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How agencies will move forward

Right before the pandemic hit, the creative team at DMI Partners helped relaunch the website for one of its e-commerce clients, Rastelli’s. Led by creative director David Lachowicz, the DMI team set out to expand the story of Ray Rastelli, Jr., a New Jersey butcher whose premium butcher shop started out in a former doughnut shop in 1976. Fifteen years later, Ray and his brother, Tony, grew the brand into eight shops, setting a meticulous standard for superior butchery.

When the brothers came to DMI, they wanted their brand to take another step forward in the e-commerce space. While there was some initial apprehension, the Rastellis knew a new site would enhance consumer engagement.

From the look and feel, to the content and messaging, the new website changed the entire philosophy of how people shop for a subscription product. Adding more customizations than you could think of, and a bunch of UX (user experience) enhancements, Lachowicz says the conversion rates went through the roof in the opening days after the launch.

And then the pandemic hit. If you are looking for a bummer story surrounding Rastelli’s, DMI and the website launch that changed everything, you are not going to find it here. Lachowicz says that while the pandemic continues to challenge each of us, the Rastelli’s launch and the ensuing good vibes resulting from it helped give the brand a foothold in the uneven climate.

“We want to continue our momentum and learn from this experience. We need to find what worked and what we could have done better, and then apply that to our strategies and processes moving forward.”
— David Lachowicz, Creative Director, DMI Partners

“User experience and brand are more important than ever,” Lachowicz says. “COVID has made the fight for attention even more aggressive. Consumers are wise to our old tricks. Honest messaging and a strong visual brand need to grab your attention and establish trust. And good UX is just as important to keep them there. This honestly would have been the case regardless of COVID, but everyone being at home and constantly tapped in has amplified it.”

These types of new and purpose-driven objectives are giving creatives lots to work with, especially when the work can make people feel better about the things they do. The key, as Lachowicz says, is to keep pushing forward.

“We want to continue our momentum and learn from this experience,” he says. “We need to find what worked and what we could have done better, and then apply that to our strategies and processes moving forward.”

DMI did a lot to make sure its clients could adjust through what continues to be an epically challenging time. Today, the DMI team is focused on finding the strategies to transition through the maze.

“The question becomes, ‘How can we continue to give the consumer a feeling of normalcy as things continue to develop?’” Lachowicz asks. “All in all, I think providing a feeling of normalcy is the most important thing we can do, both now and moving forward. We need to try our best to help people adjust, without them feeling like they had to adjust much at all.”

Are we on….

As Texas was reeling from the early onset of the pandemic, businesses throughout the state that were not deemed essential had to shutter their doors. So when the local business community in Dallas-Fort Worth was ready to stick its collective head back up, Dennard, Lacey & Associates (DL&A) stepped up.

The award-winning graphic design and marketing team helped create two campaigns specifically designed to laud the pandemic reopening, including DLA Open, a series of whimsical neon signs saluting the comeback of Texas businesses in May.

One of the forces behind DL&A is principal James Lacey, whose firm is one of the few regional companies credited for helping put Dallas-Fort Worth on the international map as a trend-setting design and advertising center. “There is a lot of scary stuff going on right now. But if a studio or individual has the time, focus on creatively marketing what you do. If you need to learn a new tool, learn it. The industry is shifting and it may not end up with the same form it had before the pandemic.”

In a time when market segments everywhere are trying to plot the path forward, Lacey says there are just too many questions to sift through right now. In the midst of a total sea change, nobody knows where or when the tide will roll back in. The mission for every creative firm is to continue to establish their role in the game.

“My hope is that most agencies will not only survive, but ultimately thrive, based on the absolute and immediate need to modify and evolve how we’re communicating and marketing the products for current and potential clients,” Lacey says. “What we’re learning and employing now should hold true once things get better.”

For any creative firm, building a sustainable future rests in the command it has of the situation at hand. Among all else, efficiency is key.

“The majority of markets will eventually come back in some capacity, but most likely at varying paces,” Lacey says. “How we are operating now will probably be something that we keeping doing post-pandemic—hoping there is such a thing. And how we market and promote ourselves will likely continue.”

When Lacey thinks of how creatives will come out of the other side of the pandemically defined landscape, he cannot help but think of the old real estate mantra: location, location, location. He recommends creatives adopt a play on the age-old mantra with one of their own: self-promotion, self-promotion, self-promotion.

He believes creativity and messaging should be sensitive to these times. Meaningful, effective creativity is something that is capable of sparking a moment of joy, while still staying relevant in a world sorely lacking that feeling right now.

What is the key to sustainability in a time when that seems so far off?

“We’re keeping busy and finding more time to do self-promoting,” Lacey says. “That’s increasingly important right now. We’ve always been known as a branding/graphic design studio with an extra specialization in illustration. That hasn’t changed. But we’re moving more and more into animating and communicating what we do digitally. Our toolset is getting larger—definitely a good thing in that many of our clients, including educational publishing, are increasingly going virtual.”

“We’re keeping busy and finding more time to do self-promoting. That’s increasingly important right now.”
— James Lacey, Principal, Dennard, Lacey & Associates

As for Lachowicz, he believes creatives will continue to benefit from what they do best. “I know this sounds cliché, but just do good work and treat your clients as partners. I’m the wrong guy to ask about sales and how to bring in new clients in the door, but I damn sure know how to keep them: Don’t slack. Put your best effort forward, and don’t treat your clients like clients; treat them like the partners they are. The rest will take care of itself.”