Q+A: Brian Lemond and Chris Fohlin of Brooklyn United
Brooklyn United is a culture-led, results driven digital agency. We sat down with CEO Brian Lemond and business evangelist Chris Fohlin to find out more.
How did you get started? What’s changed?
We started by providing web services to architects and firms, quickly expanding into arts and culture. Back in those early days (15 years ago), clients literally asked if they needed a website. Since then we’ve been very intentional about diversifying our client stream; now we work in fashion, education, real estate, and entertainment while maintaining our base in arts and culture.
We started as a small studio exploring the intersection of design and technology, and we’ve evolved to emphasize strategic responses to our clients’ needs. In other words, where we used to respond to set briefs in terms of creative and technical execution, we now help our clients understand their needs and craft the brief itself. As we’ve matured, we’ve maintained the creative and technical aspect of our work, so we now take businesses from defining their business goals and understanding the digital landscape through the execution of digital media initiatives like websites, mobile applications, and integrated campaigns.
Our business, as you can tell by the name—Brooklyn United—was born and bred in Brooklyn. Our first place was a 2 bedroom apartment on Atlantic Avenue. Since then we’ve moved through a series of locations in Brooklyn. DUMBO seemed like a fantastic choice when we got to a point where we needed to grow to support the greater ambitions of our business and our clients. DUMBO felt right for us for a lot of reasons – the buildings are spacious and bright, the neighborhood is small and cohesive, and there’s an inertia around digital business and innovation. We’ve made a lot of great friends in the neighborhood; there’s a lot of inter-business collaboration that I don’t think you find in other parts of New York City. We’ve been here for nine years; it’s just been a great fit for us.
What are your favorite places to go in DUMBO?
The archway is our favorite place to eat during the summer. The Calexico Cart and the DUMBO truck lot are definitely big haunts. We spend a lot of time in the bar at 68 Jay, doing informal business meetings and hanging out. But I do think there are a lot of other things that DUMBO offers. Pier 1 park is awesome; I think a lot of the staff goes there to chill out and get a break. We like cocktails at Atrium and mega ice cream sandwiches at Jacques Torres. One Girl Cookies is a great place to grab a snack. And when clients come in we get a few things from Almondine to welcome them to Brooklyn.
What’s your favorite project you’ve worked on? Tell me about it.
Brian Lemond: I’m one of those guys that’s always looking toward the future. So for me it’s always the most recent thing or the next thing. Right now my favorite project in the studio is a tie. The first involves a global media center to support Netflix as they dramatically scale up their international presence. We’ve been working with our strategic partner agency Ratio to help Netflix think through how to leverage their digital media hub to achieve their goals. People often think of international expansion in terms of language translation, and that’s a key part for sure. But with Netflix, an even more important aspect is ensuring we deliver content to the appropriate region based on local licensing agreements, and how to localize content and workflow for different languages and cultures. They’ve been a great client, and it’s been a successful project, so we’re excited about its launch later this summer.
The second project is our work with the Global Alliance for Rabies Control on a pan-European campaign to build support to end rabies worldwide by 2030. The more statistics you find about rabies, the more shocked you are. 59,000 people die of rabies each year worldwide. It kills five times more people annually than Ebola. In the developed nations we think it is a problem that’s been solved, but there are large parts of the world where it hasn’t been solved, despite having had the cure since the 1800s. We know the disease is 99% fatal once you contract it and 100% preventable. Combating rabies is just a question of aligning the right resources in terms of financial and political cooperation to make that a reality. So we are doing some really interesting strategic and creative work with the campaign. We are going to launch a website in conjunction with World Rabies Day (September 28), so I’m really excited to see where that goes.
Chris Fohlin: I’ll keep it in the Tech Triangle, and say my favorite project was the work we did for The Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema, which was a partnership between Brooklyn College and Steiner Studios. They launched a brand new graduate film school at Steiner Studios, it’s the first film school on a working film lot in North America. We helped them with everything from naming the school, to identity, website, ads, and a social campaign—a stem to stern solution for them. I think it’s a nice combination of our expertise and our passion for Brooklyn and New York at large. We were also able to do some innovative things in terms of how to build a brand identity for them. We are a results-driven studio, so we do a lot of audience and sentiment testing to understand the work we are producing. We used audience responses at the earliest stages of the brand design process to help gauge what was really going to be effective. Good branding is less about what we as designers think the brand should be or what the team at Brooklyn College or Steiner Studios thinks it should be, and more about recognizing that the brand is about reaching the right audience – I thought that was really compelling. The work we did won a Webby Award, which is sort of like the Oscars for the internet. We don’t do the work to win the awards, but the recognition sure feels nice!
Last but not least, we’d be remiss if we didn’t note our longstanding collaboration with Alloy Development. We’ve helped them market 4 projects here in DUMBO: 192 Water Street, 185 Plymouth Street, the Dumbo Townhouses, and most recently One John Street in the extension to Brooklyn Bridge Park.