Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The freelancer's year.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dollar Store mentalities.

Last night, I attended a mini high school reunion.

When reconnecting with old friends, discussion always turns to questions about what you do for a living? Of course, this discussion often turns into the trials and tribulations of your industry in today’s global marketplace and the effect of the current economy.

Speaking with Ken, a long-time friend, I mentioned that the biggest challenge in my career today is trying to educate new clients on why they should spend more money marketing their business than what they spend to have the oil changed in their car. Simply put, people seem to want all their marketing materials produced for next to nothing.

Upon hearing this, Ken remarked “it’s because in today’s world, we have dollar store mentalities.”

This sentence from his lips stopped me cold.

“Brilliant” I thought.

Let me explain…

Dollar stores have sprung up everywhere. There’s a reason for this. It’s because we all visit them. In today’s marketplace, let’s face it, many want stuff done on the cheap. Quality in many instances doesn’t matter. In some cases, you may actually get a deal. But is the quality on most of the items actually there? If you were looking at purchasing a good brassiere, would you buy one from “Dollar Dollar Dollar”? (I just made this name up BTW). Did the cheap manufacturing job overseas (which put many in your country out of work I might add) give you exactly the quality that you were looking for?

Case in point, you buy your child a bolo bat. You get it home, they play with it twice, and it breaks. The ball comes straight off the elastic. Going by Ken’s “dollar store mentality”, do you go to a higher end store and buy your upset child a decent bolo bat for a few extra dollars that won’t break? No. You go right back to the dollar store, complain, and bring home another one which will immediately break again.

It’s not money well spent. Spending a few extra dollars the first time on much better quality is money well spent. What you’re doing is just throwing money away on cheap crap that won’t work.

Relating this to advertising and design materials/communications, many clients don’t see the value in paying a great designer $1000 to market their business when they can get the cheap “dollar store” version produced for $250. Of course, most of the time, there is a huge difference in the quality and when the $250 version doesn’t work, they will not only go back and complain, they will find somebody else to do another horrible $250 version, instead of originally paying $1000 for someone MUCH better that will deliver a piece that will meet the required objectives. Recently, I had a wealthy client ask me why he should pay me $1000 to produce a direct mail piece when he can get somebody to do the job for $250?

I immediately asked him if he had an accountant for his business?

“Yes” he answered.

I asked if this accountant does his income tax?

“Yes” he replied.

I continued… “why do you use an expensive accountant when you can go to the mall and use one that sits in a kiosk for $50”?

I could see the wheels begin to turn in his head.

“Well”, he answered, “if I’m going to spend $1000 with you I want you to GUARANTEE that my business will explode”.

“I can’t do that” I answered.

He looked at me angrily (and completely puzzled). “Why not?”

“Let me put it this way” I replied. “Let’s say you (god-forbid) get cancer. You have a choice. You can go to a $100 an hour doctor who’s mediocre, or you can go to a $1000 hour doctor who’s highly recommended and has a great success rate. Which one are you going to use for your treatment?”

“The $1000 doctor” he answered.

“Of course you are” I responded.

“Is he going to guarantee that you’re not going to die?”

As a long time, somewhat reputable, higher-earning professional in this business, I have to educate new clients and have these conversations with them on an ongoing basis.

Why would I use your services when I can easily get cheaper?

Of course, they will also be sure to show me the last piece that was designed by said cheaper designer and it’s seriously atrocious.

“This is good, no?” they ask me?

My first response to that is “did it work?”

“Not so well.” they answer.

Of course, they are now coming to me for a new piece that WILL work but they are looking to spend the exact same amount of money again.

Dollar store mentalities.

When will they stop being surprised when they pay bottom dollar and it doesn’t work?

I have two favourite sayings. I use them often.

“You get what you pay for”.

And “the poor always pay twice”.

Until next time, keep dreaming.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Print is NOT dead.

You’ve been hearing countless rumours about its demise. The words are being spoken from the lips of many designers. You’ve even started to believe it yourself…

Is print really dead?

If you are like me, a traditional art director who LOVES creating magazine advertising campaigns, full page newspaper ads, outdoor posters, and hell, even the magazines themselves, this is the very last thing you would ever want to hear, or see happen.

But is it true?

The world has gone digital. There is no doubt about it. Marketing on the internet is no longer just a fad, the hottest technological toys on the market are personal tablets (e.g. IPADs), and creating APPs for new technologies can be quite lucrative. Every company now wants an amazing website, and somehow, “back end programming” and “art director” often appear in the same sentence on job listings (this one REALLY irks me).

Is that to say that a traditional creative should hang up their hat?

I don’t think so.

It is true that in the last few years, the website designers I know have seen their workloads explode and print jobs have become a much smaller percentage of clients’ budgets. But the fact remains that print is still a necessity in many client budgets.

Designing for print is not going away, it is just becoming more of a specialty area and those that remain dedicated to it, and produce it correctly, will find themselves in a niche.

90% of what I do for a living is print. I’ve seen my main clients do less of it recently but the fact remains that they still have it in their budgets. They might not be doing both a magazine ad and a direct mail piece but they are likely to need one of them. People will always network. They still need corporate materials to hand out with their website address. A business card, postcard, or brochure. Trade shows will still need print materials. Companies will always need signage. Products will always need packaging. Supermarkets still utilize promotions and POS displays.
I don’t care how much I love my IPAD, I still like thumbing through my favourite magazine while sitting on the throne. I still like reading my newspaper at breakfast and I’m far from alone on this.

Print is not dead. It’s just becoming a little old-fashioned. And it’s not as needed by each client as it used to be.

