Location: Sandy Hook
Duration: Since 2020
Key Players: John Rudolph, Principal and Creative Director
Key Clients: Wegmans, CT Arts Alliance, Uncle Matt’s Bakery and Café, CT Cemetery Association, Sunfish Finance, CT Main Street Center, The Conservative Synagogue, Stamford Downtown, Cultural Alliance
When/how was the agency born?
Like many businesses that started during the pandemic, Map Agency was born in our home office which, believe it or not, was actually the garage for a short time. We saw a potential need in the market for start-ups that could use agency-level marketing. The goal, as with most brand marketing, was to reach those new business owners and let them know we existed. Our initial approach was rather traditional — We sent out print mailers specifically to the organizations that we wanted to collaborate with. (Talk about target marketing!) We’d follow up with a phone call or email and ask for an opportunity to present our work on Zoom. Sounds simple, in retrospect, but that’s how we hung the proverbial “Open for Business” sign. It was a weird and scary time for all of us, but also exciting. I don’t know how most design studios start, but I sure hope it’s with more clients than we had, which was zero.
Why do clients hire you and not another agency?
We’re all about building great brands — that’s our passion, it’s what we understand the best, and where we add the most value for our clients. When it comes down to it, branding is about creating a reputation that aligns with your organization’s values. Once we understand those values, we can start to build and guide a brand’s reputation in many different ways. We’ll often partner with organizations that need an entirely new Brand Identity System. This includes identifying white space in the marketplace, crafting a unique brand purpose, mission statement, and design system with visual and verbal standards. For the businesses that have brand equity, we offer most of the design services that help to elevate it in the marketplace — logo design, website design, editorial design, and advertising campaigns including print, digital, and social media marketing. Every design solution we create is built with the brand in mind.
What makes your process unique?
Our process is really steeped in research. Before we design anything, we try to reach a profound understanding of our client’s products and services, their audience, the business category or vertical, and the competitive landscape. Put simply, we try to put ourselves in our client’s shoes, and then in their audience’s shoes. The early part of the design process is also critical to developing a positive relationship with our clients, as it allows us to have really in-depth conversations about their business. This is why we put so much emphasis on competitive auditing, brand analysis, and discovery. The remaining parts of the process that we folllow — Brainstorm > Concept > Review > Refine > Present > Prototype > Test > Deliver — are quite similar to most design studios. They are all extremely important steps to problem solving, obviously. For us, it’s the research that enables us to better understand contextual and situational challenges, and allows us to hopefully solve communication problems with empathy, strategy, and creativity.
Our little state is rich with design history. Paul Rand lived and worked in Weston. Herbert Matter taught at Yale. Michael Beirut teaches there today. Jessica Helfand and her late partner, William Drenttel, founded Winterhouse Studio in Canaan – a corner of our state flooded with Mid Century Architecture by the likes of Ezra Winter and Marcel Breuer. It’s only a short trip to New Canaan to see the work of Phillip Johnson. Bradbury Thompson, Eliot Noyes, Jessica Walsh, Alexander Calder… The list goes on. I like to think that perhaps just living and working here allows us to absorb some of that history and talent through osmosis.
Describe your ideal client.
Our ideal client is passionate about what they do. We don’t claim to be experts in our client’s businesses. They are the experts. But it’s important that we gain a quick understanding of what makes their product or service unique in the market. Being passionate and knowledgeable about their brand are two characteristics that we really appreciate.
We also love working with people that have an open mind. Some clients come to us with a specific solution already worked out in their head — which provides great initial direction — but we always like to push the creative boundaries. Those that are willing to explore ideas that maybe they hadn’t thought of initially are usually rewarded with more unique and creative solutions. Our favorite clients are empathetic to the design process.
Last, our ideal client is a decision-maker. When we work with the people that ultimately decide what gets delivered, it always makes the process more streamlined, and usually more enjoyable as well.
Describe your ideal employee/team member.
We like working with people that have different life experiences than we do.
Inquisitive: Is genuinely curious.
Empathetic: Can draw inspiration from unexpected sources.
Risk-taker: Not afraid to fail.
Explorer: Never satisfied with the first option.
Multi-tasker: The ability to brainstorm and design at the same time.
Challenger: Pushes creative boundaries.
Maybe it goes without saying, but they should also have killer design instincts. Is that too much to ask?
What is your favorite cause?
The arts. Like many designers, I went to school to become an artist and kind of stumbled upon this thing called graphic design. It’s kind of karmic that we get to collaborate with so many of the non-profit arts organizations in our state. We like to think that everything we design is with purpose, but the definition of purpose takes on additional meaning when the objective, and our solution, has the potential to benefit society. That’s the reason we love to design for non-profit — our collaboration contributes to positive change in our local communities. We not only get to design with purpose, we also get to design for progress.
Don’t get me wrong, though, there are still days I long to be a starving artist.
Who are your favorite partners/vendors?
We depend on our local bakery for coffee and their delicious pastries and breads. Sandy Hook also has great sandwich shops and restaurants. We rave about them to our clients! We use several local printers. We partner with web developers, and UI/UX professionals. The people and organizations that we’ve helped build brands for oftentimes become our partners on future projects and, in some cases, our friends. There are so many local professionals we love to partner with, including photographers and illustrators. It really is a fantastic little creative community, and we’re lucky to live here and be a part of it.
Where would you like the agency to be in 5 years?
We’ve had to reimagine how Map Agency is positioned a few times already. While our initial instinct was to work with start-ups and local entrepreneurs, we quickly realized that we could also add real value by collaborating with much larger businesses. Because of our experience in advertising, we have a great understanding of national retail and marketing. I don’t think we’ve really showcased that area of expertise yet. Hopefully we can harness that experience and knowledge within the next 5 years to scale the business with new clients and partners.
What is unique about the culture of the agency? The physical space?
When most agencies were moving out of their offices, we were looking for creative space to rent. Even though many of our meetings are still virtual, our clients love to visit the office. We’re located in an old 4-story brick mill along the Pootatuck river, and our windows overlook the original dam. For many, it’s respite from their home offices or the traditional cubical and gray carpeting. We’re within walking distance from a few of our favorite bars. I like to think of the culture as somewhat of a creative factory. Friends stop by unannounced. Designers, writers, developers – they all have a desk to work here whenever they want. Seriously, anybody who read to the bottom of this interview, you’re invited too. To quote the Talking Heads, “I’ll be working, working but if you come visit, I’ll put down what I’m doing, my friends are important.”