EP 46: How to Pivot Toward Market Opportunity
Kelly: Welcome to Thrive, your agency resource. Today, we’re talking about pivoting toward market opportunity. We might want to call it pivoting toward humanity in a way. I have my friend David Title here. He’s a Chief Engagement Officer at Bravo Media, an experiential agency in New York City. They have found a ton of success in staying nimble. There's probably no other way to put it. So, David, I'm really excited to finally have you on the show. I know we've been talking about it for a while.
David: Yeah, it's great to be here Kelly. Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited.
Kelly: Of course! So let's just jump right into it. Maybe start out by talking about how, what Bravo media originated as and then what the evolution of the service offerings and all of that has been over the course of its time that you've been a partner.
David: Sure. So it's definitely been, I guess, a nontraditional path in terms of when you think about agencies and how they come about. We really came from the production side of the street and the entire operation grew up around a single sound stage in Midtown Manhattan, very small little green screen stage, that at the time in the early 2000s, were sort of too small for film, not doing great. The two original founding partners took over the space, cleaned it up.
And when I started hanging out there, starting around 2007, 2006, we had gotten the place up and running. And there had been this sort of amazing technology evolution that had happened where we'd gone from a place where almost all kind of commercial media was still being produced on film and it was mostly destined for television.
And all of a sudden we got to a place where digital video was a legitimate format that looked great. And then YouTube and streaming video happened in December of '05 and all of a sudden you have this mass democratization of one of the most powerful marketing tools in the world.
And we happened to be nicely positioned to service this brand new marketplace of essentially small to medium size businesses that had not traditionally been able to use the power of video and animation as part of their sales and marketing collateral because it's just too expensive to make and to distribute. And the traditional commercial production companies and commercial agencies weren't looking to get into the $10,000 home page video business. Didn’t even know that was a business.
But we saw an opportunity to build out a kind of all-in-one facility to help produce these explainer videos, and thought-leadership material, and home page videos, and YouTube channel build-outs, all these brand-new content formats that hadn't existed twelve months before. And again we thought of it really going into it as a production job. We make these things. We have our animators, and we have our shooters, and we have our editors. But we realized through processes, we’ll also helping to develop all that creative because we were working direct with those clients. There was no creative agency partner.
Kelly: No middle man. Nothing.
David: Nope. And so, we were helping to develop both the creative side of that to whatever degree the client needed it, but we're also physically producing it, editing it, delivering it, distributing it in many cases. And that really gave us an interesting perspective on that emerging business area and got us thinking a lot about what is the nature of this content, and what its purpose, and how does it work, and how does it affect people. And how do we make it more effective, because that means more people will come and wanna buy it from us.
Kelly: Make sense.
David: It made perfect sense, and we were also able to build sort of a production pipeline. Immediately when we- I had come from a very traditional large commercial production called Crossroad Films and 89 editorial, and we had avid suites in plain systems and all this really expensive stuff and these very expensive people that did those things.
We’re like, you know what? There's Final Cut, there’s After Effects, there's top-rated off-the-shelf Macs. We can literally set up a production studio for a few thousand dollars. And we are able to really tap into this emerging workforce of younger, creative folks that- Our lead animator when we first started out learned After Effects by using a cracked copy that he had gotten from a pirate page starting when he was in the seventh grade.
You are never going to get someone that learn that way. And so it’s always been this sort of bottom up, use what's available kind of thing to get the job done. And at the same time figure out how to make it good and-what was cool about doing it in that space is there was no one telling you what was wrong. Coz no one had done it before. You can’t tell me my home page video is wrong. You've never made one before.
Kelly: So that was like 2006, 2007.
David: Right. Through that, and because of the nature as we all know in this world, pharma and financial services like to have budgets, and they liked what we were doing because we were helping them looking feel cool in a way that the big agencies were helping in Adidas or Coca-Cola feel cool. And so we got to get involved in their conferences and trade shows. And that's really, that was our first big evolution and that's what brought us into what now I think of as the beginning of us entering into experiential. Which again is one of those terms I think may go away. Experiential marketing reminds me of new media.
Kelly: Or digital marketing.
David: Yeah, I think it’s maybe it's only just marketing.
Kelly: Yeah. Or some other word that no one’s using.
David: Yeah. But we started doing things like projection mapping, and large form ad animations and graphics. And then also seeing a desire for more interactive experiences especially on the trade show side, got us to bring in our personal developers that we could start building that stuff in house. It never occurred to us just to come up with idea. We were always like well we have to know how to make it. And so, I think we've always been a good combination of proactive, in terms of hey this is a cool thing, let's try to do it. And reactive in terms of seeing what our clients are interested in.
