Wielding a hot brand: Boston Business Journal profiles Roger Sametz

by Mary K. Pratt, Special to the Boston Business Journal

The Boston Business Journal profiles Sametz Blackstone CEO Roger Sametz––and talks to him about the origins of the firm, its clients, the firm’s approach to helping organizations evolve and succeed, and common missteps in branding.

Roger Sametz has been helping organizations refine their branding strategies since he founded his Boston-based communications and marketing firm Sametz Blackstone Associates in 1979. His concept for the business originated while Sametz was an undergrad and grad student at Yale University, where he started working with companies on projects that allowed him to connect his academic training and their varied branding and communication needs. “It was a way to put design and strategy and program together in a way that made a difference,” he said. That task is even more crucial today, especially with the advent of social media. Sametz recently spoke with the BBJ about his 20-person company and its efforts in helping clients stand out in today’s fast-moving digital economy.

Roger Sametz may joke that he’s happy playing the role of the east coast ivy leaguer, but his refined candor is well appreciated among clients when it comes to hammering out a new branding strategy.

Your client roster is generally split between for-profit and nonprofit organizations? How do you best identify an ideal client?

We’re in the enviable position to work for people whom we actually believe in. That’s also why we don’t get bigger. We’ve just always wanted to work for people for whom we can make a difference and affect positive change, and you can generally do more of that for nonprofits. And with the for-profits we work for, we help to identify a mission. Sometimes they don’t see it themselves; that’s part of the brand strategy work. It makes people want to come to work here. They look at our client list and say, “Wow, I can really believe in this work.”

How do you approach a new project?

We’re largely focused on configuring brand systems––holistic approaches to communications that support initiating and nurturing relationships. These projects all begin with investigations: we look inward and outward. Inward, to leadership and staff, and outward to clients, customers, trustees, industry analysts––from which we then evolve strategic recommendations around attributes, positioning, main messages and needed brand relationships among a client’s offerings. Projects start with this, the map for whatever has to then get done: writing, design, digital and social strategy.

How do you define success for a project?

Ultimately, success is helping each organization achieve its goals––whether it’s a school that needs to attract more talented students, a corporation that needs to have its product line better understood, or an institution that needs to reach its capital campaign goal. Has social media changed how organizations approach branding? Now everything is more interactive. That’s a good thing. With social media, you’re including people who aren’t on your payroll in your brand. Of course, that has kind of always been that way: one’s brand doesn’t exist until people “get it.” But now that’s more overt and outside voices matter more.

Success is helping each organization achieve its goals––whether it’s a school that needs to attract more talented students, a corporation that needs to have its product line better understood, or an institution that needs to reach its capital campaign goal.

What’s the biggest mistake organizations make around branding and design strategies?

Often, people within an organization believe that the value of what they’re doing should be clear to others without them having to work at getting that meaning and value across. So they’re surprised when whatever they’re offering isn’t understood and/or they don’t get credit for their good work. Let me give you an example: A symphony with whom we worked had a program in area middle schools called Adventures in Music––no mention of the orchestra that ran the program––and they couldn’t get why they couldn’t raise money for it or get credit for it. It was a great program, but it wasn’t branded to get them credit.

What do you do in your spare time?

I read. Me and my other half go to plays. We make trips to New York for theater. I’m sort of addicted to the gym ––the adjunct to that is cycling and occasionally yoga. You have to do some physical stuff to not have work constantly swirling in your head.

What’s a great night out for you?

I certainly enjoy going to the symphony and plays, known or unknown. But the contrarian answer might be the perfect night is staying home.

Who is someone you admire?

There’s no mentor out there. I would say whatever goodness I’ve assembled is by working with some really smart people over many years and many projects. I learn from all of them.

How would you describe your personal brand?

That’s interesting, because personal brand isn’t something anyone would have said five years ago and now everybody says it. I’m not known for being tactful; people hire us for our candor. I choose to think that I’m smart, connect the dots, come up with new dots, and really care about relationships and helping organizations to advance. There’s a certain quirkiness that I’ve probably cultivated. I tell people that I’m comfortable being an East Coast Ivy League snob––but only in a tongue-and-cheek way. I guess I’d say my personal brand is thoughtful and slightly irreverent. And I’m a good listener. You have to be to do this job.

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