In Conversation with Tim Bassford from Turbine Creative

Tim Bassford in his studio at Antenna

We recently caught up with Tim Bassford, Creative Director for Turbine Creativea creative agency working with ambitious brands both locally and across the world. 

Turbine Creative creates compelling and impactful marketing content with a strong focus on the Sport, Health and Life Science sectors. Tim started the business during the first COVID-19 lockdown and in three years its experienced rapid growth, so much so, Tim and his colleagues recently transitioned from virtual tenants to full-time office tenants. Read on to find out more about Tim and Turbine Creative.

Hi Tim, tell us a bit about and your team and how Turbine Creative got started 

Turbine Creative got started two months before lockdown in 2020. I’d previously worked very happily at different creative agencies around Nottingham but got to a point where I was Creative Director at one and had been there for quite a long time, and felt the need for a change. I wanted to try something new and begin a fresh adventure where I saw the opportunity… 

I took a big leap of faith and started my own agency, one focused on specific sectors. The reason being, a lot of creative agencies often try and say they do everything for everybody without any depth of knowledge in those particular areas, and so we decided to focus our energies on Sport, Health and Life Science sectors. What’s great is there is crossover between each of them – for example, people who work within elite sport will often work within health. And people who work within health often work with researchers in life science, and so they complement one another and it builds a natural depth of knowledge and experience for us within each of those areas. I also believe these three sectors bring unparalleled impact in improving lives across the world. So from a purpose-driven angle, we also want to pour our energies into campaigns that improve lives. The team includes our Senior Designer, Mark Osbourne, our Project Manager, Jo Hird, myself, and our Graphic Designer, Sophie Adams.

Starting a creative agency was something I always wanted to do. And I got to a certain stage in my career and thought, well, it’s either do it now or don’t do it. Because these things obviously take a long time to grow, don’t they? And you need to invest a lot of time in it. So, I thought, let’s give it a go and then two months later, the first COVID-19 lockdown started. As you can imagine, that was an interesting time to start a company – one many members will be able to relate to – however, I think that in some ways it helped us. Previously, a lot of bigger brands like Team GB or Thermo Fisher Scientific would perhaps have wanted to work with huge agencies and go to their office, play ping pong on their table, and have a beer in their bar – you know, have that whole agency experience. But obviously during the lockdown, nobody was going anywhere and someone who worked with a massive agency was working in their kitchen just the same as I was, having only just started a company –  but still able to offer the same skillset and experience. So, in a funny old way, the pandemic helped level the playing field. It certainly helped with our trajectory in winning some big clients early on and getting our brand out there.

Turbine Creative team in their studio at Antenna

Can you tell us a bit about your work and the kind of clients you support?

I guess our ideal client is probably a company with a £3-5+ million turnover with a decent  marketing budget – which just means we’re able to do things that are a little bit more ambitious. We do work with smaller companies as well, but in order to do the sort of larger scale video, animation and digital projects we’re known for, they’re the kind of clients that we like to work with.

One of our most notable clients is The UK Sports Institute. The contact initially came about through a colleague  I played football with many years ago, he worked with The UK Sports Institute and gave us the opportunity to pitch for some work with them  – it was some posters  I think – and that project went really well. They liked what we did and that led to some more creative campaign work. Then off the back of those campaigns, somebody at Team GB got in touch. They had seen the work we were doing with The UK Sports Institute and this was at a time where, I don’t know if you remember the 2020 Olympics were held in Tokyo in 2021 and it was full COVID lockdown? It was like the most bizarre Olympics of all time, where athletes had to stay in the Olympic Village, they couldn’t go out and see anything, and they couldn’t connect with anybody else. Team GB were really worried about how they communicated this messaging about being COVID safe and what athletes can and can’t do, and so they got a whole behavioural science team and COVID taskforce involved. They spoke to the different teams and following their research, they needed a way to relay all this messaging in a super-creative way to all these elite athletes.

Long story short, thanks to the work we’d done for The UK Sports Institute, Team GB approached us and said: “we really like the way you’re communicating with athletes, can you help us with this really, sort of risky opportunity we’ve got, to go to Tokyo to take part in the Olympics, but if any of our athletes get COVID-19, you know, it’s going to totally destroy our chances of competing”. People forget how serious it was – for example say if Team GB’s hockey team perhaps got through to the final of the Olympics. If just one person in the team got COVID, the entire team was out. It was quite a high pressure, high risk thing. So, we worked with them, and their dedicated COVID taskforce and created this campaign and it went really well. Working in partnership with Team GB we developed a multi-channel campaign using video, animations, printed materials, onsite signposting and social media content, amongst others to deliver this message. We were all so elated to know (thanks to the hard work of this dedicated Covid taskforce) that there wasn’t a single person that got COVID. I remember the Independent newspaper called it ‘the miracle of Tokyo’ – a quote I absolutely love because, not only did nobody in the Team GB squad get COVID or any sort of suspicion of it, they also won a serious number of medals. So that felt really good – that was probably one of the most high-profile projects we’ve done. And that was within the first 18 months of starting the company.

