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Big Fish

Winstanley Associates Builds a National Reputation from Tiny Lenox
Nate Winstanley and Ralph Frisina

Nate Winstanley, left, and Ralph Frisina at their Lenox offices.

Nathan Winstanley, owner of the advertising and design firm Winstanley Associates, knows that some companies are drawn by marketing and advertising agencies with New York or Boston mailing addresses.

But when it comes right down to it, what businesses large and small want are value and results, and this explains why his agency, based out of offices on Main Street in tiny Lenox, is taking work that might otherwise go to Madison Avenue.

Winstanley and partner Ralph Frisina have actually built two such businesses — they created Lenox Softworks a decade ago to handle software development, Web design, database marketing, and other forms of new and emerging media and technology applications — that boast an impressive portfolio of local, regional, national, and international clients.

That list includes Springfield-based Spalding Sports, GE Plastics in Pittsfield, and Worcester-based Polar Beverages, said Winstanley, adding that assignments for these clients and others have ranged from branding to market research; public relations to design of both products and packaging. Often, it’s many or all of the above.

This one-stop shopping phenomenon, combined with a team approach to handling projects, has prompted companies to get out the map and find Lenox, said Winstanley, noting that, while the rural location may raise some eyebrows with CEOs, it is an attractive draw for talented marketing and graphics professionals not enamored with big-city life or cost of living. And this has played a big role in the company’s steady growth in recent years.

“We work in a 200-year-old inn,” he told BusinessWest. “I can’t tell you how many times other companies have called to ask if they can use our boardroom for meetings instead of their own.”

Frisina has a different, even more poignant take: “I can go fishing in 10 minutes if I want to,” he said. “People in New York City can’t.”

Take Me to the River

Regardless of the proximity of favorite fishing holes, though, Winstanley Associates has enjoyed both national and regional success for more than 20 years, and is currently positioned to expand further with a solid set of national and local projects.

The company, which specializes in advertising, public relations, and design, including that of products and packaging, was founded in 1984 by Winstanley. Frisina, with rod and reel in hand, joined the firm two years later. Both men brought with them different sets of skills that they say blend well and lend themselves to the work in which the firm specializes.

Winstanley has a background in writing and marketing, having worked previously in public relations, as a speech writer, and later as Marketing and Communications director for General Electric, while Frisina remains actively involved as an artist and illustrator as well as a partner and creative director.

Winstanley said those strengths helped build a springboard for the company, launching it into a number of diverse projects early on in the areas of design, marketing, and interactive media. The firm has many recognizable brands in its portfolio, including Adirondack Beverages, Spalding, and Smith & Wesson, with which Winstanley recently announced a variety of new product launches and packaging design projects.

Over the years, said Winstanley, he and Frisina have tried to cultivate a comfortable work climate at the firm that values individual talents as well as a team-based approach, but, more importantly, one that also takes into account the importance of careful, deliberate work processes. And as the company continues to expand (Winstanley said it is in a “fairly aggressive growth mode”), that corporate mission is becoming even more intrinsic.

“Everybody works on different things here, because it’s important to keep people fresh and working on a variety of different things,” he said of his company’s 30-odd employees.

“I think that when you boil it all down, two things we really focus on are, first, we work very hard to understand the dynamics of each business issue we are presented with,” he continued. “When you pay that kind of due diligence, what you end up with is a clear statement of purpose when you work. Two, we look for employees who have a certain distinction — a sense of developing a voice and telling a good story. Both of those strengths lead to projects that are consistently well-built.”

School of Thought

It also leads to wide-ranging projects with clients, which Winstanley Associates often handles from the proverbial soup to nuts.

“Ten years ago, it wasn’t uncommon that one large client would have a number of agencies working with them on one project,” said Winstanley, adding that his firm can, and often does, multi-task. “We can help with packaging, design, and the business communications piece — both internal and external communications — and provide one source for many aspects of a job for many of our clients. And we believe that the quality of messaging is improved when it is controlled by a single source.

“We also do a lot of research, which is underutilized in our industry,” he continued. “We use focus groups, research groups, feasibility testing … we don’t make it big and formal, but we use it enough to give ourselves a grounding so we don’t get too far off track with a project or how we feel the end result will be accepted by the client or the public.”

This set of diverse qualities has helped the Berkshire firm earn a reputation as a company that can handle various aspects of a project under one roof, with the added benefit of having the agency’s principals working closely with the client.

“We’re probably not set up ideally for a multi-billion-dollar company,” said Winstanley, “but for companies worth a couple-hundred million, we fit the bill. And if you’re of that size, you’re working with Ralph and I and a senior team, not someone who will be moved off the project in a few months or who will leave the company in a year to go elsewhere.”

Frisina added a wrinkle to that policy for the benefit of potential clients: “Your art director will not be an intern.”

Going Swimmingly

The company’s client list and portfolio of recent projects provide evidence of its versatility and ability to take a project from start to finish, said Winstanley.

Over the past year, the Polar, GE, and Spalding accounts have taken on particular visibility, he noted, adding that those three clients have required not only assistance with marketing and packaging new products, but also with design of the products themselves, in many cases, as well as some key, targeted positioning in various markets across the country.

