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Chairman and CEO

Michael is a trusted advisor to senior executives, helping them strengthen their brand to grow their business, navigate challenges and empower their employees. Over the course of 25+ years in strategic branding and corporate communications Michael has become a thought-leader in the industry, changing they way executives think about brand and delivering council to some of the world’s most powerful brands. While at Straightline, he has advised a diverse portfolio of clients including Walgreens, Pfizer, Wyndham, Bausch and Lomb, Xerox, HCA, T-Mobile, Chrysler, The Madison Square Garden Company, Tyco Electronics and Thomson Reuters.  

Prior to founding Straightline in 1996, Michael was founder of CGI, the world’s largest producer of corporate communications and investor relations programs with offices in New York, Los Angeles, London and Hong Kong. Clients of CGI included British Airways, Chase Manhattan Bank and Pfizer.

Michael holds a B.A. from Columbia University and served as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. Residing in both New York and London, Michael continues to travel the world changing the way executives think about brand.



Executive Director, Business Development

Chris brings 20 years of Marketing Communications experience to her role as Executive Director of Business Development. Chris’ expertise in brand strategy and design inform her consultative approach to identifying and solving client’s problems and building cross-functional momentum. She works closely with client partners, strategists and creatives to establish custom programs aimed to define brand value, purpose and culture, and activate across touchpoints, garnering measurable impact in the marketplace.  

Prior to Straightline, Chris was with CBX for 10 years where she served in both a Senior Account capacity and more recently as Vice President, Engagement responsible for initiating and developing key client relationships across a range of B2B and B2C industries including food & beverage, personal care, life sciences, retail, fitness, telecom, and agriculture. 

Chris was a Senior Account Director at Sterling Brands where she helped create, launch and maintain brand essence and assets, and spent the earlier part of her career consulting for a number of agencies including EURO RSCG, nickandpaul, Vigilante, and Bozell. 

Chris holds a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design where she majored in Graphic Design while pursuing Modern Culture & Media Studies at Brown.



Director, Program Management

Holly brings Midwestern charm to every encounter while overseeing the Program Management Department at Straightline.
Holly’s background in design management began over 5 years ago when she was a graduate student in Design Management at Pratt Institute. During her studies, she cofounded CATALYST, a publication designed to inspire and activate creative leadership. Since graduating, she has worked in the branding and design industry for Mucca Design, OFS Brands, and Howard Hughes Studio. Holly is known for her ability to build strong teams, encourage creativity and establish connections. Clients and colleagues alike count on Holly for her listening ear, her sense of humor and her ability to help deliver project clarity.

Holly earned her Master’s in Design Management from Pratt Institute and holds a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.



Chief Creative Officer

Jim is a partner, and Straightline’s Chief Creative Officer, responsible for all design and creative development. He has 30+ years experience developing brand and communications programs for Fortune 500 companies. Before Straightline, he headed Grapheme, which he merged into Straightline in 1994. Prior to that, he was Senior Vice President at CGI, directing strategic communications projects for such clients as ADP, Sara Lee Corporation and Chase Manhattan.

As a designer, Jim has been recognized by the AIGA, AR 100, the Mead Annual Report Show, Business Magazine Awards (UK) and Financial World, among others. He holds a B.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design where he studied graphic design and architecture.



Project Manager

Dan oversees client relationships for our London office, managing project logistics and supporting the strategy team. His background is in media, where he spent 10 years working for brands including the BBC, Endemol and The Guardian.

At Independent News & Media and The Guardian, Dan managed client relationships across EMEA, Latin America and Australia for print and digital content. He also led business development in the education space and created content sales strategy for developing markets. Previously, Dan worked in television and music video production. During this time, he also wrote, produced and directed several short films.

Dan holds a BA from the University of Oxford and a Diploma in Polish Language & Culture from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland.



Senior Director, Strategy

David has over 17 years of experience within the field of branding and has worked both client-side and agency-side for several of the United Kingdom’s most respected brand consultancies before joining Straightline as Senior Director of Strategy.

He specialises in helping organizations to define and articulate their brand essence and to ensure that this is delivered with coherence and genuine meaning for their internal and external audiences. His expertise covers strategic positioning, naming, architecture, brand management systems and employee engagement.

David has lived and worked in Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Zurich and the UK and has helped global and national brands over a diverse range of sectors including finance, telecoms, healthcare, automotive, technology, retail and media.

David’s continued involvement and expertise in technology gives him an in-depth understanding of digital, from e-commerce and analytics to social and mobile, and the roles these play in developing integrated and agile brands today. 



