Digital agency Huge sees big opportunity in Washington


Adam Slagowski, Todd Coen and Kate Watts, of Huge, a digital strategy and branding agency. (Jeffrey MacMillan/JEFFREY MACMILLAN)
May 12, 2013

No khakis allowed.

That’s the rule in the Adams Morgan office of Huge, the Brooklyn-based digital strategy and branding agency that is growing faster in Washington than any of its other seven offices in the United States, the United Kingdom and Brazil.

“We want to maintain our culture of creative expression and the agency mind-set of jeans ... not buttoned-up suits and khakis,” Managing Director Kate Watts said. “We want to make sure we’re maintaining who we are in a city that might be a little less funky ... We’re not a consulting or traditional PR firm.”

What they are, Watts said, is an agency “born in Brooklyn and bred out of creative pursuits.” Their fingerprints are on some familiar digital campaigns, including the reimagining of Target’s wedding registry, “Be Yourself, Together” that features a same-sex couple and a fresh take on the old tradition of wedding registries. Huge also redesigned underarmour.com for the Baltimore-based sports apparel company, and created a digital campaign for Audi and Marvel Entertainment called “Steer the Story,” which invited online users to draw and vote on their favorite ending to an Iron Man comic.

The agency is now striving to inject new energy into Washington, a city where “agency” typically refers to a unit of the federal government.

“The goal for us is to bring the best user experience, design and technology to D.C.,” Watts said. “There are a lot of large global companies and associations reaching out to agencies in New York and San Francisco to do that, and there’s no reason why D.C. shouldn’t be represented in that space. That’s a big reason we decided to plant roots here.”

Watts, along with Todd Coen and Adam Slagowski, opened the Washington office of Huge last November. They have since added nearly 30 employees — mostly in visual design, user experience and content strategy — and drummed up about $10 million in revenue.

About 25 percent of that is business from the federal government, including an ongoing project for the Energy Department. In 2011, Huge was tapped to a create digital content strategy for the federal agency, which included a redesign of its Web site, energy.gov. The company is now working on two other projects for the department. One is on search engine optimization, in an effort to make the Energy Department the authoritative source on energy topics. The other is what Slagoswski calls “responsive design,” or tailoring content and navigation tools so users on the site get a consistent experience on tablet, mobile and other devices.

Huge was founded in 1999 in Brooklyn, where 425 of the company’s 600-plus employees work. The company opened offices in Los Angeles in 2006, London and Brazil in 2011, and Portland, San Francisco and Washington last year. Since 2008, Huge has been a unit of Interpublic Group of Companies, one of the “big four” global advertising conglomerates that last year reported nearly $7 billion in revenue. Annual revenue for Huge is around $100 million.

Huge employees are working out of temporary space in Adams Morgan and on Connecticut Avenue, but plan to move this summer to the Shaw/Mount Vernon Square neighborhood, said Watts, a D.C. native who worked in agencies in New York for 15 years and moved back to run Huge’s local operations.

The Washington market is unique because the federal government is a major buyer of services, and the agency’s growth strategy here is to build both government and commercial clients.

Slagowski previously worked at Vangent — which built customer services systems for the government, such as 1-800-MEDICARE, and was acquired by General Dynamics Information Technology in 2011. He brings expertise on how to pitch to the government.

“With our commercial clients, they’re typically very aware of who the top agencies are and when they have a need, they’ll send [requests for proposals] to the contenders in that space,” he said. “That differs greatly with the federal market. The federal government doesn’t usually solicit directly to you, you have to market to them and build relationships with decision-makers at the agencies and make sure you’re on the right [General Services Administration] schedule.”

Having the government as a client has also meant adjusting certain parts of their business, such as partnering with a network of subcontractors that help them meet government requirements to work with veteran-owned and women-owned companies.

“We have a set group of partners that meet those requirements,” Slagowski said. “We have a quiver of small businesses we work through.”

He said that although the government is scaling back on spending, federal agencies still have to follow the Obama administration’s directive for agencies to make their data digitally accessible, which opens the door for government sites to incorporate more mobile and social media capabilities.

“All those things that have to be in place and work properly and serve the mission of the agency to meet those mandates,” he said. “Even though there might be budgetary constraints, the agencies still have to get this work done. What we offer is a way to do it.”

Catherine Ho covers law and lobbying for Capital Business, which she joined in 2011. She was previously a reporter at the Daily Journal in Los Angeles, covering LA civil courts and labor and employment law.
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