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Michael Hosannah Helps Tag Win with Great Design


Tag’s creative director for their EMEA Global Win Centre tells LBB how he designs the company’s winning bids, what differentiates a good bid from a great one, and seeing design all around him

Michael Hosannah Helps Tag Win with Great Design

Michael Hosannah, creative director for Tag’s Global Win Centre, found design somewhat accidentally. The former pro-basketball player first took a marketing assistant role at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to get some experience and bypass the typical “we can’t give you a role until you can show us relevant experience” adage of other industries. “How could I have gotten the experience in the first place if no one wanted to provide that opportunity?!” Michael says with a laugh. 

Just a year after, and now armed with the skills he needed to work for companies he was interested in, Michael became a fully-fledged designer in an accounting firm’s marketing department.

His path to Tag wasn’t straightforward either - he encountered the company, then Williams Lea, a few times professionally, but it was during the recruitment process that he saw how they could work together. He’s now been with the company for nearly 12 years, working within the Global Win Centre to drive new business bids with creativity, strategy, and great design.

What motivates him? A combination of solving creative challenges, the adrenaline of working on bids, and a sportsman-esque competitiveness fuelling the need to win. Today, Michael spoke to LBB about always staying visually ‘on’, the creative scope of bids, and the advice designers joining the industry need to know to succeed.


LBB> Tell us about your start in the industry and your career journey prior to joining Tag?

Michael> My career had a bit of an unconventional start, I struggled to find a job initially. I had a friend who was working at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. They had a role for a marketing assistant, which was way out of what I would have wanted to do. But I felt like I needed some work experience. Elements of design were present in that job, producing different collaterals and presentations. I worked there for a year before a role with a very large, Magic Circle, accountancy firm, working as a designer for their marketing department. It was a role that I loved and really enjoyed. I left after seven years and was recruited by one of the largest law firms in the world working along with their marketing team and then becoming a production manager. I was with them for 13 years.

Over the years I had interacted with Williams Lea, as Tag was then known, because they were looking to get work and to take over what my teams were engaged in. As a result, I never really had a great view of the creative production outsourcing business. Then, they ended up recruiting me and I’ve been at Tag close to 12 years now. I really grew to understand the nature of the business and why there is a place for large companies to outsource their creative functions.


LBB> What changed your mind during the recruitment process and convinced you to jump ship?

Michael> It was kind of inevitable! Working in professional services and working for large businesses my role was always seen as a support function. When you move to a company that is actually taking over support services, you become the phone call roll, you become the core and the key. The second element that really was appealing to me was the fact that the Global Win centre that I joined, always worked very closely with the most senior people within Tag. That was something that really appealed to me and I've had the privilege of working very closely with some of the most senior people in our business. I always felt it would be a great thing for me from a career perspective.


LBB> How did the move shape and influence your creative voice?

Michael> It’s shaped my understanding of how creative is used within my role. Working within the Global Win Centre, our main function is to support Tag’s bid process. Oftentimes, even when we've won new business, we will still work with the account teams and produce various things and support them in their roles as they're working with these new companies that we take on. It's using our creative element.

The way that I describe the pitch process is very much like a beauty parade. Effectively, you have four to six companies who are all bidding to win new business. They're all pretty much saying similar things “we have the best people, we've got the best processes, we've got the best technology”; even from a commercial sense, their pricing may be very similar. These companies are all battling to win the new business and I think oftentimes one of the things that adds that extra 5% that may result in winning, is how it’s written and how it looks. We've got great teams within Tag working on growth with the business development directors, working closely with the senior management team. We write very, very strong bids. Sometimes the deciding factor in this beauty parade is what your response looks like. Is there some consistency that flows from start to finish? How is it being communicated? What does the information design look like? A lot of what we do is information design, taking very complex ideas and complex solutions, putting them together in a way that is visually appealing and something that, as people are looking through them, becomes very memorable.

