Digital transformation makes Work & Co's star shine
Ikea, well-known for its brick-and-mortar showrooms, faced a dilemma last year when the world went into lockdown and the future of physical shopping came under threat. The furniture giant needed to translate the “specialness” of its stores, where consumers would flock for everything from Billy bookcases to Swedish meatballs, into the digital realm. Fortunately for Ikea, work was already underway by agency partner Work & Co to make the retailer’s digital app shoppable in a way that did not sacrifice any of the brand’s attributes.
“How do you bring the uniqueness of Ikea into the digital space?” says Barbara Martin Coppola, chief digital officer at Ikea Group, noting that 80% of the brand’s shoppers are now starting online. “It takes knowledge and digital savviness—there are things in the store that won’t work online. It’s a fine balance.”
It’s a tightrope Work & Co, which was founded eight years ago in Brooklyn, has become very good at walking. When the bottom fell out of 2020 due to the pandemic, Work & Co was there to help clients pick up the pieces by boosting their digital presence in ways that would better position them for long-term success in a world increasingly leaning toward ecommerce. When COVID-19 forced brands to audit their online offerings—for needs like melding digital and physical, or connecting with consumers in innovative ways—they tapped Work & Co. The agency handled new digitally minded efforts for existing clients like Ikea and Gatorade even as it grew its client base to include brands such as Vistaprint, Macy’s and Home Depot.
“The world really did move 100% digital for better or worse,” says Mohan Ramaswamy, co-founder and strategy partner at Work & Co. “Our part of the market. We felt we were well-positioned given what everyone couldn’t afford not to spend money on was their core digital platforms.”
That positioning translated to strong 2020 sales for the agency during a pandemic-filled period when most agencies suffered a decline. In contrast, Work & Co logged a 14% revenue jump over 2019 to $89.1 million, thanks in part to more than 30 new pieces of business, a big increase from the prior year’s 17. To accommodate such growth, the agency boosted its headcount by 12% to over 400 from 354. Many of the new wins reflect more than just a one-off project—clients are tapping Work & Co to design a roadmap to how they connect with consumers in the future.
“The way someone interacts with a brand over time is a reflection of that long-term relationship you’re creating with that consumer or coworker,” says Ramaswamy. “The really interesting trend we’ve seen in the past few years is how digital ties into our clients’ broader ecosystems—whether it’s a physical store, bank, experience or event—all of them can be amplified with a digital experience or product and that digital thing is what ultimately is going to stick with you.”
After Work & Co won a pitch for Vistaprint, the company known for its printing services, the agency initially planned to evolve the brand's digital experience. Then COVID-19 struck. When Vistaprint decided to redeploy its factory to produce face masks, the brand asked Work & Co for help. Time was of the essence as the global need for masks, a product very few marketers knew how to make, skyrocketed. Work & Co worked with Vistaprint, collaborating on live design files and hosting regular check-ins, to release masks to the public within a matter of weeks.
“Historically, we always talked about partnering with clients and sharing the ongoing work—this is everything on steroids,” Ramaswamy says. Yet the speed with which Work & Co was able to execute projects as a result of the pandemic is a skill that is not going away.
“Those trends that were pretty accelerated due to the pandemic are things that are going to be core tenets to the company even further coming out of this,” he says.
Along with helping brands foster long-term consumer connections, Work & Co is also assisting clients with ethical issues such as data privacy. The agency teamed up with Ikea to improve the retailer’s customer privacy tools, adding things like context when it comes to consent around personal data, and adjusting language to have less jargon and more simplicity. Some of the new features have already begun rolling out and appear to be resonating, according to Martin Coppola, who says customers who interact with the privacy feature are three times more engaged with Ikea than those who do not.
“This ultimately is really good for business—it builds trust,” says Dever Thomas, partner, design at Work & Co. “It’s just going to become more and more important as things like data breaches [occur] and the way data can be treated is not always best.”
But continuing Work & Co’s momentum is dependent on keeping employees happy. After the pandemic’s work-from-home arrangements put a spotlight on the importance of flexibility, Work & Co plans to introduce a hybrid work schedule in 2022 where staffers have the option of coming to the office three days a week rather than five. In addition, at a time when the importance of brand purpose increasingly starts from within, the agency is prioritizing social justice. Last year, Work & Co committed to $1 million in pro bono assignments to support the Black community. Tools like Give Blck, an online database of Black nonprofits that helps consumers find places to donate, assisted with such goals.
Such efforts are “huge drivers of employee satisfaction and feeling like we’re all part of something bigger together,” says Ramaswamy.