Unexpected Occupants: Meet the Marketers of Albert Hall

9 minute read

Albert Hall contains a confluence of surprising occupants. The red-brick building with neat rows of windows across each floor was originally one of several downtown Winston-Salem factories erected by R.J. Reynolds to meet surging demand for Prince Albert tobacco and Camel cigarettes. And when R.J. Reynolds vacated the property located at Chestnut and First Street, it was one of the first facilities rehabilitated in what is now Wake Forest Innovation Quarter.

An unsung hero of the Innovation Quarter, this 89,000-square-foot space reopened as mixed office and lab space in 2001, designed for biotechnology and information technology companies. As the innovation community has grown, Albert Hall has become an unexpected hot spot for marketing activity. Out of the 23 companies in the building, three are marketing firms.

Astronaut, the new guy on the block, combines design and technology to solve brand challenges and grow businesses. 97 Display, a developer of 550 websites for martial arts and fitness gyms worldwide, has quadrupled in size in the short time it has occupied the building. Concentrics Communications takes a more traditional, no-nonsense approach to helping clients such as BB&T challenge their perspectives.

At the end of the day, these three marketing agencies are engaged in similar work: injecting insight and imagination into local, national and global brands. Some of these brands, like Hanesbrands, are familiar. Others, like Dorsett Technologies in Yadkinville, aren’t household names—yet.

For all three, locating their business in the Innovation Quarter holds similar attractions. Energized by the redevelopment of the city center, they’re embracing the growing opportunities to collaborate and connect with prospective clients and new hires.

Astronaut: Beyond the Ordinary

Astronaut’s office is a few steps inside the front door of Albert Hall. The décor of the office reflects the design aesthetic and creativity of the agency. The space is furnished in mid-century modern trappings amid the high ceilings, exposed ductwork and stout pillars from the factory era. True to their name, NASA gets a nod with clean lines, black and white chairs, an astronaut helmet and a large moon mural in a conference room dubbed Space to Create.

“We are a new company. We’re about new ideas,’’ says Stephen Lockwood, who started Astronaut in 2015 and serves as creative director. “We see innovation as a standard, and that’s exactly what the Innovation Quarter is all about.’’

Lockwood, a former designer for local agencies including Mullen and Wildfire, sits face-to-face with his digital director David Bjorgen, a web designer, developer and photographer. The pair met at REVO Church in Winston-Salem, working together on its creative team before Bjorgen starting working for Astronaut.

The pair are streamlined. “We just go and do,” says Lockwood. “I don’t need to find David on the other side of the building and reserve a conference room to get work done.’’

One of Astronaut’s first clients was Hanesbrands. The Winston-Salem-based apparel maker now relies on Astronaut for print and digital campaigns to boost sales through retailers and other business-to-business customers. The agency specializes in marketing for a wide range of clients in many industries, not just retail clients like Hanesbrands.

When Hayward Pool Products, located in Clemmons, North Carolina, hired Astronaut, it wanted to demonstrate the manufacturing process for its best-selling pool pump. Lockwood and Bjorgen created a video using techno music, shifting imagery and post-production techniques to transform the sometimes-mundane factory process into fast-moving, engaging action. The video ends with the pump lounging by the pool.

“It looks sexy,” Lockwood jokes, referring to the pump basking in the sun. “That’s the magic we were hired to bring; we push our clients beyond their ordinary marketing efforts.”

97 Display: Internet Marketing for Martial Arts and Fitness Companies

One floor above Astronaut, 97 Display houses its growing marketing group. In addition to their dozen employees, as many as four dogs come to work with their owners. Today, only one—Benji—snoozes in a sunbeam streaming through a second-floor window.

With the exception of Benji, it’s anything but lazy around the marketing agency, which has more than doubled the number of websites it manages for martial arts and fitness gyms since 2015. Growth has been so fast—quadrupling sales and employees—that Tim Sarazen, director of operations, is running out of space a year and a half after relocating to Albert Hall.

“We live, eat and sleep websites,’’ Sarazen says, an attitude reflected in their space. Here, the emphasis is on utility and comfort. Gray walls and light-brown carpet accentuate a wide array of eclectic furniture sprinkled throughout the office.

“There’s no rhyme or reason to our furniture; we just buy furniture as we need it—typically last minute!” Sarazen says with a smile.

