PSFK talks to brands who have started creative agencies. This week, we look at Gin Lane Media.
Over the next few weeks PSFK will continue a weekly feature on on brands that have become agencies. Our goal is to see what kind of thinking and work these brand architects are putting into the market, and how their experience affects what kind of advice they give clients. No matter what types of services they offer as agencies all of them have one thing in common, they have already built a successful brand from the ground up. In addition to last week’s article featuring the Decon Creative Group, some of the people we will be talking to include Alife Creative (Alife brand), and Virtue (Vice brand).
Part two of this interview series focuses on Gin Lane Media. They are a creative agency located in downtown NYC that was started principally by Emmett Shine after he found success with his t-shirt brand Lola. The fun thing about Lola is that it’s a legitimate business that was started by a bunch of kids who hung out together since elementary school and were brought together by their bond of being different and love of skateboarding. Emmett and his partner Henry Lihn were able to capture that innocent energy and infuse it into Gin Lane.
What was it like making the transition from Lola to Gin Lane? Did your experience making t-shirts help start the agency?
Henry Lihn: We were the company that had no dollars. When we first started with Teany beverages we were like, “Imagine what we could do with $10,000 dollars!” We really understood the framework and constraints of a manufacturing based business. In that scenario your biggest issue is sales. So, coming right out of the gate one of the first things we tried to do was link all of our initiatives to sales. So, when we did an outdoor promotion for Seamless Web we made sure that we requested from the client all these trackable codes.
A lot of people were really impressed with us in that we were a company that blended advertising, marketing and PR together and tried to justify them at every point. It’s evolved now into us returning evaluation docs to our clients pointing out where the hours were spent and what the returns are. As we evolve, we’re also a lot more strategic in our approach from the beginning of initiatives in terms of the research we do on the product and consumer base that allows us to lay down a strategy. Rocawear is a great example, we built a community platform for them that increased their online sales by around 27%. It was predicated on a an assumption that if we do something and aggregate all these people it will result in sales. Most of the businesses we work with really appreciate that we came from a brand.
Do you use that in your pitches? Does it help?
HL: All the time. It doesn’t matter that it was Lola, or that we have separate ventures on the side, it’s the fact that we are doing it. Emmett in particular has the luxury of being able to talk about more recent ventures like the Lola Gallery in Southampton. That came into play even with your Stella McCartney Adidas pitch. So, you know it keeps coming back and that’s great.
We had a guy in who was a former BBDO guy and he was talking about building a company with the former CMO of so and so and it’s going to be all about strategy and all about building a product. He wanted to do major campaigns for Coca-Cola because he felt like he understood the product. At the end of it and listening to all the good stuff he has from all his experience we were like, “we don’t want to be this guy. He isn’t in touch. He does work with major brands. Ultimately, we can see where his money is blown and wasted and we are going to have to build ourselves up from a grass root basis.”
What client represents your biggest evolution to date?
Emmett Shine: The Stella McCartney Adidas project. That’s a digital campaign. The design, development, management, marketing, overseeing the ads, and the strategy of the media buy.
Talk to me about how Lola started and evolved into what it is today?
ES: We were a bunch of kids living in the conservative leaning town of Southampton and needed something to do. When you’re a kid and you don’t fit into being “Bobby and Johnny”, you know we were bunch of wild little kids skateboarding around lighting firecrackers and stuff. There was no real stuff to do in terms of a recreational center or after school program or something. We would skate around and no one wanted us to be skateboarding around the shops in the village, they said we were making noise and being loud and our skateboards would keep getting confiscated by the police. We went to the mayor’s office basically after a year and said to the mayor that it wasn’t fair and asked him to give us somewhere to go and skateboard. He surprisingly said “okay, I’ll give you an abandoned plot of land, go skate there and I never want to see you in town again.”
They paved the land for us in Lola Prentice Park and we went and stole construction wood from housing sites on the outskirts of the village, watched 411 skate videos and learned how to build ramps. We ended up making a whole skate park. After a while, if you were young and from the surrounding areas the place to go was Lola. We ran it and self enforced rules and everything, At that young age we learned how to be self managed in a way.
All of our parents were first generation Hamptonites and they were all artist leaning non traditional types. So, by nature the kids of those people were going to hang out together. We were the kids that didn’t necessarily fit into this small town. From first grade we used to put our money together to go buy chicken sandwiches and stuff like that, everything was done together. So, when it came time to make money when we got older we just knew we had to do something together. So, we started a skateboard company. We got a team together in the city, started making boards and promoting though t-shirts.
Once the t-shirts hit we saw that people wanted to the shirts more than the boards. We started making more t-shirts and kept reinvesting the money. Then we did hoodies, hats, stickers, party’s to get attention. A half dozen of us are the core group who started it, but it turned into a real brand. It had gotten to a point where we were making $25k a month online.
How do you divide your time between Gin Lane and Lola? Is there a crossover in your staff from Gin Lane to Lola? Where are you at with Lola at the moment and how does that play into Gin Lane on a day to day basis?
ES: The majority of my time is on Gin Lane and that helps sustain everything. Lola keeps us culturally relevant and helps us give back. We have two art shows coming up soon. We have he gallery in Southampton. Everyone at Gin Lane helps out on Lola at some point whether it’s working on the site or helping with an event. Gin Lane has it’s own culture that’s being created, but I try to integrate Lola into the agency culture.
We have five people living down in Atlanta now running a gallery space and taking care of Lola. New York does the design and selling and Atlanta runs the web site and takes care of the shipping. Every shirt is still printed by hand, every customer that buys it get a personal note. I think we’ve applied that mentality that to Gin Lane.
Is there a current project that you want to tell us about?
ES: We’re doing some cool work with Sam Edelman. We are launching their stuff for Spring 2010. Crystal Moselle just shot a video for us, which looks really great. It’s a behind the scenes of the advertising campaign that Kelly Klein shot. It’s all very seductive and sexy and beautiful to look at.