In our latest Member Spotlight, we’re catching up with Matt Kay and Henriette (‘Henry’) Madsen of micro creative agency, MKA Creative. As Director and Art Director respectively, Matt and Henry use their mutual background in illustration and design – along with an insatiable appetite for innovation – to show their clients something fresh, new and lively. We find out what their most rewarding projects have been this year, how they manage a small business with international presence, and how they plan to evolve following a particularly challenging year for the creative industries.
Fed: Tell us more about MKA Creative and what you guys do…
Matt: MKA is a micro-agency with a cloud studio set up. Myself and Henry have collaborated for over 10 years on various projects. With MKA we have tried to bring together all the stylistic, strategic and creative experiments to offer something a bit different. We create event branding, animated content such as opening videos, highlights and stings for social media, virtual platform and set design and any other graphic or video an event might need! Our work focusses on art-directing and creative input into events. We try to span the whole promotional cycle with a look-and-feel treatment and to tell a bit of a story with the branding assets we create. This could be purely entertaining, or something educational that carries a strong message.
Henry: We’re building a reputation for creating immersive branding and for virtual, hybrid and live events including opening videos, highlights & stings, social media campaigns, virtual studios & plenaries and of course all the social media assets that go with it. We’re small compared to many agencies, but developing our cloud studio has really empowered us to ‘punch above our weight’.
Henry: We both started out as illustrators so we try and inject that kind of creative illustrative approach to our jobs. Matt also has years of brand agency experience, and my role as a senior designer in the games industry really means we can apply a strategy to everything we do. Clients seem to really like the mix of artistry and commercial realism.
Fed: What tips do you have to share on managing and growing a small business with an international presence?
Matt: As Henry mentioned, developing our cloud services over the last few years has been really important. It started out as a way for us to work on live events in Spain and collaborate in real time remotely. This has been instrumental in delivering work internationally, from concepts and collaboration, approvals through to deployment & streaming. Multi-platforms has been the way for us – which takes time and research, as there is so much overlap in services out there – but once you get the right technology stack you are ready to fly!
Henry: We are physically based in two countries, but over the years we have found a way of working alongside each other as if we were sat in the same office, we keep in constant contact via Slack or Zoom – we feel communication is key to the way we develop ideas and keep the jobs fluid between us. Of course this seemed like a novel approach only one year ago – and sometimes a hard sell – but now with recent events, clients are coming to us for advice on their own set up.
Matt: To anyone starting out, or expanding what they do – creativity sells, it crosses borders and we all speak the same language when it comes to design and artistic expression.
Fed: How have you found adapting to more virtual events and digital content over the past few months?
Matt: We were very lucky to be in a position to respond to changes quite quickly. Remote working had been a way to collaborate and keep a work life balance with our growing families, but it is also very flexible. We did however have a bit of a panic during COVID – there was a big worry that our clients wouldn’t move to virtual at all. Or as in the case of a lot of events companies, close completely. We had to show clients how we could adapt the creative pipeline for virtual and then put it in front of them. Some of the proposals for ‘physical’ experiences were shifted to virtual too.
We realised there was a need for creative thinking at times like these, there wasn’t a model to follow so we all needed to collaborate and create one. Brands need excitement, creativity and a visual strategy – thats the same whether it’s virtual, social or physical branding.
Henry: In the last couple of years we have seen an increased interest in more immersive digital approaches from our clients, but they were often a bit hesitant or nervous to break into a new way of doing things and would fall back on tried and tested methods. Then when COVID and lockdown hit, we all had to adapt and think more outside the box. So that actually gave us an opportunity to start including some of the things we had been working on behind the curtains to our event packages.
Matt: We have found that clients sometimes need educating about what they are buying into – they don’t need to over research different technologies, or split jobs into lots of teams for different tasks. Creatives can be involved right at the start and help navigate the virtualisation of a project from a design standpoint. Visual messaging and how to merge the branding with an experience is what designers, illustrators and animators have been doing forever.
Fed: How do you see approaches to branding and brand storytelling evolving moving forward?
Henry: Definitely more interactivity. Users want to be able to take part in a brand not just observe it. In the event sector there is a window opening now to a whole new world when it comes to branding and engagement. Technology such as immersive theatre and gaming, as well as AR and VR tech are already being integrated into events and will surely grow in the coming months and years.
Matt: We are experiencing a blurring of the lines between design disciplines, especially with motion graphics, AR & VR. In the past when I worked in agencies, producers said things like “an illustrator can’t design” or “you’re the video guy, don’t touch the typography” but in stark contrast now our clients love our cross discipline approach and the teams we work for reap the creative benefits. The really exciting thing for us is taking a delegate on a journey, right from the first social media engagement or branded email, and keeping them immersed in a brand experience pre-event, during and post-event. The challenges of this year have caused serious business issues no doubt but also, it has created many vibrant discussions with clients. They are hungry for ideas… and we are full of them!
Fed: How do you think being part of communities such as the Creative Industries Federation helps support small businesses like yours?
Matt: Being part of a broader creative community means the world to us – it keeps us grounded in what other people are experiencing, especially in the difficult times of COVID. It also throws wide open opportunities to collaborate on projects commercial and artistic alike. We are part of a creative food chain that work for much larger organisations – i the creative industries there are thousands of individuals and micro companies like ours doing amazing work. We want to spread the word about this collective output and be proud to be a part of a bigger cloud of artists. We have always tried to balance our creative output by mixing bigger budget clients with smaller experimental projects. This keeps our process fresh and gives us an opportunity to pass on skills to colleagues that don’t always have access to corporate work.
Fed: What has been your most rewarding project during 2020?
Matt: We are bang in the middle of a virtual event launch right now for a Citrix using AR as a way to bring social media posts to life, as well as animated content to keep an interest in desktop events. They’ve just had a brand refresh and we are the first team to start creating assets for events – so very exciting!
Henry: I art directed a series of 6 webinars on COVID-19 vaccinations – a serious and challenging subject I was really passionate about. We went for a bright colour palette, vivid graphics and UI styling. We expected to have to tone it down or go for more corporate themes but the client was on board with it right from the start.
Fed: What are your plans for 2021?
Henry: Draw less COVID-19 symbols! Even though there are vaccines on the way, it looks like the virtual events are here to stay, possibly morphing into hybrid events as 2021 goes on. So we plan to build on our virtual events design packages, push on with AR and VR technology and keep learning. We are also in the process of opening a branch in Spain so we can carry on working with our European clients regardless of how the Brexit outcome will be.
Matt: Virtualisation has changed the creative landscape permanently – when live events return in full, producers will be more open to our solutions. The idea of remote working is no longer a novel approach. I can see this opening the door to people that have been locked out of the London-based branding industries for too long and the people that have to work from home because of disability, child care or mental health. They can be a powerful voice in our industry without the need for on-site work. So yes, we want to collaborate with all our usual trusted colleagues but we also want to actively be part of a new work solution and show people you can build a high-end agency whatever your personal constraints may be.
To find out more about MKA Creative and to stay up to date with the cloud studio’s forward-thinking work, head to www.mka-creative.com or follow them on Instagram @mka_creative.
You can watch their showreel here: