And we’re not out of the woods yet, but if you take stock of your year, like we have ours, we’d be willing to bet there’s one thing 2020 has enforced across all businesses, and all individuals. And that’s growth.
Maybe not monetary growth, or growth in staff numbers. But we’ve all grown in resilience, creativity, and efficiency. We’ve all had to find new ways to keep the wheels turning in this odd year. We’ve all grown personally, and we’ve all grown our skillsets in different ways.
The strength is in the herd
At Buffalo 7, we’ve grown more in the past year than we have in all the other nine combined. You won’t see it in our profits or in the next team photo we take - which will probably be on Zoom - but you will see it in the work we produce, in every interaction you have with our brand, and in every way we communicate.
We’ve hiked our way up the steepest of learning curves, never once allowing our internal struggles to reflect on the quality of work or service we provide. And, like always, we did it as a herd. With that in mind, this year’s blog has contributions from every single Buffalo. Each of them sharing what they learned this year, that will help them produce better work for years to come.
Lack of communication has been a struggle for many businesses this year, but not Buffalo 7. In fact, we embraced our new remote working and decided to turn it to our advantage, to get closer than ever, break down any barriers in communication we had prior to lockdown, and get really honest with one another.
The Buffalo 7 black box
“There's a reason planes have a black box. It's so that everyone can learn from the mistakes. This progressive attitude to growth is one we can all adopt.”Richard Barnes, Creative Director
Towards the beginning of lockdown, we had a Winds and Anchors session, run by David Crawford of Form Studio. This was a no-holds-barred, everything-out-in-the-open exploration of our successes and failures. The Directors put their egos aside and basically said "let us have it" and boy, did we. Every member of Buffalo 7 was encouraged to be frank about what was working, and what wasn’t. Failures were aired, discussed, debated and resolved.
The outcome was significant. The absence of hierarchy led to candid conversations that amplified trust, unity, and respect. Over the following months, we found our performance lifted. Buffalo 7 is stronger because we were willing to talk about failures, rather than hide behind our pride.
Learning through mistakes since 2010
Adopting an open culture of learning from failure is both liberating and progressive, encouraging an environment of exploration without judgement. As Exploration is one of our values, it was inevitable that we would tackle change with the willingness to learn.
“This year I’ve really enjoyed being able to speak up and feedback to the leadership team, improving how we all work together. The Directors have created a safe space where we can speak our minds, without any backlash.”Liz Booth, Presentation Experience Specialist
Pushing each other
This unfiltered honesty trickled through the rest of the team. We’ve always been happy to challenge thinking within our own specialisms, but now this mindset reaches all projects and all conversations.
Everyone knows how valued they are, and what they bring to the team that no one else does, so we don’t need to worry about the negative connotations of challenge thinking. We all want to be better today than we were yesterday, and getting there is going to take the whole herd.
“It’s nice to be surrounded by people who trust in each other’s ideas and decisions, but aren't mincing their words if it makes for a better output.”Matt Symes, Presentation Experience Specialist
Taking challenge thinking to clients
“Our client meetings over Zoom have become more comfortable all round. We have nailed the balance of being down-to-earth and friendly, while showing our clients that we are the experts, and we know what we’re talking about. It feels very natural now.”Liz Booth, Presentation Experience Specialist
Of course, our clients aren’t getting away with dodging the challenge thinking bullet. The same barriers we’ve broken down internally are being torn down externally. We don’t think corporate formalities look good on us. They just get in the way of having real conversations.
We’ve invited our clients into our homes, and with that we’ve taken our relationships to the next level. If we don’t think the project they’re briefing is going to help them reach their goals, we’ll tell them, even if it means talking ourselves out of a job.
And we expect them to give us the same courtesy.
“If a design isn’t hitting the mark, nobody is stepping on eggshells. Feedback is to the point, so we reach the finish line much quicker. We’re not about wasting time, money, or our clients’ patience.”James Taylor, Project Manager
This increase in intimacy has built stronger, deeper connections with our long-term clients than ever before, helping us to reach our goal of no one-night stands, only loving relationships. You can tell by the way they speak, they’re really feeling the love.