97 Display is a membership-based firm that creates websites using industry-specific themes, handles online advertising including Facebook and Google and offers video marketing campaigns. On their list of clients is Roufusport Mixed Martial Arts Academy, a nationally recognized training center based out of Milwaukee.

97 Display doesn’t require monthly contracts and allows clients to cancel services at any time, giving the marketing agency an incentive to provide excellent service, according to Sarazen.

“They know martial arts and they know what works,” says Scott Joffe, a partner in Roufusport which started working with 97 Display three years ago. “They understand our mindset. They gave us all the bells and whistles we need to generate leads and enrollment.”

97 Display improved drop-down menus on Rousport’s site, making it easier for prospective members to find locations and enroll in classes. It gave Joffe backdoor access to the site so he can update staff and make other quick changes.

As a result of these and other improvements, full-price enrollments by Roufusport are four times the industry average, Joffe says. And Roufusport’s revenue increased more than 20 percent in each of the past two years.

“As technology now stands, there is no limit to our growth,’’ Sarazen says. He hopes plugging into the resources of the Innovation Quarter will help 97 Display become a major player in fitness marketing.

“I’ve been to networking events to help us get plugged in locally,’’ Sarazen says. “Making these kinds of connections is useful when you’re in a constant state of hiring.’’

Concentrics Communications: From the Outside, In

From their office in Albert Hall, Olan Beam and Karen Day, owners of Concentrics Communications since 2012, have witnessed the growth of the Innovation Quarter. For more than 15 years, Day, Concentrics’ creative director, has led design teams for agencies and other organizations in the area.

“There wasn’t an Innovation Quarter yet, so it’s wonderful to see the incredible things they’re doing,” says Day, a fan of the lunch-and-learn sessions and events at Bailey Park.

“It’s energizing to be around the growth and excitement,” says Beam, who brought his no-hype, straightforward approach to Concentrics after working two decades in marketing and investor relations for Hanesbrands and parent Sara Lee Corporation in Winston-Salem and Chicago.

In their space in Albert Hall, Day and Beam have created a casual yet professional space, with orange and creamy white walls and a black rug on original honey-colored parquet floors. Completing the relaxed atmosphere, Day’s German shepherd lab mix Molly sometimes spends the day in the office where a glass-topped table provides space for client meetings.

In those meetings, Beam and Day help clients explore their goals as part of their process for helping businesses see their own brands from the “outside, in.’’ Clients understand their businesses intimately but often need help translating benefits and relevance into messages that their customers appreciate and embrace, according to Beam.

“Even when clients come to us and say, `We need this specific thing,’ we try to help them step back and take a broader view, to think about what’s going to be effective, not just trendy,” Day says. “We ask them what they’re trying to achieve and then figure out the best approach to meet that goal.”

The marketing agency’s work for Dorsett Technologies, which builds controls for municipal water supplies, illustrates Concentrics’ strategy.

After reviewing Dorsett’s website and brochure that the company distributed at trade shows, Day and Beam found it difficult for people other than engineers to understand. Working with stakeholders at Dorsett, the marketing agency transformed technical information geared for engineers into a communications strategy and materials targeted to decision makers, like water system operators, city managers and council members. The range of materials Concentrics developed—brochures, videos and a new website—established a unique position for Dorsett in its market and accelerated the company’s growth.

Concentrics hopes being part of the Innovation Quarter will give them the opportunity to help other business owners, like Dorsett, translate cutting-edge products into marketing that motivates and excites potential customers.

“We are enthusiastic about the technology and new businesses being developed here,’’ Beam says. “Our role is to help companies like those in the Innovation Quarter bring their ideas to life in the eyes of customers. That’s how we can contribute to the growth we see happening here.”

Expecting the Unexpected

When you think about Innovation Quarter, pockets of marketing expertise may not be the first thing that comes to mind, but as the innovation ecosystem continues to grow marketers like these and other industry services support the brands that call this place home. And in the process, these marketers help connect other local, national and global brands to the growth happening in Winston-Salem.

The surprising tenants of Albert Hall are creating a critical mass in a historic place and enriching the Innovation Quarter with their unique personalities and expertise, illustrating the idea that in the Innovation Quarter, innovative businesses of any kind can find community.

by Chris Burritt

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