You can still remain a dedicated print designer. I intend to remain one until I retire. But what I am learning is that you can no longer rely on just a few clients to give you endless print work. You must hustle a little more. You must work harder to gain more clients that need SOME print work. Many small jobs make for large paycheques. Small projects build a solid foundation for more projects. 10 small projects in a week for 10 different clients at $300 each is $3,000. A trade ad here, a business card there, a handout, a menu, these projects are not going away so quickly.

I know people will say “but won’t everything eventually become electronic?”

Maybe, but here’s my answer…

What percentage of your clients are willing to spend the money to go completely electronic? Can you see every one of them willing to pay for a large storefront pixelboard sign? In this day and age, many companies are shopping around on crowdsourcing sites for $100 logos. Do you really see them forking over the cash to go fully digital?

Lets face the facts. You can’t do everything. So focus on what you love. Even if websites are the hottest commodity to a client at this very moment, in 5 years, will you be reading a website or will you be watching an interactive, online infomercial? Everybody will have to adapt to changing technologies.
Let’s say design schools are currently churning out APP designers. Where will these designers be in 10 years when design schools start churning out say, 3D hologram designers? (I just made this up).

Are the current design students learning how to output and produce work for print? I don’t know. But I’ll bet they don’t entirely focus on it. Which means that you have designers that will end up in the freelance pool that will have no choice but to outsource print projects. To YOU.

There is still much work to be done in print and there is still a LONG way to go before somebody hands you an electronic business card. We are still a long way from my breakfast cereal coming in something other than a box.

I will gladly continue to creative direct and outsource web design projects. I will happily take (and produce) other’s print design projects. That’s my specialty. That’s my love. As the old saying goes, “focus on what you love and the money will follow”.

Print is not completely dead. It’s just not the current fad anymore.

For all the website designers (that are currently swamped with work), for all of you designing for what’s “in the now”, there is a question you have to ask yourselves…

How long before the next one?

Until next time, keep dreaming.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Confession

After almost 20 years of climbing up the creative industry ladder, I can honestly say that the ONLY person I envy (career-wise) on this entire planet, is the creative director on Google's homepage.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Elegant Simplicity

A few weeks ago, I checked the “mentions” tab on my Twitter account and saw the beaming face of a smiling, 1960s styled hippy named “GibbyGooBop” directing me to a YouTube link. He only said two words to me in his tweet…”Elegant Simplicity”.

How he found me and why he thought he should hit me personally with this is anybody’s guess. I’m still trying to figure that one out for myself.

At first, I thought it was some form of spam but upon careful observation, I concluded that it wasn’t and curiosity got the best of me. So I cautiously clicked on the link. What I saw was a music video titled Strife on Mars?.

It was the WEIRDEST, most unique, well produced piece of work I have seen in quite some time.

At first, I didn’t exactly get it but I must admit, I was smiling and my mind was quite blown. I couldn’t decide if I had just seen the work of a madman or an absolute genius. Being an advertising creative, I’m used to the ideology that a message should be delivered clearly. However, being an artist (and an individual that I believe to be deep and intelligent), I LOVE weird metaphoric content (movies for instance) that actually makes me think about what I had just seen for days to come.

Boy Gibby, did this EVER make me think. So much that I really haven’t stopped thinking about it since the original viewing.

I admit, I must have watched the video a dozen more times in the last few weeks. I’ve studied the lyrics. I’ve listened to the music. I’ve examined the acting and special effects. I carefully watched everything right down to the editing and the overall production and this is no regular YouTube garbage simply thrown together with a standard video camera. It is a well thought out work of art that has been professionally executed in every area.
In SO many ways. I quickly went from feeling baffled and a little weirded-out to an extreme sense of awe.

I must also mention that the song is an earworm. It’s been weeks and I can’t get the “Zim Zam” or Bowie-esque “Curly never gave up on Moe” out of my head. The accompanying musicians that performed on the track are great. Of course, it's a swipe of Bowie's "Life on Mars" but I'll forgive GibbyGooBop for this as he made it his own.

So, what does it all mean?

This is the best part. I’m still trying to figure that part out. I’m almost positive that I get it and if I could sum it up in a few short words, I would say it’s about “Innocence lost”. Tree-huggers, hippies of old, and others that try to voice their concern over important issues (like harpooning whales and destruction of Mother Earth) typically lose the fight. People in today’s world (for the most part) are too serious, oblivious, and angry. All that really concerns the masses (my buddy likes to call them “drones”) of today is if the local coffee shop has WiFi and that you quickly make up your mind and move along (as so many have also done when it came to viewing this video but more on this is just a moment). The woman in the opening scene in the coffee shop doesn’t even look up from her newspaper when a weird looking stranger bumps into her.

I believe the underlying message is that people lose their innocence. Somewhere along the way they stopped caring or understanding. Especially about many things that are important. We must spread goodwill and happiness. We must show compassion. We must all get along and dance and sing. We must look for joy in the small things in life and appreciate our surroundings.

If you already do this, then “you’re in orbit and all alone”.

At least, that’s my take.

As of today, the video has been viewed over 14,000 times. It has 83 likes and 55 dislikes.

55 dislikes? Of course this is art and those that hit the dislike button are entitled to their opinion BUT you must stop and take some time to look at the message more deeply (as with things/problems/issues throughout life in general). Comments such as “this is retarded”, “strange” and “somebody must be on some serious drugs when they made this” are angry and shallow. What’s “retarded” is that so many people today don’t look beyond the surface. This piece of art is FAR from that of a creator that is all those things. It’s extremely well thought out, executed, and ridiculously deep. What you 55 people have actually done is more or less PROVEN Gibby’s entire point.

And THAT’S why I believe it is brilliant.

Well done Gibbygoobop.

I stand up and applaud you.

Bizarre, enjoyable, metaphoric and mesmerizing.

EXTREMELY well done.