Episode 98 – Story, concept, design.

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Episode 98 – Story, concept, design.

Story, Concept, Design | Sideways8 Interactive

Today we chat with Michael Vamosy. Michael is a graphic designer by trade. During his career, he has been the VP of Design for FX, and the Senior VP of Design for Fox Broadcasting. Currently, he is the CCO at Stun, working with clients in the entertainment and consumer space across all media.

Adam: [00:00:08] Hi, and welcome to the Good People, Good Marketing Podcast, a podcast about digital marketing and how to make it better so the good people and good organizations can have good marketing as well. I’m your host, Adam Walker, co-founder of Sideways8, a digital marketing agency and 48in48, a nonprofit dedicated to hosting events that build forty-eight websites for forty-eight nonprofits in forty-eight hours.


[00:00:28] My guest on the show today is Michael Vamosy. Michael is a graphic designer by trade. He started on the agency side before heading up design for FX as VP of Design. He then moved over to Fox Broadcasting as Senior VP of Design where he was responsible for unifying design across on-air print and digital. He then went back to the agency side with Buster where he started the print and digital division at Buster Inc. Then, back on the network side where he ran all (unclear 00:00:54) with a team of a hundred and fifteen people plus at Stars as Senior VP of Creative Services. Now, he is the CCO at Stun, working with clients in the entertainment and consumer space across all media. Michael, welcome to the show.

Michael: [00:01:10] Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be here.

Adam: [00:01:13] Great. I appreciate it, man. I’m looking forward to somebody with your experience speaking into what we’re talking about here. Let’s just dive right in if you’re ready. Related to digital marketing, can you tell me something that’s worked well for you?

Michael: [00:01:26] I go back to the other core values, what’s worked well for me. I break it down into three elements. It’s story, concept, and design. Those things never really change. As much as technology and audience engagement can change, the core values that bring people to the table, I still agree: storytelling. Solid, unique and ownable concepts that really work to challenge the boundaries of the new space. Sometimes that does conflict a little bit, so whether or not the technology can support your concept, that’s another question.

[00:02:00] What I mean by that is, like back in the day when I was at Fox we had this great series called Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. A great show. We were trying to pull a whole new twist and spin on outdoor and on-air and pushing the boundaries all the way we could. But when it came to digital, we really developed this app, this experience where– And this is an idea where the technology just wasn’t as big as our idea was at the time. We had a lot of limitations with that, but we tried to bring people to this forum where they had a chance to get the app and they could enter this game, whether they’re a human or whether they were a Terminator. You could pick what you want to be, and then you go out into the real world. The concept was, you’re in a grocery store, you’re linked in to the game and all of a sudden your phone gets a little vibration and you look around and you’re like, “There’s a Terminator in this store and he’s coming for you.” The goal was you’ve got to figure who that terminator is before he gets to you. So whoever double (unclear 00:03:02) you, or you double (unclear 00:03:03) them to make sure that you survive in the game.

[00:03:07] The idea was great. Big, fun, interesting idea, but in the end we just couldn’t get it built. The technology wasn’t quite there. Not to mention Fox legal had a couple of little issues with people running after each other playing this giant game of tag. In essence, we ended up building the whole thing in a smaller and virtual space so you logged on in your regular course of the day. If you took the same commute every day, that eventually people could set traps for you in this virtual space. It was cool. It was interesting. It was worth of the investment and then the trial. But when you look at what Pokémon did almost a decade later, they really brought that to life where that space and technology was ready. But back then we weren’t afraid to give it a shot. We love the idea of reaching past what technology can do to keep furthering the game.

Adam: [00:04:02] Right. Wow. That sounds fantastic. I really liked that. I wish that I got a chance to play now.

Michael: [00:04:08] The idea of it sounded so much better than the execution. But I think a lot of it, you brought people in, it was a good, clever hook and it was fun and it got our viewers into it a little bit in a different way. But again, I keep going back to pushing story concept and designs (unclear 00:04:25) what technology can do and also what the consumers have the ability to process and comprehend. We have to do this on a daily basis without a fear of failing. That’s always tough to do in this business, right? You want to try new things, “That was an utter failure.”

