Building from the ground up: how Moving Brands grows young talent
Founded in 1998, with offices in London, Zürich, New York and San Francisco, DBA Member Moving Brands is an independent global creative company which works with some of the world’s best known brands.
A commitment to developing talent from the ground up has been core to the company’s success, with a number of their senior team starting out as interns, including CEO, Mat Heinl.
Moving Brands’ personal development and internship programmes are hugely effective in not only enabling career progression, but also in keeping the business ahead of the curve in a continually changing and evolving industry. Here Mat shares his unique perspective and insight into the business’ approach:
Mat Heinl, CEO, Moving Brands:
“I started my career at Moving Brands back in 2004 as a design intern. This was back in the day when Moving Brands was small; you would call and end up speaking directly with one of the founders! I had just graduated art college but had also dropped out of history degree, so really didn’t understand the creative industry at all. I remember being thrown into live projects on my very first day and I was taking part in client meetings within a week.
I moved up the ranks to Creative Director, then becoming Chief Creative Officer and then CEO in 2013. The way we do internships today has certainly evolved. The main difference is that we’re organised and have clear aims about why run we internships. In years gone by we’d find talented people, but it wasn’t always clear that we’d like to keep them or how we could nurture them; the approach was too loose. With that said, we have several teammates who have been here more than 10 years, who started as interns.
Now, we are very transparent about our expectations of graduates during their time with us. Yes, it can be hard work and involves steep learning curves immediately, but we pay our interns above minimum wage in each of our studios without fail (for example in London we commit to the London Living Wage) – it’s not exploitative. I also see it as a two-way thing. We’re learning from interns as much as the other way around.
Comparing that to when I was trying to find a job after university, not being paid for an internship seemed to be the norm. There was a culture of it being an unpaid ‘rite of passage’, which today, is inexcusable. After all, if your business is propped up by the unpaid work of the most junior members of the team, what business are you really in?
Today, students are more aware of the purpose of studios and creative companies. We encourage this because it empowers a curious and talented team. We want everyone to follow their own enthusiasms, rather than staying put in a box. As a leader, this means you have to be open to criticism and take time to review long held beliefs in the face of new ways of doing things.
What should you look for when seeking out an internship? In my opinion, the right place should feel exciting and open – somewhere that requires you to learn and develop yourself. Find somewhere values are shared, but people aren’t the same. It’s also ok to go somewhere that doesn’t feel a perfect fit, as finding out what you don’t want is valuable too.
The number one benefit of internships in our industry is that they should instil confidence. The creative industry has an issue with confidence – and it impedes all of us and our partners, because we don’t value what we do properly. I see it as our collective responsibility to strive for better.”
Nurturing and developing talent: How Moving Brands have been so successful
Internships as foundation careers
The Moving Brands internship has been running for almost all of the life of the company with an incredibly successful track record.
It lasts a minimum of three months and in every location interns are paid minimum wage and the London Living Wage in London.
From day one they are ‘buddied’ up with another member of the team and have the opportunity to be involved in live briefs as well as a number of other internal projects.
To promote its internship programmes, Moving Brands has a broad approach which starts with close connections to universities and colleges. It’s not just about advertising a position on an e-newsletter or a university portal – it comes from engaging with students in their first few weeks at any higher education institution.
Through university talks, workshops and studio tours, Moving Brands are introduced to young people at the earliest possible stage, and students stay in touch with the company throughout their education.
“For us, it’s not about having a revolving door of interns. We want to ensure that those who come and join us for an internship are going to benefit from learning from the wider team, and vice versa.
Our philosophy is to bring people in at junior level and create an environment which supports them to progress through.
A lot of our creative team started as an intern, including our CEO, some of our senior creatives as well as a number of senior designers and one of our consultants.”
Maddie Fortescue, Global People and Development Manager at Moving Brands
Ongoing learning to keep ahead of the curve
At Moving Brands, specialisms are varied and distinct, so an individual training budget has been allocated to everyone, and it is available for them to spend in whatever way they deem most appropriate to their own personal development.
This money can be spent on all sorts of things. It could be books, courses, memberships – it’s really flexible. People are encouraged to think carefully about where they need support and fund resources which will support those particular focuses.
As well as individual investment, Moving Brands has introduced a number of schemes which are designed to cover both role-specific and broader business-related skills training.
- ‘Borrow a brain’ sessions, where inspirational speakers from outside of the creative industry are invited to come into the studio and deliver a talk.
- ‘Masterclasses’, where subject matter experts from both inside Moving Brands and outside, deliver sessions on their speciality. For example, this could be an illustrator who explains the best way to build a creative brief and collaborate through an engagement.
- ‘How I got here’ sessions, whereby those who’ve had an interesting career journey share their story of how they came to be in the role they are in today.
- ‘Power up’ sessions – internal, informal workshops covering practical topics such as how to introduce a client by email, or the best way to facilitate a conversation.
Career progression: enabling the team to move up the ladder
Moving Brands’ philosophy is to bring people in at a junior level and provide an environment which supports them to progress through.
Progressing up the ladder at Moving Brands is self-directed by individuals, underpinned by support from a dedicated line manager, yearly goals and 360 feedback from the wider studio team.
This is designed to help people understand what actions they need to undertake to reach their next step – whether that’s a lateral move, a promotion or even a change in direction completely.
A year or so ago the business removed traditional appraisals believing that hardcore, strict processes can be counterproductive to those who want to learn and develop in anything less than a conventional way.
Instead of a traditional appraisal system, Moving Brands works to yearly goals with more informal quarterly check ins for individuals with a line manager. This allows the company and the individual to be on the same page with both their aspirations and the needs of the business, and it means personal and professional ambitions can be joined up too.
Moving Brands is currently working on refining clear expectations for every single role, function and the whole team. After feedback from team members that they appreciated as much feedback and information as possible, the line manager structure is designed to allow clearer communication about what is needed for each person to progress.
The minimum expected from line managers is quarterly check-in, and the team are encouraged to use their line managers more often if they feel that is necessary.
Looking to the future: what next?
With there always being room to stretch, improve and build on how a workforce is nurtured, Moving Brands’ Global People and Development Manager Maddie Fortescue shares how they are looking to the future:
“Over the next 12 months, one of our priorities is to roll out more group training. We deliver lots of one-on-one support but improving together as a team can be really effective.
We’re also exploring ways in which we can make our internship programme even more accessible to those who may not traditionally have access to opportunities like this. You can’t deny that for creative companies, especially in London, the cost of living can be a barrier.
Though we pay the London living wage at the very least to our interns, we’re looking at things like: can we pay individuals in advance, so they’re able to rent a room or buy a travel card to make their joining us easier? It has opened up lots of conversation in the team and we’re looking at how these ideas could be feasible.
Admittedly, these are small steps but as an industry, we have to collectively keep pushing forward with new and creative ways to support talented people.”
For more details about DBA Member Moving Brands, visit www.movingbrands.com.
Develop your employees with DBA training
As we’ve seen with Moving Brands, there’s huge value to be gained from investing in your employees. Tap into the DBA’s broad range of training specifically developed for the design industry, to help you bolster the skills of the people that make your business.
We have a range of training workshops and events coming up this year, from expert account management to brand positioning and much more. Strengthen all staff levels across your business, from juniors just starting out in the industry, to business leaders looking to elevate their approach.
Ivan Bandura | Unsplash