Liquid Agency Brand Marketing

Create Magazine Fall 2005 Branding Your Creative Business

How are Bay Area branding and promoting themselves? You start with nothing: a blank pad, a blank screen, blank awareness. You stare at the assignment as you doodle and brainstorm through misfire after misfire. But suddenly, there's something.

According to Dan O'Brien, co-founder and creative director at Michael Patrick Partners, the firm has made a commitment to developing a new promotional campaign each year for the past four years. "It's a lot of work. You have to maintain the frequency of the message and then hope it gets to right person at the right time. You just never know what will finally connect with a prospect," said O'Brien.

It's an idea, an image, a sketch, a layout, words, a flow of images, music and sound. With it comes feeling, an increasing of the pulse, a widening the eyes, a smile, a laugh. An impression is made, a brand born or strengthened. People are left wanting more. If you have the talent to touch people in this way, on behalf of a client, then millions of communication dollars are out there waiting for you. But only if the right people see your work and know your part in it. Enter creative self-promotion.

The Bay Area hosts a wide variety of ad agencies, graphic designers, Web designers, film and video pros and many other specialists.

Show the work or create a concept?

In an informal survey, two schools of strategic thought emerge in self-promotion. One is to get a portfolio in front of a prospect and let the work speak for itself. The other is to develop a self-promotion concept and have the way you approach a prospect and engage their attention be your work, at least at first.

Ad agencies use both approaches.

A prime example of letting work stand on its own is the Web site of Venables, Bell & Partners. It's a "Best of Division" winner in the 2005 San Francisco ADDY Awards in the self-promotion category. The site itself is minimalist. A few black words on a white background appear in Flash, fluidly and gracefully, and then get out of the way of the samples.

"Our site is the first point of contact for potential clients, among other targets," said agency CEO and co-creative director Paul Venables. "It needed to showcase our work in a simple, tasteful, easy-to-navigate sort of way."

The work is sensational.

The other main strategy in self-promotion is to lead with a concept that stands on its own. A good example is in South Bay, where Liquid Agency won a Silver ADDY Award in self-promotion from the Ad Club of Silicon Valley. Liquid's Chief Creative Director Alfredo Muccino says, "It's our belief that you can think of a brand as a story." To prospective clients, the agency sends an elegant black leather journal with an unusual designer pen. "We feel the journal and pen are a metaphor. We say that your brand is an open book, and you can write its story. People feel engaged and realize they have a lot more control over their brand than not." A note with the journal tells the prospect that Liquid would like to write their brand's story with them.

When Liquid presents at conferences, they live their own brand strategy. They've been known to alert the audience that a fully loaded squirt gun is underneath each seat, and then invite them to play. "It helps remind people," says Muccino, "that brands are experiences."

Top of mind tactics boost revenue.

Pure Matter, a marketing and brand strategy agency, won a Gold ADDY Award from the Ad Club of Silicon Valley for a digital approach to self-promotion. PureMatter sends current and prospective clients illustrated tongue-in-cheek e-mails that show how to turn office supplies – into last-minute holiday gifts, post-New Year's survival tools, or instant Halloween costumes. A well-placed staple remover, for instance, can transform a person into Count Stapula. The e-mails have been well received, says Chief Creative Officer Courtney Kramer, who is also CEO. "The month after we send an e-mail, we've seen revenue go up about 10-15 percent. It's a little nudge for people who were meaning to talk to us. It pushes them over the edge to call."

Michael Patrick Partners, a design and brand development firm with offices in Palo Alto and Portland, uses an awareness strategy and has seen it bring in business. The firm sends out one or two postcards a month and one oversized poster each quarter tied to its four capabilities: annual reports, identity, collateral and the Web. According to Dan O'Brien, co-founder and creative director at Michael Patrick Partners, the firm has made a commitment to developing a new promotional campaign each year for the past four years. "It's a lot of work. You have to maintain the frequency of the message and then hope it gets to right person at the right time. You just never know what will finally connect with a prospect," said O'Brien.

Precision Graphics, a print and design shop in San Leandro, uses a combination of street savvy and elegance to court its prospects. A salesperson makes an initial phone call, according to company President Christopher Reesor, to say "we've done some research and it looks like we're a good match for you. If I send you some marketing materials, will you open and read them?" One busy prospect laughed and said, "you know me too well." A series of mail pieces arrive, in translucent gold envelopes addressed with hand drawn calligraphy. Inside, on rich art paper, are hard-hitting testimonials from pleased clients. The conversion rate, according to Reesor, is 21 percent. "But that typically takes 10-12 contacts," he said, "where the typical salesperson is only willing to make three to four."

Web designers rewrite the book.

There's another way to get work in front of prospects. Global interactive agency AKQA, with an office in San Francisco, developed a coffee table art book, "Made in AKQA," that presents 21 of its e-commerce, marketing and customer service projects from around the world. The book sold on, with proceeds donated to charity. Fogworks is an interactive marketing agency that won a San Francisco Silver ADDY Award for self-promotion because of its Web site. The site is clean and simple, created to demonstrate the value proposition "A Better Experience." "A site needs to be highly functional," says CEO and partner Dana Kirk. "We tell prospective clients how important their sites are, and that people want to get information quickly. Don't put gratuitous Flash up in front of them." To lead people to their site, Fogworks purchases keywords from prominent search engines.

Film & video: a reel difference.

Most of the Bay Area film and video companies use straightforward, classic tactics to promote themselves, such as letters, calls, and one-to-one presentations of demo reels. Redwood City-based Fat Box, however, uses some special tactics. They pulled a '68 VW car door out of a junkyard and painted "we'll blow the doors off the competition" on it. Then they mailed it to Oracle and were awarded the job. Fat Box uses a complete line of branded promotional items such as T-shirts and leather notebooks, and has also created their own mini-TV show, which is screened as part of the in-flight entertainment on America West Airlines.

Radium, a special effects house, visits ad agencies and production companies with a video road show that demonstrates step-by-step how certain effects are created. "It's interesting to see people's reactions," says Melissa Sautter, head of marketing. "It has opened our eyes. People just about gasp when they realize how much is involved in creating an effect."

Freelancers use mind over budget.

San Francisco freelance copywriter David Perlstein takes his sense of humor and creates a folded, one-sheet mailer. He sends it out three or four times a year, and it has kept his practice busy for more than 25 years.

Across town at The Imagineering Company, copywriting partners Susan Carp and Julie Marcus also lead their promotion work with humor and warmth. In one campaign, they mailed prospects a letter announcing a free trial subscription to their "Word of the Month Club." Each month a postcard arrives with a definition and suggested usage: "When you have a plethora of projects and a dearth of time, call Imagineering." "As a member in good standing," the introductory club letter tells prospects, "you'll be able to use this word royalty free, usage free and in unlimited quantities for the entire month. Just imagine, at the end of the calendar year, you will have amassed 12 new words…If at anytime during your membership, you need more words, jus contact…"

These are just a few ways that Bay Area creative firms have branded themselves and brought creativity to the forefront.

/ Alan Drummer / has been drawn to the process of creating and communicating in several mediums. As a copywriter at McCann-Erickson, he wrote milk TV spots for ‘tweens,' winning two Cannes Lions and four Clio nominations. As a scriptwriter in Silicon Valley, he wrote interactive multimedia presentations for major clients. He made five years of videos for PlayStation, and did a stint as a segment producer for a weekly History Channel series called "Tactical to Practical." His freelance writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Better Homes and Gardens, San Francisco Magazine and other publications.

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