[00:04:40] Some people looked at what we do with Sara Connor as a little bit of a failure, but I think it really pushed out and engaged some of the audience to a really, really deep level and others just were a little bit of a passive audience, but they got a chance to see it. I think it’s that ability to push forward without that fear of failing that drives innovation.

Adam: [00:05:05] We’ve got to be willing to test things and try new things out. Otherwise, we’re never going to do new things.

Michael: [00:05:10] Exactly. You’ve got a great story. You got a great concept to go the story into the concept and of course it’s great design, but sometimes great design it’s all you need. I keep going back to what immigrated. I probably would say design is a good idea. I keep reiterating that to my guys here. It’s like, “What are we going to do? What’s the process? What’s the angle? What’s the hook? How do we get into this?” Sometimes it’s just great design.

[00:05:38] For us, yes, we try a lot of different things in the technology space, but it always comes down to those core values, those core assets. Is it going to be interesting, it’s going to look amazing, is it got a great ownable concept for our clients, is it going to work for them or is it going to push the boundaries and test things and is it going to come close to failure or is it really going to push through and really help them succeed to the next level? It’s always a combination of a lot of those ideas working together and at the end it’s all about having fun with it too and doing something interesting at the end of the day.

Adam: [00:06:09] Yes. I love that. As I’m looking at my notes here and I’m thinking about what you’re talking about, if you’re missing any one of those elements, if you’re missing the story, if you’re missing the concept, if you’re missing the design, you’re going to miss the mark completely. A great story with a terrible design is going to flop big time. A great design with the terrible story, a terrible concept is going to flop. You’ve got to have those components to really make it all work together.

Michael: [00:06:31] Definitely.

Adam: [00:06:31] I love that. Next question, question number two. Related to digital marketing, can you tell us something that has not worked well that we can learn from?

Michael: [00:06:41] Well, on our end we eventually had to make everything work. It’s like we have to. That’s the agency model. We never let our clients down. We always find a way to keep on pushing. But when you look at the overall space and things that haven’t worked well, it’s really a management of the shrinking budgets and rising client expectations not working well. I know that sounds like a holistic, overarching point of view and maybe a lot of people out there are grappling with the same issue, but you got to keep your clients’ expectations in check throughout the whole process.

[00:07:21] A horrible metaphor I use in the office is sometimes our clients come to us at the beginning of a project and the scope of the work is equivalent to us building them like a contractor would build you a two bedroom house, but over the course of the project is the budget starts to shrink or the reality of the budget comes into play. Now the client wants to add three stories on top of this house and the swimming pool on the roof, a merry go round in the backyard. And all of a sudden, this foundation that we agreed upon with our services in this two bedroom house no longer has the viability.

[00:07:54] Years ago we saw this trend happening and we realized quickly that we had to improve our workflow and we really had to manage our client expectations, just like any contractor would. If you’ve got like roof damage or ceiling damage, once you pull that ceiling down and you realize you got to fix this, this and this stuff you didn’t see going into the project. Also, you need to look at your contract with another one for skylights. That color track can tell you, “Those skylights costs x” as a tangible element. When you’re working creative, nothing’s as tangible as that. I can see two skylights. I can’t see a little bit more brand new mark. It’s hard to see color exploration other than, “Here’s my color exploration.” You tell him these images can work. Here’s how we take a still and an animator for digital advertising.

[00:08:46] A lot of that stuff is not as tangible as two by fours and windows. We’re always looking to bring everything down, communicate to our clients on a constant basis, where their expectations are, making sure we’re hitting those expectations and making sure that their million dollar idea and their $0.75 budget are aligned and everyone’s getting what they want. At the end of it our clients always feel like they’re getting more than their value, which is the key to success in this space.

