Saga Home Insurance, something odd is going on

OK, I admit it, I am old enough to have Saga bombarding me about holidays,
savings products, financial planning, motor insurance and home insurance.
My first reaction to an event this week was – this could seriously damage
the Saga brand. When you read about my dealings with Saga, I am sure you will
agree that this has the potential to be far more important than its impact upon
a mainstream brand.

This time last year, I took up Saga's offer to insure my flat. I paid the 387.75 premium with my debit card and relaxed in the knowledge that my building and contents were covered for another year.On the 16th November this year, I noticed that Saga had taken 540.76 (my renewal premium) from my current account and on the 17th and 18th, my wife and I had telephone conversations with them about it.

The renewal date is the 4th of December and using my debit card details retained from last year, they had taken the 2009/2010 premium, 23 days early, without giving me the opportunity to decide whether or not to renew.When challenged the first time, they simply apologised and agreed to credit my account with the 540.76 taken. Incidentally, the renewal documentation arrived on the 18th.

There are two issues here. They had processed a renewal that was a 39.5% increase from last year, without discussing it with me and taken the funds early, potentially putting me in an overdraft situation. What worries me, is that this could be a deliberate policy of the company to both improve the cash flow position of the company and, more importantly, to commit 'older people' to inadvertently renewing their policy, which could go unnoticed until it is too late. And at a 39.5% increase in cost too.

To compound the problem, when I put Saga under pressure to explain why they felt they could take the funds, as they had, they said that on the 9th November, they had discussed the renewal with us on the telephone and that we had been happy with it, No such telephone call took place.

I have asked Saga to arrange for the person who says he/she called us on the 9th November to call me again. I am still waiting for the call and the refund.

Please warn your parents and your grandparents that Saga may not be all that it claims or seems.

It is a brand manager's nightmare though – isn't it?

Life beyond the screen

Having just returned from a week's holiday away from computers and televisions,
it made me realise how much time these indispensible items of our daily lives suck up.

Our days on holiday were long, my shoulders never ached and my eyes didn't
smart – of course it helps if you have a spectacular view. We sat each evening as
the sun went down and simply watched it and talked.

We are all so attached to our screens that we live our lives through them, if we are
not careful. How many times have we held long email conversations to resolve an issue,
when picking up the phone would have been the quickest and most direct way to deal with it?
We think we don't have time to actually speak to someone but if we add up the time taken to exchange emails, we may find that it would have been quicker and more effective to talk.
And how come we have less time? Is it because the 5 minutes we plan to sit down to check something or look something up has suddenly become an hour or more?

We are always contactable, wherever we are, and we seem to feel the need to record
every aspect of our lives, and tell everyone, by text, by Facebook or by Twitter.
We were at a Coldplay concert recently and noticed that people were more focussed on photographing the ants that were Coldplay on stage, with their phones, than just
sitting back and absorbing the atmosphere!

Thinking about the amazing developments in communication techniques.
Do we really communicate more clearly and effectively, or do we just communicate more?
The lessons I have learned from my week away are to talk more, to listen more and to
get out and smell the coffee, not to just photograph it for Facebook!

British summer time & white arms are bulging.

A personal view


Early morning cup of tea wandering around the garden.
Less clothes and bare feet.
British strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, asparagus and new potatoes.
Bird song.
Evening walks examining window boxes and patios.
Chilled white wine (as a red wine drinker).
The smell of barbeques.
Outdoor festivals and events.
Windows wide open.
English roses.
Daylight for hours and hours.
Wandering around the garden with a glass of wine last thing at night.


Midges and harvest mites.
White flesh bulging out of, under and around tight tops.
Acres of tattoos on view.
Flip flops on feet that should never see daylight.
Warm white wine.
Working indoors when the sun is shining.
Endless ironing of cotton or linen clothing.


A woodpigeon really means spring/summer – (if you’ve iTunes just click on the download link)

Eat while you pick

Summer in a glass

Summer on a plate

My favorite rose

So where are we now?

Four months have now passed since we fired up the engine significantly on Agrada again, after a long period of being involved in other things. The time has flown by and it has been several months since we posted a blog, which must indicate how busy we have been.

