Sometimes, Shawn O’Mara can’t help it.
When he drives down a local road and sees a billboard he and his team designed — for example, one for the National Aviary — he pulls over to take its picture.
It’s a point of pride — and what keeps him going.
“We get excited as artists when our artwork is displayed,” O’Mara said. “The best part of my profession is seeing our brands in action.”
O’Mara, president of ocreations, a boutique agency and design studio in Pittsburgh, said his firm handles work from the smallest upstarts to the biggest corporations.
From READY®, to Primanti Brothers, to Visit Pittsburgh, to Sabika Jewelry.
“We want clients who we’re a good fit for,” he said. “It’s not just about making money. Making money comes from aligning ourselves with the right clients.”
O’Mara studied at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and began his career with Spectrum Graphics/Guidotti Marketing Group. He left there to join Thrift Drug’s corporate office, and then spent nine years in Giant Eagle’s corporate office before leaving to return to the Art Institute to teach full time.
Even through all his years of teaching, O’Mara stayed busy with freelance work before founding ocreations.
“There was never a plan to become a full-blown agency, starting small with freelance from Branded Solutions,” O’Mara said.
Jesse Mader, who was one of O’Mara’s students, started doing freelance work for O’Mara, eventually forming ocreations llc together in January 2007 – working out of the Branded Solutions office on Pittsburgh’s North Side.
“Before we knew it, we had an opportunity to work with Merging Media, and move into their Riverwalk studio on the South Side. We had an agency with access to some of the best talent in the city, including web designer and developer Dustin Lawson, a fellow AIP grad,” said Mader, co-owner and vice president.
When the Art Institute closed several years ago, O’Mara dedicated even more attention to the thriving company that he and Mader had been building, which has grown to six full-time employees, along with strategic partnerships for web development, photography and videography.
He is able to draw on his continuing work as an adjunct faculty member and pull the most talented students from local universities for internships that can turn into full-time positions.
“We’re more focused on creative potential than job experience,” he said. “It’s neat to cultivate talent and watch it grow the agency.
“It’s an agency built on concepts and creativity, rooted in education.”
Mader and his sisters had a creative upbringing, scripting and producing commercials and music videos for fun.
“Before I knew what advertising was, we were already doing it,” he said.
This evolved into many art awards and an indie music career, where Jesse has been recording, designing and releasing albums on his own since the age of 16.
When he got to the Art Institute, Mader said, one of his best pitches was for his fictional cologne called “Quitestorm,” which included lighting effects, music, promotional marketing pieces and a fragrance sample. It was a hit.
“We always think creative first,” Mader said. “Our niche is the creative. Our brains never stop. We can’t even help it.”
Their company, Mader said, has a killer team in place and is well-rounded in terms of the diversity of their client list.
“What we love about it is we get to meet interesting people and learn about all these different industries,” Mader said. “I also love to travel, get inspired, and bring fresh ideas back home to use in our clients’ projects. We are absorbing ideas and finding creative solutions, 24/7.”
ocreations can cater to any business needs — maybe it’s a brand-new company that needs a logo. Or a mid-level company that already has a marketing manager but needs design services. Or a large corporation that needs help with a major project or package design.
The team at ocreations
Mader lauds “our incredibly gifted creative team”:
Nina Zivkovic – Award-winning Art Director and Illustrator (Art Institute of Pittsburgh, 2012); Laura Smith – Creative Manager, Designer and Copywriter (Duquesne University, 2017); Olivia MacDonald – Lead Designer and Typographer (LaRoche University, 2020); Rebekah Schleppy – Graphic Designer (LaRoche University, 2022). Dustin Lawson – Website Development and Digital Marketing Partner (Art Institute of Pittsburgh, 2004).
“Live Creative, Die Alive” is not just a phrase that Shawn and Jesse trademarked — it’s their lifestyle.
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