Down…Set…Mic: Are you ready for the media game?

You own the option, you get back on your feet after taking a hit from a 6-3, 265 pound DE named “Crush,” and fourth quarter comebacks are your specialty. Yep. You’re a real superstar – on the field. But how are you in that other game, the one without a playbook or a man in stretchy pants making sure everybody follows the rules? Can you handle the microphone and the pack of reporters who will demand to know not just the details of your game, but of your life, too?

It’s tough out there. Ask Kobe. Ask Terrell. Ask Barry.

The same press who today will charm you with “Who loves ya, baby?” (thank you, Telly Savalas), will throw your athlete butt under the Goodyear Blimp tomorrow if it it’ll sell. And nothing sells like celebrity screw ups. You know it’s true because, admit it, you’ve fed on them, too.

That’s why more and more athletes are turning to people like me, message trainers, to help them manage their talk game as tightly as they manage everything else. As a coach off the field, a message trainer will develop your message, safeguard your image, and manage media crisis when it comes, so that when you get your 15 minutes in the spotlight – you stay out of the sports hall of shame.

Amy Jones, Message Trainer
The Russo Group

From College, to Hazzard, and Back Again. The tale of a designer and his journey.

I began painting at the age of 7. I am unsure if I showed an aptitude for art, but with 6 brothers and sisters, my mother made sure we each spent a good amount of time away from the house during summer breaks. I guess it stuck, and eleven years later I entered college as an art student majoring in Advertising Design.

After seven years I finally graduated – yes, seven years. I guess you can say I enjoyed my college experience to the fullest. Eventually though, I had to move on to the real world. My first step – I had to get a job.

With my trusty portfolio in tow, I headed out, fully prepared to turn the design world on its head. Unfortunately, I still had a few bends in the road to navigate.

I spent my first year out of school waiting tables in Seattle, freelancing and temping whenever and wherever I could find work. It was good times for sure. I was paid little if anything at all and soon began wondering if I had made the right career choice.

After living the good life for longer than anyone should, I finally landed my first real gig. It wasn’t exactly how I imagined it, but it was steady, and I was a “professional.” I even had business cards – how cool was that?

Now, let’s fast-forward a few years to the point of this story, and yes, there is a point.

On this particular day I found myself sitting in a meeting with people that I considered to be both successful and intelligent. I listened carefully as they spoke passionately about their company. They had an intense pride for what they’d accomplished, who they were, and where they were going. I was inspired.

Then, within the blink of an eye I was transported to the town Hazard where Daisy Duke (the original Daisy – not the blond wanna-be from recent years) throws down and the Duke boys pull off yet another ridiculous jump in the General Lee.

No offence to the good folks of Hazard, but what I heard truly had me wondering where I was and what I was hearing. And what was it that sent me into this state of back woods wonder? Well, it was the realization that this successful company had chosen to trust their brand to a guy by the name of Joe. No last name to speak of, just Joe.

Come to find out, Joe was the guy who designed their logo, built their website and was responsible for the ground-breaking campaign of 06, featuring, get this, a Half-Off Monday Madness Sale!

To be honest, it was difficult to argue their success, but for certain, it was not due to the advertising prowess of Joe. This company’s brand ran much deeper than that. They had a great product in a small community with a good family name. They were successful in spite of Joe. How do I know this? Well, that’s why I was in the meeting in the first place.

As this particular company expanded to new markets, they found their name and reputation meant little to the masses and needed a way to translate this message into their marketing efforts – and sad to say, Joe was not up for the task.

I could go on about this account and how we chose to position them, but that is not the point of the story either. The point of the story is how this industry is often viewed by the public.

Pretty much anyone with a computer can call themselves a designer. Unfortunately, the glaring differences between a professional and a guy named Joe are often discovered too late. Sure, you’ll pay less for Joe - that’s a given. But trust me; you will always get what you pay for.

There is a science to good design and strategic branding, and it rarely comes from reading a book. It comes from experience. Experience in the classroom and on the job that helps companies and individuals deliver messages, sell products and establish brands.

In the end, I am pretty confident I could pull off a triple by-pass surgery if I really had too. After all, I have watched plenty of ER and Grey’s Anatomy – but for now, I think I will stick with advertising.

Michael Russo, Creative Director
The Russo Group

Just Me and My Mac -- The Private Musings of an Agency Art Director

It's 10:31 on a lovely winter morning, and I was just overcome by a strange and very unusual feeling. It wasn't deja vu, or what some call a frisson*. But it was an epiphany of sorts:

How do you sell a product or service to those whose mission in life is to sell a product or service?

I mean, shouldn't someone like myself, a devout, practicing, art director-type guy, be totally immune to "the pitch?" Did I not take the Marketing Pox vaccine back in 4th grade?

I made a promise to the Blog gods that I would never talk about myself, but this is important. No; this is monumental, and it will now have a profound effect on everything that I come in contact with. Well, at least for the next hour so.

Here's how they (and by they, I mean us -- the ad peeps) got to me folks:

It was that damn branding. Branding, with a little touch of price-pointing thrown in for good measure.

When I wasn't looking, or had my back turned to the TV, someone representing a brand made a promise. More importantly, they kept that promise. Even more importantly, they kept that promise time and time again.

Sorry, about breaking the ad-guy code of silence, but how else can you explain the reason that my family is on its fifth Honda (quality and reliability), or that I only use Colgate toothpaste (never a cavity and totally fresh breath)?

No one "sold" me on those two products, or the countless others, but I vaguely remember a promise those brands made to me, that I bought into that promise, and that I was not disappointed with that buy.

Sure, the term “branding” has been tossed around over the last decade like some two-year-old's Elmo doll, but when branding is executed by a professional team, and is executed consistently over a period of time, it can be a thing of beauty. And beauty sells, man.

It's all quite simple really and bears repeating:

A brand is a promise and promises should be kept. A kept promise is a form of trust and once someone trusts you (or your product or service), they'll beat a path to your door every time.

Make that I'll beat a path to your door every time. Because even jaded, seen-it-all ad-guys have to buy stuff now and then.

Gary LoBue Jr / Art Director & Brand Loyal Consumer / The Russo Group

*a sudden, passing sensation of intense emotion

My Mom Just Created My Website…and Other Disasters in Programming

You may not know it, but a fierce debate rages in cyberspace – is web design an art or a science? Webbers get really heated about it, writing blogs entirely in programming languages, staging virtual strikes, and threatening viruses upon each other.

Juvenile? Absolutely.

But these testy interactive types do have one thing going for them – at least they know how to spawn viruses, blog in programming, and threaten virtual silence. What I’m saying is, at least they’ve a bit more interactive training than a late night read of Websites for Dummies.

Because in theory web design is “easy,” companies, we’re talking reputable companies, entrust everyone from local college kids to their aunt’s son’s best friend’s brother with design of their website. True, amateurs can probably get you an address and a brightly colored banner, but without advanced training, they’re unable to offer you search engine optimization, dimension expertise, language options, and other elements critical to securing a professional web presence. There’s a real chance that the company image you’ve worked hard to manicure will be suddenly reduced to all that is crude and kitschy.

Yes, it’ll cost you more to program professionally. But like everything else in business, initial investments result in long-term profitability. The free, “my mama did it” websites look and act the part. And as we all know, if customers struggle even a little with a site’s navigability, they’re gone. Another vendor is literally a click away.

You’ll do better letting mom design the Family Reunion Summer 2008 site, and a professional the site of your company.

John Rockweiler
Interactive Director
The Russo Group