So is small beautiful? Well right now, it feels as good looking at Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt depending upon your taste.

Not being a part of a big company means that we can focus one hundred percent on our clients. When we are thinking about projects, there are no distractions about operational issues, staffing problems, overheads, internal politics, overhearing others and all the minutiae that mean you only get a fraction of productive work done during a day.

We are getting close to our clients again and are working with organisations where there is a tangible result for our efforts. It has put the buzz back in the business for us. Flexible working hours mean that we can meet up with visiting friends, we can keep up with the news by getting out for coffee and we walk lots now, hardly needing the car – greener as well!

Of course it isn't all fun, sometimes it feels as if we don't actually stop or switch off. Weekdays blur into weekends and of course we have to run to the post office, do the accounts, remember to order the ink cartridges and make the coffee, but at least it is good coffee.

Right now, with business's struggling all around us and with everyone watching budgets carefully, it is truly liberating not to need large budgets to do effective work.

And what have we been working on? Well, three websites for three very different organisations, from orbital welding to a residential care home, two high quality resort magazines, exhibition stands for a country house hotel, the launch of a new herbal tea offer including the branding, exhibition stands and packaging, a retail brand and interior and a refresh of a racecourse identity.

If you are interested in seeing any of our current or previous work, please contact us and we can show you some appropriate examples of what we have done for other organisations.

Don't Let the Tail Wag the Dog

You would not be in business if you didn't believe that you could offer something better than or at least as good as your competitors. You may have structured your business to be price competitive or you may have a 'unique selling point' for your products or services.

You will, no doubt, have delegated responsibility to someone within your company, to drive the plan to get your messages to your potential customers. The person appointed, will either be a director or employee that has a track record of success with 'special projects', has a marketing or business development background or worst of all, is a person with the time to do it.

Whichever one of the above routes you choose, the secret is to form a team of people, with relevant skills and experience and to make sure that the 'tail is not wagging the dog'.

Identifying the best team for the job, can be time consuming but getting it right at the outset, is the key to success. A mix of in-house knowledge and external expertise is the usual way forward, however the first mistake often happens when a strategic stage is missed out of the process and the team is launched into discussing a range of visually stunning ideas.

You cannot blame the creatives for this happening. Once they feel that they understand what the company is about and what messages it wants to get over, they are often the most pro-active when it comes to putting forward solutions.

It's easy for the team to get caught up in the excitement of great ideas, especially when they can report back to the board or the boss, on tangible progress. If there is someone on the team that is charged with the responsibility to ensure that there is a direct link between the company's objectives, the strategic plan and the brief to the creatives, then the chance of the 'dog' staying in control will be vastly increased.

Something for the Weekend

Sitting in the hairdressers the other day, I had to take deep breaths to calm my frustration with the junior hairdresser who was taking so long to dry my hair it almost needed cutting again before he had finished.

It made me think about the whole experience of putting yourself in the hands of other people over something as critical (well to most people) as your appearance. I realised that there are parallels with what clients must go through when working with branding experts. First you choose the hairdressers, mostly on recommendation, or price or randomly from Yellow Pages. First impressions count, are they friendly, presentable, can you relate to them? What does the other customers' hair look like?

Your senior stylist or salon director is introduced to you, but you are put in the hands of a junior. Awkward conversations follow whilst your hair is being washed, "Going out tonight? Going on holiday soon?", and as I am not heading out to nightclubs, or a week in Ibiza the conversation falters. But then relief is on hand when the expert appears. This is the part that separates the good from the poor. Do you trust them or not, will they really listen to what you want, have they done this for lots of others or are you being experimented upon as practice for winning a hairdressing award?

But even if they are all that you want there is still that element of fear, will I like it? Can I manage this style myself? Will they get it right? Quite often I leave the hairdressers slightly doubting what they have done, only to discover that actually they were correct, it is right for me and easy to look after. I chose my hairdresser carefully and have built up a good relationship with them over the years. My hairstyle is never a complete rebrand, it is always a tweak. I may notice the change, but the public wouldn't!

Although this is a light hearted comparison it is helpful to really understand what a client must go through in trusting designers, and how we must strive to avoid them wanting to grab the hairdryer and do it themselves!