Spec Work and The Color of Money

Posted by: Rob  :  Category: Marketing

I’m blogging today because I want to tackle a monster that rears its ugly head in harsh economic times. We call it spec work and its a phenomenon that refuses to die in the design industry. Spec work is essentially an agreement to work for conditional compensation. Clients want to see creative work or “delivered goods” and then determine if they wish to pay for them or not. That way clients have liberty to explore free design work with virtually no commitment on their end. Like having a meal at a restaurant and then deciding if you wish to pay for it or not.

Spec work can be rationalized by comparing it to other industries like architecture where firms bid competitively on big city buildings. Architecture firms present design work in a competition with other firms in hopes of winning the project. Another industry I’ve seen comparisons to is recruiting, where head hunters are only paid if clients hire the candidates they provide. Where these industries fail to be analogous to the creative industry is in their compensation scheme. Recruiters are paid a considerable percentage of the hires’ first year salary which usually translates to a hefty fee, thus making up for time wasted on candidates not hired. When an architecture firm wins a building, it becomes a project that employs its services for a number of years. Not so in design. We sell our expertise, time and materials. Its often not seen as a value proposition for the long term and this is huge problem.

How did spec work penetrate the creative field? In a word, because creative professionals let it. Particularly in tight economic times, the drive to acquire work and make clients happy at any cost has pressured designers to make endless concessions in the hopes that someday, eventually, we will be rewarded long term, on-going work. Sadly, this is often a fatal business model. Businesses personnel change; the way they market themselves changes; they find other designers who are willing to work for less; or they just go out of business.

Paul Carew of Carew Co. does an excellent job explaining why spec work is not in the clients best interest. Particularly how having many logos to choose from does not ensure the one you are choosing is the best.

My pledge to all designers or creatives that read this: try to consider yourself an ambassador. We literally are stewards of the design industry. We need to respect the process and its value. Don’t sell it cheap and justify it by saying you have bills to pay. This is America: be an entrepeneur and find alternative revenue streams to supplement your life. Because in the end, we do it for love. If we don’t respect it, then how can we ask a client to?


It’s in the Little Things

Posted by: Meghann  :  Category: Marathon Training, Marketing

As my marathon training is progressing, it is becoming more and more apparent how incredible our bodies are. The thought of going on a 20 mile run seemed impossible to me a few months ago. Now I can manage to get through it, barely, with the help of Melinda and Jodi’s company and conversations. However, with the triumph of slowly completing the strenuous training, my body is starting to feel it or rather my knee is feeling it.

Of course, amid my paranoia that my knee is going to act up during the race, or another long run, I have done a fair share of research on how to prevent injury and how to recover from heavy training. The pain I am feeling in my knee is directly linked to other parts of my body not doing their job. In order to keep the knees feeling good I have to have strong muscles supporting them, keeping them in place. So I have been paying special attention to stretching and strengthening the supporting muscles and it has helped so far. It makes total sense, seems pretty intuitive. One would think, but I got lazy – I wasn’t stretching or strengthening those muscles. That laziness began to show, you can’t get away with that when you are increasing mileage from 20 miles per week to 35 plus. I was too focused on the end-goal itself that I forgot a very important part of the equation. Oh the lessons you learn the hard way!

The same is true in marketing. You may have an amazing campaign, tactic or idea, but if you don’t have all arms of the plan properly prepped and ready to go it will inevitably fall short. As a marketer you must not lose sight of the little things that support your end-goal, they will ultimately be the deal breakers of the program.

Best Ad: Nike’s US Mens Basketball

Posted by: Rob  :  Category: Creative Brilliance, Marketing

Best ad during the olympics for me was Nike’s US Basketball Ad. No script needed -its just a collection of footage and Marvin Gaye singing. But its absolutely brilliant. Three reasons why.


1. Mesmerizing photography. Nothing feels posed or staged. Shots move in tight and make you feel like you’re catching a pass from Chris Paul. Sometimes you are sitting court-side, watching Mike Krzyzewski instruct. Other times you’re watching Lebron James perfect his outside shot. The camera focusses much like the human eye, wandering, stopping to catch subtle movement. They do a wonderful job of making you feel present.


