If brands aiming to reach customers online want any chance of success, they must look to digital acquisition, which is often handled by a third-party agency. For new direct-to-consumer businesses, successful advertising and digital acquisition channels have become essential for success. Often, brands will turn to agencies that have a deep specialization in digital advertising to carry out this function. However, despite being an inherently creative industry, not all agencies are equipped for a digital-first, direct-to-consumer model.
This is where full-service DTC agency Darkroom, founded by Lucas DiPietrantonio and Jackson Corey, do things differently. Darkroom caters to digitally-native brands and acts as a growth partner to clients. Their distinctive model provides clients with branding, web development, creative production, and growth marketing services, in custom-tailored packages depending on the growth stage of the client. This four-pronged, full-service approach has been incredibly successful, helping DiPietrantonio grow Darkroom from an idea to a multi-seven-figure agency in just a few years.
What is now Los Angeles’s fastest-growing digital agency began as the brainchild of DiPietrantonio and fellow friend, lifelong entrepreneur (and Chief Creative Officer) Jackson Corey. “We had both been involved in the e-commerce and design space for quite some time before Darkroom, mainly in the fashion and apparel industry,” DiPietrantonio recalls.
“We had tried building a variety of different products, using a number of different third-party providers. They all lacked pieces of the puzzle in terms of making things work. Some partners did acquisition well, some did retention really well, some dropped the ball on creative, and finding a partner that understood design or UI was difficult in the e-commerce development space. Wit this in mind, we decided to lay the foundation to build an agency with a model specifically for launching and scaling e-commerce brands, equipped with the resources that they would need from any digital partner.
“There weren’t any quality agencies focused on the unique needs of these brands. As a result, we could see many DTC brands floundering simply because they had no clear direction. They didn’t have a strong brand identity to build from. This meant that sometimes good digital strategies seemed disorganized or confused.”
Indeed, brand building has been central to Darkroom’s process since its inception. Regardless of a DTC company’s niche, crafting a distinct voice and identity allows it to stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Most importantly, brand serves as the starting point for the rest of Darkroom’s marketing initiatives.
“Websites, creative content and growth marketing tactics all ultimately tie back to that initial step of storytelling and identity forging,” DiPietrantonio says. “This was probably the biggest ‘missing link’ we saw in the DTC growth agency market — and we knew it was where we could make a difference. Our design team is built on a culture of creative excellence.”
With a clear niche to carve out in the world of DTC marketing, DiPietrantonio and Corey proceeded to launch Darkroom in 2018. It didn’t take long before they realized they had met some significant pain points for online brands.
True to this identified market need, Darkroom launched with a focus on four key disciplines: brand and identity, digital products, creative production and growth marketing. DiPietrantonio views these as interconnected parts of a greater whole that is needed for any DTC brand to launch and scale successfully:
“Our teams are consistently working towards becoming as cohesive as possible. That’s tough to do when you consider the magnitude of our vision. We are building one of the most sophisticated and cost-effective design and development teams in e-commerce, an in-house studio, and an expert growth team, so consistently improving processes to make sure we are as agile as possible is a major focus for us.”
Perhaps even more important, however, are the people who lead these teams and bring these campaigns to life. DiPietrantonio and Corey were very intentional in how they built their team.
“Far too many agencies rely on junior-level employees to do the work on campaigns that are incredibly important to clients growth. As we continue to scale our team, it is a point of emphasis for us to only hire senior talent — people who have started or grown e-commerce brands in the past.”
This hiring practice has resulted in a cohesive and interdisciplinary team that draws on e-commerce experience in a wide range of industries, going well beyond the apparel background that DiPietrantonio and Corey already brought to the table. In true alignment with Darkroom’s values, this pool of talent has been utilized to launch internal native DTC brands to market, with more planned in the future. “We really want to practice what we preach. In creating our own brands, we have built a sandbox that our team can continuously learn in and use to stay in touch with current challenges in the market. It gives us skin in the game.”
The results show that this approach has paid major dividends. As Darkroom’s expanding and successful client base has scaled to multi-seven figures in revenue, staff expansion has followed — more than doubling in the last quarter.
During the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, many companies and agencies struggled — but Darkroom continued to enjoy impressive growth. “In many ways, I think recent events have helped customers and businesses embrace online shopping and the DTC model like never before,” DiPietrantonio says. “The convenience and quality of DTC has never been better, and people are responding to that.”
“More and more people will continue to lean into the DTC model, especially in certain niche categories that are not exactly obvious. This presents a significant opportunity for our agency. We know what works. As we consistently deliver great results, we’ll be able to grow right alongside the market as a whole.”