[00:09:19] It’s still a lot to change and shift the mindset from ten years ago when budgets were big and everyone was charging forward. But with everything changing, with everyone digesting everything so quickly, clients need more and they have less to spend, but they need more, they need more and we need to be able to execute more for them. We take advantage of our shoots. Meaning if we’ve got a photoshoot, possibly we do live action shoot, we do some behind the scenes interviews, we create more digital content. We create more for them than we would when we used to back in the day with just a photoshoot. We’re taking advantage of the client’s time, the talent that we’ll be shooting. We’re taking advantage of all of these places, and really maximizing the dollars and getting more value out of opportunities that our clients give to us.

[00:10:13] That takes a little bit of time, a little bit more thinking and a little bit more ingenuity to really maximize that. So when we’re done, we’re not just walking away with a piece of key art for a TV series. We’re walking away with, “Now we’ve got potentially like motion poster for that key art that can play well in the digital space. We’re going to be shooting a live action teaser that not only will play well in on-air because what’s on-air anymore?” Everyone’s going to be pushed into how’s that teaser going play on Instagram and Facebook. Once you see that, “What other pieces of content can we roll out?” Can we sit down with the actors, the directors and the show creators and craft the whole story that comes around it so that any one of those elements might reach out the digital space and pique interest to bring viewers in, but they bring them in through a different point of view and you’re able to show them the full picture of your story from key art to your trailers, to know the cast and find out a little bit more about what the show is. So it’s really about managing your client’s expectations at the high level of creative execution that we deliver.

Adam: [00:11:17] Right. Absolutely. That’s not easy to do. Managing expectations for anyone in any project, small or large, is always extraordinarily difficult because what we envision in our head is invariably bigger than what we write down on paper. That’s good. Constant communication is key, I think, for that sort of thing.

Michael: [00:11:36] Yes, of course.

Adam: [00:11:39] Last question, question number three. Related to digital marketing, can you tell me something you’re excited about?

Michael: [00:11:44] Well, besides this interview– I’m super excited to be here and I really appreciate you taking the time. I love the show. I love what you do. I love hearing everyone’s points of views of what they’re excited about too. Some of the things that excite me recently are some of these larger experiential projects that we’ve been working on. We’ve been working with a great partner of ours to collaborate in depth with Hulu. We’ve been doing their upfront for the past three years. This experience that we create at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden– It’s now the Hulu Theater, which is very exciting. It’s a great space. It’s a great venue. There’s seats for five thousand people and every year we’ve started to see the audience grow. Last year, it was a full house.

[00:12:30] But create an experiential moment across a multitude of screens– We designed anywhere from like five screens to seventeen screens, spatting a hundred and fifty, a hundred and sixty feet wide. How that presentation plays and engages throughout the course of our show, mixed with how we bring viewers into the space, to this interesting experience of (unclear 00:12:54) house. So how we organize these video monitors and have this messaging and mood, how it all works to set the tone and get people in the right mindset, bring them in, get them into a space where they’re witnessing this amazing kind of experience come to life. And then when you start to think of how the show develops and pushes forward where you get to a moment where in the Handmaid’s Tale trailer plays, and at the end of that, we get into this design that moves across multiple screens. And at that moment, Hulu brings in fifty handmaids who start to walk into the audience. It’s at that moment where you start to see five thousand people slowly pull their cell phones out, hit the video, start taking videos, start taking pictures. They start to feel that experience and they start to get those goosebumps on the back of your neck where you’re starting to get really excited, and you can start to see this moment where this experience comes to life, where this thing you’ve been working on for the last couple months, that moment in time where everyone shares that moment… It’s not just an experience for five thousand people in the theater. It’s an experience for five thousand people who take that message, who take that moment and they share it. They share it on Facebook, Instagram, they tweet about it. They get that conversation going. How that momentum carries out throughout the processes is really captivating to us. We love that big scale experiential. I think it’s very exciting.

[00:14:19] We did a really interesting project with our friends at TBS for People of Earth for the Comic Con booth. For those of you not familiar with the show, People of Earth is about this alien abductees support group. We gave people a chance to really feel what it’s like to be abducted in an alien space. Again, it’s a great way to give people a deeper dive, a deeper experience and then you (unclear 00:14:43) those people to share that experience. You give them the tools to pass that on. We do that for a lot of our clients. One of our close partners, the NFL network, we’re currently working on how to engage their fans a lot more this season, how we incentivize them, how we make the platform and the place for them to keep that conversation going with their fans. It’s really exciting.

