Everyone loves a good comeback story. Whether it’s a team’s fourth-quarter surge to victory or the revitalization of a neighborhood long bruised by neglect, we can’t help finding ourselves awash with awe at the reversal of seemingly insurmountable circumstances. But as magical as comebacks often feel, they don’t happen by chance. They’re driven by thoughtful planning and deliberate action, with measurable goals that urge the rally toward a successful finish.
The Graycliff Estate had everything going for it. A breezy summer home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for Isabelle R. Martin—wife of the prominent Buffalo, NY, businessman Darwin D. Martin—Graycliff was a stunning example of Wright’s gift for creating structures that complemented the natural surroundings. However, after a change of ownership and modifications that disrupted the original architecture, Graycliff became a shadow of its former glory. After nearly two decades of painstaking restoration by the Graycliff Conservancy (during which it kept the property open to tourists), the estate’s Board of Directors asked FARM to create a brand that celebrated Graycliff’s past while setting a fresh and inviting new tone for its rebirth.
Aligning perception with reality.
Rather than jumping right into creative exploration, we began as we do with any assignment: research. Specifically, we wanted to assess the internal perception (what Graycliff means to the staff) and the external reality (what Graycliff means to visitors) to see if they were in alignment. We learned that the current Graycliff communications were only telling a fragment of the site’s story, focusing solely on the architecture. But according to the visitor surveys that we analyzed, Graycliff represented so much more. It was about the Martin family’s relationship with Wright during a difficult time in his professional and personal life; it was about the anxieties around financing a mammoth real estate project as the country was approaching the Great Depression; and it was about the beauty and serenity of the grounds in addition to the magnificence of the house. That meant we needed to realign the Graycliff narrative with what their audience would find enticing and worthy of a visit to learn more.
Rewriting the Graycliff story.
Because the Graycliff Conservancy wanted to boost visitor traffic—especially with people who may not be rabid Wright fans—it was critical to tease out the aspects of history that enamored previous guests. Guided by our research findings, we not only re-authored the Graycliff story, but we told it in a dramatic new video that made it easier for viewers to absorb and share the content. Our secondary aim was to distinguish the property from the Darwin D. Martin House, Wright’s other Buffalo masterwork—also built for the Martin family.
A modern interpretation of a classic.
When evolving a logo, in addition to examining new font and color alternatives, we always consider where the logo will be displayed. While the old Graycliff logo used the arts and crafts style synonymous with much of Wright’s work, it presented challenges with readability when minimized to fit on letterhead or within digital promotions. We resolved this issue by refining the font so that it appeared more crisp and modern without abandoning Graycliff’s strong tie to Wright. We also framed the name in the diamond shape featured throughout the house, using Wright’s signature “Cherokee Red” color.
Graycliff’s allure extends beyond the main home and structures, so we wanted the tagline to highlight the stunning natural environment as well. Here, we expanded the message from the old tagline of “Wright on the Lake” to the more inviting tagline of “An Architectural Gem in an Unforgettable Setting.” See the difference below on the visitor center rack card that we redesigned.
Our final creative assignment was to develop a microsite that significantly streamlined the content compared to Graycliff’s former website. The objective was to provide only the essential information that potential visitors need to know (i.e., tour information, location, special events) while using the video to invite guests to experience Graycliff’s exciting new chapter.
Getting the word out.
With key insights used to develop the right branding elements to most effectively engage the audience, we were ready to unveil the new Graycliff to the public. We coupled our announcement with news from New York State that Graycliff would be the recipient of $3.7 million from Governor Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion Phase II initiative. This investment fulfilled Graycliff’s required restoration budget, allowing the team to finish the job.
To share this exciting news, we held a press conference on July 10, 2017, with Western New York native and NY State Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and local officials like NY State Senator Chris Jacobs and the team from Visit Buffalo Niagara, in addition to local media outlets. Media attendance was extensive, with photographers and reporters from all major local television networks, news radio, and print publications. Additionally, the news took over social media outlets, with New York State tweeting our video to their 14,000+ followers.
Photo caption: An Empire State Development Tweet from July 10 (left) and The Buffalo News coverage from July 11 (right). Images captured with drone footage from The Buffalo News Chief Photographer Derek Gee.
The abundant resulting coverage far exceeded our client’s expectations, as Graycliff “took over” news broadcasts and feeds across Buffalo and beyond. Along with the publicity, Graycliff saw a dramatic spike in visits to the property and an increase in tours, which has continued throughout the summer.
With the remaining restoration investment secured, Graycliff’s fundraising efforts will shift to the development of an interactive Visitor’s Center that can transform its communication formats based on the stories being told. And the video that FARM developed will serve as the springboard for sharing Graycliff’s past with visitors today and for years to come.
Your brand is an asset and, just like an automobile, it can depreciate over time. But with the right care and attention to how you engage your audience, your brand—and your reputation—has unlimited potential to grow stronger.
By Jillian Fiorella, Content Strategy & Public Relations Director and Matt Cascarino, Executive Creative Director