Executive Director, Strategy

Steve is responsible for all of Straightline’s brand strategy development and plays a key role in client relationship management. With a passion for branding, Steve brings 30+ years of experience encompassing advertising, market research, brand strategy and activation, internal branding, digital strategy, and performance analytics. He has helped clients win across a wide range of industries and geographies. 

Previously, Steve was Senior Director of Consulting at MBLM, where he led end-to-end branding engagements for UL, the Dubai Trade Centre District (One Central) and the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. Steve also led the development of MBLM’s brand intimacy study, which examined and defined the process through which people form relationships with brands.

Prior to MBLM, Steve worked at Siegel+Gale and Futurebrand, as a director and senior director of strategy, where he led global brand engagements for clients including HP, SAP, the nations of St. Lucia and Qatar, McGraw Hill, and Macquarie.

Steve has a BA from the University of Virginia with a double major in Philosophy and Government Studies.




Creative Director

Atoussa brings a strong blend of strategic and creative skills to her role as Creative Director at Straightline. Clients turn to her for the thoughtful, responsive leadership of the creative aspects of engagements.

Prior to joining Straightline, Atoussa was Design Director at Enterprise IG (now Brand Union) and served as design consultant at Infinia Group. Notable clients include Time Warner, Schering-Plough, BNP Paribas, Gartner, Owens-Illinois, Towers-Perrin (now Towers-Watson), Caterpillar, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida.

Atoussa holds a B.A. in Graphic Design from the London College of Communications.

  • BUPA
  • EFPIA 
  • HCA
  • QBE
  • UPMC


Who we are: We are a team united by passion for brands and their power to persuade. Our intellect, experience, and curiosity drive us to look where others haven’t, and see the potential others can’t. Through a culture of collaboration and transparency, we continually explore the possibility of brand for our clients, the world and ourselves. We are making brands known. 

What we do: We partner with business leaders to help them define and communicate their brands. We co-create a narrative that accurately portrays their organization's purpose and value. Fusing thorough analysis, creative thinking and smart design, we uncover the authentic to create compelling brand expressions and persuasive communications strategies. 

What we believe: Brands have the ability to build community, reveal shared values, and inspire positive change. We are committed to working with brands whose values and efforts contribute to a better world. We live our promise by offering our time and expertise to organizations working to improve our own communities.


Identity: Brand creation or renewal through a process that begins with deep understanding of an organization’s challenges and potential, articulates the authentic brand promise, and delivers the verbal and visual tools to support compelling communication. 


Alignment: Re-organization and regulation of complex brand architectures and naming systems to align with business strategies and more effectively communicate the strengths of an organization as a whole. 


Development: Evolutionary brand development, including brand management systems, brand-driven responses to business challenges, message development, brand extensions, responses to shifting competitive landscapes, and corporate social responsibility initiatives. 

Communication: For organizations seeking to keep their communications aligned and their brands evolving positively, we leverage our strategic and creative expertise to produce flagship communications – websites, collateral systems, annual reports, and more – that move brands forward. 

Brandline: Customized, collaborative engagements that provide top-level strategic perspective on business and brand challenges through a process of assessment, discovery, and workshops geared to positioning brands for growth. 

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CTS Corporation engages Straightline to reinvigorate its brand

CTS Corporation has learned something about transformation since its founding as Chicago Telephone Supply Company in 1896. Originally a manufacturer of complete telephones and switchboards, CTS's electrical components powered the radio and television ages, and its increasingly sophisticated electronic sensors and controls helped make cars smarter and more efficient as the 20th century wound down and the internet spooled up. Now, as CTS refocuses its business to meet the demand for ever-smarter and more connected machines and devices, it is also transforming its brand with Straightline’s help. Stay tuned for the twenty-first century edition of CTS.


IGI Labs partners with Straightline on corporate re-branding initiative

IGI Laboratories, one of the pre-eminent manufacturers of specialized generic topical and injectable pharmaceuticals, has partnered with Straightline to redefine the corporate brand as the company moves into its next stage of growth. Over the past year, IGI has made an impressive eleven ANDA submissions to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, bringing the total number of pending new drug applications to 22. Leveraging over 20 years of branding experience in the pharma business, Straightline is excited to help position the IGI Laboratories brand for the future as the company expands into new areas in the topical, injectable, complex and opthalmic prescription drug markets.


