August 7, 2013


By: Alice Ng, Director of Community and Events at the New York Technology Council

Let's face it. Nowadays, every business needs some form of online presence, but developing a digital strategy can be a daunting task for any organization. This is when a creative agency like ExpandTheRoom could be your ally. They crush pixels, drive UX trends, design mobile applications, develop social media solutions, and pretty much blow our minds with their creative ingenuity. Read on to hear what co-founder James Cole had to say about their philosophy, client relationships, and love for downtown Manhattan.

ExpandTheRoom is a quirky name. What does it mean?

Ha, people ask us that all the time, which I guess is a good thing. My partner Todd came up with ExpandTheRoom back when we started in 2002. In short, it's an art reference that alludes to how changing one thing in a room, i.e. painting a wall or perfectly placing an image, can dramatically affect the entire feeling of the space / expand the room. People often think we're an interior design or architecture firm, but my favorite was the woman at the bank who thought we were a carpet store.

On your website, it states 'Anyone can "yes" you to death but we'll always tell you what we think, so please don't be alarmed by the occasional "no" from us.' Has this ever been an issue with a client?

Client relationships are fragile little things. Some clients say they want you to be blunt and totally real with them.but they really don't mean it. So, when you are blunt and real with them it doesn't always go the way they promised it would. Sometimes we're hired as tools/weapons for dueling internal teams and part of that game is getting thrown under the bus. That said, I don't think we've ever lost a client for screwing something up or not delivering. When we do stop working with a client it's because the partnership just wasn't right -- and we're comfortable with that. We're here to make great work. We're always honest and transparent and our guiding principle is always the success of the project/campaign overall. There are enough clients out there that share those values, and our goal is to work with those folks and not the others.

Speaking of clients, ETR has an incredible list that includes NHL, MSG and Rolling Stone magazine. What advice would you give to small business owners who are trying to develop relationships with big companies?

Relationships are everything. Delivery is key, don't ever drop the ball.

Being a design agency and creating your own website can be a tricky endeavor. How did you pull yours together?

Well, let me start by saying that particular client is a real pain in the butt. The process to build our new site was not unlike all our projects. We used our proprietary software, WerkLine (www.werkline.com), to help us work through the creative process. We did a lot of up-front planning so once we hit the development phase there were few surprises. We delivered on time and within budget.

ExpandTheRoom is headquartered near South Street Seaport on Cliff Street. How is the technology community in lower Manhattan?

It's great and primed to explode. We've been here for 10 years, and we're in our 5th downtown office. SapientNitro moved down here about a year ago and Droga5 just signed a downtown lease. NYI is a great hosting company 2 blocks from our office, NYCEDC is centered down here and Cond Nast just took a bunch of space in the new Trade Center. Just remember, we were here first!

I'm sure most people are not aware that ExpandTheRoom is a member of the NYTECH CEO Roundtable. Why did you join and how has it been helpful?

Even as a CEO, it not easy to get into a room with 20 CEOs that you respect and can learn from. I never walk away from a meeting not having learned something to better our business, and I'm hopeful that my contributions are valuable to the group too.

What are three things business owners should consider before contacting ExpandTheRoom or a similar agency?

  • Make sure you know what you don't know and what you need. If you don't, make sure you hire someone you will trust to help you figure it out.
  • There's a BIG difference between a freelancer and a company. There's an even BIGGER difference between a small nimble agency and one of the traditional behemoths.
  • Make sure you hire someone you know you can work with. Creating is a process and no matter what an agency's portfolio looks like you still have to work through that process with them. Make sure you hire someone you respect, trust and know you can work with through the highs and the lows of a project.
  • Is ETR looking for new talent?

    We're always looking to improve our team...how can you not be? In short, if we can't afford not to hire you please make sure we do. Email us at iwannawork@expandtheroom.com.

    Finally, who do you want to meet and how can they reach you?

    We love to meet:

    • Smart and thoughtful people with great ideas
    • Teams that want to make quality digital experiences/software/products
    • Passionate professionals looking for an awesome company to call home
    • Anyone looking to play ice hockey

    If you fit the bill or would like to learn more about ExpandTheRoom, please reach out to James Coles at http://www.expandtheroom.com/contact/.


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