Archive for the ‘ Product Design ’ Category

Listen Up Pitches!…The Pitch Process from a Creative’s Mind

Before I begin, this behind-the-scenes look through a creative’s mind can be a little scary. I promise to stay on track and stick to the subject matter of what a pitch entails…or at least mention what it should entail. Let’s start with the obvious – before you begin a pitch, learn about your client, their business and their customer. Each client will expect you to be sensitive to their business and industry, so let the homework begin. Embark with research into the industry trends, lingo and competitors, but get the entire team working on this – different perspectives and research avenues will prove invaluable in the kick-off meeting. Also, dig into the client’s personal tastes, from who they associate with to their personal interests, such as what they watch, read, like and are involved in. This helps in choosing your “voice” of the presentation. However, the most important study is finding their target audience—and digging deeper. Are there other demos we could hit? Can we expand sales to existing customers and what will engage all of them to act? More often than not, you can change a client’s weariness of a new idea when you back it with this kind of research.

Now let’s talk about that new creative idea. Our biggest hurdle with new ideas is just that – that they’re new ideas. This means change to a client and many people do not like change. Before your pitch, make sure you are speaking to someone that’s interested in change, and if they’re not, find out why they think an agency is needed in the first place.

Moving forward, what happens when you find that idea, but it just isn’t working? Sometimes, even if the passion is there, that big idea isn’t always the right fit.  Ask yourself and your peers: Does this solve a specific problem or need? Is this problem worth solving? And will it translate into profits? Can it be implemented realistically? If these can be answered and backed up with research, creative thinking and real passion – then you have the big idea!

The thing we must always ask ourselves – how do we communicate the idea to the client effectively? First, you need to develop the elevator pitch – one short sentence that describes the idea at its highest level. Refine and simplify until it’s interesting, intelligent and to the point. The rest of your presentation should be based on this simplified explanation of the big idea and flow out like an open fire hydrant.

So there you have it, pitches. We research, we learn, we create, we execute, but we do it all while something’s missing – The Client. This is how the majority of agencies have to operate – without their major puzzle piece intact. It’s a sad way to do business, at least in my opinion.

What happened to learning directly from the client before the pitch? It’s very doubtful that any creative director or copywriter will ever know as much about the client’s business as the client does. This may not sound promising to clients, but the truth is – most of their customers do not either, nor do they want to. As a Creative Director, I want to hear the business successes and failures directly from the president or founder. A walk down the company memory lane is usually the spark that ignites the passion and reason for being of that particular business. This experience is invaluable to a creative and helps the idea bloom. Then that idea (and a good agency plan) becomes the integral link between Client and Customer. We develop the idea in the language of the consumer and place the right message in areas that they frequent. This model, when all of the above is developed properly, usually results in sales.

So I ask you, Client – Pitch me! Please.

Tapping into Your Agency’s Extracurricular Skills

A former coworker recently contacted me to gain some insight on a project she just started.  She needed to create an award constructed out of sheet metal. It was really just, “do you know of a vendor that could help me out”, as she was finding nothing but dead ends.

With my natural ability to butt in, and my background in fabrication, I offered a few other approaches to production that could better meet her timeline and budget.

It got me thinking about my “extracurricular” activities and the skills I’ve acquired outside of advertising—and how much I rely on those skills to develop advertising for my clients, acquire new business and keep myself fresh to generate new ideas.

In a past life, I was in the automotive aftermarket industry, customizing cars, installing electronics, paint and body…just a lot of general fabrication. It involved an array of materials and skills. Acrylic, wood, fiberglass, metal, leather and vinyl…using them to mold, sculpt, weld and upholster…in vehicles that light up, make sound, go fast or just look good.

My past experience, and current hobby, allow me to build a better trade show booth for my clients. I not only understand the materials, but how to choose the right one for the job, how they are assembled, their durability and so on…not just how to apply a logo to a piece of foamcore that hangs in front of a curtain.

It also helps that I can understand and relate to our automotive clients as a consumer, as an industry “insider” and as their advertising agency.

So I looked around the agency and saw how much extracurricular talent we have. Musicians and actresses, engineers and electricians, contractors and craft mavens, movie makers and more…the list goes on.

And I realize how much we actually tap into our diverse interests…in the interest of our clients.

We’ve been able to enhance our strategy and work in new business pitches by transforming our office into a nine-foot-diameter artery (constructed from PVC and fabric, courtesy of the plumber and seamstress) leading our potential healthcare client into the “heart” of the agency, complete with red and white blood cells (balloons)—truly immersing ourselves in their brand.

Our copywriter has a passion for acting and the theatre. I can see firsthand how her creative outlets bring more creative output to the table—everyday.  Not only is she writing a script for the television spot, but also she sees the potential in an actor during casting to fulfill her creative vision more than anyone else could.

