Startups
Advertising / Design

How Essentia makes it work in Wilmington: large clients, long relationships

The advertising, branding and digital agency is anticipating a big year in 2015.

Shannon Stevens and Chris Cunningham: the brains behind Essentia. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Stevens)

Shannon Stevens remembers his career in advertising before the dot-com boom.
Prior to 2005, the Dover native had worked as a freelance designer for traditional publications. Then, a friend introduced him to online banner ads, media buying and interactive advertising.
He learned the ins and outs of media buying and landed a senior designer position at i-Frontier, before being named art director. After that, he worked at Medical Broadcasting Company (MBS) in Philadelphia — now Digitas Health — where he built and supported the advertising efforts behind multiple campaigns.

We’ve been here for almost 10 years and everything has been word of mouth. We have very long relationships with our clients, and we’re very proud of that.

Along Stevens’s career path, he met Chris Cunningham. They were working at MBS together when they realized, Stevens said, they could do similar work on their own.
“If we could win those accounts [at i-Frontier and MBS], we could win them on our own,” Stevens said. “We started Essentia. For Chris [a partner], it wasn’t quite the opportunity for him to leave his job at the time, but he came six months later and now it has been nine-and-a-half years.”
Stevens and Cunningham’s Wilmington-based Essentia — an advertising, branding and digital agency — was opened for business in 2005, providing strategy, technology and creativity in advertising.
“There were 20 ad agencies in Wilmington, and then the dot-com rise and fall — that killed a lot of traditional agencies,” Stevens said. “There was a lot of opportunity down here to fill that void.”
Stevens said he didn’t want to be the jack of all trades. Instead, he said, he hopes Essentia provides a 360-degree approach.
Essentia's Wilmington office space. (Photo by Shannon Stevens)

Essentia’s Wilmington office space. (Photo by Shannon Stevens)


One of Essentia’s biggest clients is Upromise by Sallie Mae, who wanted more site usage. The answer — a repositioning campaign from Essentia which focused on brand design and identity, product positioning, custom illustration, a creative landing page and campaign.
For Sallie Mae, the Essentia team has also cleaned up communications — brochures, websites, mailings — so students and parents can understand what the organization is all about, Stevens said.
Stevens is also a partner at Wilmington’s El Diablo Burrito, where he helped form the restaurant’s logo, voice, audience and space through advertising.
“The space and the music — it’s fresh, young and hip. But we never say that. We don’t tout the fact that everything there is fresh,” Stevens said. “It’s just about people talking about our business and how much they like it. They don’t see an ad. It’s all about word of mouth.”
Essentia tried an office in Austin, which didn’t pan out, Stevens said. The team has experienced success in Wilmington, in part, due to its clients in the banking world. With positive momentum going forward, Stevens said he is expecting big things for the company in 2015.
“There’s a mix of large clients — Chase, Barclays, Sallie Mae, 21st Century, Ramada, DuPont — but we also have smaller clients,” Stevens said. “We’ve been here for almost 10 years and everything has been word of mouth. We have very long relationships with our clients, and we’re very proud of that.”

Essentia. (Photo by Shannon Stevens)

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