2. Its a practice. This is important because these are NBA stars making millions. Most of these guys have zillion dollar shoe contracts and have been on ESPN high light reels for years. But here, there is no show boating -its 12 guys busting theirs rears in a gym. Sweat, drills, frustration, laughter, -we see these guys working yet enjoying the camaraderie of each other. They feel like a team, not a collection of All Stars.


3. The forgotten genius of Marvin Gaye. Gaye sings the national anthem in his patented R&B genre. He is singing live, but its obviously years ago at the LA Forum. The imagery of Gaye serves as the backdrop for the practice we are witnessing.  He starts slow, but builds it to a point where if you don’t get goosebumps by the end you’re either dead, or you’re from Lithuania. The song finishes, the players meet in a huddle with hands meeting in the air. Nike logo fades in with “Just do it”. Yeah, its boiler plate but it still works.


Admittedly I’m as biased as biased can be. I love good basketball. I’m so glad to see our guys play the game the way it should be -with sweat equity. But this ad uses the subtlety of imagery and music to perfection which is why you can see it over and over and over. 


…oh yeah, and they brought the damn gold back where it belongs.

Olympics Ad Champ

Posted by: Melinda  :  Category: Marketing

A group of my friends are having a challenge to find our favorite Olympics advertisement. We are to announce the winners at Sheryl Crow’s concert this Wednesday. But here’s a sneak peak of my pick.

I liked the entire Visa series best, because all of the commercials seemed to touch the heart. The stories caught my attention, the photography was splendid, and Morgan Freeman’s narration is impossible to top. Its Come Together ad did a nice job of suggesting there certain moments/events that put people on the same page. At a time when American spirits were down, the Olympics, for me at least, did a lot to boost patriotism and pride. Not just the Michael Phelps medals or the gymnasts golden routines. It was the Jason Lezak leg of the 4 x 100 free relay that got me – coming from behind to swim the fastest split of all time. Or Sanya Richard’s impressive leg in the 1500 meter relay, passing the Russian near the finish line to dispel notions she couldn’t win a big one. And what about Brian Clay, whose decathlon win seemed to be squelched by Bolt’s impressive feats?  A family man, he has gone the extra mile, literally, to dispel notions that athletes have to take performance enhancing drugs to excel.

Stories like these are inspirational. And though I am a bit off topic, that’s why the Visa ads came out on top in my book.

The Eyes Have It

Posted by: Melinda  :  Category: Culture

Well, I survived my Lasik surgery and am here to share the results.

20 x 20

Both near and far.

I like to call it the miracle surgery.

But I will also say the surgery hurt like the devil. Those who use the term “uncomfortable” understate the feelings of discomfort (it didn’t help that the doctor had to try 5-6 times to get the suction ring on my right eye to keep it open).

The valium knocked me out most of the day, so I slept through the highly light sensitive period after the procedure.

By the next morning, I could see great.

The only side affects have been a little swelling and some bloodshot eyes.

The doctor (David Leach) was great. When my husband asked what he could do to help, the doctor responded: “She’ll need at least two weeks off from cooking.”

I have already received a thank you card from the eye center.

I highly recommend this to anyone who is considering it. Just get ready for 20-30 minutes of pain, and it’ll be sweet smelling roses the rest of the way.

The Packaging “P”

Posted by: Melinda  :  Category: Marketing

 High Dive attended the Outdoor Retail Show in Salt Lake City last week (an event highly recommended) and saw a huge array of products, booths and brands. While there, we met one of the founders of PROBAR®, a meal replacement energy bar. He told us an interesting story from the company’s early days. When he and other employees travelled to various retailers to sample the product, consumers kept asking: “What kind of bar is this?” “Is this a diet bar?” “Is this an energy bar?” In response to these questions, he went back to the packaging drawing table. To help alleviate consumer confusion, the company updated the packaging to clearly demonstrate what the product was. This was done via watercolor renderings of almonds, cashews, strawberries, blueberries, and other organic ingredients. The result? A 100% lift in sales. Seeing was believing.

