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After 30 Years, Phoenix Creative is Moving but Staying in the Neighborhood

We moved! For 30 years we’ve seen our business grow and change from the 7th, eventually expanding to the 6th, floor windows of the Curlee Building (611 N. 10th Street). (there had been a few physical iterations of PHX, at one point we spanned the top floor of three buildings, Curlee, Dorsa, and whatever is next to it.) However, on February 23rd, we moved approximately 4 blocks east to 555 Washington. We took our experience, our clients, our energy, our excitement, and a few desks and Apple products and left behind a well-loved workspace.

Remaining in the vibrant and creative downtown area was important to us. The entire agency shares an appreciation of the energy, passion and pioneering spirit of the businesses that dot the Washington Avenue corridor we’ve called home the past 30 years. From the T-Rex incubator that neighbors our previous address to the growing number of innovative technology and media-based businesses that surround our new location, a communal spirit of innovation seems to pervade the area. If there’s one thing the agency has learned over the years, it’s that you have to evolve to weather the wildly changing markets, shifting trends, and transitions in technology the industry has seen the past 30 years.

Ultimately, the goal of connecting staff to work, exposing agency innovation across accounts and providing a flexible environment that could morph and adapt quickly as we grow could only be achieved by taking a big step. Turns out, that step was only 3 blocks away, but it feels like it could be a world away and for all the right reasons.

Work started on the new space in the fall of 2018 concluding in February of 2019. Created with the help of Nehring Design, Phoenix Creative’s new offices showcase modern work stations featuring hand-crafted latticework that provides a sense of privacy while still allowing for spontaneous collaboration to help connect employees to each other and better serve the agency’s clients. A collection of private offices, collaborative spaces, and a more sophisticated photography studio augment the space providing improved functionality and flow for the changing agency.

We’ve been here a month, we moved in, got to work, and the space feels like Phoenix.

The Disconnect Between Branding and Shopper Marketing

How many of you use or have heard of the old ad world terms; “above-the-line creative” and “below-the-line creative?”

Maybe you’ve heard of it; maybe you haven’t.

Here’s a quick explanation:

Above-the-line typically refers to the big projects – the type of work you dream of doing when you’re in art or marketing school. These are the assignments that make careers and grace the pages of PRINT, HOW, CA, and other prominent publications on design and marketing. Below-the-line work refers to the utility work, the day-to-day collateral such as coupons, POS, shippers, and many other in-store or social tactics that drive to retail. In most cases, below-the-line work has been required to closely follow the conceptual and visual mandates derived from the brand and image-focused above-the-line efforts.

However, the delineation described, while still adopted, is far outdated. The result is a significant rift in the effectiveness of retail, CPG, and shopper marketing.

Our industry can do better.

A number of retail brands have lulled themselves into believing that the above-the-line work, the development of a brand guideline full of brand assets, cultural studies, sharply stated consumer entry points, and the outlines for social media engagement is the only DNA that is needed to effectively extrapolate into a shopper marketing plan.

They’re wrong.

Brand considerations are, of course, important, but it’s not the full scope of thinking that should be leveraged in order to market a brand that must win at retail in order to succeed and stay alive.

Brand marketing is not shopper marketing. They are two relevant but separate tasks and they need to be treated as such. While both brand and shopper strategies are important, maybe our industry needs to flip the sequence of development. Rather than the brand guideline driving shopper strategies, maybe shopper strategies should drive brand marketing and ultimately the brand itself.

In the age of fluid content marketing, it makes little sense to continue to design CPG messaging from the static structure of a brand guideline. Brands would benefit from starting from ground zero, where the rubber meets the road. It would be best if the heart of every CPG brand formed around the ever-evolving realities of how humans interact with retail environments—whether physical, social, or e-commerce. Doing so doesn’t distract from the tenants of branding such as building a tribe, culturing loyal brand advocates, or building brand reputation, it improves upon all by focusing on how and why the shopper will engage with the product at the point of purchase.

The instances where it’s made sense for Phoenix Creative to encourage brands to break free from their brand-exclusive thinking and begin to develop shopper efforts as uniquely considered, messaged, and deployed tactics have seen great success.

I believe our industry needs to flip the sequence of branding more. Start with the channels in which the product is purchased, figure out how to be relevant to the shopper, and focus on the product. In other words, allow the below-the-line learning to drive the above-the-line brand. By allowing branding to be shaped by what happens at retail, CPGs can better speak to shoppers, also known as people, in a way that brand messaging alone simply can’t do within physical or digital retail environments.

Judging the 2018 Effies

As I reflect on the past year, I can’t help but focus on a trip I took to Chicago in December to be a judge for the 2018 Effie Awards – one of the most prestigious awards you can win within the Shopper Marketing industry. PHX has submitted programs to the Effie Awards in the past, but I’ve never been a judge so this was something completely new for our agency as well as myself.

When I originally submitted my application to become a judge, I didn’t know what to expect. There were several questions spinning in my mind; How would I fit in? Were there going to be 50 judges from top agencies? Or the most daunting question for me; How would Phoenix Creative compare to the larger, global Shopper Marketing agencies in the room—those agencies that submitted for the same top awards that Phoenix was competing for?

After going through the experience of being a judge, I knew in my heart that Phoenix was right where we needed to be and that we deserved a seat at the judge’s table.

So, how did I know? It’s simple: as the day progressed, it became clear through judging entries and talking with fellow judges that the brand experiences I’ve had at Phoenix provided me with valid first-hand experience and insights that contribute to the larger conversation about Shopper Marketing. Another belief was reinforced while I judged; opportunity matters—and I’m thankful to the many brands that have given me the experiences necessary to put new thinking in retail to use for them.

In reviewing the entries I was given to judge, I witnessed how important it is that PHX has begun to fully know and understand how retailers think and market just as much as the brands we support. At the end of the day, our job is to help sell more products for our customers, but we can’t do it without a superior relationship and understanding of the retailers.

As we drove back through downtown Chicago to O’Hare, I began to process the very quick, but highly beneficial day—I couldn’t help but be so thankful to the clients that asked me to consider becoming a judge and the opportunities that experience has provided—and of course held hope that our agency had some finalists in the mix for Effie Awards!

Phoenix Creative Co.