‘About Us’ is more ‘About Me’ than about a big creative firm with lots of specialists. See, I’m more Cole Porter than Rodgers & Hart. Most creative agencies have to employ one person for visuals and another for the writing: Pictures and words from separate sources. But my brain doesn’t work that way. I do both! Headlines come to me at the same time as the visual image. It’s not ‘Night and Day.’
If I get a great line but can’t come up with a compatible visual representation right away, I’m moving on to the next idea (and vice versa). In a larger agency, or in one with separate writers and designers, one guy has to wait for the other to come up with an idea. Then the first guy has to wait for the other one to flesh out the other half of the idea. I am too impatient to wait for the other guy. It’s that simple. Time is of the essence. I don’t have to wait for ‘the other guy’ to be brilliant.
What I get with my two-for-one approach is measureable results. If my ideas and strategies don’t build your brand better or drive more business to your door, I haven’t done my job. Graphic design, writing, market strategy: one without the other vastly diminishes the probability of great success. I am a veritable “cornucopia” of marketing ideas.
The Road to Marketing
Graphic design, writing and marketing were not where I expected to go in business in my youth. I was probably a lot more like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, wandering where the winds blew. My background was in theatre. As an actor, my job was to ‘sell’ a scene partner (and the audience) on the objective…so it’s a bit similar.
I did quite a bit of scenery and lighting design back in the day. The challenges were similar to coming up with viable design and marketing solutions. In one theater I had to figure out how to design a show’s scenery that really belonged in a theater with a 90-foot tall fly loft for backdrops – but I only had a 20-foot ceiling and no fly space. You learn to get very creative under these circumstances.
Nowadays I apply the same problem-solving techniques to inadequate photography. Perhaps a photo’s focal point would draw the eye better with another background, different lighting or coloring, added walls or with higher ceilings. While there are limitations (but not many) to the wonders you can achieve with Photoshop, magical transformations are a specialty of mine, making drab become De-lovely.
So how did a hoofer, actor and sometime theater designer end up in marketing and creative services? Long ago I had a roommate finishing up her Kellogg MBA at Northwestern University. One day she came home all worked up because she had a marketing assignment that completely perplexed her. She was to analyze various TV commercials and explain the target market of each. So with the TV rattling on in the background, I just started reciting the answers: “18 to 29 year-old single males” or “upwardly-mobile young, stay-at-home moms.”
She stared back dumbfounded at my answers: “How do you know that? I haven’t a clue where you got that?”
I said, “It’s easy. The actor in the first commercial was a young guy. He’s feeding the dog, so he’s single. Otherwise they would have shown his wife in the background or had her feed the dog.” This went on for some time while she feverishly wrote down notes, and I tried to get her to figure it out on her own.
The next day she came home from class and threw her bag down on the floor with a satisfied look on her face. She said she was the only one who got the assignment right (with my help). No one else had matched the visuals or language to the specific demographics targeted.
Years went by and I started to suggest product copy, headlines and artwork to various bosses on the company collateral in development. Inevitably the instruction would come back that I was to tell the (expensive) advertising agency to replace their work with my recommendations. Now, if that isn’t a strong enough message to redirect my career, I don’t know what is!
Not having gone the traditional, big advertising route, my skill sets were developed along a more circuitous route. Lots of scenery design work in college involved formal drafting training, composition and painting. (I once painted half a dozen different, large backdrops for Candide in as many days. And then I dropped from exhaustion slightly thereafter!)
Lighting design projects provided lots of training in the principles of color, movement and particularly highlight and shadow. Of course I also took classes in art history, drawing and theater construction. I was fast with most power tools but a lousy welder!
Well-crafted writing was drilled into me ‘old school’ for many, many years with as many teachers. One required the exclusive use of fountain pens for all class assignments. (I transferred to a more liberal, ballpoint-friendly English teacher.) Another skipped a huge chapter on diagramming sentences. I was particularly suspicious of this lapse in instruction since it was so prominent in the textbook. My fears on this topic came back to haunt me nearly a decade later when I was left crumpled on the floor in tears by an unrelenting professor, demanding that I correctly identify each sentence part of a ten-line passage in The Merchant of Venice. (We worked the chalkboard for weeks with The Riverside Shakespeare in one hand and Webster’s Dictionary in the other, diagramming away, line after line. Surely it was waterboarding in its early development?) Inevitably, some of the wordsmithing rubbed off over time.
Skip forward a number of years and all these lessons were applied to the necessary tools of the job like Illustrator and Photoshop. The bottom line is that I learn to use the tools necessary to complete the job. Just don’t ask me to diagram this sentence.