Another of our clients is Thermo Fisher Scientific, who are one of the top-three life science companies in the world. We work with them in their chemicals division, helping to promote the products and services they’re selling. Our clients there are based in California and working with them is pretty exciting as the scope and scale of what they are doing is pretty momentous. We’ve also recently won some awards for our work with the NHS, which we’re really proud of. We were delighted to be recognised at the Penna Awards (Patient Experience Network National Awards) for a cancer treatment campaign we did with the Nottingham Colorectal Service (Part of NUH NHS Trust). In a nutshell, it’s an innovative digital solution backed by patient education that helps patients understand and engage with their treatments better, which helps facilitate better outcomes. So, we’ve done that recently in Nottingham University Hospitals, and it’s now being rolled out regionally by the East Midlands Cancer Alliance. Having won this award, we’ve begun branching out into multiple other cancer departments. It’s been a really fulfilling project and we’re really proud to have won an industry award just three years after starting the business. 

Turbine Creative team reviewing work on screen

You mentioned there are lots of other creative agencies out there, what would you say helps you to stand out? 

Well, that’s a really good question. First and foremost, I’d say the experience, enthusiasm and creativity in the team – Mark Osbourne (Senior Designer) and I have worked together and won multiple awards in various agencies for the best part of 15 years, and so we know each other really well and enjoy developing creative concepts together. We’ve got a good shorthand, a lot of experience working with massive brands like Disney, and Discovery Channel and, of course, now new clients like Team GB and Thermo Fisher Scientific. Jo Hird (Project Manager) has worked successfully with lots of creative agencies around Nottingham as well, and so there’s a real depth of experience. We’re also continually striving to push our client’s brand’s into new creative ways of communicating, suggesting alternative approaches to deliver their message and really harness their brands full potential. This could be through new alternative delivery channels or just being bolder and more innovative with our creative ideas.

And then I guess, the thing that differentiates us most is that we primarily focus on the three key sectors (Sport, Health and Life Science) and the deeper understanding shared about them. 

It’s important to note that these three sectors are huge in our local region. When you think about life science, you’ve got one of the largest bioscience incubators in Europe, Biocity Nottingham, we’re also a member of Medilink Midlands and Boots have got a life sciences innovation hub called MediCity. You’ve also got the Queen’s Medical Centre and Nottingham City Hospital which are two national-leading hospitals in their respective fields as well as the private medical services around the region. In terms of elite sport, the region is also pretty big – you’ve got The UK Sports Institute based out of Loughborough and Sheffield, which are both pretty local. The huge successes of Nottingham and Loughborough University in sport, as well as the massive professional sport clubs across the region – Nottingham Forest being the best example of that course!  So, you can see, just by those few examples, regionally those three things are quite big – it’s why we chose those specific sectors and why it works so well.

What would you say brought you to Antenna?

In the first instance, it was a really practical thing – I knew I didn’t really want my home address to be the company’s registered address just from an ambition of what I wanted to do. I didn’t want people to look up the company and see my home and go, “oh, he’s just working out of his bedroom”. Which, you know, that’s obviously totally fine, but I think I wanted an address that felt like a creative hub and obviously, Antenna is probably the most recognised creative hub in Nottingham. And so, the first thing was getting that address for my registration as a company. And then I was a virtual tenant for a time, whilst I moved around and worked out of other co-working spaces. Being a virtual tennant meant that I could go somewhere that’s super flexible, super welcoming, had a great energy, the café’s great – and I was already familiar with the co-working space anyway as I’d visited a few times over the years.

I just found it a very welcoming positive environment, so that was how the virtual tenancy came about and then it got to a point where it made financial sense to have an office space of our own. I always wanted to have an office where you can kind of talk freely because I think the only drawback to an open virtual membership is, if you haven’t booked a meeting room, it can sometimes be difficult to have private conversations as a team. When we got to a point where it made financial sense to have an office and to be able to have some sort of identity in the building, we went for it. I had been talking to your Business Development and Events Manager for about six months, often inquiring if there was a space that was the right size coming up and nothing came up for a while. One day, she mentioned that a room had become free, and so Mark and I popped in and we were like “yes, this is perfect. It ticks all of the right boxes”. It’s just what we need at the moment, and it’s got a nice view and lots of natural light coming in through the windows. We’re really chuffed with our new space and you can’t beat the location – you’ve got good transport links around you, town’s just down the road and we’re free to come and go as we’d like. I really like the character and the age of the building too. It’s all very well finished, and everything’s clean and modern.