Straightline at the Vanguard Forum

The inaugural edition of the Vanguard Forum for Healthcare Leaders was held this summer in New York City – a one-day interactive session bringing together emerging leaders in Pharma and Healthcare with industry CEO's and experts on business, finance, and brand. Participants included Warburg Pincus Managing Director Fred Hassan, and CEOs Brent Saunders (Actavis) and Jeremy Levin (TEVA Phamaceuticals). Straightline worked with founder Ken Banta on the event branding, and our CEO Michael Watras contributed his expertise and deep industry experience to a panel discussion on the relationship between brand and business leadership. The success of the Forum is attested to in this short video created by New York's Great Jones Productions. 

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Bupa, a leading international healthcare group, has recently enlisted Straightline to understand better how its  employees are connecting with the company's purpose and vision "Bupa 2020" following a number of significant acquisitions. With over 22 million customers in 190 countries, Bupa remains at the forefront of global healthcare.  We’re excited about our collaboration with Bupa, and empowering people to live longer, healthier, happier lives. Check back for further updates.



Recently, startups have been one of the hottest topics of conversation in business. The story goes something like this: the roll-up-your-sleeves entrepreneur comes up with a great idea and VOILA! fame and fortune are her reward. Many of today’s successful businesses –and biggest brands – began as startups. The media hype that can surround a red-hot startup can make it easy to forget that building a brand is never independent from building a business – both start from day one. Savvy entrepreneurs know that their business plan needs to include a brand- building plan.

Tips for creating a brand building plan:
1.    Consider the approach to brand in your industry first to learn what is expected; then look out of category for inspiration
2.    Plan for the future and for the unplanned
3.    Develop a customer experience that tells your brand’s story
4.    Remember that brand delivery begins inside the organization – define the behaviors that embody your brand

Brands and
A Necessary Reflection

Building a solid brand platform is just the beginning for your brand identity. From there, brands must endure constant maintenance; a process of reflecting and monitoring that determines which brands will transcend business and consumer developments. As the era of the selfie still reigns, it is important for brands to look to a wiser predecessor, the self-portrait, as a tool for introspection. For this process to be effective, it is critical to have an honest awareness of your brand, not only defined by the image you believe to project, but also by your customers' perception. The resulting shared vision between brand and consumer is the key to brand growth. It’s time to look in the mirror.  (continues)

Community Solutions launches ad in Times Square

Thanks to generously donated ad space, Community Solutions is spreading their mission to end homelessness in New York’s iconic Times Square. We worked with Community Solutions to create a ten second recurring video that would strengthen brand awareness, enhance fundraising, and drive social change. In the epicenter of commercialism and tourism, amidst the glitzy jumbotrons and flashing lights, the billboard’s subtly powerful design resonates on a universally personal level.

"When we were given just 48 hours to produce a major Times Square billboard ad, we turned to Straightline. Within a few hours, they had developed a high-impact concept and a flawless design, and by the next morning, the piece was ready to go. I don't know of another firm that listens so closely, works so quickly, and executes so well.” – Jake Maguire, Director of Campaign Communications, Community Solutions

An end to homelessness is possible. Visit to learn more.



Once a titan among technology brands, AOL has all but retreated to the depths obscurity with the likes of Gateway and Netscape. One of the most iconic brands of the 90’s with a ubiquitous catchphrase (“You’ve Got Mail!”), AOL was the brand nearly every newbie turned to when entering the online world. With its membership model, innovations like AOL Instant Messaging and exclusive content, AOL was a shining example of brand strength. (continues)

Super Chefs have super night

This past year, we were fortunate enough to partner with Change for Kids, a non-profit that provides educational opportunities for under-resourced NYC elementary schools. As CFK spearheaded 'Super Chefs,' their first annual gourmet-tasting benefit, we designed branding and promotional materials that complemented the event’s heroic goal. Inspired by the superhero motif, our creative team incorporated a classic comic book style that was fun, engaging and added the right amount of “POW!”
Super Chefs raised over $250,000, becoming CFK’s most successful event to date. To learn more about this incredible organization, check out their website at

"The passion and excitement [Straightline] brought to the project rivaled our own. Their work informed absolutely every other element of our event and was essential to the event's look, feel and success." Abigail Holstein, CFK, Communications Manager



According to Henry David Thoreau, “Goodness is the only investment that never fails.” Many global brands demonstrate that they take these words seriously. They are also running their businesses more efficiently and sustainably – developing better, smarter business practices that show their concern for shareholders as well as their own communities. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can be a broad umbrella that includes many activities such as community volunteer work, carbon footprint reduction or improvement, enforcement of a high standard of ethics, and a focus on quality of life improvement programs for employees and their families. (continues)


As part of a brand building initiative launched by a new management team, Straightline was asked to recommend ways to increase awareness and relevance for the Bausch+Lomb brand. With a great history and high name recognition, Bausch+Lomb had been coasting on its familiarity and needed to articulate a clear message about its mission and ultimate benefit to customers.

