My Buddy, wherever I go, he goes…
It's Slinky, it's Slinky, it's fun, it's a wonderful toy…
Transformers- more than meets the eye…
Ah, the sweet sounds of childhood. Conjure up a few memories from your own and you may be able to recall a few games of tag, cardboard sword fights, and climbing the big oak tree in your backyard. But among those real life memories resides a medley of jingles from toy commercials that we all endured during the breaks between The Banana Splits, Scooby Doo, or Alvin & the Chipmunks. Sitting cross-legged on the floor in footed pajamas, we’d sing along into our cereal spoons. And when 10am rolled around, we hounded our parents to purchase the toys freshly promoted to our impressionable brains.
Without a doubt, advertising has the ability to impact our lives and minds, to drive shopping trends, and often entertain. That holds doubly true for children. Prepubescent minds are sponge-like, soaking up bits of information from all around, especially relevant and appealing information. Ad men picked up on this long ago and began marketing to them specifically.
According to the Canadian Toy Testing Council, advertising will probably be a child’s first introduction to what it means to be a consumer in the global marketplace. Children are the consumers of tomorrow and need to be provided with the necessary skills to enable them to make wise consumer decisions. Today’s children are maturing more rapidly than previous generations and thus require advertising that can keep up with the revolving trends. Which means the toy industry needs creative professionals who are in tune with developments and willing to explore new venues of marketing.
The television commercial is still the preferred method of marketing for those with large budgets and it still proves to be the most effective, but there are many other methods invoked by toy companies to alert kids of all ages to new innovative toys. Forms of toy promotion take place in retail outlets, conventions and trade shows, print and Internet media, and could even be displayed in your own home.
Put on your pajamas and pour yourself a bowl of cereal and take a look at some strategies of the biggest and brightest in the Central Florida toy industry.
Some Assembly Required
Central Florida plays home to many growing companies in the toy industry. Some have been around since the 1930s, others are new to the scene, but all of them are dedicated to promoting quality toys. As high-profile companies such as Hasbro and Mattel continue to dominate the television commercial arena, these Orlando toy makers are putting their names and products into the market with other methods.
The business of marketing a line of toys isn’t limited to consumer audiences. Before a toy even reaches the public eye, manufacturers and distributors must first entice retailers with the new products.
Greg Zesinger of Action Products International, Inc. says, “The best way to promote a toy is to get it in the hands of your retailer so they can see it and touch it for themselves. We achieve this through trade shows such as the American International Toy Fair™ and an excellent network of sales representatives.”
The American International Toy Fair™, held annually in New York, offers the opportunity for over 1500 manufacturers, distributors, importers and sales agents from 30 countries to showcase their toy and entertainment products. Store buyers for toy retailers attend these shows and decide which products will line their shelves. Essentially, the fate of a toy and its company rests in the hands of retailers because if a store doesn’t stock it, the consumer won’t see it. Stores with limited shelf space, large chains such as Target and Wal-Mart, can induce competition among toy companies to develop and present spectacular exhibits, especially when the latter currently controls one-fifth of the traditional toy market.
The purpose of Toy Fair and related trade shows is to give the store buyer a chance to handle the toy, to determine whether it fits their market, and to determine the best way to promote it in the store (i.e. demonstrations, special displays, providing reservations if the toy promises to be hot, etc). But it isn’t the only way toy companies put the word out about their products.
Zapf Creation (U.S.) Inc., the Orlando-based subsidiary of German doll maker, Zapf Creation AG, moved to Orlando to set up Zapf Creation’s North American office in 1999 with relatively no brand awareness. Today, more than 2,000 retailers sell Zapf Creation dolls across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and other Latin American countries. It did so through recognizing the importance of establishing strong relationships with top retailers.
Zapf Creation achieves its continued growth goals with an integrated marketing plan. “The process for promoting a toy or a line of toys happens with a strong team of marketers, including a public relations team, advertising team, sales team, point-of-purchase design firm, distribution channel management team and support staff at the Orlando, Florida office, to work in concert to gain recognition and market-share within the $20 billion U.S. toy market, the most competitive and important toy market in the world,” says Brandie Schwartz, Senior Marketing and Sales Specialist of Zapf Creation (U.S.), Inc.
“Everything we do at Zapf Creation goes back to our mission statement of providing safe, quality, nurturing products that inspire imaginative fun to a culturally diverse audience,” adds Schwartz.
In downtown Orlando, Action Products International, Inc. focuses their attention on brand development, e-commerce strategies, and merchandising through retail packaging and point-of-purchase (POP) display systems to provide retailers with tools to efficiently present their product lines to the consumer.
Consumers often overlook packaging as a method of advertising, but industry officials agree that is it the most effective. “Packaging is the strongest form of advertising because it is your best chance to get a potential consumer to pick up your product,” says Zesinger.
Action Products, whose products include educational and non-violent toys such as including Jay Jay the Jet Plane™, Space Voyagers ®, and Climb@Tron ™, and its creative staff are very involved in the package design process. “Packaging should always be interesting to all who see it. The packaging adds value to the product inside simply by its purpose, which is to “show-off” the toy,” says Art Director Sharon Penland.
Penland describes her vision of packaging design as “basically a 3-D billboard for the toy that you’re trying to sell. I liken it to creating a sculpture. With a sculpture, the message must be communicated effectively from every angle possible. The same is true with good packaging design—it must communicate from all sides and angles to give the consumer all the information and motivation they need to buy that product.” She continues, “[It accomplishes this with] interesting features printed on it such as holographic images, die cuts, or textures.”
Penland believes in the power of package design. She states, “Whether it’s about excitement or information, toy packaging is effective in advertising its message.”
Commercials and print advertisements are great baiting tools in toy promotion, but it’s unanimous among consumers, retailers, and toy companies that walking into a store and getting the full effect of a product firsthand is the surefire way to sell a toy.
“For those who sell over the Internet, the world is their marketplace. But nothing beats actually holding a toy in your hands and purchasing it on the spot, then and there,” says Peter Nason of Marz Distribution.
Store placement is a form of toy promotion within the retail walls and often determines how well a toy will sell. Toys displayed on a rack or display near the front of the store, at the check out counter, or being demonstrated by an employee may sell more rapidly than, say an item in the back of the store, buried under a pile of forgotten mute Furbys and a My Pet Monster plush doll left over from 1987.
Store managers or owners ultimately decide where to place their stock on the floor, but display systems are left up to the toy manufacturers and distributors. Companies lacking the in-house capabilities to create complex displays turn to specialists like EBI/Exhibit Builders, a well-rounded promotion firm with expertise in many aspects including themed displays, point of purchase displays, tie in promotions as well as developing corporate toys and gifts.
Penny Morford, the CEO of EBI details the company’s purpose, “Retail outlets expect distributors to provide displays. In most cases we work directly with the distributor or the manufacturer; but remain in the loop with the retailer to determine store requirements for size, quality, receiving specifications and delivery frequency. Chain stores may want the option to co-brand affecting graphic treatment and signage.”
“A successful point-of-purchase (POP) display is an extremely valuable element in the launch of a new product; second only to the product itself. Most toy or novelty purchases are impulse purchases; therefore, the product must be seen. It must be easily accessible and positioned as close to the check out stand as possible. The POP design drives the location and ultimately the sales,” says Morford.
POP displays are commonly cardboard racks with built-in shelves and art of the featured characters and toy specs printed on all sides. Some companies will ship the display with just enough products to fill it, to prevent overstocking.
Even with the displays, some retailers have their own, smaller strategies for promoting the products within the store walls.
Colin Bowman of Notable and Notorious, a collectibles toy store in Lake Buena Vista, says, “The store is laid out so that everything is equally displayed, of course if a manufacturer makes many lines then it will appear as if he has a huge area. Our strategy is to bring other items that relate to the product ... for example, if we have items from a movie, we will have autographs, movie posters, photos etc. also for sale.”
“Our biggest way to promote items is to place it on one of our two feature tables at the front of the store or take it out of the box to let people play with it,” says Lin Hanzelko, President and Owner of Timmy’s Toy Chest in Orlando.
Distributors may encourage certain trendy toys and stores might devise a brilliant display set-up, but whether a toy sells or flops rests entirely on the shoulders of the consumer and his jingle-spouting child in tow. “Desirability comes with the public’s knowledge and recognition of an item. That’s why pop culture-oriented toys—those with a TV or music tie-in- do so well early on,” adds Nason.
