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TOP AGENCY RUNNER-UP 2017 INTERVIEW – Shawn Spartz, Director of Creative & Development & Peter Engel

For only the fourth time in the 16 year history of the Horizon Interactive Awards competition, we have provided additional, non-entry recognitions through our Distinguished Agency awards. These awards are given based on the achievement of the sum of all work entered into the competition. The Top Agency Runner-up award is considered our second highest non-entry honor and we would like to congratulate Graydient Creative, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin as the 2017 winner.

With us today, we have Shawn Spartz, Director of Creative & Development, along with Peter Engel, Managing Partner, of Graydient Creative to discuss the outstanding new award distinction that they have earned.

HIA: So what does it mean to you, your company and team to receive this award distinction?

Shawn: We are extremely honored and humbled to win this award. We have always used the Horizon Interactive Awards winners to provide us with inspiration and help keep our fingers on the pulse of the tech industry, so it’s great to be acknowledged as one of those leaders.

Peter: It is very important to us that our work is recognized when compared to leading agencies by recognized authorities in interactive media. We’ve always strived to deliver the best quality work and experiences to our clients and theirs. Receiving this award, and being recognized amongst our talented peers, makes us proud of the work we do every day.

HIA: Tell us more about your company. Talk, if you would, about how it started, how it has grown, what changes you have seen in the company, etc.

Shawn:  Our business is rooted in hospitality. Having started as a three-person, in-house web team for Marcus Hotels & Resorts, we began winning awards (such as the Horizon Interactive Awards) and realized we wanted to bring our expertise to other businesses in the area to help create a better community as a whole. Expanding our own horizons with a number of clients, all with their own needs and budgets, we’ve been able to offer enterprise level customized solutions, as well as more turnkey options (like templated sites, packages, and subscriptions).

Peter:  Working with our clients to determine the best custom solution has always been what drives our entire team. In the last several years we are taking our industry expertise and developing cloud-based solutions that can be used by many clients with minimal customization. This helps us to leverage the technology and expertise we have developed over the past 10 years to accelerate our growth.

HIA: How will you continue produce industry leading work?

Peter: Our team is made up of a very diverse set of skills including digital design, mobile apps, game development, and application development. This gives us a broad range of perspectives on what is trending in digital media. We also get inspiration from our peers, especially the awarding winning designs showcased by Horizon. Participating in award programs not only helps us to understand where we fall in comparison to our fellow agencies, but also vividly illustrates the level of quality we need to produce to remain leaders in our field.

Shawn:  We don’t live ONLY in the digital world though. Our team is involved in the local MeetUp community, both attending and coordinating events, encouraging and engaging in conversations about all the factors that continue to shape our industry. Attending leading industry conferences and seminars further allows us to keep an eye on what’s coming next and inspires us to ask how we can innovate those ideas even further.

HIA: What makes Graydient Creative special? (People / Teams / Philosophy / etc.)

Peter:  We got our start delivering custom web sites to the hospitality industry and evolved to deliver a full-spectrum of digital marketing solutions. In a world where anyone can build out a website on sites like Wix or Weebly, we know we can’t compete on price; but we can compete when it comes to the custom needs of the sophisticated clientele we serve.

We’re somewhat unique in that our agency has a strong set of back-end programming and mobile app development talent, which is becoming a requirement in the complex world of digital marketing. Our clients ask us to connect their operational and marketing systems, automate processes, and collect data to analyze the effectiveness of their marketing efforts. The role of the digital agency is becoming more technical all the time and we are building the skills to address this trend.

Shawn:  Going back to that point of hospitality again, customer service is in our DNA. We don’t think of it as working FOR clients, but WITH them, which I think also sets us apart. We call ourselves digital sherpas, helping clients scale the digital landscape, and everything we do aims to conquer that statement.

With a focus on the future, we also take a strong stance on education and our community, getting involved to help lead and shape the next generation of coders. We’re from Milwaukee, where there is a currently a large demand for tech, but not a lot of people pursuing these careers – especially women and minorities. By getting involved at the middle/high school level, and sometimes even as early as elementary, through advisory boards, the Girls Who Code program, and other school-driven events, we hope to show that tech means so much more in today’s world than just computer programming.

HIA: Talk a little about the types of projects that contributed to the recognition that you have received in this year’s competition.

Shawn:  I think the biggest star of this year would be the Sculpture Milwaukee event. We were deeply invested in this project, which consisted of an outdoor urban gallery of 22 sculptures lining the main street in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin Avenue. Through our involvement, we were able to engage a number of our skillsets and services, including branding, print design, website design and development, mobile app development, as well as social media management! We were very proud of all the things we were able to accomplish in building up the brand, encouraging visitors to come to Milwaukee, and being allowed to entertain and delight them once they were here.

Peter: While websites have always been our bread and butter, it’s exciting for us to see a number of our other services also being recognized this year. The number of technologies that we’ve delivered to clients in the past year was amazing and illustrates the breadth of what Graydient can create. Day to day, we are heads down working to make our client’s projects successful. The works recognized this year allow us to take a step back and fully assess and appreciate all the things we do when we deliver challenging projects.

HIA: Speaking more generally, what trends are you seeing in the industry and how digital / interactive media is evolving.

Peter: Wow – what ISN’T evolving? Let’s just say no one joins the tech community who has a set it and forget it mentality. The only thing guaranteed in our business is change, and we’re excited to see where it goes. The need for mobile/responsive websites versus mobile apps is definitely something we’re very aware of. Mobile web technology has made some incredible advancements, and we see a number of clients embracing advanced mobile web technologies instead of mobile apps.

Shawn: We saw the shift first from computer mice to finger swipes, and even these things are continuing to change. Things like voice command and zero UI are forcing us to consider interactions in a way we’ve never considered before, which can be both exciting and a bit challenging.

A lot of things that have been trendy on the tech scene are going more mainstream, so it’s exciting to see that technology take off. While the craze surrounding things like Pokemon Go may have come and gone, it was a true testament to the interest in and adaption of augmented and virtual reality. With the integration into mobile devices, and hardware becoming more widely available, we are extremely interested to see where that may lead, and how we can continue to be a part of it.

HIA: We know you have entered and won awards in past Horizon Awards competitions, what do you feel is the biggest benefit from being a participant in the competition.

Peter:  As we mentioned before, having been an award recipient when we were a corporate department is one of the reasons we decided to start Graydient. Knowing where we rank in comparison with competitors on a global scale is truly rewarding, in terms of confirming what we’re doing right, as well as identifying where we can improve.

Shawn: We are always extremely proud of our work. Our team and our clients put in tremendous amounts of effort to bring them from concept to completion, so when external sources are able to acknowledge this, it’s a great reinforcement for all parties involved. The team loves knowing that judges are looking at their work and noting that it is truly exceptional, and it reinforces the faith of our clients to know that all their hard work has paid off too.

Graydient Creative, thank you for taking the time to talk with us.  We are truly excited to share your story with our audience as well as promote the great work you do. Once again, congratulations on the Top Agency Runner-up award. You should be very proud of this achievement. We wish you continued success this year and hope to have you back in future competitions.