Just last year, France’s largest privately owned design firm opened a U.S. headquarters in Charlotte. Team Créatif USA, located uptown in the Carillon Building at 227 W. Trade Street, brings with it a powerhouse of branding and package design from working with some of the world’s leading brands.
“The agency was founded in 1986 by Sylvia Vitale Rotta and Nick Craig, two designers who met in Paris, France,” explains Team Créatif USA CEO Attila Akat. “The company’s first major brand was Dannon, the yogurt company, and as Sylvia and Nick grew the business, the pet care division of Mars joined our family of clients.”
With its global headquarters in Paris, Team Créatif now has international offices in in São Paulo, Brazil, and Jakarta, Indonesia. Approximately 60 percent of its business is generated in 50 countries. The company has annual turnover of approximately $30 million and currently employs 235 people.
The agency’s work has garnered considerable praise and awards, including winning Design Agency of the Year for the third time at the XXXVe Grand Prix Des Agences De L’année in 2014.
As Sylvia Vitale Rotta, founder and CEO of the international agency says succinctly, “While advertising gives the consumer a reason to buy a product, very often, the design of the package or product plays a crucial role in swaying the consumer’s choice and staying on top of the mind. Advertising has little meaning without design; clients worldwide are seeing the importance of this craft and its contribution to brand equity.”
Team Créatif’s global clients include Mars Inc. and its brands Pedigree, Royal Canin and Whiskas; Danone and its brands Volvic, Actimel, Activia and Nutricia; the BEL Group and its brands Bousin and Babybel; Sara Lee; Chiquita Europe; and many more international and national brands.
The new Charlotte operation is designed to support Team Créatif’s global concept of working with local customers.
“We chose Charlotte because of its vibrant and international flair and the great creative talent pool in the area,” remarks Rotta. “The combination of lower business costs, direct international and domestic flights, and the proximity to our U.S. customers made uptown Charlotte the perfect location for our U.S. business.”
Akat adds, “We work on a global level with most of our clients and Charlotte’s international airport and growing global presence, both in terms of the business world and in terms of lifestyle, were compatible. Also, one of the firm’s major clients, Mars’ pet care division, is located in Nashville.”
Growing Into Charlotte
Akat joined Team Créatif in a rather roundabout way. Fifteen years ago, he had been working with Unilever but left to join Mars as the vice president of marketing for the European division. There, he worked closely with Sylvia Vitale Rotta on developing branding for Mars’ pet care products. Eventually, Akat left Mars and joined Dannon, where he once again worked with Rotta on a number of products in the baby care division.
Hailing from Germany, Akat ended up moving to the Charlotte area to work with Food Lion/Hannaford as the senior vice president of marketing for the private label division. He comments, “We found a lot of good talent in Charlotte. A lot of people are migrating from the north to the south, and Charlotte was and has been growing.”
As things turned out, Akat and Rotta reconnected, and Akat came on board Team Créatif to start up its U.S. presence.
Although Team Créatif USA receives some projects from its Paris headquarters, the Charlotte office is focused on creating relationships in the U.S. while growing business.
“A lot of American clients who worked with Paris like to work with us,” Akat says. “Sometimes we’ll work in parallel with Paris. Sylvia is managing things on a global level and we’re in constant communication. She travels here every month or so to assist in our development in Charlotte. We’re still in a start up mode here, in a way, and our Paris office has been fantastic in providing support.
“We’re working hard to build brand awareness in Charlotte and nationwide and we’re excited to be here; our team is in this for the long haul,” he assures.
Not surprisingly, Akat has invested a lot of time into strategic planning. Currently, he and his team are in the second phase of a three-phase process: “The first phase consisted of doing plenty of market research, finding the best location for our design space, and hiring the right people. Once that was in place, we sent our team to Paris for six weeks of training, which was a blast.”
The second phase consists of reaching out to the Charlotte community to form relationships and start conversations. Currently, Akat spends nearly 60 percent of his time on business development while leading his team of design professionals and account managers.
On the business development side, Akat uses personal contact, social media, email, phone calls, online videos, and more to connect with potential and existing clients, while on the account management side, he oversees communications with not only clients, but also with Team Créatif’s other offices around the globe.
“Our business philosophy is to not just to become an agency partner,” he clarifies, “but to actually become an extension of our clients’ marketing departments. We completely invest our talent and expertise into the brands we represent. In fact, we’ve done such a good job that Sylvia Vitale Rotta is sitting on the Global Brand Board for Mars.”
Everything is Possible
At the Team Créatif USA office, the notion “Everything is Possible,” is emblazoned across a wall in large print. It is the company’s approach to client relationships. “Once we are completely embedded with a client and we’ve built that relationship,” says Akat, “we really do everything possible to ensure satisfaction. If we need to sit here until 11 p.m. at night, we do it.”
He goes on, “We’re not just a design agency, we’re not just designing for the sake of designing. We start the design with strategy—really understanding the brand, the divisions of the brand, the brand positioning—and then based on that, we work on the actual design.”
