Postcard from Waltham, Massachusetts
Bob Fitzgerald is the creative director at US-based independent marketing and communications agency Boathouse. He discusses with Transform the branding scene in Massachusetts, the challenges of modern design and how the city of Waltham inspires his work.
How does Boathouse stand out from other US brand agencies?
We do more than what was traditionally thought of as ‘branding’. In addition to working with clients to strategically define a brand and creatively express it, we work through digital acquisition to turn interest and engagement into action. We work for our clients in social media as well as through strategic communications to fully establish themselves with societal, commercial and cultural relevance. And we deliver measurable societal impact for clients through strategic, authentic, purpose-driven, online and offline efforts.
Also, many of the people who work here are very smart. And everyone works really hard. Hard like athletes playing or detectives in a crime drama, if that makes sense.
What's the branding scene like in Massachusetts? And how does being based there inform your work?
I am not sure exactly what is unique about the branding scene in Massachusetts when compared to the rest of the world. I think I would say that iconic New England qualities like a salty independence steak, somewhat culturally literate, mildly intellectual and such distinguish the work in branding in Massachusetts.
Of course, I have a friend who is not from around here who likes to say, “How can you tell if a guy is from Massachusetts? He'll tell you. Repeatedly.” So maybe there is some regional conceit in my answer. But it is a beautiful part of the world. I live by the ocean. And until recently our sports teams were playing pretty good.
What do you find is the biggest challenge in brand design nowadays?
I think the biggest challenge in branding today is the transformation from the traditional ‘brand management’ to an approach more in sync with the world we live in today. We believe in the wide spectrum of approaches to this change, and we are headed in the best forward direction. But progress and evolution always pose challenges. The one thing I firmly believe organisations in our industry cannot do is ignore the change afoot: The ever-growing proliferation of media, the expanding spectrum of audiences, the fierce competition for attention, the greater need to be meaningful in a human way and genuinely connect with all the people who make up these audiences.
Waltham is known for playing a key part in the American Industrial Revolution. Is there evidence of this time which still exists in the city and inspires your design work?
Our office is actually in an old watch factory. It is flooded with natural light. The narrowness of the building and the huge windows are all because of the fine workmanship required of watchmakers and the role lighting plays in that work.
I think the deeper inspiration that Waltham provides to the people who work at Boathouse is more of the chip on the shoulder kind. When I first joined the agency the leadership in almost every department were people who had come up in ‘Big Agencies.’ They were people, like myself, who were sick of the serious, time consuming, emotionally loaded work that went into everything. Politics and power plays, etc. etc. So we weren’t in the big towers or the trendy corners of town.
The agency once had a slogan - “humbly cutting through the bullshit” - and that is what Waltham has always been about for us. Of course there’s great food, some old-school-small-town-oddities and buildings flooded with natural light too.