Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

City branding firm flying high

Work sells Hawaiian airline fast

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There might be a few eyebrows raised if a bunch of designers from Hawaii put together the new polar bear enclosure at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.

But no one seemed to have any problem when Winnipeg branding agency ClarkHuot did a complete rebranding of Hawaii Island Air.

In fact, they did such a good job the airline was promptly purchased by software billionaire Larry Ellison, the fifth-richest man in the world.

ClarkHuot, which also has an office in New York, got the job by expertly navigating the intricate Winnipeg business community network -- and by luck.

They had done work for the new Richardson International Airport terminal. At that time, the airport's chief operating officer was Michael Rodyniuk.

Peter Clark, one of the principals of ClarkHuot, was scrolling through his LinkedIn connections one day last year and noticed Rodyniuk's listing included a Yahoo.com email address.

Rodyniuk had left the airport to take a senior position at Exchange Income Corp. but had subsequently left that position as well.

"I thought maybe he was between gigs and I called him up to see what he was doing" Clark said.

It happened that Rodyniuk now works for a large U.S. West Coast aircraft leasing and finance firm and when Clark called him, Rodyniuk said he was thinking of ClarkHuot because he was in the process of helping position Island Air to be sold.

"Within 24 hours we were working on the project," Clark said.

It meant that several members of ClarkHuot's Winnipeg creative team spent several weeks in Hawaii evaluating the different points of customer engagement, from the looks of the check-in desk to staff uniforms, the office exterior paint, the websites and the planes themselves.

Mark Reimer, managing director of ClarkHuot's Winnipeg operation, said the fact they're based in a winter city doing work for an enterprise in a tropical location was not an issue.

"It really doesn't make a difference where you are physically; it's the approach you take," Reimer said.

"It may sound unusual on the surface, but it just speaks to the process by which we go about constructing the brand experience and the brand stories, which is really why we spent so much time in Hawaii.

"What's most important is we have to understand the culture of the organization, the employees and the place itself."

Clark said the success of the project -- the largest for the firm in the last few years -- speaks to the talent and energy of the young creative team led by Reimer.

"I'll tell you why they like us -- our eyes were bugged out at everything," he said. "We brought this level of enthusiasm."

The fact the airline was sold almost as soon as the project was completed to a new owner who is notoriously fickle -- and, it has been reported, is likely to undertake another rebranding -- is not disheartening to the Winnipeg creative team.

"There's no disappointment," Reimer said. "Our goal was to set up the brand for sale. The fact that it happened so quickly and was sold to one of the wealthiest men in the world shows we did a good job."

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 28, 2013 B4

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