Laura and Laura are the founders of Flying Crow Creative, a branding and creative agency based in Seattle. Laura Figueroa Ware (LW) is Principal and Head of Strategy & Content while Laura Urban Perry (LUP) is Head of Design & User Experience. We caught up with the Lauras this month to discuss a variety of topics, including the state of marketing, design, and the city of Seattle.
LUP, you taught Web Design at Cornish and LW, you taught Business Storytelling and Brand Development at Georgetown. Is that something you would like to do again?
LW: Yes! I loved discussing marketing with professionals who were already practicing but wanted to expand their knowledge. I was terrified to teach, but I wanted to push myself to do something I’d never done before.
LUP: I really enjoyed teaching at Cornish but it was a lot of work to do along side a freelance
design business. I’d think about it constantly. How to express the concepts behind
wayfinding and what elements make for compelling user experiences. But the number
one thing students wanted to learn was how to make things move.
I don’t think I’d teach again in a college setting.
Are there any skills you developed in those roles that have helped you with your day-to-day work or client interactions?
LW: I never realized how challenging it is to prepare curriculum. The experience gave me a whole new respect for teachers. In developing the coursework, I was able to think more in-depth about the theory behind marketing and storytelling and why certain things resonate with people. I love theory.
LUP: People still love to see things move. Showing rather than telling always wins. Asking
questions to get to the real reason for their opinion, be it a student or a client, helps me
better explain why a solution works.
The tPC audience trends heavily toward entrepreneurs and freelancers, but also a number of remote workers who work for larger companies. What are two things, positive and negative, most people don't realize until they've started their own business?
LW: If people thought too much about starting a business, no one would ever start one. For me the positives far outweigh the negatives. It can be tough not to have a steady salary to count on, or not having a staff to delegate to. But owning a business makes you grow in so many ways, such as managing business finances. My quality of life has improved because I control my schedule. And I feel much more comfortable following my instincts because at the end of the day, I answer to myself.
LUP: One negative is how wonderful being paid while you’re not working is. Paid vacations
and sick days are a lovely thing. When you’re working for yourself, you’ve got to make
sure your HR person (you) works with your finance person (you) to set aside funds for
time off guilt-free to recharge.
The big positive is being intentional about the work that you do, the product you create.
Your business is an expression of your life. It took me out of autopilot mode of a secure
job in tech into a more intentional creative mix of being actively engaged in my kids'
lives and designing my business. And I don’t miss unnecessary meetings, the office
politics and gossip.
On your website it says you know branding, graphic design, content strategy, web design and development, and communications planning. How often does a client come to you looking for just a single service (e.g. migrating an old website to a responsive framework) and how often are you providing fully integrated strategy and creative services? Do you prefer one approach to the other?
LW: More often than not, clients are looking for a single service. But that service (or tactic) may not be the answer to their problem. At Flying Crow, we like to spend time getting to know our clients and their business challenges, so that we can make the best recommendation for them about their brand and marketing efforts. For example, a business reached out to me last year to develop a marketing plan for them. But after learning more about their situation, I recommended brand perception research instead. It was a good move that gave them quite a bit of insight into what their clients are thinking.
LUP: The integrated strategy is much preferred. Our added value is really understanding the full breadth of brand and marketing strategy as it is woven through every facet of a business. Helping our clients articulate and implement memorable creative throughout their business is really rewarding. We sometimes start with one project but often our questions lead our clients to consider a more comprehensive solution.
How has your trade changed since you began your career and what lessons and skills are just as important today as they were when you started out?
LW: The most significant changes have been rooted in technology. I remember working for an ad agency and having to Fed-Ex commercials to TV stations. Technology has forced marketers to be agile and to constantly be thinking about what’s next on the horizon. For example, social media has completely changed the way people interact with brands. In the past, the extent of our interaction was buying and using a product. Now people expect that brands will communicate with them, including addressing grievances in real-time. What does not change is the need to be a critical thinker and a problem solver. Good marketers are both analytical and creative, and they know when to let one supersede the other.
LUP: I know the old ways. So if the internet broke, I could still design. The importance of a strong concept and meaning always wins over a polished generic idea. I love the craft of arranging information and ideas in ways that makes it clear. A good layout, white space and visual hierarchy are really important in web and UX work. And I still take time for excellent typography that people don’t see unless it’s not done.
As a small creative agency, I imagine you are constantly trying to balance the pressures of business development with the real deadlines and pressures of client work. How do you juggle finding new business, servicing current clients and finding time to appreciate success and the little wins along the way?
