When Jesse Randall set out to start his own agency after years as an art director at shops such as Elevation and Franklin Street, he wanted the name of his new firm to have two things: the word “branding,” and his name.
Not because he’s vain, but rather to push himself and his employees to a personal standard of quality with the work they do, he said. And with “branding” in the name, the company, Randall Branding, would show up stronger in Internet searches for agencies.
Five years later, the agency he started on his own and out of his home has grown to a staff of 10, four of whom were hired in recent months. The agency shares a space in Shockoe Slip with Torx Media, and its client base has grown to include Virginia Physicians for Women, Genworth, Chesterfield community RounTrey and Hanover apartments Charleston Ridge, among other local and Virginia-based clients.
Ahead of a party at the Hippodrome to mark the firm’s fifth anniversary, Randall, 37, sipped coffee with BizSense and discussed his approach to branding, his team’s creative process, and the challenges of juggling his role as creative director with his duties as a business owner. Below is an edited transcript:
Richmond BizSense: You moved with Torx Media to Shockoe Slip several years ago. What made you want to locate there?
Jesse Randall: Branding is all about managing perceptions, and it’s everything you do, from your interior design to the way you dress, how you answer the phone, your website, your logo, your messaging – all that’s important. Because I wanted to grow and build an agency, I wanted to control my branding. So being down here near The Martin Agency, in a creative community, has a better perception than someone running their business out of their home. That was something I chose to do purposely to help my own brand, which I think has paid off.
RBS: Describe your firm’s approach to branding.
JR: We start off with the research and discovery to really understand the audience and who we’re supposed to go after and how do we speak to them. Ukrop’s Dress Express is one of our clients; we’ve done this full expansive rebrand they’re looking at launching at the beginning of the new year. We talked to clients that they have, employees, clients they didn’t get, in focus groups and interviews, to really understand the perception that they currently had and the perception that they wanted. Then we came up with a plan and developed the messaging platform, because the messaging is just as important as the visual style, and you want everything to be consistent and cohesive across all different media in everything that you do.
Then we have a visual style, where we have three different media tactics. It could be the website, brochure, letterhead, business cards. We’ll pick three things that we’re going to design and develop that are side-by-side. Once the visual style is approved, then we produce the website, the brochures, the collateral, social media. And then the last part is the performance: Google analytics, search engine optimization, campaign product launches, manage their campaign.
RBS: How do you foster the creative process with your team?
JR: Every Tuesday we have a staff meeting where we’ll do an update on all the projects, and the beginning of that meeting always starts off with someone on our team sharing something new that everybody might not know. A good example is one of our designers shared the philosophy of graphic design. That’s a good way for the entire agency to learn something new.
We’re constantly on the Internet looking for creative inspiration. Charleston Ridge is a good example of how we worked with the interior designer and used some of the patterns inside of the building to also impact our visual style – the pattern on our brochure and our website and all of our materials matched the patterns that are used in the interior design.
RBS: Do you have any rituals to get into a creative headspace?
JR: I think a lot of my best thinking and best concepts have come when I’m out of the office – while I’m in the car, while I’m trying to go to sleep. I go to Barnes & Noble a lot – I try to get inspiration from just reading books that might not even be relevant. Immersing ourselves in that client is important – to go to their location, to understand their expectations.
RBS: Do you have a campaign you’re most proud of?
I’m really proud of the work we did recently for Village Bank, and I was hands-off on all that, so I had to trust my team. We were given a month to come up with two TV commercials, a whole campaign, the ATM graphics, the brochures and everything. We had a month to do it, and everybody looked at me and said there’s no way we can do it. I said we can, and everybody did a good job. They came through, we did it, and it was actually great work and it wasn’t too much pressure, and I think it was a good experience for them to go through and realize they can do great work if they are asked to do it in a short amount of time.
RBS: Has there been a campaign that was the one that got away, that you wished you could have done but for some reason didn’t work out?
JR: One is a client we got in Charlotte called Signature Health. That’s the one downside of trying to get business outside of Richmond: we try to develop a great relationship with our clients, and when we are too far away, it’s really hard to build that relationship. I don’t think they really ever got to know us and we really ever got to know them. They had consultants working as their marketing department, and there wasn’t great communication, there was never really a partnership, and we both just decided it was best to part ways.
RBS: If you had the chance to ask one person you admire one question, who would that person be and what question would you ask?
JR: I’ve never met Mike Hughes (the late creative director for The Martin Agency). Obviously I will never meet him, but I wish I would have had the opportunity to sit down with him, because from what I know about him, I feel like we had some of the same characteristics. The biggest challenge I’ve had that caught me off guard is managing other peoples’ relationships, managing (office) culture. How to focus on the positives before you bring up negatives, compliment an employee before you start judging their work, how to grow them, how to nurture them, how to mentor someone, would be something I think I could get a lot out of Mike from.