Most people have experienced the brand and agency case study. Most of the time, the focus is on the “what” of the project—the process, work and results. Often, audiences aren’t treated to the “why” behind certain decisions.
At Design Week Portland, experiential agency Manifold recently shared an experiential project with their client, High West Whiskey of Park City, Utah. The presentation had all of the trappings of the typical case study, but several panelists also commented on why they made some decisions over others. And speaking with them after the panel provided ample opportunity to learn how their experiences could be valuable for other agencies when working with brands.
High West Distillery was founded in 2006 by former biochemist David Perkins. The brand has evolved from its humble beginnings to include a state-of-the-art distillery property and popular saloon in Old Town Park City. Constellation Brands acquired the award-winning brand for a reported $160 million in 2016, and under its stewardship, High West Distillery continues to show considerable growth.
High West tasked Manifold with creating a unique nationwide experiential campaign featuring a trailer wrapped in a logo. Gleaning inspiration from Utah’s rich train history, the team landed on bespoke caboose The High West Whiskey Train, which converts into a bar and is filled with highly-considered touches modeled after the brand’s saloon.
The team spent hours finding the right woods, stains and fixtures to authentically match the customer experience in Park City. According to Manifold designer Kyle Lee, that granular attention to detail showed the client how much the agency cared about the project.
“The way we really got their trust is when we started talking about all of the little details,” he recalled.
While some projects are created at a rapid pace, the name of the game for High West was to do this right with an acceptable deadline. Manifold creative director Kate Ward-Walton said the team was given a “very rare and incredibly valuable” four- to five-week development period on the first round.
After a deep-dive team visit to Park City, “we all remembered different little things while we were there,” she explained. “This allowed us to really tap back into each others’ recollections and let this percolate through the process.”
That extended development time and collaboration made Manifold’s first creative review on the project a resounding success, according to senior agency account manager Julia Henry.
“I’ll never forget that there was an audible gasp in the room when we got to the slide that showed the train caboose,” she said.
While building trust among the main stakeholders, the team realized quickly that feedback from outside of the core client team would be critical. The agency was introduced to one of High West’s original employees in the middle of the campaign’s process. Because she had a vested and emotional interest in the project and was one of the main public faces of the brands, Manifold realized her feedback and opinion mattered—so they asked for it.
“It became apparent that she was the person we had to impress,” said Hilary Neblett, a Manifold producer. “We needed to win her over.”
Another reason that Manifold felt that they were set up for success was due to the RFP process. Frequently, requests from brands or potential clients are often fraught with issues like vague deliverables and descriptions, unclear budgets, confusion over audience targets and even careless typos. But High West laid out the full parameters in detail over two pages—and was also realistic about how they chose their agency. “The three concepts we pitched for the RFP weren’t even close to the end result,” Lee said. “But what we did do was help them see the thinking that would go into the process. I think they could see that we were a different agency with different ideas that matched up with their thinking as well.”
“[High West] understands the advertising industry,” Ward-Walton added. “They understood they were building something real that needed designs, vetting and samples through the process.”
The final (and likely most important) piece of advice that Manifold shared about the High West project was in how it was presented, not just to consumers, but to brands in general. Henry noted that the client (and many other brands) became familiar with the agency’s work through their collaboration with Bumble and their Bumble Hives activation in New York—largely because of the visual vocabulary created in recaps and coverage.
Photography and video has become an important way for the agency to market itself. To that end, Manifold has an in-house photography team that is tasked with getting a wide range of shots to show the agency in the best possible light, including the caboose’s upcoming tour of cities across America.
“[We look at it] as bigger than a recap,” said Ward-Walton. “You have [an activation] for a day, a week … a moment. Then that thing is gone, and you can never capture it again or prove that it was beautiful if you don’t have the right photos. We used to have verbatim [feedback], but nobody really cares if you don’t have a big beautiful photo.”