And trying to understand how to provide that and then how do we get ahead of that to some degree. And so we were doing these really cool things for really uncool places. So like I'll never forget my five days at digestive disease week in Chicago Illinois. But you can learn so much about experiential, walking around a Pharma trade show and see all the missed opportunity because we’d like to think about this special audiences, we are all just people like those doctors are just people, they are just like you and me. They just happen to do some very gross things that I'll never un-see in that trade show floor.
How do you make engagement there? How do you make it interesting? How do you make it compelling? And again it was a great environment because nobody there was going to tell us we were wrong. Nobody was telling them to do anything but keep putting up posters. And so through that we really got a lot of on the ground experience and some very difficult environments with some very uncool products and messages that we had to make fun, engaging and dynamic.
So that when we finally started beginning to meet a few people on the traditional agency side, which was really our only way to get entree into consumer brands. Especially five six years ago, very few brands were looking outside of our agencies for a whole lot of consumer-facing anything. And that is softening for sure now. But they started to come to us because this bubbling up of what this experiential thing that everyone sort of wanted. But agencies have been making commercials for fifty years and they are great at it.
But that's very different than creating an experience, whatever that is, an activation. And if your activation isn't just handing out product, what is it? And so we began to take what we were learning in that sort of weird offshoot world of trade shows and conferences, and begin to apply that to more consumer-facing. That let us play in some bigger arenas and begin, one for us is an education around kind of the agency side. Nobody at Bravo have spent the day working for a major agency.
Kelly: Yeah, that was going to be one of my questions.
David: We come from a sort of diverse group of backgrounds whether it was theater or traditional print production, the art world.
Kelly: Your background is in video production?
David: Well originally my formal degrees are only in theater.
David: And directing, that was my prior life.
Kelly: That doesn’t surprise me.
David: No, it fits in there somehow. And that was always, directing is the combination of thinking and making so it does all mesh together.
Kelly: Yeah, so my question is always going to be somehow I'm gonna get positioning into the conversation as you know.
David: Yeah, let’s do it.
Kelly: You know me. So your positioning statement for a while now has been- and you say the straight up on your website right on the hero image is we make wow, which to me it’s a memory maker. It's definitely something that has stuck and it is very true, but it's not really a positioning statement.
And so my question is: as Bravo has evolved and you are seeing these different market opportunities, and you're being nimble, and you're following, and it's all working, how has that led to this sort of what you call like a primary challenge, maybe one of your only challenges at Bravo, which is the positioning statement, or the positioning itself. I mean a lot of people have said to you, "Why haven't you just chosen one vertical, why don't you just- you're great a projection mapping. You did the Sistine Chapel for Steven Colvera. Why don't you just do that because you're great at that? And what is your response typically?
David: Well for us like projection mapping was just another means to an end. Because we started really around content and video animation so we're like well now we need to make this bigger. What are things that make this bigger? Oh projection. So let's learn how to do that, so that we can make it bigger. And oh people want things to be able to play with them, so we have make them interactive. Let's learn how to do that and make that part of it.
We've always struggled, one with the finding ourselves as a production company or an agency. We know we're not a consultancy. That is really clear on. Just because, if we're not doing, if we are not making, then it feels sort of like spinning my wheels. It doesn't mean we won't help ideate and conceptualize and do all that kind of creative thinking, but we like there to be a real point to it, like to be engaged in that part of it. But where we, I think our biggest positioning challenge is that production versus creative. And I don't know to me it seems like an unnatural split that you have those happening in completely separate functionary worlds. Because why you do something and how you do something are so intrinsically connected. So internally in our minds we don't have a positioning problem. Public facing…
Kelly: It’s everybody else's problem.
David: In my mind it makes perfect sense, but we try to say the sentence, even alone in the shower, it's just garbage. So it is definitely a challenge but we do our latest sort of evolution into the world of what we're considering kind of long-term display in creating experiences that are going to exist for months or years.
Kelly: Whether they're interactive or not, doesn’t matter.
David: Responsive or just a living breathing part of the environment in some way. That's in this whole new world for us where we're bringing this service that one kind of like you're doing back in '06, '07, the service nobody wanted or needed a couple of years ago or thought about.
Kelly: But now they see it and they want it.
David: And there's this growing, just like in the corporate office world and the corporate lobby world, there's this incredible competition going on that's driven by ego, which is not a bad thing when it comes to getting people excited to do stuff. But people want their offices to be an experience. They want their lobbies to being experience, and that's a brand new thing.
But there's a whole world of businesses and services, AV integrators and building operations managers and architects and designers that we've never worked with before that now we're coming into that world. And then we're like, "So who are you, and what's your place in this? And they're like, "Hmm, we're gonna have to get back to you on exactly how we are doing that, but let me find out what you do! Okay. We don't step on your toes. I can tell you that. We're not gonna supply hardware, we're not architects so okay we can do it by elimination a little bit..." But this is our new positioning challenge.