As Seen on T.V.
Not every toy on the market is an original, innovative product developed from scratch by manufacturers and not every toy is presented to the consumer in a retail setting.
From cereal boxes and candy packaging to television shows and movies, toys have been used to plug other brands and products and providing incentive for youngsters and their adult counterparts to take part in pop culture trends. The Canadian Toy Testing Council reports that one of the fastest-growing advertising trends has been cross-market merchandising movies, cartoons, television shows, etc, with toys.
We have all, at some point, brought a specially-marked cereal box home, ripped it open, and dumped its contents into a big bowl (or onto the kitchen floor, little brother, and the family dog) to get to the surprise toy at the bottom. Cracker Jack has long been luring kids to its product with a decoder ring or fake tattoo nestled in caramel coated popcorn. And fast food establishments have been the front-runners in marriage of food and toys. In fact, some restaurants are successful in tying together the food, the cartoon/movie du jour, and the company behind the toy all in one promotion. But not all promotional toys are embedded amongst tasty morsels.
In recent years, the toy market has been flooded with products advertising newly released movies and hit television shows. Products run the gamut from action figures to plush dolls, board and video games to consumables. For a fan or avid collector of the show or movie, the selection can be an absolute dream. According to the co-publisher of U.S.-based Toy Wishes magazine, 2002 was a big year for film licensing tie-ins with toys.
When a product is created from a television show, film, comic strip, or beloved character, it is the result of a license (the lease of the right to use a legally protected name, graphic, logo, phrase, or likeness) purchase by a manufacturer. The idea of licensing in the U.S. developed over a century ago from the growth and popularity of comic strips. The first “licensed” comic strip character was Buster Brown in 1902, with his image appearing on games and toys. Following that launch, licensing extended to characters including Betty Boop, Popeye, and Felix the Cat. Before he had his head emblazoned on kitchenware, clothing, buildings, and corporate stationary, Walt Disney sold Mickey Mouse for $300 to appear on a school notebook.
Sometimes promotional toys aren’t related to the entertainment industry at all.
Not Sold in Any Store
Toys can turn up in the most unexpected places. Many corporations lend their logos to toys, tchotkes, knickknacks, and related products. These toys are often filed under the more professional-sounding “promotional products” title.
Pamela Grimes, co-owner and designer at Originality, Inc., a corporate gift design firm, defines the promotional product as “a marketing tool designed to get a message across- whether it be for increasing name recognition, promoting a web site, attracting visitors to a trade show booth, or even to project a certain image.”
These products—mostly common items with logo emblazoned upon them like beverage insulators, key fobs, pens, golf balls, and stress balls—are often used by corporations to promote their business brand or reward employees.
Some companies are not content to simply have their logo printed on a pre-made product and turn to companies like Originality, Inc. or Planned Biz to create specialty gifts, including toys.
“At Originality, Inc. we strive to incorporate creative concepts with our designs so that promotional products make an impact and lasting impression on the recipients,” says Grimes. “Most of the time, we gather information from our clients such as objective, company image, message, demographic information of the recipients, and budget. Based on this information, we then formulate and present several creative concepts which meet these criteria.” She continues, ““If we feel that a promotional toy best suits our clients’ needs and is the best tool to get their message noticed and remembered, we will create them.”
Robert Weiss of Planned Biz, a franchise of Adventures in Advertising shares how his company used toys in a promotional manner. He says, “One of the companies that we represent is a company called Flipdog.com, a subsidiary of Monster.com based out of Provo, Utah. They came to us and said, ‘Look, we’re going to a trade show in New York, our website just won an award from PC magazine, and we want to go to that trade show and make a real splash. Can you come up with a promotional product that we can use for press release purposes and for the trade show?’ We came up with a toy dog that is about 9 inches from nose to tail, 5 inches off the table that barks, walks, sits down, and then it jumps up into the air, does a little flip and lands on its feet. It has a collar around it neck that reads Flipdog.com. We provided about 10,000 of them, which Flipdog handed out at the show and it was one of the most successful promotions they’ve ever had.”
So, what makes a promotional toy an effective marketing tool? “The reason is that promotional products are very targeted, unlike a billboard or print and radio media. Promotional products have an endearing, long-term focus with a lasting quality,” says Weiss.
Collect Them All!
While many toy companies still compete for the attention and imagination of babes, other companies (or sections of companies) have tapped into the adult toy market. And the state of current affairs has us turning to reminders of simpler days in the form of beloved characters and classic toys. This desire to recapture youthful innocence is one of the primary reasons toy collecting became so popular.
“Nostalgia plays a big part in toy collecting. It plays on a person’s desire to remember more halcyon days and touches the hearts of those who grew up with the wonderful playthings… a blast from the past provides good escapist fare,” says Peter Nason, Director of Communications at Marz Distribution.
Marz Distribution, located in Sarasota, FL, has provided worldwide distribution to the toy, hobby and specialty markets for the past two years, carrying a plethora of licensed products from Incredible Hulk action figures to Star Wars prop replicas.
The adult collectible toy market requires an entirely different strategy and is generally accomplished through print media in collector magazines like Toy Shop and Toy Review, conventions, and package design geared to the avid collector. Greg Zesinger makes the point, “Not all toy companies are alike, nor are their target audiences. Adults, teens, and children are all attracted to different things, so you must tailor your message, artwork, and language accordingly.”
Few commercials are geared toward the adult toy collector compared to the slew of campaigns directed to kids. Even films intended for primarily adult or teen audiences (the Reservoir Dogs action figures being one exception) develop television spots depicting 10-year old arms playing with the doll or toy. Instead, adults must rely on other sources such as the specialty magazines and the Internet.
Adults also tap into their dusty memories and seek out the toys of their childhood, toys they either couldn’t afford or lost to mom-conducted garage sales. Enter the toy convention.
Toy conventions offer adults the opportunity to embrace nostalgia and catch up on the latest toy releases. Central Florida hosts several cons every year, providing local enthusiasts with opportunities to find what the retailers no longer carry. MegaCon, FX Show, Tampa Comic and Toy Convention, Orlando’s Comic Book, Toy & Collectible Show are a few of the shows hosted throughout the year.
Conventions, while not used to specifically promote a toy, do promote a sense of community amongst toy and comic collectors. Similar to purchasing a toy in the store rather than online, the personal connection adds to the experience.
“Collectors like to see new things, examine what they might buy. Often my experience is that I will see something I had not known about and this becomes my purchase. Conventions allow for conversations with others who are interested in the same things. There is also a chance to haggle over a price, which you can’t really do on eBay,” says Tim Gordon of the Tampa Comic and Toy Convention.
Nason, who also works with FX Show, adds,” It’s like actually walking into an online auction site and seeing everything offered in one location. Some people look for the hard-to-find item, while others seek out the new hot product that will be the year’s Big Toy.”
How is a toy convention different from the Toy Fair? “The Toy Fair in New York City is where all the manufacturers showcase their upcoming lines, but do not sell anything directly… only toy dealers and distributors can attend,” explains Nason.
We know the cause of collecting, but what makes a toy collectible? Greg Zesinger brings up a recurring factor in the toy industry, “Collectibility is in the eye of the beholder. For some, scarcity and low production runs might make a toy collectible. For others, painstaking attention to detail and superior sculpting/production value could make the toys collectible. It really boils down to what the consumers are looking for personally.”
Get Yours Today
As we heard from several sources, consumer desirability is the key factor in selling a toy. But it is up to the toy companies, their ad agencies, and toy stores to create desire-evoking advertisements. How they do it, though, is a constantly evolving process. “The toy industry is extremely diverse and keeping our options open allows us to accomplish more for our brands,” says Sharon Penland.
We have only pressed our noses against the surface of creative toy promotion. There are numerous tools that toy companies utilize in marketing besides packaging, commercials, and trade shows. Consider other sources of consumer advertising—catalogs, print media, the Internet, television-shopping networks… the marketing possibilities are endless.
Surely, toy marketers have the ideal careers. Even with the stress of keeping up with trends and churning out better, more sophisticated toys, these professionals are in the business of promoting fun, imagination, and youthfulness. And what could be better than getting paid to play with a toy?