“Polar just recently completed a new line of packaging that involved a fair amount of research on our part,” Frisina said, explaining that the client requested fresh designs to attract new customers and effectively introduce a high-end line of beverages called Cape Cod Dry.

Similarly, Winstanley worked with Spalding to create support materials for the new NBA game ball, which will be put into play later this month, as well as the successful Neverflat ball, so-called because it will keep its bounce longer than traditional products, which was introduced last year.

“We were very involved with the actual design of the ball as well as support materials and the marketing of it,” said Frisina. “Now, Spalding is developing a Neverflat soccer ball, and line of basketballs for the All-Star Game in Las Vegas, which we’re also involved with.”

Frisina said those Vegas-themed balls will include designs inspired by Sin City, such as the surfaces of craps tables and hotels on the strip.

And through a completely different type of relationship with GE Plastics, Winstanley has helped introduce a predominantly industrial product — the hurricane shutter — to more residential consumers. The item is now being made more widely available to customers by GE through a partnership with Home Depot.

The product is selling particularly well in Southern states, where residents are taking the task of battening down the hatches much more seriously in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“What we’ve done in this case is take an industrial product and help put a consumer overlay on it,” Frisina said. “Marketing was all done in the Southeast, and we created some successful store displays for Home Depot.”

Despite its national reach, the company continues to work closely with several regional companies of varying sizes, such as the Berkshire Museum and Lenox-based Legacy Banks, for which they’ve created some distinctive art used in posters, billboards, and print ads.

“Most of our work is national, but some of the projects I like the most involve regional art work,” said Winstanley. “One thing that helps us is that Ralph could make his living as an illustrator, without question — he won’t say that, so I will. For a long time, we worked with entities such as Shakespeare and Co. and the Berkshire Museum’s Festival of Trees. We used to do a fair amount of illustrations for smaller and local clients, many of which we still have, because they love the fact that we’ll work with them and give them our best creative work.”

Beyond the Sea

Winstanley added that Legacy Banks is a good example of a company that has crossed over to work with the sister company, Lenox Softworks, which has emerged as a leading player in Web site design work, database marketing, and software development — all services that are in growing demand from clients.

“Legacy Banks needed a secure server environment, and we provided that by essentially building an entire data center,” he explained. “That’s probably the best example of cross-over between the two companies.”

Having two companies under one roof is an added plus for clients with various needs, especially new-product development and introduction, Winstanley noted, adding that, to continue to hone that identity as an all-encompassing marketing and design resource, the company has extended its services gradually, yet steadily, into the new media market with Lenox Softworks as a primary driver.

Formed 10 years ago with the assistance of two professors from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Lenox Softworks continues to move forward with the goal of understanding and developing technology and media, and further, applying it effectively for clients.

“Lenox is essentially the new-media-development arm of what we do,” Winstanley said. “The two companies have shared employees, but we explain the relationship as sister companies in order to build both companies individually while still offering integrated services.”

Lenox Softworks adds a new, and increasingly necessary, facet to the services Winstanley Associates can provide.

“What that does is alleviate a lot of the coordination that needs to happen internally,” he explained, “because we’re aware of the various things that need to go into the product development.”

Increasingly, Lenox Softworks also allows both companies to respond to important marketing trends, among them database marketing and online marketing.

“The old days of direct mail have morphed into database marketing,” said Frisina. “We’ve been very aggressive in offering services such as search engine optimization, and have invested considerable resources aimed at getting the right message to the right people; that’s becoming more and more imperative as the Internet gets bigger and more complicated.”

Collaborative projects between Winstanley Associates and Lenox Softworks are common, but Winstanley said Lenox provides services independently as well.

“When we started Lenox Softworks, the Internet hadn’t really caught on,” he said. “Today, we’ve evolved with the Internet to create back-end data solutions for clients, and provide integrated communication-applications for Winstanley clients. But it also functions alone, in the areas of software development and educational multi-media development.”

Lenox Softworks has also developed long-standing relationships with national publishers, among them John Wiley and Sons and McGraw-Hill, for which the firm develops companion CDs for textbooks.

The educational sector is one area where Frisina said both companies are seeing substantial growth, and in the coming years will look for additional opportunities.

“Our growth plan includes trying to become a good-sized regional agency within 100 miles and with some distinctive category experience,” said Frisina. “We’ve had a lot of sporting goods-related clients, the food business has been big, and we have a good understanding of the needs of educational and industrial clients.”

Hook, Line, and Sinker

That knowledge, augmented by experience, is primarily what is driving the firm forward and creating a national name for the company that, essentially, bunks the idea that companies must look to Boston or New York for marketing ideas and results.

“Being in Lenox is our biggest strength and biggest weakness,” said Winstanley. “Sometimes, people want a large agency out of one of those two markets. But at the same time, our work shows that you don’t have to be from a big city to produce great work.”

A number of people at Winstanley Associates and Lenox Softworks share that opinion, as well, and it’s those employees that Winstanley and Frisina actively recruit.

“A lot of people want to be in the ad biz but don’t necessarily want to be in New York City,” he said, “so we’ve tapped that talent and brought them here. There’s less overhead, and they’ve found out they can do a lot without big-city costs.”

In short, Winstanley Associates has been built on the premise that there’s nothing wrong with being the big fish in a small pond.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]