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