Through a process of stakeholder interviews and iterative worksessions we created a unique mission statement “system” that telescopes from a descriptive 150-word version, to the concise “Helping you see better to live better,” to a tagline that delivers the mission emphatically – 
“See better. Live better.”


Helping nature heal

In 2012, the Biologics Division of Smith & Nephew partnered with leading healthcare growth equity firm Essex Woodlands to create Bioventus. Bioventus works every day to bring orthobiologics to the forefront of orthopaedic care, so that patients everywhere can heal faster, and return more quickly to normal, daily living.

Bioventus partnered with Straightline to create a compelling brand that would support its business strategy and align with its vision, mission and principles. Building on the powerful idea of active healing, Bioventus’ brand strategy was defined and then activated by Straightline through key executions, which included verbal identity development (tagline and messaging). A new visual expression was created to symbolize the modernity and huge potential of Bioventus’ business. Inspired by the new look, we developed a new corporate website (web content development, UI and back-end implementation), along with key brand communication tools and launch materials — curating the new brand expression into a consistent creative experience for employees and consumers.


Familiar name, new business

When Canon acquired Océ in 2010 it became the worlds largest workplace printer company. Along with Océ’s familiar printer business Canon also acquired a new capability for which it had no track record and no brand reputation – Business Process Management. A mix of document management, back office outsourcing, and process consulting, BPM is all about creating efficiencies – by the numbers. On the ground it’s a people-centric business that requires employees and systems to connect seamlessly with client operations.

Several months out from the official launch of Canon Business Process Services, Straightline was engaged to design and implement the new CBPS brand. Our visual system turns on the poles of efficiency and connection, presenting quantified business results in a distinctive typographic style. Carefully sourced images of business environments use reflection and transparency to suggest layers of connected activity.

We led implementation of the new brand across a complex marketing communications architecture that matrixed 5 industry verticals with 15 core service offerings. More than 100 individual executions were produced in online, electronic and print formats in the weeks before CBPS’s successful rollout.


An organization you should know

Straightline has been privileged to support non-profit Community Solutions with our efforts since its inception in 2010 – longer really, as we worked with founder Rosanne Haggerty while she was leading predecessor organization Common Ground. Fighting homelessness is the mission of both organizations, but where Common Ground focused on developing supportive housing, Community Solutions looks to innovate new models of social support and community partnership that are transportable, to impact the greatest number of people.

Our identity for Community Solutions is as bold and direct as its stated goal: ending homelessness. From that starting point we’ve created everything from basic office paper and presentation systems to an annual report. We also work with 100,000 Homes, a Community Solutions initiative, to produce annual progress reports as it approaches its eponymous goal.

Please visit to learn more about the important work they are doing.


Trends: Authenticity Through Images
By Andrea Cotter

Visual content is dominating digital communication. It’s no surprise, as pictures spread information in a way that is easy to process, memorable and creative. So how do brands leverage visual content on social media? For brands, visuals enable an opportunity for competitive differentiation. Corporate values and cultures are depicted through pictures that capture concrete examples. As consumers now want to be simultaneously informed, entertained, and inspired, brands need to stop telling and start showing. 

A while back, there was a book that inspired me about creating collages of magazine pictures – something I did as a kid in art class. The book was Simple Abundance by Sarah Ben Breathmach, originally published in 1995 and still selling on Amazon. (continues)

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have a

It’s about what’s inside.

If you’ve never considered the iconic quality of a jelly donut then you probably haven’t met our CEO. His passion for this humble treat (and the pink and orange brand most associated with it) goes beyond a childlike attraction to sugar and surprise packages. When he offers you “a jelly,” it’s not just a snack. It’s a challenge to get beyond Starbucks and Cronuts to enjoy with him something authentic and timeless. He’s probing to get past your preconceptions and reveal what is really inside.

That knack for navigating toward the truth has become a central part of Straightline’s culture and methodology. We have to find out what is at the core in order build a successful brand. Sometimes the way there is straightforward, sometimes not so obvious. So if a Straightline employee ever offers you a jelly, you've been warned.


EFPIA Engages Straightline For Brand and Communications Initiative

The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) has begun work with Straightline to support its newly articulated mission to become a driver of scientific innovation and societal benefit in a time of global challenge within the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. From its Brussels headquarters EFPIA represents more than 1,900 pharmaceutical companies, building industry consensus, working with the EU, and partnering in public and private initiatives for research and corporate social responsibility.