Nason sums it up best, “No one has ever complained about being overwhelmed with fun. That’s what separates the toy industry from all the other industries. It’s all about the joy—100% fun.”
originally published in the Summer 2003 issue of Create magazine Central Florida edition
Creative Collector – Lisa Yee
Willy, nilly, and silly—Lisa Yee has almost every piece of Winnie the Pooh memorabilia you could possibly imagine. “It all began with the first Pooh Bear I got when I was seven from Santa Claus,” she reminisces. Thirty-five years later, Yee’s assortment has grown to over 2,000 individual pieces, making it the second largest Pooh collection in the United States.
“I grew up in Los Angeles, so naturally we went to Disneyland at least a couple of times a year. Each time I was allowed to choose one thing, and it was always another Pooh,” says Yee. “I didn’t even know I collected Poohs until one day I looked around and thought ‘Whoa… there are sure a lot of these things!’”
While most collectors may keep their treasures locked away, Yee is open and willing to share her Pooh Bear paraphernalia with interested parties. “Once or twice a year [I open my home to] classes from New School of Orlando or Park Lake Presbyterian Child Care [to] tour the Pooh Room when they study Pooh at school.”
In addition to hosting tours to small children, her collection has been profiled in national and international magazines, and Yee has spoken at a Disneyana convention and written about collecting Poohs for magazines.
Yee claims that her collection is comprised mainly of Pooh Bears, but “ if there is something unique about the other characters, I’ll collect them.” Her prized possession from the collection is an exceptionally rare piece. “My husband, Scott Feldmann, made me a Pooh one year for Christmas. Every time he bought me one, I’d say, ‘I already have that one.’ So he made one [for me]. It’s one of a kind and special because it came from him,” gushes Yee.
What’s the downside to be surrounded by Poohs? Yee admits that they don’t inspire her to get any work done, “It is a distraction because whenever I have writer’s block, I start looking up Poohs on eBay.”
Even with the freshly renovated Pooh Corner store over at Disney’s Marketplace, Lisa Yee has retired from adding any new figures to her collection. If she does acquire a new find, it’s usually an older, more rare piece.
Yee’s future plans for the collection don’t include selling it off. She says, “I intend to keep the collection. However, it is willed to the White River (Ontario) Pooh Museum.” That’s one serious collector.
Winnie the Pooh isn’t the only thing you’ll find in abundance in Yee’s household and office. “I also collect children’s books, snow globes, and other toys and keep them in my office. I’m writing children’s books now and being surrounded by toys keeps me young. Last week, my five year-old Benny said, ‘Mommy, how come my toys always end up in your office?’”
It would be a safe assumption to say that Lisa Yee is an avid supporter of collections in general. “I think it is wonderful and fun! Plus it’s something you can do with your kids!” says Yee.
So, what makes it a collection? Yee states authoritatively, “I think people start out liking something and just start accumulating them. Then when they have more than three, and start really seeking them out, it officially becomes a collection. However, I just made that up.”
Lisa Yee is a Partner of Magic Pencil Studios. Her novel, MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS, comes out in October from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. The audio book will be released at the same time from Random House/Listening Library.
Creative Collector – Karl Anthony
Not everyone dedicates a collection to one particular character or item. Some collections are based on a show, movie, or genre while others simply have a mish-mash of toys they were fond of as children. The latter group, a nod to the growing wave of nostalgia for classic toys and pop culture, proves how well toy promotion worked in the past. And Karl Anthony is the proof.
For comedian Karl Anthony, collecting toys is much more than a hobby—it’s an addiction. He has a massive collection made up of various pop culture trends. Anthony reveals when his addiction to collecting officially began, “I started collecting back in 1972 with Star Trek and Disney toys and memorabilia. Then during the late 1970's and early 1980's, I began collecting comic book and movie action figures, and in the mid 1990's I took up with pinball games and The Simpsons toys. Right now I have about 1,000 different pieces—mostly Star Trek and Disney.”
The behavior of adults around toys differs greatly from kids. Where children are anxious to rip into the packages and create adventures for their new plastic friends, grown-ups integrate them into the décor. Anthony maintains a shrine to his childhood in his game room, formerly known as the garage, and lined shelves with choice pieces throughout the house. First-time visitors to Anthony’s game room may think they’ve stepped into a toy convention when they see the collections. “People usually can't believe that I have all this stuff. Most reactions range from total disbelief to stunned awe,” he says.
But what spurs a person to take on the task of obtaining so many objects? Anthony chalks it up to his childhood and his personality. “When we were very young my brother and I had a lot of Lost In Space and Major Matt Mason toys. My mom sold them at a garage sale when she thought we were too old for them.” Anthony continues, “Soon after that, I found out how much they were worth on the secondary market and wanted to cry. I've always had an addictive personality and collecting is very, very addictive. I have to ‘score’ the entire line of something. It's worse than drugs sometimes.”
Anthony clearly takes pride in all of his PVC treasures—and the fact that he has every Star Trek figure ever made, but there is an underlying motive for collecting that all collectors face. “Part of the thought of collecting is that one day you will sell some items. For that reason, I try to keep as many in the box. If I really like a piece, I try to buy two-one to open, one to pack away,” he confesses. To collectors intent on using the toy market to make back losses in the stock market, Anthony advises, “I learned this very early on, buy what you like, not what you think will make you money. If you buy for the financial return, you'll probably get burned.”
Like most creative professionals, Karl Anthony puts his knowledge and love of toys to work for him. “As a comedian, I do integrate my somewhat useless knowledge of toys, and the inspirations for them, in my work. On stage at the Comedy Warehouse, I integrate it into scenes as often as possible.”
In addition to promoting creativity and providing an eclectic décor for his home, Anthony views his collections as a Fountain of Youth of sorts. He concludes, “I very much think that toys and collecting them keeps me young. I wanted so much of this stuff when I was a kid, and now that I can afford it on my own, I love it even more. It always reminds me of my childhood. When it stops, I'll stop collecting.”
Behind the Cellophane: Chat with a Package Designer
Santa may deliver the toys, elves may make the cookies, but it’s illustrators like Harry Moore who are responsible for the package artwork we are so quick to toss aside. Moore was launched into the world of toy illustration fresh out of the Hussian School of Art in Philadelphia, PA 10 years ago. Since his start with Tyco toys, Moore has gone on to illustrate for well-known companies including Keebler Company, Marvel Comics, Disney, Lucasfilm Ltd., and Kellogg Company.
In a brief Q&A session, Moore discusses some of the more interesting points about package design.
What was your first experience with illustrating for toys?
HM: My first toy projects were for Tyco toys, which now a subsidiary of Mattel. I worked on packaging and illustrations for everything from matchbox cars to Looney Tunes action figures.
With an increasing number of collectors who keep their toys in the original boxes, is there an added pressure to design an interesting package?
HM: There is a conscious effort by the client and the artist to design a more interesting package. A few years back I worked on some X-Men boxed sets for Toy-Biz that were definitely geared more toward the collector, I think that packaging was intended to be more of a display piece when you compare them to other X-Men toy products released at that time.
Are there any challenges in constructing designs for a package?
HM: One of the obstacles with packaging is the amount of information that goes on the package itself. You have to be aware of all of the information that goes on packaging and have space available for it in the design. I think of some of the toy and cereal packaging from the 60s and 70s that had less text and let the artwork and the toy sell the item. Today, toy, candy and cereal packaging will usually have a cross-sell (pictures of other items or flavors available in the assortment) along with ingredients or instructions, copyright likes, and sometimes even a story about the item.
Do your clients appreciate and welcome your creativity? Are you able to bring your own style and ideas to the projects you work on?
HM: Usually the client has an idea or initial concept. The client could tell me the Keebler Elves are visiting a haunted house for a Halloween promotion, or this is for a line of “light-up” Spider-Man toys. My job is to then interpret what that might mean, at the same time making it fun and keeping the integrity of the characters intact. The art may also need to be adapted to other items, like coupons or web advertisements.
What are the benefits of working with a licensed character as opposed to creating your own?
HM: I think working with licensed characters on product can be easier in the sense that the client and the artist will have an established look to follow. If I’m creating “new” characters for a project, the development of the characters can be a project in itself, before you even start the actual project. A current example of that is a line of Tootsie Pop valentines that required creating characters that the client was comfortable with incorporating into their “product universe.”
