What’s Behind The Door?
Founded by Sarah Palmer in 1993, Big Green Door has been a groundbreaking and innovative brand strategy consultancy for just over twenty years. The company has come a long way since those early days. Initially operating from a ground floor garage in a Paddington mews house, it consisted of Sarah, a desk, and a single lime-green cell phone. It didn’t even have a name.
In 1993 Arsenal beat Sheffield Wednesday in the cup, John Major was Prime Minister, and 40,000 revellers kicked off the second summer of love at Lower Pertwood Farm in Wiltshire. Today, Wednesday fans can think on cup finals as spinsters on past lovers, John Major is only to be seen in the Lord’s pavilion, and 90s ravers sit glumly in offices dreaming of e’s and whizz. Big Green Door, however, continues to grow, continues to innovate, and continues to provide the unique blend of analysis and insight it was founded to pioneer.
Sarah’s aim, sitting in her garage, was to build a company that rectified some of the issues identified over thirteen years spent working as a Planner and Global Account Director for, first, Ogilvy and Mather, then BMP (now DDB). The issues were centred around four shortcomings: firstly, the lack of insight and analysis built into the research provided by existing agencies; secondly, the lack of understanding shown to women and to mothers within the industry; thirdly, the rigidity of the linear progression from strategy to creativity that saw knowledge falling through the gaps between the two. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Sarah wanted to move away from the lack of focus on the client engendered by the internal politics and top-down dogmatism endemic in large corporations.
The idea, then, was to provide a product that integrated creativity and intellectual insight into the whole process, providing research and strategy with a “so what”: creative analysis and innovation suggestions that take research beyond the facts and figures. By creating a company that focused on holistic, quality, client-led output, and by utilising the pool of female creative talent marginalised by the industry at the time, the blueprint for what was to become Big Green Door was drawn up.
The inspiration for the structure of the company was taken from the theatrical model. The director assembles a team who has creative freedom over the output of their particular role; the set designers, lighting engineers, costume designers and actors all have a remit for interpretive freedom within their spheres. In ‘The Nature of Gothic’, the great Victorian critic and essayist John Ruskin argued that it is only through the freedom to express individuality in their work that men and women can produce clarity and beauty. It was this freedom to innovate that Sarah wanted to replicate, aiming to develop a flat management hierarchy where strategists and creatives would not feel trapped in an employee/employer structure. Bringing strategic hypotheses to life, making them “real”, getting at the “how” as well as the “what”, is a necessarily creative process and so individual freedom amongst employees was a crucial element of the nascent Big Green Door’s manifesto.
So, there was a founder, there was an idea, but there wasn’t yet a name. At least, not until a friend remarked on the ‘lovely big green door’ to the garage. It immediately stuck and now, twenty years on, the current offices retain this distinctive design feature. Shortly after this fortuitous remark, another friend, upon hearing of the new name, sent Sarah a poem: Miroslav Holub’s The Door. It is a poem that invites the reader to exercise their curiosity, to ‘go and open the door’, to take the plunge, and to be brave enough to go beyond, to look through, to see what is behind. These qualities are those prized most by Big Green Door. When things aren’t quite coming together, when you can’t see the wood for the trees, it is vital to have the intellectual curiosity, bravery and rigour to make things happen. The Door is the first thing you see as you enter the office, and it serves as a reminder of Big Green Door’s history, as well as its values.