“We not only talk about the design, but also the products,” says Akat, “so we are really integrating ourselves as a consumer and as a shopper, which is an integral part of our success, both in Charlotte and around the globe. The client’s brand manager or marketing manager, they can import the company’s values, allowing for a very team-centric, family-like professional relationship.”
A significant part of the company’s success is its client-centric approach as a team.
“We work very closely as a team…after all, our name is Team Créatif, so the team is very important and the creativity is very important,” maintains Akat. “The account team services the accounts, but they are also the strategic thinkers who work hand-in-hand with the creative side, and the creatives are working closely with the creatives in Paris. We’re very interlinked, and we view Team Créatif as a family without a huge bureaucracy of managers upon managers upon managers.”
As a result of this approach, Team Créatif has been able to not only build brand loyalty, but attract new clients. Akat says there are many instances where they’ve worked with a marketing professional at one company, who then moves to another company, and asks Team Créatif onboard.
Team Créatif works directly with clients most of the time, but it also works with other agencies that don’t possess the branding and packaging design expertise that Akat’s team provides.
The Charlotte Team
Given Team Créatif’s over 30 years in business on a global scale, they know more than a little about team-building. When it comes to finding the right people, Akat says he seeks clear communicators who are ready to invest in Team Créatif’s brands—individuals who are efficient, yet effective, in strategic thinking. On the creative side, he requires design professionals who can provide a portfolio that shows not only talent, but creativity and a desire to excel.
Akat describes the company’s management style by stating, “Management is all about working together as a team. My experience, initially coming from the client side, is that it’s not about controlling a team. It’s about being involved and being a part—that’s how we do things.
“Also, it’s about flexibility. Creativity does not simply come along at 9 a.m. on a Monday morning. Sometimes, it’s at 11 p.m. at night. You can’t plan for it, and when it hits, it hits. That’s what matters when I am managing our designers and account professionals.”
When working on branding designs and structural packaging design, Team Créatif’s employees are also conscious of the changing trends in the food production industry. As more and more people have become aware of the dangers of junk food and fast food, there has been a large shift for producers in not only the ingredients and production of food products, but also in the packaging and branding.
“I see a major shift in the food branding industry, especially in the younger generation. A lot of people are no longer willing to put junk into their bodies like they used to,” Akat confirms. “The products are becoming healthier with less sugar, less preservatives, and therefore, the design will be a lot more authentic, more truthful. Consumers are no longer willing to put up with half-truths in product labeling.”
In addition, Team Créatif keeps abreast of the discussion on genetically-modified foods and how these products are impacting communities, both in Charlotte and abroad. Also, with the increasing incidence of allergies, whether this will increase demand for gluten-free products and organics in general.
Packaging design trends are definitely shifting toward clean, truthful labels that provide consumers with accurate information so that they can make the best choices for their health.
“Technology has a major impact,” Akat reveals. “If you think about technology for the yogurt industry, for example, we’re seeing a trend of going back to nature. So how do you make the products in factories and facilities while still viewing things through this lens?
“So that is also some of the dialogue that we have with clients. It’s not just about making designs or putting the product in nice packaging—it’s about what our clients actually put in the containers.”
Taking it a step further, Team Créatif is also concerned with timing in telling a brand’s story, to influence the consumer’s purchasing decisions. “The biggest concern is how we can create brand awareness faster for our clients,” says Akat. “They have something great to offer, a great story to tell, but it’s not only about creating that awareness, but it’s also about having the best timing.”
Akat also points up that brands are looking to redesign and evolve their products in a far shorter span of time: “We used to design something like a bottle, a product, a food form, a shape, an identity and it would last for many years. You could keep looking after it and polishing it.
“Now, however, things are going faster and clients want to react quicker, which is of course fantastic for us because they have realized that you must never be fashionable but have to be contemporary, answer the consumer needs and you must never become old.
“Design, branding and packaging are evolving towards more essentiality,” Akat continues. “Stronger, simpler images, more real and natural, less in the superficial ‘cute’ arena; that is where the big brands have realized that they have to be focused. Design has become more essential, more focused and more respectful of the environment.
“Influenced by the success of certain brands such as Coca-Cola, Apple and Activia around the world, with their incredible designed look, today many of our clients realize the importance of design to be top of mind of the consumer. And, they are seeking out strategic inputs in design, knowing that it is very expensive for them.
“They are realizing how design and packaging is the first touch-point—not all people watch television, they do not go to the same websites and they do not do the same things anymore. So, the experience has to start somewhere more solid and that is with the product or the service. Successful branding and packaging sells.”
“Our plan over the next three-to-five years,” says Akat, “is to grow the business to at least $5 million in revenue as well as to have at least 30 employees here to really extend the team.
“Additionally, we want to grow our portfolio of clients as much as possible in Charlotte, in North Carolina, and abroad. Currently, worldwide, we have 30 million euro in revenue and are growing nicely.
“The key is to continue building client relationships,” he adds, “while taking our base business model that has worked very well in Europe and marrying these approaches together. We can’t wait to see what the future brings, and we’re proud to be a part of the Charlotte business community!”