I think one of the best things about what I do is the opportunity to work with and learn about all of the different licensed characters. All of the characters have a story, all of the Keebler Elves have names and personalities, Spider-Man has many friends and foes. You get to learn those things and that makes the product better when you get to know them, and makes it fun.
Q&A with CrossGen Entertainment’s Bill Rosemann
CrossGen Entertainment has accomplished a miraculous feat. After just three years since its initial launch in May 2000, it has become the comic industry's fourth largest publisher. CrossGen, based just outside of Tampa, is represented in 34 countries and 12 languages, and multiple imprints, including CrossGen Publishing, CrossGen Comics, CGE, and Code 6. Bill Rosemann helms the Marketing and Communications department at the company and discusses marketing, the comic audience, and goals for CGE.
Who is your audience?
BR: CrossGen Entertainment's ongoing mission is to deliver high adventure at a low cost to as many people as possible. Thanks to our mix of characters (many of which are female—rather than the stereotypical male hero—as well as of different ages and races), genres (such as Sci-Fi, fantasy, and mystery) and formats (such as our affordable & potable Traveler collections, our traditional graphic novel line, and our monthly comic books) we're popular both amongst younger readers, who are discovering our titles in libraries and bookstores, and adult readers, who make up the majority of the direct market comic book specialty shop audience. We're also reaching a mix of ages through our online comicsontheweb.com, which offers hundreds of issues for only pennies a day at several popular websites, including Lycos, Ifilm, Clear Channel Radio Interactive, ucomics.com, and YOUtopia.com.
Additionally, we're finding a growing audience among female readers. Comics traditionally cater to a male readership, with only about 7% of comics' audience being female. At CrossGen, as much as 35% of our readers are female, and the numbers are still growing.
For years, comics have been making the transition from page to screen. Is CrossGen involved with any future developments?
BR: The company has a long-term exclusive development deal with Branded Entertainment, a film and television production company helmed by long-time Batman film and animated feature executive producer Michael Uslan. Most recently, CrossGen announced film and television deals that will see many of its properties developed over the next few years by such talent as Oscar® winning director Robert Zemeckis, Wes Craven (Scream, Nightmare on Elm Street), Chuck Russell (The Mask, Eraser, The Scorpion King), Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption), Bob Gale (Back to the Future), Threshold Entertainment (Mortal Kombat) and many others.
Do you see comics as toys or literature?
BR: Comic books, by their very nature, are classified as the melding of literature with art, however our online comicsontheweb.com do feature interactive qualities that toys possess. What the best comics and toys share though, are the ability to entertain, delight, and even challenge their users.
Are toys such as action figures considered a form of advertising to promote a character or line of characters?
BR: The goal for any of CrossGen's creations, be they action figures, video games, comic books, movies or TV programs, is to be authentic and independent inspirations of our characters and stories. Therefore, we see action figures as toys that children of all ages can use to reenact their favorite stories, and even dream up new adventures.
CrossGen recently acquired rights to print Masters of the Universe. How will this affect toy distribution and licensing within the company?
BR: We are very happy that MVCreations has chosen CrossGen's CGE imprint as their partner for publishing comic books and graphic novels, which will not only star characters from the world renowned Masters of the Universe license, but also from Don Bluth's Dragon's Lair and Space Ace properties.
As far as toy distribution, that's a separate license that Mattel currently holds. It's our hope that the comics that CGE publishes will add to the popularity that this worldwide property enjoys.
Do comics sell best in specialty stores, online, or at conventions?
BR: The majority of our sales come through comic book specialty shops, whether they be "brick and mortar" or online stores. These stores sell both new issues, which go on sale every Wednesday, and older issues, also known as "back issues." Additional growing markets include mass-market bookstores such as the Barnes & Noble or Tower chains, which favor our graphic novel format. A third option is comic book conventions, where you can find many retailers selling both new and old issues. To find a comic book specialty shop near them stocking plenty of CrossGen products, readers can go to crossgen.com and click on the Premier Retailer button.
Do you have promotional products available at conventions for potential readers?
BR: New readers and longtime fans are invited to stop by our booth at the major comic book conventions, where they'll find all of their favorite creators signing free posters featuring characters from nearly every series we publish. They can also bring comics for them to sign, and even get the entire artistic team—including penciler, inker and colorist—to draw their favorite character for them for free! This year, in addition to MegaCon, the show we already attended in Orlando, we'll be bringing excitement to Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, and San Diego!
Is there pressure or desire to sign on comics with marketable characters or potential action figures or do you concentrate on bringing quality stories and characters to audiences, regardless of marketing potential?
BR: Our focus is always on delivering the best stories possible. If you begin with a good story, everything else—if and when the time and fit is right—will follow. So the only pressure we feel is the pressure we put on ourselves to top what we've done previously and keep our fans entertained.
What types of positions are available for creative professionals who wish to get into toy or comic promotion?
BR: Similar to any creative industry, you'll find jobs in production, editorial, marketing, sales, and manufacturing. Since the industry is rather small, competition is fierce, but talent—backed by a professional attitude and work ethic—always wins out. If you want to join the CrossGen team, you have to be able to work well together in a collaborative environment with colleagues and support staff. Artists need to be at the absolute top of their games, as their contemporaries will be examining—and trying to top—their daily output. You also have to deliver on time, since we don't miss deadlines here (we have a perfect on-time shipping record). So, talent + professionalism = CrossGen success.
sidebars to the feature article Batteries Not Included: The Art of Promoting Playthings originally published in the Summer 2003 Create magazine Central Florida edition
Creativity lurks in the most unexpected places.
Beyond the corporate gates and behind padded cubicle walls sit some of the most talented creative minds in the industry. They are responsible for bringing corporations to our attention with branding brilliance and memorable marketing. And yet, would you even know they were there?
There are dozens of major corporations that maintain a home in the Central Florida area, some with their own in-house marketing team. We tracked down the directors of some of these corporate creative clans to discuss outsourcing, client challenges, and the value of in-house design.
In-house is where the heart is
Depending on the needs of the corporation, an in-house team can be known internally by a variety of names such as Creative Services, Marketing Communications, Corporate Communications or some combination of marketing service synonyms. Regardless of department title, each team serves the same general purpose—to provide high-quality marketing materials that best represent the company and the client.
These in-house teams are comprised of a diverse range of talents—copywriters, designers, production coordinators, and web developers to name a few. Ideally, this team works together to complete the majority of the company’s projects internally. Maintaining an internal staff with the skill sets necessary to fulfill creative objectives provides greater control over projects and lead to faster turnaround and lower costs, the desired goals of the corporation. Projects can range from simple direct mailings and brochures to complex websites and television commercials.
“The Florida Hospital creative department handles projects ranging from multi-media campaigns to simple employee communications. We try to utilize all forms of media such as outdoor and print to guarantee maximum impact & frequency,” says Lynn Whitney-Smith, Creative Manager of Florida Hospital.
The in-house team works tirelessly to create promotional materials that are effective in capturing the consumer’s attention while preserving the company’s brand and image.
Putting creative back in creative services
Some outsiders who are accustomed to juggling several extremes of clients may believe that in-house creative becomes stale and stifling after the first few projects. However, within most of the larger corporations exist smaller units or branches, each requiring branding or image alterations from the core brand. Disney’s Yellow Shoes Creative is one example. “We are the in-house advertising agency for Walt Disney parks & resorts,” says Associate Creative Director, John Logan. “We provide creative service to over 40 different Disney brands, everything from theme park attractions and special events to Disney resort hotels and sporting events.”
If anything, working in-house can lead to more interesting creative solutions than you might find elsewhere. “The beauty of being an in-house designer is living the one brand. You get to grow with the brand and change with the brand,” said Jeni Herberger, of designmatters in Kirkland, WA, at a recent HOW Design conference. “Your day is not driven by the ability of the account executives to pitch clients nor is your job typically dependent upon the ever-fluctuating volume of projects.”
This is where brand consistency, one of the most important elements in in-house design, enters the picture. A corporation is reliant upon a core identity to which its branches can be connected. And a good in-house team recognizes this and works around it. Logan adds, “With in-house teams, no time is needed to get acquainted with the product or process. There is already a good understanding of the brand box and how far you can stretch it.”