LW: It is always good to have business in the pipeline, but my first priority is always our existing clients. They are already invested in Flying Crow as a partner, and I don’t want to let them down. It is important for business owners to make time for networking and business development, though. For better or worse, I evaluate wins and losses every day. It’s good to pat yourself and your team on the back when something goes well. You have to take the time to acknowledge a job well done rather than just jump the next thing that needs your attention. People need to know they’re appreciated.
LUP: Client work always comes first. It gets the best part of my day. We get most of our work through referral so taking time to tend our network is important. Making personal connections is our best sales tool. Does going out for cocktails count as celebrating the successes along the way?
FILL IN THE BLANK!
A perfect weekend starts with _______ and ends with __________?
LW: A perfect weekend starts with happy hour and ends with dinner and a movie or good book.
LUP: A perfect weekend starts with a glass of wine on our rooftop deck with friends or a paddle in our kayak to our island cabin and ends with a nice home cooked meal with family.
_____ is totally underrated.
LW: Sleep is totally underrated.
LUP: Being totally disconnected from tech for a while is totally underrated.
_____is totally overrated.
LW: Orange is the New Black is totally overrated.
LUP: Snapchat is totally overrated.
If I could eat any meal in the world, it would be _______ prepared by ______.
LW: If I could eat any meal in the world, it would be Beef Stroganoff prepared by Albert Einstein.
LUP: If I could eat any meal in the world, it would be Halibut prepared by David Beckham.
If I got a surprise day off tomorrow, I would _____.
LW: If I got a surprise day off tomorrow, I would go shoe shopping
LUP: If I got a surprise day off tomorrow, I would pretend I was a guest at a downtown hotel, use their rooftop pool and then have lunch and write and sketch in the bar.
1:1 WITH LAURA URBAN PERRY
It says on your bio that travel always resets your compass and fills you with new creative energy. I feel the same way. What is the most memorable trip you've taken and is there anywhere you find yourself returning to for inspiration?
LUP: I won the parent lottery when I was a kid. My dad was a pilot for Pan Am. Do I have to pick one?
New Zealand fishing with my dad and brothers when I was a teenager.
Japan teaching art directors how to use Photoshop, Indesign when I was creative director for Adobe
Going to Spain and France with my husband and kids. We started in Madrid, then from Santiago de Compestela in the northwest corner to San Sebastian up to Paris to stay with a very dear friend and then to an island off the coast of France where her family had a summer place. We were there during the World Cup. In Spain when they were winning and then in France when they were in the semifinals. The whole city was crammed into the metro and the Champs Elysee chanting “Allez les Bleu.”
Though I haven’t returned in a long while, Japan is always inspiring. Everywhere you look things are artfully arranged and there’s plenty of the unexpected and odd to keep me laughing.
You were a creative director at Adobe. Is there anything you miss about working for a large organization, for instance extensive financial and human resources?
LUP: Budget for travel to conferences and being able to work with the design luminaries. I miss the team I pulled together, though we’ve stayed close over the years.
What tool, software or hardware, digital or analog, is most vital to your craft? (other than your computer)
LUP: A printer. I know dead trees. I still like to print things and remove them from the distraction of the screen, get back from them and look at systems as a whole or a logo design from across the room.
And now the camera on my phone…for photographing inspiration.
1:1 WITH LAURA WARE
What is the biggest mistake you see small companies and startups make when it comes to branding?
LW: Understandably, they don’t have the resources to invest in marketing, so many of them don’t have a strategy. Then they realize they need a logo or website, so they ask their cousin Bill who worked at a print shop in 1987 to design one for them.
They want to sell a product or a service, but they don’t really know what they stand for, which is what branding is all about.
I see a lot of freelance and independent service providers ignoring marketing. Designers, architects, and photographers seem to get it, but how should solo attorneys, engineers, and contractors approach branding and positioning?
Many businesses, large and small, think marketing is a nice-to-have that you can build up to when you have excess cash, and that you can dispense with when times are lean. Marketing is, and should be, a key part of a business’ strategy. Through marketing, businesses learn about their audience, and formulate strategies for how to engage them. I would advise the professionals you mention to develop a business plan with growth goals clearly stated, determine how they need to shape and market their business to achieve those goals, and define what makes them different than others that offer the same services. These businesses likely obtain many clients through referral. But referrers have to understand who you are and what you do.
You grew up in Texas at attended UT. What do you miss the most about the Lone Star State? If you had to leave the PNW tomorrow, what would you miss the most about this region?
LW: There is an unexplainable pride that comes with being a Texan. It’s in your blood. I miss my family and friends quite a bit. I also miss good Tex-Mex, BBQ and frozen margaritas. If I had to leave Seattle, I would greatly miss the friends and family I have here. I’d miss the incredible beauty of the area. And I’d miss having four seasons, which allows me to have a much broader wardrobe.