This story is a great one to illustrate the power and importance of packaging – one of marketing’s illustrious Four P’s (remember that from your marketing courses?). Sometimes companies are so proud of their products or so enthralled with other marketing initiatives, they forget about one of the basic premises to sell their company’s product or service. Like the importance of the bounce rate off a company’s home page, if a prospective customer glances at your package and walks away, he may not come back for a second view.
We also recently did work for a client in the broadband router market segment. It doesn’t take much research in this sector before you realize that all the packages look alike on the shelf (just go by our local Best Buy to validate). One gentleman at our Discovery Workshop had previously worked for Motorola, and had helped spearhead their broadband router product launch years ago. As part of the process,they used color blocking and prominence of the company’s “bat-like” logo to set products apart from all others in the category. Guess what? It worked! Consumers could see the Motorola products from aisles away.
Companies in the CPG world test packaging effectiveness via eye-tracking and other research techniques, then spend lots of time and effort developing a memorable package. A good package not only has arresting visual elements, but has meaningful messaging, too. (Have you ever picked up a package of high-tech product and wondered what the heck all the copy means? Or how many products have some health or environmental claim – what does it all mean?).

But don’t forget that good packaging extends beyond the CPG world. If service companies package their offering in a compelling way, both from a visual and messaging standpoint, prospects will be much more inclined to take note. And like the PROBAR® package reflects the ingredients inside, the service company’s “package” needs to accurately reflect the core competencies of the organization.

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High Sky Challenge

Posted by: Meghann  :  Category: Culture

Let The Games Begin!

The High Dive team and Red Sky PR, a local public relations agency, have joined forces, or rather are squaring off, for some good ‘ole healthy competition. Our challenge was designed to promote health and wellness in our respective workplaces, but maybe one day it will extend deeper into the community.

How It Works

Each participant (employee) has his/her own personal goals in three arenas: community, health and fitness. As well as maintaining personal goals, Olaf, the fanciful gnome, is traveling from office to office delivering news of our next adventure.

Our debut challenge is a game of frisbee golf. This should be interesting on High Dive’s end as a few of us don’t even know how to throw a frisbee, left alone golf. Yikes!

Check out our blog.

Fried Food

Posted by: Melinda  :  Category: Culture

We couldn’t bring our staff to the South for vacation (not to mention they probably didn’t want to go), so we brought the South to our staff. This week, we ventured to Chef Roland’s Cajun Cuisine for a lunch outing. Starting out with a glass of the restaurant’s finest fountain Coke, we then ventured into our appetizer of deep fried hush puppies. The main courses ranged from Po’ Boys to fried shrimp to mac ‘n cheese. Sorry, there was no room for that bread pudding.

Need I say more about how much fat it is possible to consume in a given meal? Though it didn’t hold a candle to the Southern fried food I grew to love and adore as a child, it wasn’t a bad imitation for the state of Idaho.

Now I won’t talk about how we all felt at work the rest of the day.

Some Fun Packages

Posted by: Brian  :  Category: Packaging

In a follow-up to the newsletter article, we decided to show some of our favorite examples of packaging.

Dale’s Pale Ale

When Dale Katechis of Oskar Blues Brewery received a spam fax trying to sell canning equipment for beer, it made him laugh. So much so that he decided to purchase the equipment and can his craft beer. As the first US microbrewery to can their beer, he stood out like a sore thumb amongst his competitors who bottled their beer. No one had ever seen a microbrew in a can. It certainly raises an eyebrow or two when you notice it in the microbrew section of your supermarket. Not only did his unique and unconventional packaging make people laugh, it helped grow his business (over 800% since they started canning in 2002) and proved to be more environmentally friendly when recycling and shipping. More importantly, it helped the beer stay fresher longer. I will argue that Dale’s Pale Ale is one of the best Pale Ale’s on the market. Try it for yourself. Don’t let the can fool you.