“Having an understanding of branding guidelines, the tastes of certain individuals, and the target market is a huge benefit,” says Brian Collins, former Manager of Marketing Presentations at AAA.
In order to meet creative goals, the in-house staff is expected to know the intricate details of a brand as well as the client’s need. A designer should not only be familiar with brand history, he should also be aware of overused color schemes and whether his client has the tendency to make business decisions based on his sock color du jour. While this can be true of virtually any client-agency relationship, the in-house staff has the added bonus of access to interoffice gossip and company politics in the cafeteria.
The keys to a productive partnership between corporate clients and the creative staff are knowledge and understanding.
Darlene Entringer, Director of AAA Brand and Membership Marketing, says, “The staff should have the intimate knowledge of the client’s strengths and weaknesses and the level of understanding that a client’s representative may have of the creative process.”
In his article, “Can In-House Design Departments be Respectable?” David C. Baker says, “The most valuable independent creative firms are those that are specialized, focused, and narrow in their approach… Your value to internal clients should be primarily this: your specialization in understanding what the company does.”
Having one client means the internal staff can become experts on the corporation – design history, interesting trivia that could be used in ad copy, and the personalities of individual clients. Time between jobs in-house can be spent on research and analysis that will aid in the effectiveness of future marketing efforts for the internal client instead of seeking out new clients or projects, like their external counterparts. This expert status not only affects the way projects are thought about and completed, but also makes a positive impact on the client.
Part of being a company expert is the awareness of a certain client’s behavior, tastes, and habits. Clients who are unfamiliar with the design process often bring a project to the table too late or with unreasonable deadlines. An in-house team who understands the limitations and ignorance on the client’s part can learn to work around them.
Accessibility is also fundamental to developing the client-creative relationship. “In-house is always right there to bounce ideas off of or drop everything to complete a rush project. Multiple changes of direction or edits are free when done in-house,” says Whitney-smith.
Collins says the internal client would “give us a call if they had a quick project or even a question which had to be addressed. This happened quite often and was probably one of the biggest benefits that we, as an in-house resource provided.” He continues, “In these situations, we almost never said no and often would drop what we were working on, if it was feasible, so we could accommodate them.”
Communication is also a factor in maintaining a strong relationship between internal departments. Depending on the size or location of the client, in-house teams fare much better at keeping their client up to speed on the latest project developments. Frequent updates serve two purposes: the client doesn’t feel ostracized from the project and maintains some level of control, and the creative department’s presence remains in the forefront of the client’s mind.
Successful campaigns depend on a solid partnership between the internal creative staff and the client. By developing and maintaining this in-house partnership, the in-house team is in turn strengthening the relationship between the corporation and its consumers.
In-house looking out
When the client turns to an external resource, it may seem like a sign of a crumbling partnership. However, not all outsourcing is a sign of the client’s desire to abandon the in-house team for more supple creative flesh.
Most companies will outsource portions of different projects—be it copywriting, designing, production, or printing—to diffuse some of the stress and workload of the in-house staff.
“University Marketing staff outsources to smooth our production schedules and/or to tap a particular skill/talent,” says Jeanne Hartig, Vice President of University Relations and Director of Marketing at the University of Central Florida. “We hire freelancers for creative and photography. At times, one of our clients inside the university will hire creative talent for a project.”
“Our department does work with freelancers on a regular basis, we have a pool of freelancers to utilize on an as needed basis. The freelancers are previous employees or freelance artists the Creative Manager has brought along from previous dealings or new artists who have impressed the Creative Manager or Director of Marketing,” says Florida Hospital’s Whitney-Smith. “Projects are outsourced due to time restraints or overload of requests for creative support.”
Most in-house teams welcome the occasional relief and work with external parties rather than against them.
Outsourced, but not outsmarted
Unfortunately, there are some instances where the client makes the choice to downsize the in-house creative in favor of outsourcing. Such was the case for AAA’s Marketing Services department last fall.
“Last October, during our 2003 budget cycle, our staff officers determined that creative services that we housed in the building, for the most part would be outsourced. This resulted in our 18-person department being reduced to six,” says Darlene Entringer, Director of AAA Brand and Membership Marketing.
Entringer continues, “Even though we are no longer termed in-house creative resource, we still have the ability in-house to tweak or enhance materials. We understand what AAA needs as a client and what we believe is good for AAA.”
The new Branding and Membership Marketing team takes a proactive role in managing creative projects. “If we see something come through that we believe is not an appropriate message for AAA, we step in and ask that it be modified.”
Months after an amicable split, AAA outsources several projects to former team members. “Since being laid off from AAA, I have been called back a couple of times to work on freelance projects. The pros to this are that I am obviously familiar with the organization and its corporate culture. I know the processes, channels, and individuals to get a job done,” says Collins, now a course director/instructor at Full Sail and president of the Brainstorm Institute. It's pretty seamless when I walk into AAA to do a project because after working for the Association for nearly four years, I'm very intimate with how things work -- the corporate structure, politics, mission, etc.”
Clients can save a lot of time, if not money, but contracting former employees for outsourced projects. Former employees can jump into the project without much briefing. External firms may work hard to please the client, but as with any new creative partnership, it may take longer to achieve the intended goals or communicate the right message for the brand.
Creative staff members aren’t the only ones who suffer in an outsourcing situation. “Many departments which relied heavily on our team were suddenly put in the position to having to find their own resources or cut projects because they could not afford to use outside services. Others adapted by creating a marketing manager within their own area to oversee some of the creative work,” says Collins.
Entringer adds, “It was a radical shift in thinking both for those of us left and those who were formerly our clients. It's been an interesting—and successful—transition in less than a year.”
“Designers of in-house departments battle to legitimize their abilities and their worth,” says Herberger.
With the looming possibility of the outsourcing trend catching on with other corporations, it is crucial for in-house teams to prove just how important they are to corporate marketing structure.
Florida Hospital’s Whitney-Smith remarks, “The rest of the hospital is so vast, so individual clients have their respective marketing representative and perhaps will never meet the artist that works on their projects. I would guess most employees in the hospital don’t even realize there is an in-house creative department but they have all seen at least some the team’s handiwork.”
“Being taken for granted, unfortunately, goes with the territory,” says Hartig. “Since in-house teams normally don't charge for their services, they face unrealistic expectations in terms of timelines and last minute changes, etc.”
“My experience has been that in-house creative groups are always targets for outsourcing. Many times, the decision is made by senior managers who are removed from the day-to-day operations of the group and often see less value in the creative function than they should,” contributes Collins.
An article in the May/June 2004 issue of Communication Arts, “Can In-House Design Departments Be Respectable?” outlined a few tips for improving the in-house reputation and promoting corporate creative departments. With all of the corporate projects and company promotion, most creative departments neglect to promote themselves within the company. Author David C. Baker suggests several self-promotion solutions including publishing a department newsletter touting recent accomplishments and pushing to be involved in the yearly budget planning meetings.
The idea is to encourage in-house departments to start behaving as an external firm. “Treat your clients as if you had to land them yourself and as if they were free to use anybody they wanted. If you don't, they'll eventually end up with that freedom and you'll be looking for a job,” confirms Baker.
“In-house departments need to be time conscious and always striving for excellence, never settling for just good enough,” encourages Whitney-Smith. “Don’t get complacent or jaded by relationships with clients or subject matter.”
In an excerpt from Shel Perkins’ book, Talent is Not Enough: Business Secrets for Designers, he writes, “in-house design managers face many political and operational challenges. Chief among these is the need to understand the evolving needs of the larger organization and the optimal mix of internal and external resources required to meet those needs.”
Perkins also suggests that in-house managers periodically re-evaluate their resources and update them, to ensure the best results for projects and keep the client appeased. He adds, “For outside services, make sure that your list of contacts is up-to-date. Always have more than one source in each category so that you have options for price, availability, and the best match to project needs.”
There’s no doubt that the creative team is an important link in the corporate chain. Herberger says, “In-house designers are fabulous designers willing to give up the hectic world of agency work to live out the passion of one brand in a less intense environment.”
Just an in-house teams need to work to distinguish themselves from the rest of the creative herd, corporate managers should appreciate the talent sitting in the next cubicle.
