Interview with Collective Magazine

Monogram is a Sydney-based design and branding consultancy founded by a former New Yorker, Amy Nadaskay. Clients over the years have included Virgin Australia, Coco Republic and Sydney Opera House. Monogram’s work for Sydney’s Luminous Festival in 2010 was heralded by cult musician, and the event’s curator, Brian Eno as his ”all-time favourite campaign for any of the work I’ve done.” Nadaskay takes Collective through her professional journey and the factors which set Monogram apart from other creative agencies.

The internet tells me you are a native New Yorker, it would be interesting to hear about how you ended up in Sydney and how the design culture in these two great cities compares?

I ended up here in Sydney because my alter ego is a mermaid. I grew up on the shores of “Lawng Island” with cultural trips to the Big Apple until I could live there of my own accord. After September 11th and the resulting economic downturn, I took 6 months off to experience life in a remote fishing village of Northern Brazil. It’s there, that I became infected by the surfing bug. I brought that bug back to NYC. It was strong enough to keep me surfing until the first snowfall, but after one season of bonfires on the beach, ice cream headaches and 6mm surf gear, I decided to defrost and try my luck here in Sydney, where I knew I could sustain both the love of waves year round, and my passion for design.

On the subject of design culture in two great cities, well, I try not to compare them, but enjoy them for what they each are. A decade ago, the NYC “graphic” design culture wasn’t really all that inspiring to me as it seemed a bit traditional, especially after having spent some time working in San Francisco where, there, it was all about breaking the rules and deconstructing what we were “supposed to do.” Fortunately, back in NYC, I worked for the British company, Deepend, and was surrounded by the most amazing European, cutting-edge digital influences of the time. And that is what I love about the Sydney design scene; although, styles are mixed globally now, due to the internet, I think Sydney still champions a European edge. Having said that, the creative culture of NYC is beyond compare and I miss this daily. As the global hub of the arts, with influences from around the world, I can’t help but miss the A-game level. Not to mention being surprised, bombarded by, and in awe of the calibre of creativity that goes on over there. On creative culture as a whole, there is no comparison – New York wins.

Where did the original concept for Monogram originate?

The name Monogram came from the belief that like every person, every business has something special, personal, and ownable – like a Monogram, a mark of distinction. This is truly the founding and core principal of the business, to make other businesses become and behave as the remarkable, truly special business they are. Of course, being and behaving remarkable requires more than just a “mark.” It’s way deeper and much wider, but the basic idea stands.

You are in the business of working with brands, how did you establish the personality of the Monogram brand, and how has this evolved over time?

Ahhh trade secrets… But seriously, we applied our own proprietary strategic process on ourselves. Of course being the founder of the company, the personality of Monogram does reflect quite a bit of my own. Whilst we take the thinking and crafting of our work very seriously, we are all light-hearted, playful people who love what we do and love helping our clients’ businesses grow. So it was crucial to deliver our own brand in this way: as skilled craftsmen with a vibrant, like-able tone of voice.

I was drawn to browsing deeper into your online portfolio because of your “Monogram Gets Results” call-to-actions – in our industry it is often difficult to demonstrate proven results through creative solutions – how important is it for your studio to search for and promote these results, and what would your advice be to emerging freelancers and studios relating to this matter?

It can be really challenging to demonstrate proven results in the field of branding because it’s a long-term investment in developing emotional connections. It’s much easier to demonstrate proven results, like “ROI” or “number of likes” on campaigns, especially in digital due to the obvious ability to capture and track data. It’s really no wonder why budgets have largely shifted to digital. Businesses, especially the C-suites, want to be reassured that their investments are getting them results.

That’s not to say that branding is not incredibly important, but it does mean figuring out how to set KPIs up front that demonstrate the value a business will get from investing in this type of work. There are always business objectives to be met and problems to be solved. So, it’s extremely important to clearly set these KPIs at the start of the project so that they can actually be measured. It may be a different result we are after (as opposed to ROI). It can just be “wanting to attract/ engage a new audience”.

It’s important for both parties for different reasons. For the client, it’s mostly about justifying their spend and perhaps reconfirming a marketing department’s place in the business. For us, it’s important because it justifies the client’s investment has been worthwhile, potentially opening the door for more projects. As much as we love making things, we are in the business of helping other people’s businesses and we need to make sure that we are doing just that. It’s not only about making pretty things.

It’s also important for our industry, demonstrating the importance of our role, and being able to charge for our services. If clients don’t see the inherent value that branding, design and communications can have on their business, then they won’t pay for it. Or they want to pay as little as possible for it. Budgets are tight and with a flood of channels to use to connect these days, marketing budgets are spread even thinner. Add on top of this the plethora of freelancers, boutique studios, outsourced overseas resources etc. and all of sudden, you may have to fight pretty hard to get a decent slice of the pie. The bottom line is: Design is subjective, but Strategic Creative is objective, and offers solutions to real business problems, thus “getting results”.

On this subject, you seem to offer very comprehensive case studies on your website, why is this so important? Do you win client work of the back of having a comprehensively presented case study?

This really feeds into the question above. The case studies are there to demonstrate the value we add to our clients businesses. It gives reassurance that we are business minded problem solvers with a penchant for craftsmanship, imagination and honouring distinction.

It is also the first port of call to start building trust. We have a process that we use for all of our work. The outcomes are always different because it is based on the uniqueness of each client. The quality of the work is always consistent because of this process. And incidentally, this is why we don’t have a “house style.”

Are there any projects from the last year or so that have highlighted the best aspects of Monogram as a studio that you would like to share with us?

Oh wow, that’s a hard one! I’m so proud of loads of last years work and my team’s outstanding efforts on them.
We really have so much fun.

Hmm, one project in particular was a brand refresh for the Centre for Social Impact (CSI). The brief from CSI was extremely complex, from what they do, to how they do it, to who they do it with. It’s a very complicated proposition with several stakeholders and a board to win approvals from. Regardless, we rose to the challenge, first strategically and then visually and verbally. We commenced with a brand refresh and then followed with launch materials, resulting in being awarded their agency of record, so currently working with them on their digital, events and more.

The best qualities or aspects respective to Monogram that we leveraged were smart thinking, a collaborative approach – both internally and with the client, that challenged the norms, created bespoke visual solutions with meaning, and developed a distinct tone of voice with clarity and relevant messaging. We worked transparently as a business and guided them as consultants and lastly, had a damn good time through it all.

The client’s feedback is representative of the mutual respect and pure joy our clients experience when working with Monogram. They have communicated relief in knowing what to say, when to say it, and how – with ease. They are all so proud of their brand, continuously telling us how positively others are engaging with it. They feel inspired to work there and it shows in the efforts they are making with the organisation. I don’t think you could ask for a better compliment! It certainly makes our days that much more enjoyable and rewarding.