US potential leads Poke to set up NY studio

Interactive design group Poke is embarking on an ambitious foray into the US digital market with the appointment of two partners to run its new studio in New York.

Poke New York will be managed by Tom Ajello and Aaron Rutledge, two former directors of in the US. Ajello was previously director of creative services at the group, and before that creative director of Modern Media, while Rutledge was’s director of user experience.

The fledgling studio, just opened on Bond Street in the East Village – home to Herzog & De Meuron’s apartments for Ian Schrager – will be staffed locally and managed independently of Poke’s London base, though it will be able to draw on the group’s resources in Shoreditch. Ajello and Rutledge will have a share in the US business.

Poke has already established a presence in the US interactive market, working out of its London studio. Current clients there include Condé Nast, Johnson & Johnson, Virgin and Dell.

Poke co-founder and creative director Nicolas Roope says the move to the US comes in response to dramatically increased demand for on-line and interactive services in North America as the pace of structural market change quickens.

‘People in the UK are talking a lot about how advertising spend is being diverted on-line away from TV, but in the US there is a real panic going on in traditional advertising,’ says Roope. ‘The cable market is better established there and the programming is not as strong as in the UK, so the media shift is becoming quite accelerated.’

Roope says that there is a growing requirement for a different type of approach to digital and on-line in the US, which is only being met by a handful of ‘upstarts’ at the moment.

‘Traditionally, the big boys have run the big clients and they have gone to production specialists to do the design. Fairly traditional agencies are running the strategic stuff.

But the more developed the Web has become, the less suitable that set-up is, and the hot shop needs to be combined with the brain,’ he says.

Roope says the Poke founders are taking a cautious view with respect to growing the business, and that the focus will be on the quality of the work and the people it works with, not on scaling up. That said, the New York studio could be the same size as the 50-strong UK office ‘in a couple of years’, he claims. ‘It would be really easy to grow much more rapidly than we are, but it would only serve short-term interests.’

‘Investors are greedy to scale up, and so people are swelling up for the sake of it at the moment. But for us the main thing is to continue to do the things we want to and the work that is right for us,’ Roope says.

• Poke opens its first overseas office this month, within a stone’s throw of the old Deepend and Oven Digital studios in New York
• Tom Ajello and Aaron Rutledge join Simon Waterfall, Iain Tait, Nicolas Roope, Nick Farnhill, Tom Hostler and Peter Beech as Poke partners, taking a share in the US offshoot
• Poke New York will run autonomously, but will collaborate with NY offices of groups such as Naked and Anomaly
• Future growth of Poke to be controlled, but NY office could reach 50 within two years

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