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SnapDragon design firm rises from ashes of HMS in Fairfield

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Elle Morris, president and CEO of SnapDragon Brand Design Consultancy.

A new direction and new ownership have resulted in a new name for a global brand design firm in Fairfield.

“Snapdragons are the truth tellers of flowers,” said Elle Morris, newly minted owner, president and CEO of SnapDragon Brand Design Consultancy at 10 Sasco Hill Road, referring to the Victorian era, when flowers were often imbued with symbolic meaning. “They survive in rough terrain, and are also a British colloquialism for ‘assertive women.’ ”

Morris, who has spent her entire 20-plus-year career in creative and marketing services, joined what was then HMSDesign in March 2017 as CEO, a title specifically created for her by then-owner Hugh Montgomery, with the responsibility of modernizing the company.

“HMS was a traditional packaging design firm when I joined,” she said. “Hugh and I agreed that I would evolve the business model and eventually buy the company from him.”

SnapDragon now offers digital and retail design for clients that require a more holistic view of their brand, in addition to brand strategy, package design and identity development, Morris said.

“The industry has changed,” she said. “I believed that we would be more viable if we became a strategy-led agency instead of being solely focused on packaging.”

Morris came to HMS following an 18-month stint as president of the Americas for New York-based Elmwood Design, an international design consultancy company, where she won such clients as Lidl, SC Johnson and Russell Hobbs. Before that she was vice president and managing director of key global accounts at independent brand design agency LPK, where she helped build, expand and revitalize brands around the globe like Herbal Essences, Gillette, Olay, Pantene and Head & Shoulders.

That international experience is being fully deployed at SnapDragon, she said, which maintains a network of roughly 50 freelancers worldwide in addition to the nine employees in Fairfield.

“We’re very careful about vetting who we put on our bench,” Morris said. “Generally we prefer working with people with whom one of us has a personal relationship, or with whom we’ve worked previously.”

SnapDragon’s senior staff includes: Vice President, Client Services Kelly Glotzer; Vice President of Strategy Jennifer Murtell; and Client Strategy Director Tina Kunkel, all of whom have 15 to 20 years of corporate experience.

The female-centric approach is no accident. “This is an industry that has traditionally been driven by men,” she said, “but women are the drivers of the majority of purchases in households when it comes to consumer packaged goods. And that’s one thing that differentiates us from our competitors.”

However, SnapDragon is not a women-only business.

“We have a couple of wonderful gentlemen here,” including Creative Director Joe DiMeo and Associate Creative Director Ben Jura, she said.

Carrying over from HMS are such clients as HP Hood, Blue Diamond Almond Breeze, Sargento, Henkel, Hain Celestial, Colgate-Palmolive, good2grow Kids Beverages, Reily Foods and Strength of Nature Haircare.

“We’re a boutique firm that’s competing with mid-tier agencies,” Morris said. “But while those firms may have 150 to 200 people in their offices globally, we don’t have their overhead, so we can give clients a similar experience without the cost.

“Our mission is to have our clients succeed, so while they may fall in love with a plan, we can say whether it’s viable and can suggest other ways to achieve their goals.”

One other difference is SnapDragon’s lack of a strict hierarchy, Morris added.

“It sounds corny, but we really are a family here,” she said. “We all really enjoy working together, and we hang out at each other’s family barbecues every other weekend. We’re all friends. We don’t have the politics that exist at other organizations.”

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