Q&A with Novita Communications’ Christine Abbate

Novità Communications, an award-winning integrated marketing and communications agency that caters to the architecture and design communities and is headquartered in Tribeca NYC. A certified WBE, Novità has been recognized since 2017 as one of Observer’s PR Power 50 Agencies. Prior to founding Novità in 1996, Christine was Director of Marketing & Promotion for the Italian Tile Center, Italian Trade Commission. Passionate about people, products and events, she has extensive experience in PR, marketing, trade show/event planning, and design competition management.  

How has your agency leveraged this moment to propel your business forward while supporting clients during these challenging times?

Within just a few days of recognizing the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy, we immediately looked at ways we could stay connected with our colleagues there and the broader design industry which has such strong ties to the region. As consummate networkers and connectors, we quickly embraced Zoom and the power of digital communities. We launched #designstandstogether and a dedicated Instagram account as a vehicle to bring the design community together.  What began as a show of support for our friends and colleagues in Italy has evolved into multiple Design Stands Together (DST) grassroots initiatives aimed at uniting and activating the design industry to create a more connected, equitable, healthier and sustainable world.

We also developed weekly “Design Gets Together” Virtual Happy Hours to bring together designers, architects, brand leaders and A&D media, to spread cheer and have engaging conversations. Each week has a special theme and guest; the other week in celebration of Pride Month and as proud partners to DIFFA (The Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS), we hosted a special happy hour to raise funds for the organization and to support the LGBTQ+ community. It was a great success and drew a prominent media and leadership crowd including: the Editor in Chief of Interior Design Magazine, as well as industry leading designers and organizations and company presidents. You can watch it here.

What messaging has your clients been focused on during the pandemic and how have you supported them?

As an agency, we are focused on how design influences wellness and community in our daily lives. Many of our clients have already been leading in the efforts and we are spotlighting their messaging on these important topics. How can design truly affect lives? Topics include serenity, material choices,  (Daun Curry’s Tips on How to Make a Home a Sanctuary), bidet toilets (Duravit’s SensoWash® i and larger dialogue around the benefits of shower-toilets), (Architect Wayne Turett’s Passive House  – featuring the best net zero building, enhanced energy efficiency and improved IAQ).  We are sending out weekly Good News blasts on topics from ergonomics for the home office, to meditation to the future of entertainment, food storage, etc. In support of these efforts, we also launched our BE WELL video series on IGTV and YouTube in early April. Created to inspire hope and help people live a happier, healthier, more purpose driven, balanced and creative life, BE WELL features quick inspirational videos from specialists and fresh new voices on topics from mental health, design, nutrition, ergonomics and more. The series was also picked up as part of NeoCon, the world’s largest commercial furniture virtual 2020 trade show: NeoConnectYou can watch videos hereThese initiatives are driving genuine connections across clients and partners. It has been so amazing to see the way people are sharing information these days from best practices to general business strategies.  

You spoke to the power of grassroots campaigns and initiatives. How has the Design Stands Together initiative evolved? 

As it became abundantly clear that we needed to leverage our expanded network to discuss diversity and inclusion in a meaningful way, our SVP, Joseph Cephas, rapidly pulled together a panel on the #DesignStandsTogether platform with black design leaders to address social injustice and the lack of diversity in design head on.  “Diversity in Design: The Time for Change is Now” garnered accolades from Architecture and Design (A&D) professionals across the country and had over 500 attendees and 1.2K views on Facebook. This powerful talk examined the role design plays in solving social justice issues as well as the lack of diversity and representation in the profession and identified underlying issues and paths forward. To continue the momentum and address questions on a deeper level, and in celebration of Juneteenth, Joseph led “Part II” a town hall style forum that drew a substantial and highly engaged crowd. You can watch it here.Across the whole team, our agency has been working closely with clients in communicating their own policies and action plans around this important topic.

None of us have a crystal ball, but what is your hope for the future of business and for the PR / Comms profession?

If one thing has been clear, it’s that there won’t be a return to normal; our world has changed in just the span of six months. As COVID and the Black Lives Matter movement have paved the way for new ways of working and doing business, our agency has embraced change through these recent initiatives. The conversations that have emerged from these crises have been challenging, eye opening and moving. We’re evaluating our own practices and have put together a series of initiatives that prioritize diversity and inclusion and hold ourselves accountable. I’m proud that we are able to work directly with our clients as they are taking action beyond messaging alone; they are looking to partner with more Black and POC creatives on projects, they are examining hiring and recruiting practices and are participating in industry-wide conversations. It’s hard work that’s long overdue, and I hope other agencies will also examine their practices and values as it relates to the clients they work with.

As we look ahead, I also think sustainability and wellness will be more important than ever. Our clients have used this pause to look at the environment and their work and contemplate how they can use the design practice to create a safer, healthier and more sustainable world. 

I also believe that we will be a much savvier digital community; we’ve had to embrace new tools to launch products, share information, meet clients and secure new prospects. I think those businesses that continue to take risks or creative pivots will come out stronger on the other side of this. Everyday my team and I learn about a new opportunity that we can share with our clients and they with theirs. It’s been uplifting to even see our network of PR professionals help each other. I consider myself a true optimist, so while times are indeed difficult they are also encouraging as we show empathy, openness and grow together towards a better future.