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Answers by Chris Wallace of The SuperGroup.
On your website you have a long and impressive list of clients, including household names likes Bud Light, Geico, Nestle, The Weather Channel, AOL, Johnson & Johnson, IBM, and Nascar... really, the list goes on and on! You started SuperGroup in 2002. Many creative companies have been at it for much longer and have hardly dreamed of such an impressive list of clients. Can you give us some insight into how TSG got where it is today?
Itís a complex mixture of strategy, guts, talent, determination and luck that have lead to us working with such great clients and great projects. But two things have been particularly impactful in our ability to secure great clients: The focus and expertise we offer in the field of new media, and an exceptionally high level of customer service.†
Since many of the clients we want to work with already have primary agencies, we thought it was important to target these agencies as our customers, rather than the brands they represent. †Many had in-house interactive departments, but very few agencies had the specialized abilities that we pride ourselves on.
On top of that, we know that our industry is very competitive, and so our clients really have to love working with us. It's easy to convince yourself that the reason your clients choose you is because your work is leaps and bounds above everyone else, but the fact is it's just not true; there's a lot of talent out there. We've tried to distinguish ourselves from similar companies by simply being more attentive, and more willing to do "whatever it takes" to get the job done right. This, more so than anything else, is the reason why our clients continue to contact us when they need quality interactive work.
What were the most important steps that The SuperGroup took as a company in the first couple of years, while you were still building your portfolio, that enabled you to attract bigger clients?
Pretending to be bigger than we were. We call it the "David Bowie" approach: Pretend to be a huge rock star long before you actually are. Eventually, people believe you. We approached clients that most start-ups wouldn't dream of pursuing. Most attempts failed of course (in fact, we hardly had any business at all in our first year), but slowly one by one clients took a chance on us because of the confidence we exhibited. Once our foot was in the door, we killed ourselves to over-deliver.
An issue that many small design companies face is the challenge of breaking out of their local community to find potentially "bigger fish." What can less established firms do to sell themselves? How does one compete without already having a laundry list of name brands under their belt?
Spec work. Everyone hates it, but if your idea is good enough, clients don't care if you're a small fish. Sure, you run the risk of them saying, "Thanks for the great free work, we'll let our real agency take it from here," but the smart organizations will say, "Why aren't we getting this kind of work from our current agency? Maybe we should switch."
Your company has three primary focuses: interactive development, creative consulting, and graphic design. Are these services that you've offered from the beginning? Which has been the most integral to The SuperGroup's growth?
We have always offered these services because they are three faces of the same deliverable. But, hands down the most lucrative and important of these is creative consulting; the idea is king. Since the beginning of The SuperGroup, we wanted to be thinkers, not just doers.†
Another difficulty that many design companies face is working out the legal and logistical complications often associated with partnerships. The creative realm is especially predisposed to partnerships, but in fact many "partners" concede that they have no real plan or legal documents for their arrangement. Has TSG faced challenges in this regard, being that you were founded by three partners? If you were going to do it all again with the knowledge you have now, do you think there would have been times when having one guy in charge would have benefited the company?
Having three partners (me, Brad Lewis, Gabe Aldridge) has been a huge benefit for The SuperGroup because we followed the cardinal rule of partnership: each of us brings unique and valuable assets to the table. All too often, service-based companies are started by partners who do virtually the same thing, which is a recipe for resentment and disaster. Having three partners has allowed TSG to be a full service shop from the very beginning, splitting the varied responsibilities of running the company between uniquely qualified individuals.†
On the news lately, and especially during the recent election, there has been lots of talk about the evils of Wall Street and the humble, hardworking people of†Main Street. As a small to midsize business, have you been effected by the crisis and in what ways?
Everyone is nervous about the economy, and when people are nervous, they hang on to their wallets. The same is true of our clients, but luckily our services are a frugal alternative to more expensive marketing mediums (print/radio/television). We don't see the clouds of doom on the horizon, but we are taking steps to ensure that expenses are closely watched, and sales efforts are strong. We think that as long as weíre offering a valuable service, customers will always be there.
As far as politics are concerned, I firmly believe that small businesses and businesses in general should be taxed less, not more. Tax the hell out of capitol gains and personal income tax if you must, but taxing business does nothing but drive up the cost of goods and services, and eliminate jobs. As an owner of a small business, I use profits to plan for growth, particularly in the form of new hires - as Uncle Sam takes more of those profits away, that means fewer jobs and slower growth.
Is a weak economy going to hurt design agencies any more or any less than everyone else?
It's hard to tell. On one hand, "intangible" creative services are often the first to be slashed from the budget. On the other, as consumer spending decreases, companies have to spend more in advertising and marketing efforts to win those dollars. The trick is simply to make sure that as companies cut back their spending, your services are so valuable that they cut from somewhere else.†
Companies of all types are inventing new ways to get their message and their brand in front of people. Whether it is 'flip-book' type ads on subway walls, energy drinks being distributed by way of Mini Cooper, or in your case, a social networking website for Bud Light. Turning to the creative side, what do you see as the next trendy way to market products?†
In regards to the world of interactive, information and content are flowing more and more freely from one source to another. Some companies are fighting this trend tooth and nail through strict DRM, and others are adopting the "open source" model. The latter is absolutely the correct course of action, as DRM is a battle against the very consumers that they rely upon, waged with weapons that degrade the quality of their product. The more forward-thinking companies realize that information and content can't be controlled, and therefore can't be sold, so they invest their efforts in alternative revenue streams.
I foresee a future where all sorts of rich content is available for free, while being brought to you by a corporate sponsor. Music, television, movies, and games will be available free of charge courtesy of your friends at the _____ company. Just as corporations pay big bucks for celebrity endorsements, they will one day pay huge fees to be aligned with quality content - more than enough to make up for the fact that nobody's selling CDs anymore. So don't be surprised if the next RadioHead album is titled "Hot Pockets."
Stretching it out even further, what role will an agency like The SuperGroup play in 10 or 15 years? Does it look anything like today?†
Interactive changes at the speed of thought. Literally every moment of every day, interactive technology is adapting and improving. What it will look like in 10 to 15 years is hard to say, but what's certain is that demand for interactive services will be stronger than ever. It's not a question of whether or not interactive will be the dominant marketing medium, it's a question of which mediums won't be in some way interactive. As we move in that direction, The SuperGroupís desire is to simply be at the forefront - creating the projects that push the boundaries and changing the perception of what's possible.†
Someone comes to TSG with a really shiny new version of the ballpoint pen. What is your company going to do differently than the next guy to make that pen the hottest pen on the market?†
Market it as the official pen of destruction - used exclusively to sign death warrants and divorce papers. People will love it!
Finally, the most important question: if The SuperGroup was going to shout from the rooftops, what would it shout?
"Your website's made in New York City?! ..... Get a rope."