In 1995, Barry Rosenthal opened up B/R Creative in Vineyard Haven. Until that time there were a number of local designers and writers offering advertising and design services to local merchants, but few if any had the breadth of experience and expertise of B/R Creative. While they consolidated their agency in their Hingham office several years ago, they continue to serve a number of Island businesses. This year, on the occasion of their 25th anniversary, they talked to The Times about how the business has changed in 25 years, and how advertising on the Vineyard compares to doing business in the rest of America.
So, your 25th anniversary — that’s a long time, especially in ad years. How did you guys get together anyway?
Barry Rosenthal: I had recently closed my previous agency, Spotwise, but I was still doing project work for some of my former clients. One of those was CBS in New York. Knowing he was getting overloaded with work, the client suggested I join forces with a mutual friend of ours, Dick Weisberg, who had just left an executive post at Channel 7 in Boston. We started doing some projects together, and really began to click. About two years later, my wife and I decided to relocate to the Vineyard full-time. I opened an office on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven, and Dick opened an office on the mainland in Hingham.
How has your business changed in 25 years?
Dick Weisberg: Once, all spots were shot on film. Then the technology progressed to analog videotape, then digital tape, and now everything is all digital, and footage is recorded on smart cards. Once there were basically three commercial broadcast networks and a handful of independent TV stations. We did a lot of branding and news campaigns for them. Then cable networks came along, and we helped launch and grow several, like Food Channel, Syfy, Discovery, CNN, and ESPN, among others. The proliferation of cable channels has been staggering, and now we’ve got all kinds of streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon. The business — both the content and the technology — is extremely fragmented, with an overwhelming number of choices available to consumers.
How would you describe your agency today?
BR: In 1995, when I moved to the Vineyard, we were one of the first “virtual” agencies — a model that is now prevalent in the industry. The business model we created supports a stable of designers, craftspeople, digital gurus, and web designers. That means we can morph with the market as it changes. So we do it all, with a low overhead and just Dick and myself as full-time employees.
How did you happen to open an office on the Vineyard — how long did you have that office?
DW: When Barry moved to the Vineyard, he opened the office on Beach Road so we could have direct sight to the telephone company for dial-up Internet service! We had that office for about 15 years. One of the perks was walking next door to the Net Result for lunch. Laurel Redington Whitaker was our office manager.
Who were some of your clients on the Island?
BR: We did retail advertising and branding for Mansion House, Eastaway, Basics, Vineyard Decorators, Island Home Furnishings, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, Eco MV, the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, and Martha’s Vineyard Cooperative Bank — now Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank.
Can you tell us about any interesting assignments you had on the Island?
BR: For me, there were a couple. After the Mansion House had been destroyed by a major fire in 2001, we were hired by Susie and Sherm Goldstein to create a new logo, branding, and strategy. Their eventual success was especially gratifying, since they were great personal friends.
Another one was creating the M.V. Commission’s official Visitor’s Map. It was a labor of love. We have updated it several times, and it is still being distributed.
DW: For me one of the highlights is the summer concert series we created and produced for seven years in collaboration with Berklee College of Music. It was called Vineyard Vibes, and was the precursor of the current Vineyard Summer Concert Series. We presented some top Berklee alums ranging in style from Gary Burton to Bruce Cockburn, along with extremely gifted Berklee students at various venues around the Island.
Is it different doing business on the Island than on the mainland?
BR: It’s different in the sense that there are fewer media outlets on the Island, with no commercial radio or television. The Island community is also an enlightened, savvy, and discerning audience.
Do you still have clients on the Island?
BR: After 13 years and the merging of the M.V. Coop and Dukes County Savings Bank, we are proud to have the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank as our largest continuing Vineyard client.
What makes for a good client?
DW: We always say, “We are only as good as our clients.” Good clients help create realistic goals and objectives, then encourage us to do great work. Good clients have a heightened and accurate sensibility about their products and services and their relationships with customers. They also know to allocate the proper time and budget to do the job right.
How would you describe your approach to advertising and marketing?
BR: As ex-TV executives, we believe that the key to good advertising is to educate the audience. Start with a great idea to attract attention, then detail the information and benefits of the product. In digital media we always strive to be as interactive as we can.
Do you do much with social media?
DW: Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can be especially useful in augmenting traditional advertising, web, and email marketing. We’ve seen great brand engagement results, as well as higher brand recognition across social media channels.
Who are some of your current clients?
BR: Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank, South Shore Skin Center, JN Phillips Auto Glass, Prime Motor Group, Autosaver Group, Lamacchia Real Estate, Beth Israel Health Care, to name several.
Can you cite a couple of memorable campaigns produced by B/R Creative?
BR: B/R Creative helped create the Food Network in 1993. The body of work for the network was extensive, beginning with full-page NY Times ads to build demand that were parodies of the popular MTV campaign at the time. The Food Network headline screamed: “I Want My … mmmm TV.” The cable channel got 24-hour clearance as a result.
The launch campaign we did for Syfy (then called the Sci-Fi Channel) was extremely provocative. It featured a series of extraterrestrial and phenomenological vignettes that built tension to a climax followed by an onscreen graphic: “It’s coming for you.”
DW: We are extremely proud of the branding work we’ve done for JN Phillips Auto Glass, which has grown into the second largest auto glass company in the country. Barry’s original tag line, “Because there’s a lot more behind your windshield than you think,” continues to differentiate the brand, and promote the lengths to which the company goes to provide expertise, safety, and convenience to every customer.
Another great positioning line that Barry wrote is the one for M.V. Savings Bank: “Banking That’s Vineyard Sound.” The bank’s local roots and its commitment to serving the community are underscored by that line. The Vineyard is a special place — one where community values are foremost. We love promoting those values.
There tends to be a lot of humor in your work; how important is that?
BR: Advertising works best when it’s emotional. Whether you bring tears to someone’s eyes or make them laugh, it makes the ad more memorable and creates a shared experience. But emotion should never upstage the product — it should build a bridge between the brand and the consumer.
If you could give one free bit of advice to a Vineyard advertiser, what would that be?
DW: Advertising is not a perfect science. In fact, it’s one of the things we like best about it. Sometimes it’s hard for clients to accept that. It requires a certain amount of good faith and trust.
BR: Advice I often offer to clients is, “Operate outside the factory” — try to put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Effective advertising tells customers what they need to know, incentivizes them when possible, and gets results.