The assessment phase of our project is underway. Through in-depth stakeholder interviews, comprehensive communications analysis and competitive reviews we will be identifying opportunities to clarify and sharpen EFPIA's communications, and build understanding of its brand and mission. We're excited to be embarking on this important and challenging work. Check back for further updates.


Turning up the temperature

When Detroit-based Amerigon acquired German W.E.T. Systems it became the global leader in thermo-electric technologies (think temperature-controlled auto seats). It also became a company in urgent need of a new brand to unite its two cultures and signal expanded capabilities to customers and investors.

Structured interviews with 30 executives in the US and Germany revealed genuine enthusiasm for the combination, and for the potential to become “leaders in creating an energy efficient world.” Inspiring efficiency, a phrase coined early in our positioning process, became the new brand’s tagline and the guidepost for our naming effort. From 600 initial name candidates, Gentherm emerged as the clear favorite. The “thermal globe” logo evolved from a workshop approach in which more than 30 potential symbols were shared with Gentherm’s team and refined through a 5-round process. The globe’s sweeping arcs and gradients became the visual language that unified Gentherm’s communications for launch day and beyond.



Over a freezing and frenzied three February weeks Straightline created the name and visual identity for a start-up business developed by health system giant UPMC. Combining UPMC's healhcare IT expertise with Oracle's cloud-based systems, CloudConnect Health IT offers affordable access to sophisticated IT services for smaller hospitals.

While we wouldn't recommend naming and branding a business in three weeks, when long-time cliient UPMC asked we couldn't say no. So we parallel-tracked name generation, legal screening and creative processes to deliver the brand in time for the launch of CloudConnect's first product at a critical industry conference. To speed decision-making we shared a wider than usual range of name and logo options in workshop meetings, making real time choices in partnership with the client. CloudConnect IT now offers secure cloud access for 75,000 users at small- to mid-sized hospitals.


Restoring the balance

Anticipating FDA approval of its first two diabetes medicines after years as a promising biotech, Amylin engaged Straightline to re-create its brand. Its new CEO understood that the coming transformation to a full-fledged pharmaceutical business with multiple stakeholders would require a clear definition of Amylin’s purpose and strong tools to meet increased communication needs.

With limited external awareness and an intense, passionate culture, defining Amylin’s new brand required close collaboration with company leaders to articulate a positioning that employees and management could rally behind. After surveying physicians and interviewing the trustees, Straightline led leadership workshops to uncover the building blocks of the brand. We authored a tagline – Challenging Science. Changing Lives. – that expresses the core of Amylin’s mission and motivation.

The logo, an expression of the balance Amylin seeks to restore to patients, conveys confidence and clarity through its simplicity. For three years we guided Amylin’s brand expression and designed key communications as the company grew from fifty to 2,500 employees. 


Michael Watras on connective branding

In a thought leadership series for Heyman Associates, Straightline President Michael Watras discusses how to connect the brand to various stakeholders in today's environment of multi-channel communications. 

Heyman Associates is the leading executive placement firm for the communications and public affairs profession.


CSR and Straightline

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, a catastrophic event that impacted so many in our NYC community, Straightline employees were eager to help. Employees volunteered in Red Hook, Brooklyn helping NYC residents who were hit hard by the storm with their cleanup and recovery. The volunteer opportunity made us think about how helping out in our local community could build a closer Straightline community as well, so in 2013 Straightline’s CSR program was launched.

Our official kick off event was held in May with Straightline volunteering at the Marcy Children’s Center in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn. Employees participated in a “Read-a-thon” with community students aged 2-4 years.  

Straightline’s CSR commitment includes donation of professional services to social organizations, and company-supported volunteer days to help Change for Kids, a not-for-profit that focuses on providing education opportunities to under-resourced NYC public schools.


Re-branding for a bigger stage

The Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation, named for the Grand Ole Opry star, began its work as a granting organization, raising and distributing funds to advance cancer research. In 2001 it set off on its present mission, providing support and information directly to people affected by cancer in its Nashville community. In 2012, as it worked to expand its influence nationally through the establishment of an online cancer support portal, the regional and temporal limitations of its namesake branding became clear. Drawing on trustee interviews and executive worksessions Straightline conducted a rapid naming process to create PearlPoint Cancer Support, a name that nods to the organization’s past while evoking its newly articulated mission: To create a more confident cancer journey for adults anytime, anywhere.

PearlPoint is committed to using digital technologies to extend its support to the greatest number of patients. Consistent with this thoroughly modern attitude it wanted the new visual identity to be streamlined and bold. The parallel paths of the P monogram represent PearlPoint’s commitment to be a partner on every individual cancer journey.