Dobby Gibson's all-time STIR stories:
“Lost in Translation” (2004): “The first feature we ever did—an exploration of color in Japan—defined what a great STIR story can and should be. Midori, lacquer, wabi-sabi: the traditions influencing Japanese color use are intriguing and not widely understood.”
“Set Piece” (2011): “While not the most famous person we’ve ever featured, Hollywood production designer Bob Shaw was a fascinating interview. The depth of research he goes into before using color on-set for shows like 'The Sopranos' and 'Boardwalk Empire' is inspiring.
“Eye Spy” (2007): “This was an especially timely feature in which we followed trend spotters like Grace Bonney from Design*Sponge around major metro areas as they tracked color trends evolving in real-time.”
In addition to his role as senior creative director of content at Hanley Wood Marketing, Dobby Gibson is also a published poet. This sensibility comes in handy when he’s producing STIR, a high-minded print and tablet magazine whose editorial lineup—service and feature-length reported journalism—is pegged entirely to concepts of color.
We spoke to Dobby, who told us of the upcoming ten-year anniversary of Stir, and how the program has been re-cast to accommodate digital and social.
Content: Dobby, let’s STIR it up…
Dobby Gibson: We’re coming up on our tenth anniversary.
Content: That seems like before the beginning of time.
Dobby: Yeah. We started back in the olden days before Facebook, and Twitter and all other kind of things. It began as a print publication that came out three times a year, magazine style.
Content: OK. Now, obviously, if the client approached you today, they would’ve had a different request.
Dobby: Absolutely. And we would have come up to them with a solution that we’re running today, which is, you know, multiple channel, responsive content. We want to serve up STIR content to design professionals in whatever way they want to receive it, when they want to receive it. And that still includes print, by the way.
Content: Talk to us about your audience.
Dobby: This is a clip and save audience that works every day with textiles and fabric, so they really value things they can touch and feel. And they're incredibly mobile. They’re on job sites all day in their car moving around, and so, we brought STIR to the tablet and we’re delivering STIR content in their Twitter feeds, and on Facebook, and just making it available for them the way they wanted.
Content: So you’re delivering content where they are as needed. How has the content sourcing changed in 10 years?
Dobby: There’s a lot of different research that goes into the STIR program. Some of that we do, some of that Sherwin-Williams does themselves, and some of that comes from professional trade associations that serve design professionals. So we feel we have a pretty good understanding of this audience three dimensionally, and, of course, Sherwin is at many different trade events that serve design pros and they have what are called designer account executives.
Content: Designer account executives.
Dobby: Yes, several dozen professionals around the country who strictly serve designers. They just help designers with what they may need all day long. So, there’s just a lot of input we’re getting both quantitative and qualitative, in day-to-day interaction with design pros.
Content: Tell me little bit about the strategy you guys originally came up with and the client approval process.
Dobby: This is my favorite part of the program to talk about because I feel like it’s so innovative. Ten years ago we took a look at what other kinds of content these designers were interacting with every day—a lot of projects, a lot of room shots. They were plenty of success stories in Architectural Digest and all the shelter publications. So we realized pretty early on that we couldn’t just give them more of the same. We thought a lot about what can be special, and the answer was color. No one else was just talking about color. And we realized that was a really ownable thing for Sherwin and that could be central to serve content strategy. So we were going to do project stories and room shots, yes, but the heart and the soul of STIR is color creativity, these fun stories where we take designers around the world or into cultures that they maybe haven’t thought about, and help them think differently about color.
Content: All these years later, does STIR remain a differentiator for the client?
Dobby: Yeah, and, you know, to this day, there are a couple of publications that have come out and done somewhat similar things, but we still look around and feel like we are doing something that is different, and, so, I think that’s the number one reason why the project has survived. What’s unique about that program is that a visual asset is as important if not a more important piece of content than the story.
Dobby: Yeah. So when we shoot something, photos or video, we try to overshoot it so that we have tons of stuff we use on Twitter, and on Facebook, and on the tablet.
Content: How do you measure the success of STIR ten years on?
Dobby: From a series of audience perception studies we’ve conducted over the past ten years, we know that design pros who are engaged with STIR are far more likely to specify Sherwin-Williams paints and colors for their projects than are designers who don’t receive STIR content. Our client sees this dynamic reflected in their own sales data. STIR flat-out drives gallon growth, and this is a key reason why Hanley Wood Marketing was named Sherwin-Williams Partner of the Year in 2010, and we’ve been fortunate to do additional projects for Sherwin-Williams. We help them with reaching out to concrete contractors, a very different audience. The top one inch of concrete in personal residential settings often has different finishes, either decorative or protective, and Sherwin sells that stuff, and we develop content programs to help them in that market sector.
Content: Tell us a little more about the concrete contracts. What kind of a program do you do for them?
Dobby: Well, the challenge there is that, Sherwin does provide all these different products, but there is not high level of awareness of that. The challenge over the past twelve months is to get concrete contractors, and also painting contractors, to know that there are these protective and decorative concrete solutions available from Sherwin Williams.
Content: And what have been the channels?
Dobby: We’ve been doing e-mails, social is coming, and we also did a print issue called Concrete Coder, which we poly-bagged and delivered with Concrete Construction magazine that Hanley Wood produces out of our D.C. office.
Content: You're a published poet and creative director at Hanley Wood. Are you living in two different worlds?
Dobby: I guess so, yeah. It’s hard for me to articulate how those two things overlap. There was this project a couple of years ago when we helped Sherwin roll out some new color palette, where I pitched them the idea of using some short little poems to help position this color house, and that was a total blast to do. That’s the only example that I can think of where my art and my career have overlapped. I’m a creative guy and I like working with language, so, it’s all coming from the same muscle memory.
Content: Do you approach your poetry as a discipline?
Dobby: As regularly as I can. In addition to being a creative director and a poet I am also a dad and a husband, so, you know, I don’t have as much time left as I like. But I guess this is true for all of us.
Content: What's exciting nowadays in Minneapolis?
Dobby: The big thing that’s going on here is with the artist community. There’s a lot talk about creative place making, it’s kind of a buzz right now. It’s the idea that art making and art events shouldn’t be these specialized events that you have to get a ticket and go to, but they can be integrated right into the fabric of the community, like pop-up art events, something would happen for two days and then just disappear. Bands are doing that, and visual artists are doing that. All of that is integrated with social media. It feeds the mentality that people want unique experiences, and with the social media buzz that all kind of works together. So it’s really an exciting time.