I always say a presentation is effectively an aide-mémoire; what you don't want is a presentation that takes away from the focus of what's being said. You do want to add to what's being said visually, so that those takeaways are memorable. We want a consistent look and feel across all the materials we produce, we want them to know it's Tag. By doing that in a creative way, in a way that is memorable, so we can achieve our goal and our aim, which is to win new business.


LBB> In terms of the look, what’s the difference between a good bid and a great one?

Michael> It’s a combination of a few factors. One thing is absolutely simplifying down the messaging. Great information design is messaging that's done in a very simple and recognisable way. The worst thing is a page that’s congested and full of information that the reader can’t process. A great bid, regardless of whether it's a printed pitch book, a presentation, or a microsite, has very clear signposting. If somebody can skim through whatever the medium is and get an idea from start to finish of what is being presented, see the areas that are available to deep dive into, and get a clear takeaway then the bid is a great one.


LBB> How creative can bids get?

Michael> We're always looking for new ways to be really creative. I've got a studio with five designers. What I want from those designers is yes, we have a brand structure that we're working within, but that brand structure isn't rigid; it gives a set of guidelines that we could work within. I want to see creativity, I want to see creative thinking, I want to see ways of presenting things that are creative and innovative, that will be visually impactful and memorable. We're always striving to look at new ways of doing it.

The reality is we have to balance how creative we can be with our guidelines and the timescales that we're working within. I always say to people “you give us more time, you're gonna get more creativity out of us”. Client deadlines can be very tight, very demanding. What we've gotten very good at is actually being creative within those tight client deadlines, and producing work that is true to the Tag brand that also has that element of creativity running through it.


LBB> How do you fine tune your feedback when you're working with your team to help them do their best work?

Michael> I never crush their creativity. I work very much on the premise that no idea - particularly when you're in a conceptual process - is a bad idea. I want my designers to be creative free thinkers and come up with ideas which are way out there and wacky and unachievable. Even in the midst of something that's way out there, there may be something that we can take and use an element of. I have a listening ear. I also tailor feedback in a way that directs what needs to be done towards the reality of the timescales that we're working with, the budgets that we're sometimes working to, and the mediums that we're designing for.


LBB> How do you balance creativity with business within your role?

Michael> We've got to have an understanding of the business we've got to have an understanding of the solutions that we're presenting, why we’re presenting them and how we're presenting them. My designers and I have to have a really good understanding of what is quite a complex business with lots of moving parts, with lots of different elements that often come into the bids that we're producing. It’s somewhere in the region of 70/80% creativity, but without the 20/30% business comprehension any and all design would be futile. The design element is key but getting that balance is really important.


LBB> What are you currently working on?

Michael> The primary focus is new business. The output is often dependent on the value of the opportunity. Value is not always just about how much money it is going to make, sometimes it's strategic value - a client that we're not currently working with, a great name that we can add to our portfolio. So even winning quite a small bit of business from such a client can actually then open the door for a much bigger and greater relationship.


LBB> Is there a bid you’ve worked on that stands out in your memory?

Michael> There are a number of really memorable ones. There was one opportunity that we worked on that I was particularly proud of that I thought was a really great response. It was a global opportunity for a huge business. We pulled out all the stops. Now, we don’t always do printed pitch books but we decided to do one for this bid. I grew up on print - it’s definitely not dead. I believe there's nothing greater than receiving something printed on really great paper that's tactile and using different print techniques. We went all out, personalising each book with silver foiling - names and titles for each of the individuals that we were sending the books to. They were hand-delivered around the world on deadline day because everyone was working from home at the time. These were delivered to people's doors and in different countries. We designed a personalised presentation box for each book. We also incorporated some augmented reality within the book to demonstrate our technology capabilities and we supplemented that with a microsite.

We also produced some personalised videos for that pitch - it was like a movie, leveraging all of the talent from within Tag, that really all came together in a really great way. So from the pre engagement with this particular client through to the RFI, to the RFP process, and then down to the final pitch presentations, there was a consistent look and feel that ran throughout. It was all cohesive, every piece of material had the same look and feel; it was done at the highest possible level and had a premium feel. The end result showed the amount of effort that went into it, it was a tough one. We were working to quite tight deadlines, but it was a really rewarding and memorable one.


