The Unique Way Flood Creative Design Agency Brings Ideas to Life
Flood Creative is not a run-of-the-mill design agency. When new brands approach them, the Flood team is prepared to build it from scratch, and they have successfully turned underperforming brands around and given them new life. This year, they’re actually celebrating 15 years using award-winning design as a strategic weapon for helping new brands break through and encouraging established brands to break rules, with proven results.
But it’s also not just all work and no play for Flood Creative. They take pride in having a talented team with such a wide skill set, from painting, photography, and illustration, but they also know how to have fun—whether it’s climbing mountains, racing cars, or relaxing with a glass of wine. The studio also fosters a highly creative and playful environment, allowing them to stay inspired.
Paula Grant, Founder and CEO, Stuart Whitworth, Chief Creative Officer, and Renée Whitworth, Strategic director sat down with us to explain more about Flood Creative’s process and how they balance the interests of the team and their clients.
What inspired you to start Flood Creative? If you could go back and start over, what—if anything—would you do differently? Why?
Paula: I started Flood Creative 15 years ago. I was creating a beverage brand with a good friend, Lance Collins, and needed to focus full-time on building it. That was a scary move as it meant quitting my job at Sterling Brands where I worked with superb talent and inspirational mentors like Debbie Millman. Luckily that risk paid off, as the FUZE and NOS brands sold to Coca-Cola in less than 6 years. It was an incredible journey. My husband James Grant and I had also started working with other brands like Bath & Body Works and Unilever and so when we were ready for the next level, we convinced the remaining partners, Stuart Whitworth and Renee Whitworth to join us. Flood in it’s full-force was then officially formed.
I wouldn’t change our history for anything. The experience of starting and building a brand from scratch influences how we approach our work with empathy and efficiency. Although Flood works equally with both Fortune 500 companies as well as start-ups, the entrepreneurial spirit is consistent in all that we do.
What is Flood Creative’s philosophy? How do you take a business philosophy and translate it to sell on a shelf?
Paula: Well, the good thing about building brands from the ground up means that the results are self-evident. Flood has been part of starting 3 more major players in the beverage category alone since FUZE. So we had a seat at the table well before it was the norm. That comes with a myriad of challenges and huge responsibility. Investment in brand design is not just a proposal and a purchase order for us, it is real money—money that was put up by the very people in the room with you. We have the creative power to generate breakthrough ideas but also the instinct to know what has the potential to pull in consumers.
Walk us through a typical day at Flood Creative. Is every day different or is there a general outline to each workday?
Renee: No two days are alike. The only consistent thing from day-to-day is agility. When an entrepreneur gets the sudden chance to pitch Whole Foods he will call quickly and often until that pitch is done! And when a CMO for a billion dollar brand is not happy with how her money was spent elsewhere and now has 5 days to brief a new team then you just have to jump in. Design is not a business, it is FOR business. If you put that principle first then you don’t get so protective about your pre-packaged processes.
As Chief Creative Officer, what have been some of the greatest challenges you’ve encountered with clients of Flood Creative? How did you overcome them?
Stuart: Helping people letting go of fear and finding their voice. It is difficult to talk a new client about what they may have missed but it quickly gets more exciting when we share our views about what has not yet been considered.
How do you work with your clients? What kind of unique experience can clients expect with you?
Stuart: We love the uncensored WIP with clients, everybody from CEOs to design managers and everyone in between. We pick which assignments to take on without a new business or PR staff so the wheels start turning early on. The ability to have as much input in the process makes for a much richer final idea. We are not afraid to be less than perfect nor do we feel the need to tie the entire idea up in a big bow with a campaign and comp ready to go. Doing so with no initial gut reaction from a client and no interaction is not how we have built great brands. And actually, clients react differently when not inside their offices. Their minds are more open and when they are not rushing from meeting to meeting, they are more focused.
What have been some of your favorite client experiences? What was it that you liked so much about them?
Stuart: After the work is done, the ripple effect is my favorite part. I often talk about the change that is felt in a room and not just seen in the design. When the team delivers, everyone on that team: marketing, design, legal, anyone involved walks around with their head held a little higher. That is worth the ups and downs.
How do you juggle the interests of brands and your team?
Renee: Our “secret” so to speak is our structure and our transparency. We don’t protect the designers from hearing the day-to-day fear and pain of the clients and their brands. And we have also removed the unnecessary layers of a typical agency that can create division. Whether you want to call that an “us vs. them” or even a “time vs. money” mentality, those only worsen the bureaucracy big CPG organizations feel way too much of already. I have found that most friction is caused when people on either side are not given the chance to absorb the raw conversation.
How do you ensure everyone collaborates in the most effective way possible?
Renee: That’s where I come into play more so than the rest of the team. It takes empathy and a type of radar for “reading” the room. That means if everyone is happy too soon then someone is not speaking up. I have a reputation for poking and provoking to make sure everyone knows what to do next without waiting for a recap. Recaps only place accountability in the hands of the writer. What if that person lacks authority or worse, vision and conviction? You can’t rely on that.
Also, I keep 3 or 4 huge snack jars in my office and that means people visit. Sometimes to brag and other times to bitch. I’ll be honest—we go through A LOT of candy around here.
What is the creative process like at Flood Creative? How do you go beyond merely good design and think bigger picture?
Renee: Oh boy. Well, I always say that if you have to go back to the brief to remember the objectives then it was not a good brief. And also if you have to write down a good idea so that you remember it later, then it was not a good idea. Notes are for GenX (like me) or non-believers! Great ideas are intuitive and internalized, not explained. Not that everyone needs to like it, but at least get it.
How do you keep your team inspired? How do you personally stay inspired?
Stuart: I’ll answer about me first. That will be quicker. I set up a design studio with my brother when I was 9. Our version of a “lemonade stand” I guess. We designed sneakers, bmx bikes and who knows what else. I think it only lasted a few weeks before we were on to something else but it planted a seed of creativity for me. Like most families, we would take a lot road trips across Europe just to see stuff and somehow I learned to observe and appreciate details, art, and design. It is a terrible cliché but inspiration is everywhere, and you just have to teach your brain how to soak it all up for later use.
For my team, we do things differently from anywhere I was before. All of us are briefed on Phase 1, so in many cases ten designers are competing. It is more entrepreneurial. There are no guarantees that your work will get in but the juniors and seniors all get the shot. This manifests itself in a lot of ways but mostly in pride and effort. The seniors stay sharp and the young guns prove themselves. We don’t generate “filler” concepts. The job we just finished last week came with no brief and it was from a Fortune 50 client. We were told to “Just do what flood does.” Most of the time that is inspiring in itself.