Pret A Manger (Pret) is one of UK retailing’s biggest success stories. Selling a wide range of freshly-made sandwiches and organic coffees, Pret prefers to invest in pioneering innovative communications that create beautiful customer experiences rather than slick advertising and PR. Everything in Pret shops ultimately carries a message – from the brand philosophy boldly displayed on the walls to individual coffee cups and napkins; from packaging to iconic in-store “passion” posters. Despite its fairly light investment in traditional advertising, Pret has succeeded in creating one of UK retailing’s strongest and most unique personalities.
In 2013, Pret’s international retail network spanned some 350 shops in the UK and three additional cities worldwide – Hong Kong, New York and Paris. The brand then set itself the huge challenge of entering other International markets.
Leveraging every possible touchpoint to articulate the attitude that has made the company so dynamic has long been a Pret hallmark. All brand messages ultimately mirror the unique culture that pervades every aspect of Pret’s business. The end result is a relaxed and informal working environment that reflects the individual qualities of all who work there. The brand’s internal communications are no less quirky than their customer messages (Pret’s recruitment drives, for example, remind potential candidates that they can wear jeans to work!)
Led by the Global Creative Director, Pret creates all of its brand messages – from menu selections to the wall designs in shops all over the world – in-house at its London HQ. The brand’s legendary “charm” is reflected in a brand tone of voice based on the personality and ideas of Pret founder, Julian Metcalfe. While bursting with life, Pret’s communications are never boastful or preachy and are definitely not “corporate” or “spin.” As “charm” is embedded in every staff member’s head, Pret does not even have a brand guideline!
Successfully adapting Pret’s “charm” has inevitably proven to be a big challenge when the brand has tried to expand internationally. When Pret launched in the US and France, its senior managers took some time to identify the right writing talent needed to correctly craft their tone of voice. The proposed move to China seemed even more challenging as none of Pret’s internal team possessed a deep knowledge of the market, and the brand had no wish to hire a traditional local advertising agency.
Pret ultimately believes in identifying partners who share their core beliefs and can seamlessly reinterpret and adapt them for Mainland Chinese consumers. Coincidently, I had helped to develop many of Pret’s key brand messages in Chinese when they launched the brand in Hong Kong back in 2000. As a result, I was fortunate to be chosen to work alongside the global team and support them with everything from copywriting to local market insights.
As a writer-based creative director, I have always been passionate about the craft side of brand writing and am thus perfectly placed to provide Pret with thorough brand consultation and writing for its Mainland Chinese launch.
Tone of Voice Development. As most of the client’s work is done in-house and there is no formal tone of voice guide explaining what is on-and off-brand, writing for Pret does not follow a “guidebook”. Although I am well aware of what works and what doesn’t, establishing a sound mutual understanding with Pret from the outset was vital. The first task was a thorough audit of all Pret brand materials and what they might mean for Mainland Chinese consumers. For example what exactly are messages that “have charm, wit, and humility, but are never preachy”, or communications whose “fun nature is shown by a wry smile rather than a belly laugh”? How can such content be adapted for a Chinese audience? Articulating these insights in a brand tone of voice guide necessitated the maintaining of a simple and straightforward approach that would guarantee a consistent writing style across all Chinese copy.
Internal Engagement. Working with cross-functional teams at Pret’s HQ and various local offices, I am deeply involved in many aspects of the client’s business – from strategic thinking, food, retail operations and logistics, to marketing, creative and design. To this end, I act as a hub of intelligence and engage myself in everything from devising strategies, content creation and adaptation to other key brand executions including in-store activation, PR, digital and social.
Brand Identity and Product Naming. I helped to develop a Chinese trading name for Pret, and crafted a typographic treatment that compliments the brand’s global identity and will work holistically across China. I continued to work with the client’s food team in devising appropriate product names that capture Pret’s essence for every item on its Mainland Chinese menus.
Creative Copywriting. From the very beginning I have demonstrated the ability to truly adapt rather than simply translate Pret’s marketing messages for each local market. Unlike many clients, Pret does not insist on having everything “carved in stone”. If an English line says “Made Today. Gone Today”, its localised version will emphasise brand value by saying “Fresh and meaningful”. Where English in-store signs say “Kitchen”, local equivalents will emphasise Pret’s uniqueness by saying “Chef hard at work inside”. Every brand message is carefully crafted to match the context in which it will appear.
360° Content Creation. Effective brand writing is core to how all successful businesses express themselves in individual markets. Pret’s Mainland China stores and Head Office are full of intriguingly-worded recruitment posters and staff training materials. The coffee stories and “Passion Facts” posters that form the centerpiece of every Pret shop in China were all written with local audiences in mind. While it took me a whole two months to write Pret’s website, such painstaking attention to detail is what makes the brand’s localised tone of voice so light, tasty, and “charming”! When Pret decided to begin leveraging China’s most popular social media channels, I was able to help the brand develop original content for Chinese language platforms such as wechat.
Pret’s international expansions had been accelerate, with local consumers happily buying into the idea of quality food hand-made fresh everyday. Creatively adapted as originally written, Pret’s messages for local audiences are enriched with a distinctive international flair. Each communication’s relevant and engaging nature is thus helping the brand to cement long-term customer relationships.
I continue to lead Pret’s brand writing for the region and has been helping to define Pret’s tone of voice for other international’s al markets including Dubai, Copenhagen, Utrecht, and Berlin.