What were your first impressions of Antenna before moving in?

We have been visiting Antenna on and off for some time before joining as virtual tenants. I think the one thing I would mention was our pre-existing relationship with Bottletop Design, who are another animation video company and tenants of Antenna. We’ve known them for at least five years, and have a relationship with the Creative Director, Mark Piper. Mark used to run their brilliant Animorsels events at Antenna. So, we built up that relationship with them and I’d often ask Mark over a beer in the bar what’s it like to have an office here. He’s always spoken highly about Antenna and talked me through how the tenancy agreement works and what the facilities were like. I think knowing Bottletop, knowing that they had similar needs to us, and trusting their opinion certainly helped influence the decision. It gave me a lot of reassurance and encouraged us to transition to full-time office tenants – it certainly hasn’t disappointed me.

Being based at Antenna means you are in close proximity to NTU and Confetti Media Group’s creative, commercial businesses. How are you benefitting from being part of this network?

Absolutely. Antenna’s network and reach is huge. In fact, I can give you a couple of examples of how we’re making good use of it.

We’re currently involved in a business development programme with the Nottingham Business School. As well as a bunch of other small businesses, we’re working alongside NTU’s Business faculty, helping others to scale up and improve their business strategies. And so, I’m kind of learning as well as working for them and delivering seminars and lectures and things like that.

We’ve also received support from Confetti Institute of Creative Technologies as well. About 18 months ago we were filming a music video for a client of ours and we needed a huge projector to fill the entire stage of The Royal Concert Hall. It was around the time of the Black Lives Matter protests and the artist we were working with was doing this music video aligned to the movement. On top of the projector, we also needed a whole bunch of audio-visual kit, and we were struggling to get a hold of what we needed. Anyway, someone suggested I get in touch with Confetti’s Head of Talent Development, Alison Whitlock, and she was more than happy to help facilitate. I explained what we were doing and Confetti was able to support us with the AV kit and arranged for technicians to come and support us in making this music video – I’m pretty sure this included some students doing their work experience. 

Since then, I’ve learnt more about Confetti through our connections here at Antenna and it’s incredible to discover the facilities right on the doorstep. Confetti has a huge amount of potential – certainly from our point of view – with video production and innovation in visuals. There’s a couple of projects that we’re exploring using motion capture technology and I hear there’s a suite just next door. There’s also a lot of focus on esports at Confetti as well and there’s some crossover there with our focus on elite sport. It’s interesting you know, I’d never made the connection before but competitive video gaming is a growing market and it’d be interesting to see what people are doing there. Coming back to our work with Team GB, in addition to the Olympics we also work on the Paralympics, and esports brings up a whole other avenue of accessibility. People’s physical ability doesn’t need to be a barrier – you can be physically disabled but still be incredible at esports and so I guess it opens it up to a lot more people to be at the top-level. It’s clear there’s been a huge investment in the facilities at Confetti and there’s a high calibre of students coming through. We’re looking forward to harnessing further opportunities for collaboration as we grow.

What future plans are there for Turbine Creative over the next 12 months? 

One of the areas that we are really passionate about is innovation and pursuing new ways of working and delivering creative campaigns. Everything we do is visual communication, and as well as the usual techniques of animation and live video recording, we’re exploring new ways to create visual media. 

Just to give you one example, we’ve started experimenting with motion capture – drawing on technology that’s been used in feature films, we’ve begun to make it part of our tool set for creating animations. Using a motion capture suit, we capture 3D character movement and then translate it into software to create animated characters, photorealistic characters, and scenarios that you wouldn’t be able to go and film.Also, like a lot of people, we’re exploring how artificial intelligence (AI) image and video creation can help the creative process as an additional tool. I think those two areas are really interesting for us at the moment in terms of expanding our tool kit and creative horizons. Moving forward, I plan to have a kick off meeting to see how we can further push the boundaries of what we do with the support of Confetti. 

If people want to get in touch, are you happy for them to reach out?

I’m more than happy for people to get in touch. You can send me an email to [email protected], you can visit our website for more information on what we do, and we’re also active on Instagram and LinkedIn. Our office is S24, if you’d like to come and knock on.

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