[00:15:08] Specifically I can’t get into all the details of how that’s shaping up, but we’re really looking to dive into deeper levels of fan engagement. These people talk anyway. They want to share the pictures of their dog wearing their favorite Eagle’s jersey or their Redskins outfits with their kids. They want to share that. They want that place to do it and we’re working to capitalize on that and give them a place and then give them some rewards to keep in that conversation and keep them engaged. It’s all what that level of engagement is from our fans, what the level of engagement is from viewers. You’ve got the passives, those people who see it but they don’t really engage with it, and you’ve got the people who dabble, “I engage with it a little bit, That’s cool. I spent a couple of minutes with the brand,” and you’ve got the fanatics who dive deep into it, use it, exploit it, really dive deep into it.

[00:16:06] We’re always looking to create an experience that could potentially work for all three levels of those viewers and how they might be able to interact with it, whether they’re just seeing it as an awareness medium or whether they’re getting a chance to dive into your brand for an extra minute or two or they dive in deep and then they share it. It’s how do you trigger all of those and capitalize the dollars that you’re spending for your clients. That’s something that we look deep into, we constantly talk about. It all goes back to, “Is there enough story there for them? Is this concept ownable and unique for them? And can we design and execute this in a flawless way that makes sense for our client’s brand space?” That’s really what excites me.

Adam: [00:16:56] That’s what it all comes back to. That’s what you said originally: story, concept, design. That’s fantastic. Well, Michael, let me see if I can recap what we talked about so far. Related to digital marketing, I said what’s working well, you said back to basics. The values are always there and are always the same in every campaign and every element: story, concept, design. They all three need to be executed well, and if they’re not all three executed well, then it’s going to ultimately be problematic and probably fail.

[00:17:25] Related to what has not worked well that we can learn from, you said there’s a lot of shrinking budgets and rising client expectations and so it takes a good clear communication to make sure that expectations are always accounted for. Then, you also have to improve workflows and have constant communication with clients as needed to make sure that expectations are always set and met correctly. You said agencies need to be able to execute more for less, which I think is good. You talked about how you’re able to do a photoshoot and then add several things on top of that to be doing simultaneously in order to provide more value for your clients for less overall costs than it otherwise would be, which I think is really clever.

[00:18:07] Then, for what you’re excited about, you said the large format presentations that you’re doing. You mentioned the presentation for Hulu, which is a huge experience across many huge screens, which I really want to see a video of now. I want to go be a part of it. I think that would be amazing. What you described just sounds really, really monumental. I think it’s really cool what you’re up to. Did I leave anything out in particular?

Michael: [00:18:35] You got the big ones, which is great. I’m glad you’re listening. That’s good to know.

Adam: [00:18:40] Yes, I try to pay attention, try to make good notes and learn everything that I possibly can. Michael, do you have any final thoughts you want to share with our listeners?

Michael: [00:18:48] Just keep up the good fight, everyone. The goal is to do great work, do great work for your clients, push innovation, push that technology, get us really interested in something that’s amazing to you, and push, push, push. The world’s a better place because of all of us creative marketers who find these new interesting ways to make a way to stand out in a cool, interesting space, so keep up the good work.

Adam: [00:19:12] Michael, man, it has been great to have you on the show. Really, really appreciate your time, man. This has been fantastic.

Michael: [00:19:17] Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Adam: [00:19:18] Thanks for listening to the Good People, Good Marketing Podcast. To get more resources about digital marketing, make sure to go to goodpeoplegoodmarketing.com where you can find more podcasts, blogs, and other fun resources. Also, if you want to find me, your host, you can find me on Twitter @ajwalker and on my blog at adamjwalker.com, where I blog about leadership productivity, habit building, and the craziness of having five kids. Thanks, and tune in next time.

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