No matter what your age, most people know at least one of Aardman's many colourful characters; from Wallace and Gromit to its Oscar winning film Chicken Run. Naturally in such a successful company, considerable work goes on behind the scenes of the creative process and the fame to grow the company further.
Many of Aardman's staff have responsibility for improving the commercial activities of the business and its revenue. Inevitably this involves the creative team entering the commercial world of pitches and presentations.
Despite the tremendous successes of Aardman in the last three decades, it became increasingly clear that its creative team needed to convert more new business pitches into paying jobs. So just how did Aardman go about making sure that staff were not wearing 'The Wrong Trousers' when facing potential clients?
Heather Wright, the company's Head of Commercials explains: "Our work was good enough creatively but we were letting ourselves down when it came to new business pitch presentations. Front-line producers and directors lacked confidence and know-how standing in front of people they'd never met and talking about their work."
"We wanted to improve their confidence levels and felt they would respond better to an external trainer." Heather approached Maynard Leigh Associates because, "I liked the fact that Maynard Leigh's background was a combination of theatre and business. This combination closely mirrored the background of Aardman and so they had a good understanding of what we were trying to achieve."
Maynard Leigh recommended their Presenting with Presence course which consisted of two days off-site training. "We liked the idea that the course would take place away from the office," says Heather. "It allowed a more focused experience for the team, and gave them the opportunity to develop in an environment away from their many day-to-day problems."
So how did the course measure up? Heather was clearly impressed. "The trainers were likeable, fun and experienced. They had confidence in themselves which was passed on to the producers and directors that were undergoing the training. Maynard Leigh knew exactly what they were talking about and were honest and open in what they were trying to achieve with us. In turn, they made sure that we knew what we needed to achieve." Heather also applauds the way staff were given constructive criticism, adding, "Criticism was helpful and constructive, which is always an advantage, but it was criticism delivered with humour and an individual style."
At the start, some people expressed feelings of scepticism, and were somewhat guarded, but Heather explains that by the end everyone had opened up enough to learn a lot about their own particular presentation style and their confidence had increased dramatically. "People had fun and learned something highly valuable at the same time."
The training solutions had the desired effect on staff confidence and produced quantifiable results. During the year after the course, for example, Aardman doubled its turnover in the commercials market. While various factors contributed to this success, Heather believes that Performing with Presence was a significant one. "There is no doubt in my mind that training was a key element to our outstanding achievements," she enthuses.
Aardman is based in Bristol and was founded in 1972 by David Sproxton and Peter Lord who met at school and animated in their spare time. The company has gone from strength to strength following the success of Morph, Wallace & Gromit, Creature Comforts and Chicken Run. More Aardman news and information can be found at www.aardman.com.
"An integral part of what the team enjoyed was the bonding experience of being away from the office together," Heather says. "In fact, the training was so highly regarded that everybody wanted to participate in follow-up sessions!"