Getting Creative in Business: Photography Consulting

Photography is expensive.  Well, good photography is expensive.  The upfront cost of professional grade equipment is substantial and it isn’t easy to produce quality work like many people believe it is.  If you believe you can instantly create great commercial photography for your business with a simple DSLR and home studio without any training, go try it.  You might get lucky, but chances are you will just end up frustrated.  Today’s basic DSLRs are absolutely mind-blowing, but without knowing how to tap into their potential, most people are not going to be able to do much except shot in full-auto mode and the results will show it.

And for that reason alone, commercial photography is much more challenging than most people believe.   That’s not to say it is exceptionally difficult, but it does take some knowledge and skills that most people will not have naturally.  In that way, it’s a lot like being a baker.  Only a few ingredients are needed to make bread, but without experience and knowledge, it’s hard. And that makes photography a very difficult issue for small online retailers.  To be successful in today’s online world, small businesses need quality photography, but very few small scale retailers can afford the investment of hiring a pro photographer to do it for them.  Most good photographers charge anywhere from $300-$500/half day and that’s generally much more than a small business can dish out and still make money.

Because of the large cost of hiring a pro, small businesses typically do one of two things.  They either attempt to do it themselves and end up with amateur looking photography or they attempt to get a want-to-be pro to do it for them for next to nothing.  Sometimes you end up with a skilled photographer who really is just getting their start, but for the most part, you will end up with someone who picked up a DSLR one day and decided, “I’m going to be a photographer!”   It’s great that people have an interest in photography, but most so-called “pros” that people find for cheap on Craigslist lack virtually any skill.  It’s one of those situations where you most likely will get what you pay for.  But even if you get a photographer with their own equipment and studio to do your work for say $200/half day, that’s still a lot for what you get.

But there is a third solution.  And it’s a much stronger and financially sound solution for small businesses.  Hire a photographer for a photo consulting session and create a relationship with that photographer.  When you need help, give them a call, but take control of  95% of production yourself.  Yes, I’ve started hiring out myself for this type of work, but I’ll be honest, it’s a brilliant solution for everyone involved.  As someone who does more than just photography, operating  as a photo consultant helps me grow my business, but it also creates a situation where the small business owner can maximize their investment in photography and grow as well.  As a small retailer, chances are you are pretty skilled at doing a lot of different things for your business.  Make photography one of them.  Yes you will have to make a fairly substantial investment in equipment and yes hiring a photographer (who can teach you) can be expensive, but the investment is well worth your time and money.  To give you an example of what a $1000-$1500 total investment and 4-6 hours of your time can result in…

DZ Nuts Blueballs Edition

If you ride a bike much, you have probably experienced something known as a saddle sore.  It’s painful and not exactly a fun experience.  Luckily chamois creams are available and very effective.  And the best one I know of…  DZ Nuts.  I’ve tried many, but DZ Nuts is a clear winner.  And how can you expect anything else with a name like DZ Nuts?  Thank you Mr. Dave Zabriskie.  Seriously, thank you.

Well last spring I was out on a nice long early spring training ride (50-70 miles if my memory serves me well) when a glorious vision came to me.  Either that or it was some cyclo-based hallucination…  Either way, meet the DZ Nuts Blueballs Edition.  I think it’s a great product idea that fits well into the whole culture of DZ Nuts, but more importantly, I see this as an opportunity to take my cycling inspired joke product and do some good with it.  After some thought, I figured, why not try and get DZ Nuts to make DZ Nuts Blueballs Edition, partner with the LiveStrong Foundation, and raise some money for Testicular Cancer?  It’s a solid idea right?  Right now I’m still trying to get a hold of DZ Nuts, so if you know anyone…

And for some more entertainment… Dave Zabriskie.

UNC Pillow Fight December 8 2010

This semester, the now infamous rave hasn’t occurred yet.  Don’t worry kiddies, the word on the street is just be around early next week.  So while everyone is waiting, a giant pillow fight was fought on the hallowed grounds of an otherwise cold and silent Polk Place.  On one side near the steps of the South Building, the Blue Team assembled with people whose last names started with the letters A through M.  On the opposite end of Polk Place under the columns of Wilson Library, the White Team, built from all those whose last names started with N through Z assembled.  At just past 6pm, the malee began…

Click Photo Below for Gallery

The Cover Letter… And getting hired.

One of the greatest insights I’ve managed to gain over the last year or so is what potential employers in the ad business or really any business are actually looking for.  And it’s not always what you would expect.  As a creative strategy specialist, you would think ad agencies would look firstly at my creative and problem solving potential.  They don’t and I don’t blame them for a second.  Creative potential doesn’t make money, actual sales make money.  It’s not rocket science, but if you are looking at entering the advertising business, don’t expect to be in a position where you are going to be flexing your creative muscles to your full potential.  It rarely works that way.  You will do much better if you can look at a set of metrics, figure out what’s working, and adapt your creative power to enhancing that trend.  So what are potential employers looking for in today’s market?  The easy answer: numbers.  If you can bring real numbers to table and show potential employers you can not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk, people will take you seriously.

Now that I’ve spilled the beans about what you need to bring to your interview, how do you get there?  Well it all starts with a cover letter.  You get one shot to make a memorable first impression and in today’s economy and you better make it a good one.  And in the advertising world, it’s even more vital.  If you can’t sell yourself, how in the world do you expect anyone to hire you to sell their product?!?

I’ve written somewhere in the realm of 500 or so cover letters in the last year, so I consider myself an expert.  I’ve also done a lot of online PR work with a lot of success.  Through that time, I’ve varied my tactics, looked at the results, and adapted accordingly.  I’m still unemployed this second, but that’s a result of a lack of those pesky “numbers” I talked about earlier.  Like I said, raw creativity doesn’t make money… proven results does.