“Time and time again, I’m seeing success come from Dell employees investing time into what Buffalo 7 can offer. I look forward to our next engagement.”Greg Rogers, Account Executive, Dell Technologies
Getting closer at a safe distance
As you may have noticed, we’ve really focused on our relationships this year. Both how we work with one another, and how we work with our clients. When we say we only do loving relationships, not one-night stands, you better believe we're putting everything we have into upholding our end of that bargain.
Making sales less salesy
“I have learned more since April 2020 than I have over the past eight years of my working life.”Laura Ware, Business Development Manager
In sales, the most important element of the role is communication. If you can listen to clients, explore their challenges and clearly articulate a solution to them, then you're on the right track. However, as most salespeople will have experienced, the way you communicate sometimes doesn't sound like you at all.
It doesn’t help that there are a million articles out there giving out harmful advice. You don’t have to spend long on LinkedIn before stumbling across someone telling you that asking a client “Would a call be a bad idea?” instead of “Are you free at 2pm tomorrow” is the answer to all your problems. Come on now.
It’s all bullshit.
Do you know what people want? Less bullshit. It’s like all those articles in Cosmopolitan trying to tell women how to ‘win a man’s heart'. Get out of here with your crap.
As the whole world grappled with new technology to keep conversations going, our Business Development team focused on humanising this increasingly-digital experience.
As a team that thrive on human interaction, working from home was unsettling for them to begin with, and they felt the isolation more than most, but, in the end, opening up their homes to clients through Zoom created a new level of intimacy and they started to get really comfortable. They shed all the sales speak that society had drilled into them, and they just spoke with unfiltered honesty and genuine care. Human to human.
"Communicating in your own natural style, being genuine, and showing that you actually care is much more likely to lead to a strong client relationship than speaking like a sales robot."Laura Ware, Business Development Manager
“We've worked with some amazing new clients this year and have also continued our wonderful journeys with long-standing ones. I truly believe that this is down to simply listening, caring and being genuine ... and of course, being shit hot at what we do.”Holly Brace, Head of Business Development
Shut up and listen
"The entire team has thrown themselves into these new ways of working, and it shows in how our clients are responding to the work we’ve delivered this year.
We’re no longer working off hearsay, sentiment and crossed fingers. We’re collecting the data that helps us improve, and confirms that our clients love us."Felicity Chivers, Account Director
On Valentine’s Day, we launched our Customer Listening Initiative. It seemed like the perfect time to show our clients how much we care. Just as we had been brutally honest with one another as a business, we asked our clients to tell us about their experience with Buffalo 7, leaving out no gory details.
And, once they'd got everything off their chest, to rate us on a scale of 0 to 10.
We set out wanting to achieve an NPS of 75, but before we knew it, we were hitting the 85 milestone. We couldn't be prouder of this achievement, not only because it shows what we're doing is working, but because we could deliver exceptional service during a really difficult time.
Everyone at Buffalo 7 comes together as a networked, collective brain. This means we all contribute to the success of every project. We all add value to every client. We all achieved this together.
In it together
Just as we all win together, we all share our struggles as a herd. As soon as it was announced, we knew an enforced lockdown wasn’t good for the team in the long run. As a company, we prioritised mental health, setting challenges to learn new skills away from any screens, and working with a mental health coach to help the team adapt and thrive.
“2020 has made me go out of my way to push myself to do more creative things away from my screen. From whittling spoons to weaving table runners, I focused on creative outputs that weren’t digital.
This has furthered my belief that inspiration comes from everywhere. And by searching out new forms of inspiration, I’ve been able to bring something new and fresh back to my project work.”Hannah Tyson, Senior Designer
It’s easy to find distraction in the office, and distraction isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes you can have a breakthrough simply because your mind moved to something trivial for a moment. I now have structured distraction, whether it being a video call with my mum every couple of days over lunch, getting out on my bike, or just being in a different room of the house, without screens.”James Taylor, Project Manager
Even though we're apart, our support system has never been stronger. This has happened naturally, as we all care about one another's wellbeing, but it has also been boosted by company initiatives and individual development.
“I’m about to complete my year-long course in Leadership and Management. This course has been a real eye-opener. Of course, it's provided me with incredible insight as to how to get the most out of my team, but the interpersonal skills I learned couldn't have come at a better time.
