PR takes on substantial role as Frog Design shifts its focus beyond design to creative consulting
Ever since Hartmut EsslingeR founded Frog Design in 1969, the company has been a prominent name in the design community. It received attention early in its history for a number of prominent design projects, including the Sony Trinitron TV and Apple's IIC computer. In almost 30 years, it has grown to more than 300 employees in offices around the world.
However, as much as it is still a design firm, in recent years the company has begun to expand into creative and brand consulting. And with a recent commitment to its own marketing, the company is betting that PR is the key to changing the decades-old perception of the company and reaching new audiences - and potential clients.
"For several years, we were a design agency, and I think we always had a unique and strategic spin on design," says Mick Malisic, communications director. But he adds that the company has taken steps recently to better position itself as a consulting company, including hiring a VP of strategy with a Ph.D. in economics and more people from the consumer world.
The company's shift in focus has been a reason for its first real investment in marketing, Malisic says. And PR has been at the center of that effort.
"To me, this is the most important action we could take in marketing. There is nothing else," says Doreen Lorenzo, president. "If you think about our business and the story we're trying to tell, it's storytelling. It's going to come out, not through some ad or in a trade show, but in being able to tell that story in the media."
She adds that Frog Design is trying to appeal to the end user, while also attracting the eye of prospective clients: business leaders.
"Years ago, when we were just an industrial design firm, you could put [an ad] in I.D. magazine that... told the whole story - that's what you needed to do," she says. "Now with our strategic side of our business, the only way to tell that story is through the use of PR."
And so while design-focused publications are still important, targeting publications like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times has become important, as well.
"Focusing on more business and market opportunities... we wanted to seek out the business media and say, 'This is way beyond design,' or, 'Design is more than you think it is,'" Malisic says. "It really is about helping a client expand into new markets and identifying those markets for them."
In fact, part of the PR effort is rooted in education - for both the business community and journalists. "Most of them know of Frog because of the rich history," he says. "But they also know of us as just a design firm."
"PR is an extension of what they're trying to do as far as repositioning their brand promise," adds Nick Ragone, SVP and director of the New York Communications Media Strategy Network at Ketchum, Frog's AOR. "They're in a space where you can become commoditized if you're viewed as just designing widgets for people."
Part of the way to change that view is by utilizing interesting client stories to get the media's attention. "I meet with clients from the get-go with the entire team, and we talk about the value and the stories we can tell and how it would benefit them and us," Malisic says. "It really comes from an honest place. We want to educate the business community on the value of design and also help redefine what design is."
And with a few exceptions, clients are often willing to talk about the work that Frog has done for them, which opens up doors to media that were previously not on the agenda.
The company recently participated in an on-the-record brainstorming session for Bare Necessities, a New Jersey-based lingerie company trying to gain market share. The daylong session, which invited a Fortune Small Business reporter into the process, resulted in a lengthy article that discussed Frog's consulting capabilities.
The company is also embracing new media. It used to contribute to a weekly column on tech blog Gizmodo and later this year will launch a blog of its own. "We realize how important that is," Lorenzo says.
But ultimately, Frog's goal is to be considered a leader in the creative consulting, as well as design community. Whether it involves teaming up with Business 2.0 for its Bottom Line Awards or placing Op-Eds in industry magazines, such as Advertising Age and Design Management Institute's quarterly journal, the company is getting people to think about it in a new way.
"With all media, you want to show genuine thought leadership," Malisic says. "It needs to be authentic. It's about sharing with people and educating."
AT A GLANCE
Palo Alto, CA
Revenues and latest earnings:
Privately held; owned by KKR
McKinsey, Bain, Boston Consulting Group
Key trade titles:
BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal
Tim Leberecht, marketing director
Mick Malisic, communications director
Amy Marks, marketing coordinator
Samantha Holmes, writer
Brian Harris, Web producer
Marketing Services Agencies: