Business Brain Q&A – Nigel Hartley

Nigel Hartley, managing director of SHA, discusses the journey of the business so far, challenges ahead and long-term plans

How do you describe your business to others?

It’s pretty straightforward, SHA. is an advertising and marketing consultancy that creates intelligent ideas that get results. We help to deliver significant ROI to our clients, from Newcastle Airport’s record number of passengers in 2017 to Newcastle College’s 104% student recruitment.

When did you establish the business and how has it changed/developed in this time?

We started the business on 4th July 2007, after working for many years at the North East’s largest advertising agency.

We didn’t have any clients, but it felt like the right time to do it, Mike Ashley had just bought Newcastle United, the UK had a new Prime Minister and the country was experiencing a record period of growth – could there have been a better time?


Two months after we opened our doors, Northern Rock started a panic that reverberated around the business world for the next few years. So, the business plan that we had in place had to be adapted pretty quickly.

During the past 11 years, the communications landscape has changed significantly. Now, with impending Brexit, budgets are being slashed, measurable ROI is a prerequisite and intelligent thinking is being ignored because of the perceived utopia that businesses think they’ve found in certain online platforms.

We’ve stopped trying to provide everything to everybody and we’re focusing on what we’re good at – delivering ROI.

What is your business’s USP?

At SHA. our thinking is permanently fixated on intelligent ideas that get results. We never create for creation’s sake. Everything we do must help to put our clients’ brand and / or service in danger of being sold. We use a unique strategic planning tool to identify the emotional barriers to a brand’s adoption and deliver the emotional stimuli to challenge that behaviour. We then produce creative work focused on the emotional drivers and create a conversation that delivers the emotional stimuli to the target audience through the relevant channels.

The SHA. strategic planning tool is called Brainwave. It looks at every brand as a person and every person as a brand. This approach ensures all interaction is humanly relevant and carries the appropriate emotional stimuli to counteract any previously discovered barriers that can limit, stifle or even prevent adoption and advocacy of the brand, its products and its services.

What’s the biggest challenge your business is facing? How will it overcome this?

While a lot of agencies are still rushing to be just another content producer and provider, we believe the future of our business lies elsewhere. Most people we speak to are demanding an ever-increasing ROI on their invested marketing pounds, but don’t appear to be challenging the way they communicate.

Yes, they are using new channels to reach a target audience, such as digital and SoMe, but apart from the additional media outlets, it appears their thinking remains largely unchanged.  Trying to achieve a new level of ROI while doing things more or less exactly the same is pretty much the definition of madness.

We are different because our approach is different. Our strategic process identifies the emotional barriers to a brand’s adoption and delivers the emotional stimuli to challenge that behaviour. We then produce creative work focused on those emotional stimuli and create a conversation that delivers those emotional stimuli to the target audience through the relevant channels. This allows us to deliver intelligent ideas that get results.

What are the plans longer term?

When it comes to our future plans, our aim is to get to the head table earlier, allowing us to better understand business objectives and where possible influence and even drive the project’s marketing requirements and needs.

We are also finding ourselves becoming stakeholders in some of our clients’ businesses, which we believe is, the only way to overcome the ever-increasing apathy towards advertising and communications, and the current under valuation of the creative process and the impact it has on commercial success, as well as popular culture.

We’re also planning ways how we can disrupt the advertising sector, how we can create new media channels and create new clients.

We’re not trying to re-invent the wheel, but we’re going to give it a go.

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