“In-house teams are only as good as the people in them. If organizations do not value the in-house folks, then the most talented people will not look to in-house teams for employment opportunities. If in-house teams are allowed to operate as entrepreneurial units, organizations will get fresh creative—and a high level of value,” says Hartig.
originally published in the Fall 2004 issue of Create magazine's Central Florida edition
Self-Employed. Sole Proprietor. Independent Contractor. Gun for hire. What do you call a person who works for no one and anyone?
We work under temporary contracts, yet we are not temps.
We work from the confines of homes, yet we are not telecommuters.
We are most commonly known as freelancers, a different breed of workers. Freelancers are untamable beasts in Corporate America and our species is increasing daily.
Despite our recent reputation, the concept of freelancing did not originate in the 20th century by workers hoping to trade three-piece suits for pajamas and bunny slippers. Our professional ancestors were actually medieval military mercenaries- specialists hired to fight for another country regardless of political, national and ideological considerations. In fact, the term “free lance” was coined in reference to independent knights who offered their skills to the highest bidder.
We are not so far removed from our freelancing forefathers, in some aspects. We may lack the extreme materialism and violent tendencies, except around tight deadlines. But modern-day, successful freelancers have inherited certain characteristics crucial to that success—endurance, flexibility, and ambition. And like our military counterparts, becoming a creative mercenary is not for the meek and untrained.
Giving Up the Day Job
Blame the slow economy and downsizing. Call it an adventurous whim. Maybe you just don’t like your profession dictating your wardrobe. Regardless of your reasons for breaking out of the 9-to-5 doldrums, going from full-time employee to self-employed can be a shock to your system- and your bank account- if you’re not prepared.
“It takes new freelancers about two years to stop ‘freaking out’,” says freelance expert Randy Baker. “After that initial period, you realize that work will come, but if you have a family to support, that can be a very stressful two years.”
“[Freelancing] is a career and lifestyle choice to be made on a personal level. You really need to have a certain personality type, a certain level of talent, and certain life circumstances for it to be the right fit and to be successful,” adds David Brotherton, designer.
Making the transition is a difficult process, often requiring more time and effort than you probably spent as a desk jockey. Brotherton says, “Changing my frame of mind was the biggest thing. I had to think of myself as a one-person creative shop, not just a gun for hire.” He continues, “I had a few clients I served in a small capacity previously, so the trick was to approach them and get more work until I could really focus on marketing myself and educating myself on freelance opportunities.”
For Thomas Sessions, graphic designer, “the hardest part was climbing out of the cocoon of corporate mentality… the career thing has always been about being creative, whether working for myself or for someone else. Freelancing allowed me to experiment without the boundaries you encounter in a corporation.”
Being your own boss sounds like a great concept and has a few benefits. You are able to set your own hours, earn more than regular employees, and you may pay less in income taxes.
“I control all aspects of my work—I set my own schedule, control my workload and the quality. I set the deadlines. I directly benefit when things are going well and also, of course, take responsibility when they are not,” says Susan Greene, copywriter.
The Wall Street Journal reports that freelancers are usually paid at least 20% to 40% more per hour than employees who perform the same duties. Or so it seems. Since clients don’t have to shell out the bucks for your Social Security, health benefits, or unemployment or workers compensation, those dollars can go directly to you.
Being a freelancer provides a few tax benefits. According to Nolo.com, a website providing helpful legal advice for all- including independent contractors, no state or federal taxes are withheld from your paychecks and by paying estimated taxes quarterly, you can hold on to your earnings a little longer. Freelancers are also entitled to many deductions that aren’t available to employees. You may deduct any reasonable business expenses including office space, supplies and software, travel and transportation, and long distance business calls.
Remember that extra 20% to 40% you earned above? Unfortunately, that is not all pocket money. What the client was able to pass on to you must still be put towards any benefits or retirement funds you plan to set up. Without the employee benefits of having Medicare and Social Security taxes paid by the employer, independent contractors are responsible for paying in self-employment taxes. Nolo.com says, “The self-employment tax rate is 12.4% of an independent contractor’s earnings for Social Security, and a 2.9% Medicare tax on all income.”
Playing the roles of boss and employee may sound like a sweet deal, but it is you who suffers the repercussions if you slack on the job. While there are some fortunate employees who can play Burning Monkey Solitaire and catch up on blog reading while earning a paycheck, the freelancer must be “on the clock” and actively seeking work or completing assignments.
Another monetary downfall is the lack of it. Freelancers around the globe can tell horror stories of clients who refuse to pay for their services. Even the best paying client can skip a payment date or two, leaving you with a dwindling bank account in the meantime.
Being an independent contractor may give you a sense of freedom, but it can also leave you with a feeling of isolation. When working on projects that don’t require collaboration with fellow creative types, it can be slow, lonely work.
There is an underlying insecurity in every freelancer, regardless of experience or years in the marketplace, that the work will dry up. That insecurity makes it hard to turn down work, especially in the current economic condition. “I’ve been high and I’ve been low, monetarily speaking, during the five years I’ve been freelancing, and though the lows have never lasted quite that long, neither have the highs,” says freelance writer Rusty Fischer. “Thus I find it hard to say no to a project, even when I’m very busy, because I know another low point could be right around the corner.”
“Take any work at any rate for a year or two and get some experience. After that, if you have even moderate talent, you will be able to get work,” advises Jeff Beamer, creative supervisor at Darden Restaurants, Inc.
With Freelance Comes Responsibility
Like any good mercenary, it is imperative to arm yourself with the necessary skills and information needed before heading out to battle it out in the freelance marketplace. When deciding to take full control of your career, you must be aware that choosing to “be your own boss” means you’re also taking on clerical, accounting, and customer service duties. There are several steps new freelancers need to take before making that first cold call or setting the first deadline with a client.
Devise a business plan. Freelance is a sink or swim endeavor. The typical business plan should define your business, identify your goals, and serve as your resume. The Small Business Administration (SBA) says that a plan is important because “It helps you allocate resources properly, handle unforeseen complications, and make good business decisions.” If you do not set up a business plan before diving in, a good set of arm floaties won’t save you. Visit the SBA website to gather more information and learn how to write a suitable business plan.
David Brotherton suggests, “Break down your particular process to as many parts as possible and figure out the most efficient way of operating. From there you can develop a pricing structure, a creative process and tracking system.”
Develop your freelance team. In the creative freelancer’s world, it is difficult enough to work with clients and survive the creative process without worrying about the business and money aspects. This is why it is wise to form a team. In periods of isolations, perhaps tax time or contract negotiations, it’s nice to have someone on your side. Do some shopping around and find a lawyer and an accountant to assist you in the dirty work.
Randy Baker believes that a good accountant can help you grow your freelance business, “This isn’t just someone who you dump your taxes off to once a year. This is someone who will work with you on a monthly basis and help you get to where you want to go.”
While an accountant aids you in financial matters, a lawyer can advise you on contract negotiations, track down deadbeat clients, and protect you in legal battles.
Even though you may be paying your team for advice and assistance, staying involved in business matters is strongly advised over passing the buck. An article published by UK’s Guardian in August 2001 suggests that maintaining your own books and records “keeps your accounting and bookkeeping costs down and means you are much more in control of your business… People in this position usually run better and more profitable businesses.”
Get organized. “You have to be organized and disciplined. Project management and communication are just as much of the gig as doing the actual creative,” says Brotherton.
When knee-deep in multiple projects with competing deadlines, the last thing you want to do is to scramble around looking for a missing paycheck or a client’s phone number. Setting up a tracking system, while it may seem like bad luck if you’re just starting out, will save you time and energy in the long run. And it does not need to be high tech. “I’m very low tech when it comes to organization,” says Fischer. “I have a spiral bound notebook and every morning I write my to-do list, then I got through it and cross things off as the day progresses. I use a simple invoice template for each client, and it’s worked great so far.”
Organization doesn’t stop at the business end of things. If your projects require any computer involvement, from Word documents to digital media, it is wise to develop a folder system within your hard drive. Set up a folder for each client, a sub folder for each project for that client, and if you are a freelancer of diverse talents, folders for each medium you work in or categories (print media, typography, photography, copywriting, etc). This will prove handy not only when working on multiple projects, but when it’s time to update or build a portfolio, it will be much easier to weed through and pick the best samples.
