At their packed party in lower Manhattan last month, the fingerprints of the creative agency Doubleday & Cartwright were everywhere, but only if you bothered to look. There was the juice, inviting and raw in simple, clear bottles designed by the hosts themselves (and mixed, naturally, with complimentary vodka); the DJ spinning dance music and classic hip-hop, a former account executive turned high-powered artist manager; and the venue itself, an erstwhile corporate event space on the ground floor of the headquarters of Saatchi & Saatchi, the multinational ad giant that counts itself a fan and client. Individually, these disparate elements, three curious threads in an unusual tapestry, seem to point in different directions: product development, artist development, and old-school advertising of the sort that warms the hearts of Procter & Gamble and General Mills. Taken together, however, the array of disciplines and far-flung professional relationships on display form the contours of a young agency’s unlikely rise to success.
Doubleday & Cartwright was founded three years ago by Chris Isenberg, Kimou Meyer, and Aaron Amaro, three friends who made up for in drive and specificity of vision what they lacked in traditional business experience. Each came to the table with a track record as an artist in their field: Meyer, a street artist, design director, and illustrator who goes by the name of Grotesk; Isenberg, an Oxford-educated writer and journalist who founded the sportswear-inspired streetwear company No Mas; and Amaro, an art director and fixer with a background in photography. As a group, the three are united by a love of sports and its surrounding culture, and their ability to translate the finer themes of athletic competition for a wide audience has won them jobs including developing a custom garment workshop for Nike, creating an animated short for ESPN, and a street-level marketing campaign for Red Bull.
"We participated in the market with our own properties and expanded out into offering creative services from there," says Isenberg in an interview at D&C’s spacious and casual office in a virtually unmarked building in Williamsburg. "Clients recognize, I think, a spirit. It’s not so simple as saying we do X, Y, and Z because literally we’re doing animation, we’re doing garment design, we’re doing custom publications, we’re making websites, we’re naming products, and doing packaging for a juice company. Things are a little all over the place but there’s a consistent narrative voice or sensibility that comes from our personal work and what we love to do."
Unlike at some other creative agencies, the personal work of Doubleday’s three principals didn’t take a backseat once they entered the client services business. In fact, each is routinely encouraged to pursue his own creative projects—regardless of any apparent benefit to the company’s bottom line. The party at Saatchi & Saatchi, for instance, was for the launch of the fourth issue of Victory Journal, a high-end quarterly print magazine and love letter to sporting culture that was the brainchild of Amaro. The magazine brings in no material revenue, but because it is well respected in sports and media circles (it won a Society of Professional Designers award earlier this year) it acts as a sort of calling card.
"It always takes a lot of guts and work for us to be like ‘You know what, we have an agency, but we’re also gonna keep doing those projects that don’t bring money in a concrete way,'" says Meyer. "And we do it because we know that two months after whatever it is comes out we’re going to get a call from Nike or another client. Companies always want to see something they don’t have."
D&C’s creative output and growing stable of collaborators, including the artists Mickey Duzyj, Chadwick Tyler, and James Blagden, have earned the agency business not only with consumer-facing companies, but also with other creative agencies. In an unusual symbiosis, the small team has been tapped to work on campaigns by larger firms, including Wieden + Kennedy, R/GA, and Saatchi & Saatchi. The "B2B element," as Isenberg puts it, is yet another thread in the tapestry.
"We want Doubleday & Cartwright to be used almost like a director or a fine artist that can be put into play as an asset for another creative company," he says. "I think people are getting more and more comfortable with that… It’s becoming clear to them that we’re not a competitor, we’re a resource."
As for whether D&C ever dreams of reaching a similar size and stature to the bigger companies which deploy it, Isenberg said the group is more interested in the virtues of remaining small and nimble.
"I don’t think we want to be a 300- or 400-person global agency," he said. "We’re going to continue to be 15 to 20 people and perfect what we’re doing with the ability to expand and contract as necessary."
The greatest beneficiary of the Doubleday & Cartwright method to date isn’t a sports brand or another creative agency, but a holistic juice company that was started by Isenberg’s wife, Zoe Sakoutis. BluePrintCleanse, the juice that was served at the Victory Journal launch party, has gone from a tiny startup in a shared kitchen on 19th Street in Manhattan to a bicoastal company with 150 employees and distribution at Whole Foods. In the pairing, Isenberg again sees connections that aren’t easily viewed from the outside.
"In some ways it doesn’t make sense. ‘What are these sports guys doing designing a juice cleanse?’" he says. "But it’s an informed market where you’re preaching to the choir and educating newcomers at the same time. The way it looks and feels makes it appeal to more than just the aficionado. And in that way it’s exactly like No Mas and it’s exactly like Victory. How do you figure out how to take something that’s very specific and extrapolate it in a way that people will understand? How do you present it in a way that people will be attracted to? How do you make sure the story behind everything comes through across platforms? It’s exciting for us to kind of figure out how to solve those puzzles."