Numero UNO: Keep it short.  One to two paragraphs is all you need.  Mention how you found them, why you think you would make a good asset, and close with an open invitation for further conversation.  Anything more and you will almost certainly get placed in the skip pile.

Numero DOS: Make sure your contact info is easy to find and 100% correct.  Ornate letterhead that takes a reader away from the letter itself doesn’t help you unless you are a graphic designer.  And even then, think of the golden rule of design… if it doesn’t achieve it’s primary purpose, it’s a piece of ….

Numero TRES: Know who you are talking to.  Do some research and learn about the company.  Form letters go directly into the trash.  Why would anyone even consider hiring anyone who doesn’t care enough about the company to learn something about it?

Numero QUATRO: Send it to the right person.  Once again, do some research.  It may take some time and effort on your part, but avoid sending letters to faceless email addresses like “jobs@company.com.”  This may be difficult, but this is one place you can show off your creativity.  Want an example?  Alec Brownstein.

Numero CINCO: This is the most important one… BE YOURSELF! Pretending to be someone else, changing stories to fit the situation, and outright lying never ends well.  In today’s information age, you will not win.  Period.

And on a side note, another great way to get a potential employer’s attention: have a great online presence.

Red Bull Ad

While I was cruising through my favorite Ad Industry news sites a few days ago, I noticed something that ended up really catching my interest: an ad contest.  If you know me, you know I love them.  They are one of the best places to show off your skills and make an impression on the Ad World.

Well after a few days worth of thinking and coming up with a clever ad, I’ve submitted my ad and I could use a little support to get it noticed!  So how can you help?  Go to the following link and comment, tweet it, and share it on Facebook, etc.  Any help I can get promoting it would be awesome!

http://www.redbullusa.com/cs/Satellite/en_US/Generic/Ad-Detail-021242922148965?CategoryName=Best+Ad+Contest&p=1242808573406&adId=20718

The Role of Demographics: What Product Developers can Learn from Four Loko

Chances are that if you are under the age of 25 or regularly watch any of the major news networks, the name Four Loko is at least familiar to you.  If you need a refresher, Four Loko is perhaps the worst tasting mass produced alcoholic drink designed specifically for one and only one purpose, to make people go… Loko. I’ve smelled it and if I think it smells bad (thank you very much organic chemistry for destroying my sense of smell), it must be awful.  I’ve honestly smelled road kill that appealed more to me.  But enough of my critic on the smell;  Turns out that if you mix an an 11% alcoholic drink and pump it fun of caffeine, it really leads to people going Loko!  Add in the fact that it sells for $3 and is targeted to college students… even the most naive person can guess the outcome.

That being said, Four Loko can also be apply described as a highly successful product design with dead on advertising and marketing campaigns.  By now you might be asking yourself, “Why Brian, you tell me this awful product exist and that no-one in their right mind would ever consume it… but then you tell me it’s awesome… are you off your meds?”  First, I’m not on any meds (my quirkiness is all-natural thank you very much) and secondly, yes, that is exactly what I am telling you.

“Well Brian, please explain.”  Gladly.

So here we go.

1) Four Loko fills a niche.  It’s unique.

Although introducing caffeine into alcoholic drinks is nothing new (think irish coffee, coffee stouts), the caffeine in the drink has traditionally been a tangential result of mixing the coffee flavor with alcohol.  When I grab a delicious coffee stout, like my current favorite beer (Big Boss Brewing’s Aces&Ates Coffee Stout), I don’t even think to myself, “why this drink contains caffeine!”  I’m not exactly complaining that it has caffeine, but it’s not why I ordered it.

That all changed with the introduction of the now legendary Red Bull and Vodka sometime in the 1990s.  Some ingenious bartender figured out they could mix the two and make a lot of money, but that’s a story for another time.  The point is a new market emerged: caffeine infused alcohol.

And that’s where Four Loko’s creators are genius.  The Red Bull and Vodka is a lovely idea, but even if you make it yourself at home, you are looking at a $3+ drink.  Red Bull isn’t cheap!  And everyone knows that the vast majority of college students are 1) cheap 2) traditionally large consumers of “adult beverages” and 3) hopefully pretty book smart (although I’ve got my questions about that).  But one thing is for sure: students know a good “deal” when it comes to booze.  Look at what beer sales at grocery stores; it’s always the cheapest/volume.  Add that demography specific trifecta together and guess what… a super lucrative secondary market emerges from the caffeine infused alcohol market; the cheap alternative.

2) Four Loko has great self-esteem.  It knows exactly who it is.

If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.  If you are in the advertising and marketing world, figuring out what your product really is is the greatest thing ever.  I like to call it Core Product Value.  It’s kinda like figuring out what you want to do in life and getting the motivation to do it.  Once you figure out what you were meant to do in life, only the sky limits you.  For Four Loko, it may be a cheap, low class, and a horrible tasting excuse for a drink, but it’s going to be the cheapest, lowest class, and worst tasting drink it can be and feel great about it.

3) Four Loko embraces itself.  It doesn’t try to be anyone but itself.

When Four Loko was being developed, chances are a bunch of marketing pros were working alongside the chemist to figure out how to position the product.  A product may have great value, but without a strong strategy to tap into that value, a product is as good as dead.  Think Coca Cola or my favorite, the Volkswagen Beetle: without dead-on marketing and advertising, those products would not have developed as they did.  Four Loko’s advertising and marketing strategies have done remarkably well.  Visually, the packaging is instantly recognizable and if you say the name Four Loko to the target demographic, it taps deep into consumer’s emotions.  It’s got brand personality and has developed exactly the kind of reputation it deserves: it’s cheap, full of caffeine/alcohol, and offers drinkers exactly what they want.