Change for change’s sake is hard to resist, especially when mastering a split focus has become such a badge of honour in today’s digitally driven world. Still, some endeavours bear a sweeter tasting fruit with a long-term approach. Wine making is one. Branding is another, or so say the principals at Up Inc., an award-winning design and communications firm in downtown Toronto whose client roster boasts such big names as RBC Dexia, TSX, Herman Miller Furniture and BlackBerry. “We’ve been working with some of our clients longer than most of their staff have been there,” says Carey George, creative director of the company he founded 14 years ago with his partner, Catherine Sturm who oversees business development.
Operating from a 5,000-square-foot glass-and-exposed-brick studio in the advertising ghetto near King and Spadina, Up prides itself on being a full-service agency that can create, implement and maintain a client’s brand over the years. “Agencies with more short-term relationships with clients might specialize in one or two aspects of a campaign, like designing an identity,” says George, “but then they hand off their design to another studio for implementation and maintenance.”
George and Sturm, however, don’t believe in taking chances by leaving their work in another’s hands. “A good strategy poorly executed can be a real problem,” Sturm points out. To them, full service means dividing their staff of almost 30 into six departments: four in editorial, five in design, five in production, two in digital, one in motion (video is the newest addition to the team), plus six in accounting. The only thing they can’t do in-house are more specialized broadcasting initiatives and translation. The catalogues Up has been producing for years for Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, for example, are printed on five continents in more than 12 languages, including four kinds of English: Canadian, U.S., Australian and British.
In fact, Fairmont Hotels is a good example of how Up has collaborated with a long-term client to evolve their brand. Take the hotel’s mark, which hasn’t changed in more than 25 years. “But the phrase ‘Hotels and Resorts’ under the word ‘Fairmont’ doesn’t reproduce in places that have crude or small reproductions,” explains George, “like on wineglasses or in digital applications where it’s impossible to put anything bigger than a 12 pixel symbol.” So Up designed a posh new mark – a simple, but elegant, “F” monogram – that’s small enough to put at the front of their URL in the address bar of their website or at the base of the sterling silver forks gracing Fairmont’s dining room tables, from Montreal to Masai Mara.
If Up helped focus the message for Fairmont, they expanded the message for the Wine Council of Ontario, a consumer space for all the wine regions of Ontario, including Niagara and Pelée Island, and a job that came their way based on their longstanding relationship with another client, the LCBO.
“Our whole strategy for the Wine Council of Ontario was, don’t sell wine, sell wine country,” says Strum. “One thing that makes Ontario wines unique compared to the competition, whether it’s wines of France or wines of Italy,” says George, “is that our wine country is in our own backyard.” It takes little more than an hour’s drive from Toronto before you’re meeting with wine makers, tasting vintages on the spot, getting bottles straight from the barrel, taking tours, going antiquing, visiting a farmer’s market to sample some cheeses then going to see a play. Up’s Wine Country campaign appeared on TTC posters and billboards across the GTA. The studio also built a website and developed in-house a mobile web app making it easy to search for wineries and geo-locate them on your smartphone.
In the last few years, Up has become a leading app developer. One of the first apps their digital team developed was TXTEZ, a dictionary that explains the meaning of 1,600 commonly used SMS and IM terms, from WTF to 2g2bt. The studio is currently developing a whole series of dictionary apps – some design-related, others not.
George says the team at Up sustains their energy and creativity over the long haul with regular karaoke showdowns and midday potluck spreads of shaved truffles, sloppy meatballs and couscous salads. When we ask for more details about their new apps, the design team members cover their computer screens and distract us with platefuls of bacon-wrapped meatloaf.
Like any loyal client, we’ll just have to be patient and wait until they’re ready for the big reveal.