Between ongoing social distancing, a shaky financial future, a once-in-a-century global health crisis, and untold hours spent indoors, if you haven't found yourself veering into introspective waters more than usual, well... I'd love to know your secret! Because as a team, we've certainly felt reflective over the past couple of months.
We've taken inventory of what matters to us as a company. We've had intense internal discussions about why we do what we do—as well as what, exactly it is we do.
And we've thought a lot about our beginnings, back in Downtown Las Vegas. In doing so, it's changed the way we think about our present.
How we accidentally started a community design agency.
In 2012, when our agency was in its infancy, we didn't have a clear vision for the future. (And we certainly didn't foresee COVID-19!) We were just focused on the task at hand, which was also the reason we founded CatalystCreativ in the first place: creating experiences that cultivated a sense of community around the newly revitalized urban core of Las Vegas.
The Downtown Project, as the initiative was known, was the result of a $350 million investment into Downtown Las Vegas by Zappos founder Tony Hsieh. It focused on bringing tech startups, small businesses, real estate projects, art, education, healthcare, and more to a part of town used to playing second fiddle to the Strip.
Our job was to get people excited. So we launched Catalyst Week, a free multi-day event designed to give residents free access to thirty inspirational thought leaders—people who typically spoke in places like New York and San Francisco, but rarely in Vegas. By all accounts the sessions were a huge hit. So much so, that we were quickly instructed to make Catalyst Week a weekly occurrence. We were blown away by how connected attendees left feeling to one another and their shared experiences in town. Maybe we weren't an events company—maybe we were a community building one?
Community design is central to everything we do, and has been.
Of course, any mention of community-building or design and you run into several branding issues: people assume you're managing social media communities, or you're an outright city planning firm. We of course, were neither, and still aren't. So while we made an early choice to call ourselves all sorts of other things—we've been just about any type of agency you can imagine nominally!—community has remained central to our mission as a company.
In fact, as we've pored over our past projects, discussed future aspirations, and considered deeply what drives us as a company, community is the single, unifying factor.
We built a community around ballet.Early on, we partnered with New York City Ballet to help one of the city's most venerable cultural institutions connect to a younger audience, that felt less deeply ingrained in the city's "stuffy" arts scene. So we launched a social campaign aimed at making ballet feel accessible and participatory. In the end, we connected hundreds of Millennial New Yorkers to a beautiful art form they might otherwise have been too intimidated to engage with and explore.
We helped an upstart HR platform develop a community around its mission.
We've loved working with our client, Speakfully, to help the startup HR analytics and workplace reporting tool get off the ground and reach its target audience. In addition to assisting them with their overall marketing strategy and branding, we've thrown a few intimate dinners for them, where the Speakfully team is able to meet with its community, and make sure its mission—making sure no employee ever feels mistreated at work again—is central and part of the larger discussion.
We even factor in community into the designs we produce.
Community was at the center of the rebranding work we did for the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. The world's largest health coaching school wanted to revamp its visual identity in order to stay relevant within the growing competitor space. To help build and spread the IIN mission within their existing stakeholders and attract prospective students and ambassadors to become involved in the IIN community, we gave their website a thorough overhaul, to match their new visual identity. The new look and feel of IIN stayed trued to its roots—a nod to longterm members of the community. It was cleaned up and modernized—to draw in new, interested students. And we focused on telling the story of IIN—to bring past and future community members closer together around a central rallying point.
We're building community right now now.
And now, as so many of our peers find themselves scrambling to make remote work not just tolerable, but effective and a continuation of their conventional working lives. We've worked remote since we first started. We know we can't alleviate the entire world's concerns about working from home, but we want to do our small part to help. So we started holding weekly, informal Zoom webinars where we bring on expert guests, and discuss topics ranging from the future of events, to how to stay inspired. We've loved forming a new little community of regular CatalystCreativ Coffee Chat attendees, and we've enjoyed watching it grow.
So we're a community design agency. What does that mean for the future?
If you're already a client, it doesn't mean anything's changing—we've already been designing and building a community around you! If you're a past client, similarly, the work we performed for you was community-centric, and we wouldn't change a thing about the strategies we've employed. And if you're someone who will work with us in the future, similarly, our approach will remain engagement-focused, to ensure we cultivate a dedicated audience around your brand. So why the change at all? Why announce the shift to formally calling ourselves a community design agency?
Because we want to talk the talk as well as walk the walk. We feel what we do is unique in the agency ecosystem, and even if our edge can be subtle, we don't want to shy away from making that distinction anymore. In an ideal world, one's work could always speak for itself. But in reality, sometimes you have to do a little of the talking before people will take notice of the work.
We're CatalystCreativ. We're a community design agency. We create captivating experiences, meaningful marketing campaigns, and reinvigorated company cultures. We put engagement first, to connect people, brands, and ideas. We can get people to notice your brand, then care about your brand, then become deeply invested in your brand. And that's why we're different. Let's work together.