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps

This stuff is weird. Good but weird. Go to REI and you can’t help but want to try this soap. The 18-in-1 miracle soap product does it all. It acts as everything from shampoo to toothpaste. The packaging somehow miraculously displays much of the late Dr. Bronner’s philosophy on life. A simple quart size bottle of soap contains over 2,000 words on it. Now I understand that a lot of the world’s popular junk food products seem like they have over 2,000 ingredients listed on the packaging; but this is truly remarkable considering Dr. Bronner’s soap only has 11 ingredients, leaving 1,989 words to just flat out talk to whomever decides to pick up the bottle and read. Dr. Bronner’s packaging has become remarkable by being different. Still not convinced? A bottle of Method soap has 117 words on the bottle.

Vitamin Water

Not only is the packaging simple and colorful, but every bottle tells a story. For example, Vitamin water’s XXX flavor label reads:

C’mon, get your mind out of the gutter. We only named this drink xxx because it has the power of triple antioxidants to help keep you healthy and fight free radicals. So in case you’re wondering, this does not cost $1.99/minute or contain explicit adult content or anything considered ‘uncensored’. It has not ‘gone wild!!!’ during spring break nor will clips of it be passed around the Internet like a certain hotel heiress. And it has never been seen live or nude, but it’s definitely au naturale. Made for the center for responsible hydration (aka Glaceau)

All 15 of their flavors have a unique story told on the bottle. It’s catchy, creative, funny, fun, and more importantly, it works. Glaceau, the maker of Vitamin Water, was acquired by Coca Cola for $4.1B in 2007. Not bad for a company that was started in 1996.


Arrowhead Bottled Water


Arrowhead Water recently launched their new Eco-Shape bottle that uses 30% less plastic than leading competitors. In today’s society, green is good and less is more. Being the first of its kind to take on the daunting task of doing more with less has certainly helped their image and presumably their sales also. If you give two hoots about the environment, my guess is you’re more likely to buy Arrowhead over Dasani or Aquafina for the sole reason that the bottle has a lower environmental impact. If someone is going to spend $1 on a half-liter bottle of water, why not feel good about treading lightly on the environment by using less plastic? However, I still find it humorous that many of the people who buy bottled water are the same people complaining about $4/gallon gas. Do the math. Buying bottled water at $1 per half-liter translates to roughly $7/gallon. For water! This is a whole other story though. In the meantime, enjoy the spring water and enjoy the fact that Arrowhead’s Eco-Shape is easier to hold, crush and recycle.

Your Office Personality

Posted by: Melinda  :  Category: Marketing

We are working with a client to revise and refresh their brand identity. To begin the project, they felt it was important for us to see their office, because it represents who they are as a company. I find this notion refreshing, as I have always considered a company’s working environment, uniforms and even their signs integral to their brand.

The other day, a new client came over to our office and exclaimed upon entering, “Wow, your building is so understated on the outside and so beautiful on the inside.” I loved this comment! For one, the woodwork and leaded glass adds so much charm and history to our building; I appreciate it when someone else takes note. But more importantly, I think this speaks volumes of who we are as a company. We’re not the type to boast and build an outward appearance of grandeur. Instead, we quietly prove, once a client hires us, our expertise and talent. I liken this to a really good athlete who never boasts about how good he is; instead, he proves it on the field (or on the court, hills, trails).

When I toured Idaho on behalf of the Idaho Medical Association last year, someone in one of the workshops told us about a medical clinic in Las Vegas. Apparently, the plastic surgeon who owned/ran the practice painted the walls of the waiting room red to depict the high-tech procedures he offered to patients. Though this might sound scary to some, and may err on the side of gaudy (don’t know for sure as I haven’t seen the office), I think it’s pretty cool that someone dared to differentiate himself from all the other boring, mundane and sterile medical office surroundings. I’ve never understood why most practices have cold and unwelcome environments when we’re already (more than likely) nervous or uncomfortable (or unexcited) about being there in the first place.

So what does your work environment look like? Does it reflect your “brand,” personality and aspirations?