This was exactly what I needed to know how to support each Buffalo through these troubling times.”Paul Buckley, Senior Designer
Migration of the Buffurlough
The changes we made as a team have been reflected not only in the feedback we’ve received from our clients, but in how flexible we can be when the world throws more challenges our way.
We have always had a strong project management team, who are dedicated to the success of every single client. Each Project Manager owns their own projects, to create a consistent and stable process. But what happens when a global pandemic rocks the boat, and a Project Manager is put on Buffurlough mid-project?
“I worked on a project with a great, enthusiastic company. Their team was aligned with Buffalo 7's values and had a great energy about them from the very first kick off call. However, halfway through, I went on furlough for three weeks.
Thanks to our new, more communicative approach to operations, the PM team took over seamlessly. On my return, I sent out a customer feedback survey - something we're always striving to improve upon - and the feedback was glowing.
Lisa Robinson, Senior Project Manager
I learned that clients really do care as much as I do. I love that our relationships can be so strong and it's not unrequited. That'd be awkward...”
"We absolutely love Lisa and she really captured the essence of our projects and kept not only the team at B7, but our team, on track. We will be working with Buffalo 7 and (hopefully) Lisa for years to come.
Lisa and the design team went above and beyond to be sure our needs were met and our expectations exceeded."Sophie Kane, Proxima
Silence is golden
This year, our Accountant Rory has had very little contact with clients. And that’s a good thing.
Not because Rory isn’t a bloody great guy. He pans for gold, for Christ’s sake. You could chat to him for hours about that. In fact, if you’d like to, feel free to get in touch.
Rory works really hard, behind the scenes, to keep the wheels turning and the lights on. And when he’s doing his job well, everything just works. So, if Rory isn’t having to talk to clients, that makes for a smoother experience all round.
Change never came from playing it safe
In a year when most companies became more conservative, trying to only change the processes necessary to adapt to new ways of working, for fear of upsetting the apple cart, we went the other way - as we often do. We took a step back to look at the big picture, realised what wasn't working, and wiped the canvas clean to start again.
Remembering why we started
We started the year with a new strategy for the business and part of that was to double down on what we do best: incredible presentation experiences. Through 2018/19 we'd got a little bent out of shape. We'd introduced some new services that didn't line up with what we were passionate about, what we could be the best at, and, of course, what clients would pay us for.
Buffalo 7 was conceived from the ambition to be a leader in presentation experiences. Whilst other creative agencies try and offer multidisciplinary services, we wanted to specialise. To really focus. To be a niche within a niche.
And it was working. Two years ago we won an award for our innovative approach to an industry most creatives turn their noses up at. And - perhaps driven by our inflated egos - we kept trying to add more services, do more things. It swallowed us. In 2020, we realised it was time to get back to our roots, and remember why we started doing this crazy lil thing called PowerPoint.
Our mission is now clear: to help the world’s best brands deliver next-level presentations. The team know exactly what they need to do to achieve that, and they’re all working together towards that goal. And watching that unfold is more gripping than a series of The Handmaid's Tale.
“Be who you are, not who you are not.”Richard Barnes, Creative Director
A voyage of discovery
A key part of this transformation was in defining and refining our core services.
In 2019, our Storytelling Workshops involved getting all key stakeholders in a room, asking probing questions and filling the walls with post-it notes, as we watched the narrative unfold. These workshops have long been the catalyst for the greatest presentations we create, and we weren’t prepared to put this valuable service on hold while COVID did its thing.
Instead, we found a powerful piece of collaboration software in MURAL. We can now plan, deliver, and record all our workshops through this tool, taking the boardroom to the Zoom room and giving each stakeholder control of the MURAL board, to contribute their own expertise.
But we didn’t stop there.
We realised these workshops were about so much more than storytelling. This crucial point in every project gave us the opportunity to get to know our clients; their goals, audience, challenges and solutions. This was about discovery.
So, while we were adapting the old workshops to work remotely, we decided to refine the service, improve it, give it a makeover, and send it back out into the world. Introducing Discovery Workshops.
And it seems to have worked.