Open a business-only bank account. The best way to maintain a good employee-employer relationship with yourself is to set up a checking account apart from your personal account. Write a check from the business account to pay your own salary just like any employer would to handle private expenses. From a business account, you can also pay for necessary business expenses, like printer paper and software upgrades. Not only will it help to keep your personal spending separate from your professional spending, it’s a handy tracking tool in case you inadvertently toss out your Office Depot receipt. Your accountant will thank you.
Be Your Own Huckster
As you can see, freelancers have as many different roles as there are interchangeable synonyms for freelance. “Be your own boss” quickly becomes “be your own secretary/bookkeeper/runner/supply manager” and you haven’t even snagged your first assignment. Time to add marketing to your to-do list and buy a hat rack.
If cold calls leave you shivering and you’ve worn out the Control+C/V keys copying your resume to employment engines like Flipdog and Monster, it might be time to try some more unconventional methods.
Thomas Sessions shares his method, “Early on [in my career], I used to go on lost of job interviews, even if I wasn’t interested in the job. After the interview was over, I would always ask the creative director to keep me in mind for freelance if I wasn’t the candidate selected for the position.” He continues, “If the position was offered to me, I would tell them I needed some outrageous figure in order to come on board. I never got the position, but I did get a ton of freelance work.”
“I have done all kinds of things [to attract business]—from sending chain emails to visiting ad agencies,” says photographer/designer Herbie Martin. “I post flyers and try to talk to all kinds of people. I even got my name on Create Magazine’s database to get jobs.”
“The intention is to create a searchable database of the creative service providers in a specific region,” says Create publisher Jerry Brown of the Creative Index. “This listing online is free and it’s free to search.”
Susan Greene, while maintaining relationships with her key clients, found a way to steer new clients her way. "For a long time, most of my new business came through referrals from my existing clients. In the last year, however, my website has also helped me to get work. I refer prospects to my site where they can read about my background and see some samples of my writing. The website gives me a certain amount of legitimacy and credibility as an experienced freelance copywriter."
The Internet can be a great marketing tool, and a professional web presence may bring in more leads, but the computer is not always a good networking device, especially if you are looking to take on local jobs.
“I probably learn more about what’s going on in the area through networking opportunities from professional trade organizations such as WIFT, MCA-I, OAF, Siggraph, Avid User Group, and DMA-F,” says Baker. “The secret to meeting new clients through these groups is to get involved, don’t just show up at their meetings thinking you are going to get work.”
“Anything that will get your name and work out there is a plus. Networking is imperative, period,” adds Martin.
Ready… Aim… Get Hired!
In the crowded marketplace, talent and a personalized declaration of independence is not enough to secure a project. “It’s nice to know you can do the work, but where is the work going to come from?” says Greene. “The most successful freelancers know how to aggressively seek business.”
Greene adds, “They must also be able to handle rejection and criticism because not every prospect is going to give you the job and not every client will gush over your work.”
In order to reach the point where pavement pounding is replaced with clients cold-calling, it is necessary to set yourself apart from the competition. You are your own brand. Every creative freelancer has his or her personal style to bring to the project. “Understand how to present and market yourself well. Understand your own style and go after clients that suit that style,” advises Brotherton.
The best way to present yourself to a potential client is through your portfolio. Work samples and a resume or CV is what the client will see first and will determine your fate with their company. Naturally, you should put your best clips forward. If you have no work samples, Thomas Sessions says, “Do spec work for your portfolio. Select a company you really like, study their current ad campaign, then put yourself to work and redesign them as if they were your new client.” He continues, “If you are proud of the work, put it in. This is nothing more impressive than seeing artwork for well-known national brands in someone’s portfolio.”
However, “If [a potential client] asks you about the work, don’t lie. Tell them you did the designs on spec because you thought you could do a better job after reviewing their current creative,” cautions Sessions.
Diversity and flexibility are also great ways to be distinguished from the rest of the pack. Become a copywriter with page layout capabilities, a multimedia designer, or develop typography or photography skills. A client may not hire you to take on graphic and writing jobs, but having both talents will heighten your marketability and could double the number of assignments. For graphic artists, computer skills are becoming increasingly desirable.
What is the client looking for? “Dependability, good disposition, and talent- in that order!” says Jeff Beamer, Creative Supervisor of Darden Restaurants, Inc.
The next requirement Beamer has may send the pajama pants back to the closet. “Present yourself professionally,” he says. “This requires no graphic skills, but can put you in front of 50 percent of the freelancers out there. That’s a fact! And it’s something you can do immediately.” Of course, professional manner is not limited to clothing, but it’s a good place to start.
“Admittedly, most of my clients are simply email addresses or phone numbers passing in the dark,” says Fischer. “However, the occasional local client will usually require a face-to-face meeting or two before sending you home with their precious project.”
Fischer adds, “While you don’t have to wear a three-piece suit every time you meet with a client, it’s a good idea to start stiff and relax later.”
You Want it When?
“Welcome to the hard part of freelancing,” says Baker.
Eventually, the self-marketing is successful and the projects start rolling in. A sigh of relief becomes a sigh of hopelessness if deadlines fall too soon, or for multiple projects too close together. Time management is essential to meeting deadlines and keeping the client sated.
“I always have several projects going on at the same time. Like anyone with multiple demands, I am constantly prioritizing what needs to get done first,” says Greene. “My clients invariably have short deadlines. It’s the nature of the business.”
With the advent of email and the Internet, research can be completed at near warp speeds, but that means turnaround times on projects are expected to be shorter. Which might make for more spare time for some freelancers, but the most sought after contractors must learn to budget time. “By getting up earlier and going to bed later, by cutting out an hour of TV each night or that mid-week matinee, I can do so much more,” says Fischer. “It can be a sacrifice at times, but to be able to work full-time at what you love makes the bitter pill that much easier to swallow!”
But there are some cases where deadlines are too tight or a freelancer just can’t complete a project by the designated day. This can be the case when insecurity takes over and accepts more jobs the other emotions can bear. “You have to be aware of your limits and what is a realistic workload. You don’t want to put yourself in a position to make a mistake. Dropping the ball on a project is the worst PR you can have,” says Brotherton.
Sessions says, “I always tell the client up front how long it will take me to complete a job. If it does not work into their schedule, I suggest that they find another designer and recommend a good friend who needs the work.”
“If you’re up front with everyone you are working with and let them know ahead of time about your other projects, you shouldn’t have any problems. You may be working a lot of nights and weekends to get all the work done- but that’s a problem lots of folks would be glad to have,” adds Baker.
Stamina = Success
“The competition of the freelance world is a microcosm of the entire creative industry: those that excel, those that maintain, those that struggle and those that vanish,” says Brotherton.
Obviously, with the amount of work required just to get to the point of sending out resumes, freelancing is not for everyone. And yet, as corporations continue to restructure, we are seeing an increase in opportunities for independent contractors.
“In the current economic environment, getting full-time positions added is difficult, however the work is still there necessitating the use of freelancers,” says Jeff Beamer.
Baker says, “The job market in Central Florida is busier than I have seen it in several years. The amount of work showing up here recently, for me, is a better indicator of a healthier national economy than anything I can read in the Wall Street Journal.”
Current freelancers should take advantage of the current trend, but proceed with caution. The benefits of outsourcing work for companies fluctuate. “It’s a fine line between working as an employee or a freelancer. You either fall under capital or expense,” says Sessions. “Companies seem to be going to the ‘expense’ route by hiring freelancers because it is cheaper to pay a good hourly rate and no benefits.” As competitive rates go higher and higher, companies may find it cheaper to reinstate permanent positions and hire on those freelancers who simultaneously tire of paying for their own benefits.
One thing is certain, freelancing is “not for the faint of heart.” Fischer says, “It’s something to research in detail first, and definitely requires a substantial amount of saving before taking the plunge. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want to spend ten to twelve hours chained to their computer for the first few years, you might want to wean yourself into it slowly.”
Luckily, Central Florida is full of resources for freelancers young and old. One important resource is this magazine. “Create Magazine let freelancers stay in touch with what’s going on in the community,” says Brown. “Not being part of a larger corporation, or in a studio with other talent, freelancers have a tendency to separate themselves from the creative community.”
He continues, “Being the region’s creative industry trade magazine, we know a ton of great talent in the area in all the different industries… if we have a third party client looking for a writer, designer, or photographer, we immediately have a list for them to choose from—already referenced by us.”
