Charleston ad agency expands to Charlotte

F. BRIAN FERGUSON | Gazette-Mail
Steve Blackwell, Owner of Blackwell and Co., stands alongside a pool table which he has in the lobby of his office on Summers Street. The creative design agency opened an office in Charlotte, North Carolina, in March, with a focus on video projects for its clients.

After years of driving change for its clients, a small Charleston creative agency has undergone some significant changes of its own.

Blackwell and Co., located at 117 Summers St. in downtown Charleston, expanded into Charlotte, North Carolina, in March. The new location will bolster the agency’s visual production and design operations, according to its principal and creative advisor Steve Blackwell.

Blackwell said with the increased importance of travel to cooperate with clients, having a space to operate in Charlotte is vital.

“I’ve actually been thinking about it for years,” he said. “We’ve been doing work all around the country, and sometimes it’s a bit difficult to get to places in a timely and cost-effective manner [in Charleston].”

Blackwell and Co. may not be a household name throughout the Kanawha Valley, but the agency has helped mold several big-time companies and local law firms in its more than 17 years of existence. The agency focuses on areas such as in-house communications, design, commercials and outreach.

Blackwell and Co. designed the lobby of Toyota’s manufacturing plant in Buffalo and has been responsible for helping with reports, newsletters and the plant’s first engine exhibit. Verizon and the Communications Workers of America enlisted the agency for communication management and marketing support during a joint project between the two. When Acordia National merged with Wells Fargo, Blackwell designed deliverables of the announcement.

“For a tiny agency, we’ve done some awesome projects,” Blackwell said.

The agency’s model for rebranding or improving communication boils down to three phases: process, people, results. The “people” portion may have extra weight, as Blackwell said the agency puts an emphasis on learning about the culture, roles and other aspects of all employees, not just the top executives.

“The people, I think, are the heart of everything that’s going on,” he said.

The Charlotte office will see Blackwell and Co., doing business as BCO Digital in the area, collaborate with Chain Reaction Studios in the fields of graphic design, web design, video production and photography.

Blackwell said one particular goal of BCO Digital is providing clients with professional digital video profiles that will help them become more approachable.

Videos is particularly important in the internet age, Blackwell said, as they draw in more web traffic and often lead to more people sharing it or buying the product.

Charlotte also has a significantly larger population than Charleston, and with that comes a variety of clients the firm can communicate with — many of them underserved, Blackwell added.

“There is not a large enough pool of creative agencies there that can meet the size of the market there,” he said. “So we think there’s a ton of opportunity there.”

That doesn’t mean Blackwell and Co. is leaving Charleston — not long before the Charlotte office opened, the agency moved its Charleston office into space leased from a longtime collaborator, the Asher Agency.

Blackwell said the Charleston location still serves a very important role to the agency in areas such as advertising and public relations. But after the 2008 financial crisis nationwide and the decline of the coal industry leveling the local economy, Blackwell said diversifying is crucial for any future bumps in the road.

“Last year was the biggest year we’ve probably had,” he said. “But I know [a downturn] is going to happen again. I don’t know when, but it’s happening. I knew I had to have a plan to just be more nimble and go to places where there are more opportunities.”

Reach Max Garland at max.garland@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4886 or follow @MaxGarlandTypes on Twitter.

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