LBB> What’s your creative process like?

Michael> My creative process is a combination of various things. It's bringing together the years of experience, the ideas of my team, and an understanding of what the brief is. There's no substitute for actually having a face to face conversation and really drilling down what it is that the requirement is going to be. As the opportunity is discussed with all of the relevant stakeholders, the creative element is brought right into the middle of it, and I get an understanding of what is going to be required which then allows us to think about and come up with the best creative solution to the opportunity at hand.


LBB> How would you describe what the Global Win Centre is and its function within Tag?

Michael> Our role is to support the bid process from a creative perspective. It's lending creative support with whatever that creative output is going to be within the bid process. Oftentimes, it means linking together with other teams to produce materials. We work with different teams to create video output, sharing concepts between us and then taking their final outputs and incorporating those into the things that we're doing. It can be a printed pitch book, where you use augmented reality to view a solution video or sizzle reel, for example. We often work with the digital team to produce a microsite that then gives the client an area where we can have all of the elements we produced for the bid contained within it, and much more.


LBB> Do you foresee yourself utilising the metaverse in the bid process any time soon?

Michael> Definitely. I think it’s an exciting time. Lockdown has shown us that the digital world has become an integral part of all our lives. When you think about the metaverse and how that's growing, when you think about advances in augmented reality and virtual reality, and what can be created, it’s something we have to take on board and see how it can be used in the best possible way. What can often happen with these things is they can become gimmicky. Just for the sake of it, you produce a piece of virtual reality or you create a virtual world without a real purpose to it. If it's a gimmick, then what's the purpose? That's just a vanity project, a waste of money. For me, ultimately, there has to be a purpose.


LBB> What do you love most about your role and working with Tag?

Michael> Every day is different. I often think it's the greatest job in the world being a creative, because it's actually producing, creating things. It's inspiring. I'm also driven by a desire to win and we're in a competitive business, in a competitive process. We want to produce the best creative that we can to support winning bids. The passion and the drive come from always striving to produce and to achieve the best possible things that we can produce. But from a business perspective it’s so we can present ourselves in the best way possible to prospective and existing clients that enables us to grow those relationships and ultimately to win more new business.


LBB> Outside of work, what are you passionate about?

Michael> I have an amazing family; family is very important to me. In my spare time I run a media team for my church, which is a really great thing as well. It enables me to use my creative ability to support the things that we do. I also love sports and I am an avid sportsman. Football and basketball are the primary sports that I love; I played professional basketball when I was younger, and it is something that always inspires me.

Then thinking about design, it’s something that crosses every medium and every single touchpoint in our lives. As a creative, you're always looking for where design has been used in a great way. And I think we shouldn't limit ourselves to just the mediums that we work within. I'm a petrol head as well. I love automotive. When you look at the design and technology that's incorporated into automotive, there are so many cues that you can take from it. Large sportswear brands are constantly incorporating great and innovative design into trainers and their clothing ranges. Technology brands are merging with fashion. You've got wearable technology which has become woven into our normal everyday lives. All of these passions and interests feed into who I am creatively.


LBB> What advice can you share with designers who are just starting out?

Michael> Firstly, be your own worst critic. Secondly, don’t be sensitive. And, ultimately, try to remember that design is subjective. Be open to feedback but also be strong enough within yourself to actually push back on what’s being said. Push back in a way that you can justify and challenge, so that you can actually come to the final and best result. As a designer, it’s not about sitting there and thinking everything I produce is great. Incorporate feedback in a way that actually produces better design and better output.

Designers can’t switch off as design is all around us. We should be inspired by great design, take that inspiration, and use that to create great things ourselves. Don't just look within the medium or sphere that you're working in. Look at every industry, every company that's working and is at the top of what they do - design will be very interwoven into their products. Take that inspiration and use it to enhance your own work.

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Tag, Mon, 30 May 2022 11:25:00 GMT