With the ammunition provided in this article and Create as an ally, the modern creative mercenary need not scour the countryside for work or sacrifice passion for violent materialism. We can focus our attentions on pajamas with clever designs, enjoying creative freedom, and, of course, being the best crop of freelancers in Central Florida.
originally published in the Winter 2003/2004 issue of Create magazine's Central Florida edition.
Their images haunt us in slumber. Their catchphrases spill from our lips in our waking hours. Their jingles become our lullabies.
For agencies, advertising is more than clever signage, catchy jingles, and flashy commercial concepts. Advertising is about establishing a bond between the consumer and the company offering a product or service. These agencies spend hours conducting studies, researching and examining trends and consumer demands to determine the most efficient approach to market their clients to the public. They develop brands, help form corporate identities, as well as produce traditional advertisements.
The men and women of advertising are not merely hucksters wooing the public with smoke and mirrors. They are teachers and informers reaching out to the common people to introduce them to new products and new ideas. Sure, their goal is to sell the product or service, but those products and services—even the way they are presented to us—can have such a profound effect on our lives.
The advertising teams of South Florida are dedicated to their craft and show true passion for developing relationships with clients and consumers. They work hard to create award-winning and eye-catching promotional materials that will inevitably win us over.
Careful—their passion and impetus may be contagious.
"We are in the business of creating desire."
TURKEL embarked on its mission to create desire and to achieve Total Brand Management through talent and savvy in 1983. Under the supervision of CEO Bruce Turkel and company president Roberto S. Schaps, the full service agency has developed simple yet powerful messages for their clients through a process called Brain Darts®.
Brain Darts® is an innovative approach to connecting the audience with a client's product or service. It was developed by the company to help them to understand trends, consumer culture, and the ever-changing marketplace. The Seven Points of Brain Darts® protocol (All About Them, Hearts Then Minds, Make it Simple, Make it Quick, Make it Yours, All Five Senses, and Repeat Repeat Repeat) allows the TURKEL team to find "the most compelling brand message that will speak to the consumer in a way they'll understand, appreciate, remember, and act on."
"Through our commitment to strategy, creativity, and technology we create startlingly original and effective marketing solutions for our clients," says Marlisa Shapiro of TURKEL's public relations department.
Brain Darts® has proven to be an effective strategy for TURKEL with companies including Discovery Networks, Hasbro, AT&T, Raddisson Seven Seas Cruises, and Black & Decker. Currently, the company is working its advertising archery for new clients such as HBO, Sony Electronics, Peabody Hotel Group, and Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
What keeps TURKEL in South Florida? Shapiro says, "Miami has an energy that can't be found anywhere else on Earth. Our bouillabaisse of cultures, languages, music, and styles reflects a lifestyle and work style that is brighter, bolder, and spicier than in other American cities. This Miami vibe truly influences our creative product."
Ready. Aim. TURKEL.
Since its inception, Zubi Advertising has worked to remove boundaries and enhance the image of the Hispanic culture. The company, founded by Tere Zubizarreta in 1976, became one of the first agencies to provide Hispanics with a noticeable place in the industry.
Zubi employees hail from all parts of Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. The staff is immersed in the U.S. Hispanic market 24/7 and is aware of the vast differences in the marketing strategies between the U.S. market and other Spanish speaking countries. In hiring employees, Zubi seeks out experts who are the best of both worlds to combine general market experience with U.S. Hispanic backgrounds. This strategy gives the company "Madison Avenue confidence with Calle Ocho perspectives."
After 25 years, Zubi Advertising is still going strong with offices in Miami, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Detroit. Their fresh approach to reaching the domestic Hispanic consumer market has won them clients like El Nuevo Herald, Winn Dixie, Ford Motor Company, American Airlines, SC Johnson, Western Union, The Olive Garden, and Wachovia.
Among many of the accolades Zubi has acquired over the years, the company recently won two awards for its American Airlines' "Brazos" campaign and one award for Ford Motor Company's Focus at Ad Age's 4th Annual Hispanic Creative Advertising Awards.
With a genuine commitment to their clients and their culture, Zubi Advertising will be erasing stereotypes for years to come.
In 1989, Michael Gold and his brother-in-law David Forest founded Goldforest with the idea that Forest would man the creative side and Gold was "the suit with the engineering degree and the MBA." The arrangement didn't work out for long. "[It] lasted about nine months before he realized he had real bills to pay, but I was living with my parents and could afford to keep going, so I did," says Gold.
Through a creative family and lack of money to print up new business cards, Michael Gold forged his new career as an advertising exec. As the company, like most living organisms, continued to grow, Michael brought on his wife Lauren Gold as his business partner.
Don¹t be fooled by the company's small size. They work hard to provide a high level of customer service as well as the speed and consistency that could match the larger shops. Goldforest prides itself on frank opinion, personal service, and mind-shifting creative execution.
Over the years, Goldforest has developed into a communications consultancy specializing in corporate and product identity, package design, visual identity architecture, and brand image advertising. Gold explains why they have chosen a consultative approach, "If you are a boutique in Miami and you want to work for quality clients, it's very hard to survive without a specialty." He continues, "We work closely with our clients to help them define their marketing goals and develop a partnership based on mutual trust and shared knowledge. Then with our clients, we build and implement a cohesive communications strategy."
With branding successes including Oneida Silversmiths cookware and QEP, the world's largest distributor of ceramic tile tooling, Goldforest is managing to keep its roots planted in the advertising field.
Where can you find a smart, award-winning creative advertising team? Taglairino Advertising Group in Miami, that's where. Taglairino Advertising—or TAG for short—has been delivering personalized advertising solutions for 17 years. On St. Patrick's Day in 1986, two creatives from Beber Silverstein teamed up with an account supervisor from the same company to start up a dynamic new shop. The new company merged with an international marketing firm in 1987 and transformed into the TAG we know today.
Make it work is one of the key rules TAG abides by.
The 18-member TAG team "makes it work" by being dedicated to developing lasting relationships both with the clients and within the staff. "We study our client's needs on a very individualized basis and look at what assets and attributes we can use to build or strengthen their brand," says J. Robert Taglairino, President and Creative Director of TAG and Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Advertising Federation of Miami. "Our creative team like being involved in our clients' businesses and we travel in packs to listen and participate."
Despite the economic slowdown, TAG recently had its best final quarter in the history of the company and foresees the best first quarter this year. They have their client base, which consists of upscale brands and leisure and entertainment companies, to thank. Turnberry Isle Resort, The Oaks in Boca Raton, The Royal Palm on South Beach, Miami Seaquarium®, Gulfstream Park/Magna Entertainment, and the Miami International Film Festival have all benefited from TAG's award-winning representation.
Zimmerman & Partners Advertising
Jordan Zimmerman, CEO of the company that shares his name, believes in an advertising approach that differentiates his company from competitors. "I have effectively merged the elements of branding and retailing to develop an advertising discipline that creates positive long-term brand identity as well as short-term retail results." He calls his approach Brandtailing.
Zimmerman & Partners has been dedicated to serving the retail sector since Zimmerman formed the company in 1984. From clients like Papa John's and Consolidated Credit Counseling Services to the Miami Dolphins and the Florida Panthers to AutoNation and Nissan, the company prides itself on its ability to enhance the image of a brand while providing a specific retail message.
As the economy and trends change, companies are always aware of the need to lure in the short-term buyer. With special programs including Brandtailing, Brand Focus, Ztrac, and Integrated Consumer Studies, Zimmerman & Partners combines experience with the benefit of consumer and market knowledge to meet the needs of their clients.
"We don't just build better brands- we build better businesses."
Zimmerman & Partners is much more than an advertising agency—it is a total business solutions agency with motivated employees and a knack for giving the client and the consumer what they need. Since its humble beginnings nearly 20 years ago, Jordan Zimmerman and his Brandtailing technique have taken the company to new levels of success and expanded beyond South Florida. In addition to the Fort Lauderdale office, Zimmerman & Partners has seven offices throughout the U.S.
Forget alphabetical order, Zimmerman & Partners are on the A-list of advertising.
originally published in the Spring 2003 issue of Create magazine's South Florida edition.
Content on this site was originally written by Katharine Miller between 2000-2015. Many feature articles and interviews were published in print and on websites that no longer exist. Katharine is reproducing her written material here for portfolio and archival purposes only. Links and credits to clients and original publication will be included where possible.