So, imagine a triathlete paramedic who moonlights as a lifeguard. That’s a pool I’d want my kids swimming in.

Now imagine how your agency uses their extracurricular skills to step up strategy, complement creative and raise results.

I’d like to hear about it.

Handwork vs. Technology

Recently we developed a campaign for a financial industry client that involved illustration as a foundation for the visual imagery and it got me thinking.

Thinking about how much we rely on technology as a tool for design, writing, even to read this blog.  Thinking about how much I appreciate “handwork.” Thinking of the time, talent and dedication it requires to create something with your hands.

That’s the reason I got into the world of advertising. Well, not directly. But my passion for illustration and fine arts led me down the path to art and creative direction.

I enjoyed the process of creation—the idea, the execution, the results. And the tools…oh the tools. Pencils, pens, erasers, papers, knives. Things that spray from cans. You had rulers, big tables to work on. And the stuff you created took hours upon hours until it was just right.

And it was YOURS. Even if you gave it away for an ad, a t-shirt or a book cover—You did it.

So now it’s hours and hours behind a box of knowledge. The glare from the screen. The hum of the cooling fans, slowly bringing you into a state of consciousness somewhere between jet lag and REM sleep.

Now I feel like I moved some stuff around on the screen. Set some type. Blah.  My Mac drew the perfect circle, I just told it how big I wanted it.

Technology has overtaken the true art of handwork.

Things are slick. And glossy. And exact.

Handwork Flourishes

Wall-to-wall handwork.

Yee-Haw Industries: Wall-to-wall handwork.

I recently took an unexpected trip to Knoxville, TN.  While there, I was hoping to get a few minutes to visit an old friend. Yee-Haw Industries. (I’m really not their friend… but I enjoy their work so much, their handwork, that I’d be their friend.)

Yee-Haw Industries  is primarily a letterpress printer—the “old” kind of printing with wood type, lead type, hand-cranked printing presses. Think old west meets deep south and they made a circus poster.

Old wooden floor. smells of  paper and ink and the solvent you clean the press blankets with. They had the big tables and the wood cabinets. Stuff made of cast iron.

I think the only need for electricity was for the coffee maker and the lights.

Cabinet after cabinet of lead and wood type.

Yee-Haw Industries: Cabinet after cabinet of lead and wood type.

Everything in there was done by hand.  It was a museum of fine art, design and typography with people touching the exhibits. It was wonderful.

You can see the skill, determination and passion in every print they create. The lines are rough. The ink is a little heavy here and a little light there. Technique, limitation of the process or human error? Who cares—I loved every minute detail of it.

And they OWN it. It’s THEIRS. The style, the techniques—even when they give it away for a poster or a note card, they did it.

Give Them a Hand

So I bring this back to that campaign we developed for the financial client.

Part of our pitch was that the (uniquely) illustrative nature of the campaign was representative of their  history, tradition and the relationships forged with their customers.  Like they did it back then. And do today. I explained (and truly believe) that the consumer will make an emotional connection through the illustration to the brand. And that ‘s (part of) the battle.

They liked it. It’s going to run. I think they saw through our dog and pony show  and made an emotional connection with the artwork. The handwork. It represented them and related to their audience.

And most of all, THEY could OWN it.

Have you noticed a return to handwork? Or has it never gone away? And, what is unique about your campaign—how do you OWN it?

I’d like to hear your responses.

Powering Up Product Design

Consumer demand for good product design is driving the phenomenal success of Apple’s iPod, Target stores and even a wastebasket – namely, the Garbo, designed by Karim Rashid for Umbra. Manufacturers who ignore the importance of industrial design do so at their peril, sure to be overtaken by competitors whose products may be equal in quality but superior in eye appeal. Our in-house industrial designer (and multiple International CES Innovations award winner) offers the following advice:

Consider the end-user’s needs. When developing a product, make it easy for the consumer to use. A clean interface typically manifests itself as good design – a basic principle known as “form follows function.”

Also consider your materials. Returning to that popular wastebasket, Rashid’s use of polypropylene in translucent colors provides the ideal complement to its sleek lines. Contrasting textures can create further visual interest – especially helpful for products that don’t offer much room for design innovations.

Keep in your target market’s cultural loop. Being aware of trends in music, fashion, entertainment and lifestyles will inform product design. Know how members of your target market see themselves, and your product will be able to enhance their self-image (and perhaps even social status, as owners of a certain portable digital music player can testify).

If you are not a member of the demographic group to whom you’re marketing, talk to people who are. Get input from consumers through your website, as well as such face-to-face opportunities as event sponsorships. Meet with members of your sales staff who fit the demographic to learn what they’re hearing from retailers and their peers.

Keep up with technical improvements in materials and tooling that allow you to economically bring good design to market. When form follows function, so do profits.