“Fantastic job. I've not seen someone capture what we're looking to do so well!”Joe Biondino, Fortinet
"Discovery Workshops help us to recommend the right deliverable to each new client, so we’re not just accepting what they think they need at face value, we’re challenging their thinking and working with them to add value at every interaction."Chris Tomlin, Director of Storytelling and Discovery
What we learned from adapting these workshops has also been applied to our presentation training sessions, which have been a key focus of the business in recent months, and we will continue to evolve this offering into 2021, so that our clients’ education can grow too.
“It’s exciting to see how our training services have been given a whole new area of opportunity to evolve into, with virtual meetings and events being a focus of 2020.”Liz Booth, Presentation Experience Specialist
Moving with the times
One of the most exciting parts of presentation design is seeing all the hard work come to life when animation is added. However, as the world moved to remote in March, we quickly realised that what made motion design for face-to-face meetings a success, was a disaster across video conferences.
“Animation that is complicated and looks amazing needs high-speed internet from both parties to make it appear smooth and sleek over Zoom. As we have no control over the speed of the internet on either side, we needed to adapt our animation style to be more simple, but no less impactful.”Emma Fisher, Senior Designer
One of the first clients that came to us with this challenge was Health Innovation Manchester. We created the designs with motion in mind, which shows in the final result. Emma, who was leading the project, started by sourcing animation samples and working collaboratively with Presentation Experience Specialist Matt, to design slides that revealed content progressively, without requiring complicated animation. The presentation plays as smooth as butter over Zoom, representing the brand's personality perfectly.
With the world of work looking to adopt a hybrid model for the foreseeable future, these animation skills are going to form a cornerstone of our future-proof presentation offering.
Getting more social in isolation
“This year, more than any of my previous three at Buffalo 7, I've learned that it's my job to manage the marketing, not necessarily to 'do' the marketing.
Whilst I'm the only person to have 'Marketing' in my job title, I'm lucky to work with a very creative and talented team of Storytellers, Designers and Animators. Most client-side marketers would kill for that internal resource. This year, I've learned how to make the most out of this.
Just taking credit for everyone else's work, really. That's what I've learned.”James Robinson, Marketing Manager
James’ epiphany has had the greatest impact on how we communicate with the world. With James at the helm, every single person in Buffalo 7 has been pushing our marketing. We all work together to come up with the ideas, write the newsletters, blogs and webinars, design the Instagram posts, case studies, and eBooks, and animate the downtime projects that show off our skills in all their glory.
This high-quality content has seen our social following grow, our email subscribers surge and our web traffic rocket in recent months. And we’re happy to have every single one of you along for this ride.
Growing the 'gram
Out of all this marketing, our Instagram has been the studio’s pride and joy this year. In 2020, we started to see more agencies trying to do what we do. And we absolutely love it.
Having this fresh competition forced us take stock, and do you know what we discovered? We are so much better than anyone else out there. But we also realised we weren’t showing the world the extent of our capabilities.
We gave ourselves permission to let loose on our own platforms and really show the world what we can do. We’re so proud of everything we create. Whether it’s a piece of client work, a piece of almost-client work, something we made by accident when we were messing around, or something that has taken months of craft and graft for just a few moments on your eyeballs. Instagram is our place to shout about all these things.
“Seeing an increase in engagement on social has made me more confident in what we're doing, which in turn, has made me more confident in my own ideas and abilities.”Hannah Tyson, Senior Designer
Trusting our gut
Here are just a few of the team’s favourite Instagram posts.
“I love how we jumped on creating content for cancelled events in 2020, with the UFC deck being a stand-out for me. To work on a deck for the UFC - even though they didn't ask - is a dream come true. And maybe we'll manifest a real project out of this.”Lauren Garforth, Senior Creative Storyteller
“Being able to experiment with our own marketing has really inspired my client work. Instagram is like our own personal playground, where we can try new things before rolling them out to projects.
The Bristol Balloon Fiesta project was such a good example of this. Treating PowerPoint as a canvas to be zoomed around was a new technique I’d not attempted before. I can’t wait to play with this idea in projects and show clients that presentations don’t have to be linear.”Emily Robinson, Senior Designer
Showing our skills
Animating a presentation is an in-depth, well-thought-out process. We consider our client’s industry, who they're presenting to, what their brand tone of voice is, and more, before we decide on the best animation style for their messaging.
