After living in Seattle for a few years, it’s become clear to me that many shops here struggle to capture significant business from clients headquartered beyond the west coast. Which is why seeing People, Time Inc., and Conde Nast on the roster of local agency Fell Swoop is so startling and highly refreshing. Founder Matt Dente was able to develop relationships with those clients while working in New York, and sustained them when he began Fell Swoop in 2008.
It’s a little hard to characterize Fell Swoop, but it began life as a UX-centered design firm. Today, as Partner & Managing Director Ryan Schroeder puts it, “We create things that are useful, usable and creatively inspired.”
Their work for The New Yorker is a perfect example. When the publication’s online site decided it needed a paywall for its content, Fell Swoop was instrumental in relaunching the site — helping with usability testing and learning what readers would react to. But most significantly, Fell Swoop adapted the pub’s venerated tone and style to encourage readers to pay for content. “We implemented their design sense and voice, even impressing their in-house creative directors,” said Schroeder. “And subscriptions are way up.”
Expertise in working with publications gives the Fell Swoop a unique perspective on one of the ad industry’s most vexing problems: ad blocking. “Publishers have a natural tendency to fight back. But they don’t need to be escalating a war against their readers,” said Schroeder. “It’s driven publishers to create a UX that nobody’s happy with. We seek to develop UX that has a good outcome for both publishers and readers.”
According to Alex Berg, Director of Strategy and Analytics, “We’ve done our own research. It’s not that people hate ads. They hate bad ads.” So what’s a good ad? “One that has relevance, looks nice, creatively on a par with the content around it, and is able to add to the experience of a site,” he said. “If you’re creating ads that are blocking a reading experience, you’re doing it wrong.”
While expansion beyond the Seattle market is a possibility, the Fell Swoop team believes that Seattle, with its tech-heavy focus, is still a good market to recruit to. Said Schroeder, “Product agencies and the big guys like Amazon suck up a lot of the UX talent. Everyone says hiring here is a challenge, and it totally is, but there’s a lot of new talent moving here. We like to say ‘we’re the place for you after you graduate from another design agency.’”
And by combining UX, a social team, and other capabilities, Fell Swoop falls into a sweet spot among firms that straddle the worlds of marketing, product design, and advertising. “We believe in taking a user-centered design process that puts customers at the forefront, and combining it with the art of branded storytelling, said Schroeder. “Some agencies are good at one, or the other, but not both. We fuse the two.”