Kelly: Right. So it's really navigating who you're partnering with. You know that ultimately the service or the product, I guess is a better word for you guys. The product is something that they never knew that they wanted before, now they wanted and they actually believe that they need it so it's like plugging that in. It's just really interesting because so much of what you're saying honestly goes against like the facets or the foundation of positioning. So it's a fascinating conversation to me because it shows me that there are many different sides to this and many different ways to find success, whatever you measure success as and that kind of brings me to what we talked about a little earlier, which is- Bravo media, it's a private self-funded firm. What are sort of the pros and cons from that standpoint when it comes to being this nimble and sort of pivoting towards market opportunity.
David: Well, obviously because we do self-finance the whole thing, I don't have an extra, sort of side pot of money to try to ramp something up super-fast as these opportunities are popping up more and more in the sort of long term display. Would I like to unleash a twenty-person sales force on to the world? Maybe, that might be interesting. The ability to sort if give these rapid scalings around some of these opportunities is more challenging. But at the same time not having to be beholden to outside investors, not having to carry debt means that we can make our own decisions without any feeling of either creating conflict or creating disappointments and that has really helped us I think grow but it also makes it really physically responsible.
We keep way fewer people. I mean one of the number one things people often will say when they visit the studio after they get them looking and saying how cool everything looks which it does, it's like, "Is this everybody? Yeah, pretty much this is it. Like you make all of this with just these people?"
"Yeah," We say completely seriously, "We've been receptionist-free since 2004." Because anybody, someone go up the elevator say hello and ask what they want. You don't necessarily, I understand you get to a certain type of scope and you need someone there to crowd control but I'm not a Disney world here. We don't have a receptionist, and little things like that that seem weird or crazy.
David: We work with a lot of these companies that are either start-ups or get purchased by a WPP or whoever and get this huge influx of money, and the first thing they do is they start hiring people and like, what are they gonna do with all those people, what are they gonna do all day. And so it creates a different mindset internally. I think our culture whatever that is.
We haven't given that a whole lot of extra thought either. We don't do retreats. We don't do group bonding exercises but everyone from the founder to the intern sits at one big table, which is still a luxury for us that we will outgrow but it does engender a certain mindset that we're all in this together in these moments together and we all have a voice. We also need to contribute and some of the best ideas come from the junior developer that's like, "Oh you know what would be cool if we did..."
Kelly: Yeah, well what's interesting about that is you say you don't do team building exercises or bonding exercise and whatever, it's kind of interesting that you have this almost like an anti-agency model like you don't even use the word agency a lot of times but it's almost like you don't need that extra external force of going and doing these things and creating these experiences for your team because every single day what you're working on automatically does that because of the way that you're sitting and the way that you're allowing everyone to have their voice and you don't have separate rooms for each. It is just interesting that you don't really need that external stuff because you kind of live that every day. So that's also super intriguing to me.
So as we wrap up here, what's your bumper sticker takeaway for other agency leaders who are really struggling with, or are just trying to figure out like what is the market opportunity, what's next for our agency, how do we even figure out how to get there or what it is?
David: Sure, well one constant sort of refrain here, sort of a topic of a lot of discussion both internally and with a lot of the other folks that I work with, is internally we talk a lot about this notion of data versus delight. And in the experiential world especially where we are in a time where you can collect so much data. And get so much feedback and information and metrics and KPIs and all these numbers, and data is really seductive and it feels like it's giving answers and solutions and all this great stuff.
And you can point out and say, "See!" But there's not enough focus on the light and experiential is the light, like it's the experience and all the data in the world will never, Disney didn't create his stories based on data and I think it's easy to get lost in all the data and letting data drive a lot of your thinking and a lot of your decisions and not trusting your own basic kind of gut humanity around what do people want to experience?
Kelly: Right, like you said before, when we spoke earlier about the fact that you have to ask some of your own clients like would you actually enjoy that?
David: Yes, "Do you want to stand in line in the hot sun for your turn to do that?" And they're like "I would never do that!" You are not different than your consumer. Again, it's back like our trade show flow with the doctors. They are just guys that go home at night and watch TV or play Xbox or hang out with their kids or whatever like we're not, just because you're on this side, we have access to all these data and all this information, don't lose sight of the importance of delight.
Kelly: Yeah, yeah.
David: That's my driver.
Kelly: Well I love it. I think we should make a, "Delight versus Data" bumper stickers like tomorrow.
David: I love it.
Kelly: It will probably be interactive and holograms and whatever if we love Bravo do it but…
Kelly: Awesome. So thank you so much David. This is really a great conversation. I knew it would be and I really appreciate you coming on the show today.