Our clients may be stuck in a rut, doing what they've done for the last ten years, just fading content in on click. This is where we come in. We challenge thinking by showing them how important animation is, and how many layers of thinking go into what we do. Showcasing different styles of PowerPoint animation on our Instagram is another way to show the world everything that goes into creating a next-level presentation.
“The Halloween scene reminded me of the eighties’ Scooby Do cartoons I would watch when I was younger. I took that as inspiration for the animation style, and created some classic shaking gravestones, dropping spiders, and pixelated text. My favourite part was crafting the movement of the bats zipping on and off.”Jaz Isherwood, Presentation Experience Specialist
“As a complete visual contrast to the Halloween piece, my other favourite marketing project was our cycling post. I created this animation to be very smooth, using the canvas to suggest movement. There are multiple mini animations going on in the background, which are really subtle.
After all, the best animations are the ones you don't notice.”Jaz Isherwood, Presentation Experience Specialist
“The Windows of isolation series showcased beautiful, subtle movement. Working with the motion team on these made me realise our animations don’t need to be all singing and dancing all the time. I loved how we reflected what was going on in everyone's lives at the time. Those images felt like something our audience could relate to.”Hannah Tyson, Senior Designer
Growing our skills
“I'm loving the animated letter series. It’s so creative. Matt is really pushing what even we thought was possible.”Gabrielle Blake, Project Manager
If you’ve been following our Instagram this year, you may have seen the Bringing letters to life in PowerPoint series. We’re working our way through the alphabet, animating each letter to reflect a certain word. While these are built and animated entirely in PowerPoint, the inspiration and technique was found externally.
“When furlough started, I finally had the time to see what all the fuss was about with After Effects. It wasn't the first time I'd tried it, but I'd never had enough time to take it seriously. I'd been getting really good at animating in PowerPoint, but felt like I'd hit a bit of a wall.
Learning After Effects was an absolute game changer.
If we discover a client’s animation doesn’t have to be editable, we have the flexibility to create something better in After Effects. But the benefits extend way beyond that. By teaching myself After Effects, I’ve learned about the principles of animation, which has fed into my PowerPoint work.
The sheer amount of options I discovered in After Effects has expanded my imagination and I'm now pushing new boundaries in PowerPoint. It's basically helped me raise my own standards. The animated letters are a perfect example of this.”Matt Symes, Presentation Experience Specialist
Matt hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface of After Effects’ capabilities, but stayed tuned to see what moves he makes next year.
Testing our limits
“Having to step up my creativity and technical skills for marketing has been a different kind of animation adventure. A very different work process, inspiration and creative headspace is needed, compared to animating client work.
The projects are designed with motion in mind, so the animation challenges are harder, but when you nail it, it’s so worth it.”Liz Booth, Presentation Experience Specialist
Learning to take some time for ourselves
We all know self care is important, and yet we hadn't given the B7 brand any TLC in a long, long time. It was time for a quarantine glow up.
There was nothing wrong with our branding before. Sure, it had become a little diluted from too many small, safe tweaks. It was a little inconsistent. Maybe we could go as far as to say it was a little dated. But we'd had other things on our mind, okay?
A key takeaway from the soul searching we'd done in March was that no one felt excited by our brand anymore. They didn't feel connected to it. They didn't feel like it represented us.
This year has been about finding out what our purpose is, what value we add to the world, and what our collective dreams look like. But it shouldn't just stay between us. Our purpose and personality needs to come out in every way we communicate with one another, and with the world.
We stopped telling people we're different, and started to show them. It's already crept into our Instagram feed, but believe us when we tell you, the best is yet to come. Keep your eyes peeled across our platforms for the big reveal in January. New Year, New Buffalo 7.
Imagine a world
While businesses all around the world were getting more conservative in an effort to control the damages this year inflicted, we went in the other direction. We're looking, starry-eyed, to the future, visualising everything we can achieve if we continue to evolve at this speed.
Over the holiday season, we hope that you too can look forward to a better time, and start making small steps towards bigger things. Or do nothing and eat your weight in Quality Street. You deserve it.
For us, the brand refresh is the first step, but you can bet we're already thinking about the next one.