Happy birthday to… us

Every cloud has a silver lining. Something always turns up. And how true that was for our Ben when he was made redundant ten years ago. Without that redundancy, we might not have the Afia we know and love today.

Ben told us his story at the opening of Afia’s 10th birthday bash last week in the lovely rooftop room at Wallacespace in Covent Garden. Standing among bobbing balloons, beside cards spelling out ‘being human is’, in front of industry friends, clients and special guests, Ben told us about that dark, grey November morning.

‘But soon I’d got together some of the best writers I knew and was focusing on tone of voice – which not many people were talking about at the time.’

Today, Afia’s all about helping companies to be more human.

‘That’s something I’d like us to think about this afternoon,’ said Ben. ‘Can language really help companies be more human?’

Then, up stood the answer.

David Levin tweets for brands. He’s the twoice of @BBCTheVoiceUK, @BBCOne, @lorealmenexpert and more. It all started, he told us, the night of the London riots.

‘I’d just moved to Hackney, opposite the Dolphin pub. Rumours across Twitter said it was burning down. But it wasn’t – I could see it. So I set up a Dolphin account to tell people the truth.’

@The_Dolphin_Pub now has 22.3k followers. David’s tweets are often favourited and retweeted by hundreds of people. Why? Because David’s managed to create a voice that works for the Dolphin. It’s cheeky, rude and a bit sweary. It’s perfect for its followers, who are clearly after a laugh. They like it – and they’re happy to show that.

Same with The Voice, BBC One and Loreal Men Expert. David’s mastered these different voices, and used language to connect brands to customers.

‘It’s about joining the conversation and putting your own spin on it,’ said David.

After drinks and mingling, it was the panel’s turn.

We all sat and listened to Tony Temple (the man who helped Ben realise Afia’s aim was to help companies sound more human), Suzie Rook, our client from Vodafone, Sam Wilson (AB Agri, ex E.ON and British Gas), and Ben chat language, tone of voice, and what makes a company sound human.

Views flew in from all corners – from the panel, the floor, and from our Heather who was keeping everyone in check on the stage. Sounding human is about bringing personality to your writing. Good writing comes from being truthful and trustworthy.

And tone of voice? It’s about more than words, the panel agreed. It’s about using language to change a company’s culture.

‘Ten years ago,’ said Ben as we were winding down, ‘I would never have believed we’d get so many people interested in tone of voice in a room. But look at us. All here because we’re keen to help companies sound more human.’

So, what’s next? ‘That’s what I want to know,’ said Ben, as our Nic prepared to cut the cake. ‘What’s the next step for language and tone of voice in business?’

From the silent smiles in the room, it seems no one’s quite sure. Yet. But, I think it’s safe to say it’ll involve companies continuing to sound a bit more human.