THREE WEIRD YEARS
Don’t Start A Business Right Before A Pandemic
Anyone that has done it will have a hard time telling you what the best time is to start a business. Well, I can tell you the worst time. It is just before a pandemic that shuts down the world.
We had just wrapped up a campaign that was one of my favorites to ever be a part of. It was for a good cause, with a brand I really understood, and included various parts, including a national commercial spot, complex website, print and other static designs, promotional products, and capped off with a multi-city event over three days. We were riding high.
Then we were awarded a big production at the end of 2019 that was shot at the beginning of 2020, and presented a whole slate of productions we were to do that year. Things were going great. Then something happened that literally changed the world.
Everything was “put on hold for a few weeks.” You remember. This wasn’t supposed to last months, let alone years. Luckily for us, everything became COVID-this and COVID-that and almost nobody needed assets more to inform their customers than the airline industry.
While everyone was huddled up in their homes waiting for the “all clear,” we were still doing productions in airports, probably the worst place you can be in a pandemic. It is funny to me all the production companies I have heard say they were, “one of the first to start productions again during the pandemic.” Please. We never stopped.
All things considered, 2020 was a decent year for the company, but then we entered the second year of the pandemic.
Still, with so much uncertainty, companies had to figure out their next moves to survive. Marketing teams were slashed, advertising budgets were almost completely eliminated, and that left us struggling to find the next project.
Time To Get To Work
Although the paying gigs were sparse, I had made the promise to myself that this company would not only help brands tell their stories, but also create our own. So that is what we did.
We fleshed out ideas, wrote scripts, designed characters, built decks, crafted show bibles, and edited sizzle reels. The projects spanned across feature films, scripted series, unscripted shows, books, and music.
Even though the client work was slim, we were busier than ever, and now that we had all these projects packaged, it was time to get them in front of the right people.
Easier said than done.
Hollywood is an interesting place. Nobody will look at anything unsolicited, so you need either know people in development (which I didn’t) or have an agent to submit ideas. Well… agents don’t take unsolicited clients either. So, what the hell!? How do you get in?
After tons of emails, LinkedIn requests, and networking all hours of the day, there has been a lot of positive movement. I now know people at almost every studio and major production company of note. Our projects are in various stages of development and something is happening every day.
Ideas for films, series, books, music and more keep coming faster than we have time to write them down, and it is exciting. All this is while advertising opportunities start ramping up again. We have written and produced many concepts lately, and have more on the way.
I am blessed to be where I am and the company is making steady strides during a difficult time. Although it has been a very hard few years, I look forward to the future. So stay with us to see what Serendipity brings.
GENESIS OF SERENDIPITY
Start Your Own Agency?
Working in advertising for so many years, a question I would get often was, “When are you going to start your own agency?” That is the next step, right?
Starting an ad agency was never something I wanted to do.
I knew all too well the grind of getting new business, the fakeness of sales guys just trying to get the next big payday, and I didn’t want to be that. I just liked to create awesome stuff with great people.
If I was asked however, what type of business I would want to start, I would say it would be a business that created original content. Films, shows, books, music, whatever, I just loved to tell stories.
After reflecting on this, I questioned why I had been pouring so much of myself into a profession that I would not do as my own business. Now that I had an opportunity to start a company however, I had a chance to build it just how I wanted.
Building A Company I Wanted
Even though the initial business that would come in would be advertising and video production focused, I promised myself that this would not be just another agency, but rather a creative workshop. Even if the bread and butter would start through the brand side, we would expand to do a variety of original content.
That is why I named the company, ‘Serendipity Works,’ not ‘Serendipity Agency’ or ‘Serendipity Productions,’ because my vision for the company is to not only help brands uncover and tell their stories, but to tell others as well.
Being a storyteller has served me well in my career, because what is advertising if not telling visual stories across a variety of mediums. It is a form of creative that is challenging because it is not creative for creative sake, but rather to solve a communication problem, and I have become really good at it.
When it comes to developing concepts, I can just see them in my head. When I brainstorm with my creative team, they are shocked at how I can come up with so many. Honestly, me too, and I can’t really explain it. Even if some ideas aren’t quite there, I have an ability to take a nugget of an idea and build it out to something great.
Like many people, I have wondered about what my calling is in life, what my purpose is here while I’m alive. As I got older, I sometimes felt discouraged as if I may never find out, but as this experiment continues, I feel I now know.
I am here to tell stories.
THE CREATIVE POWERS GROW
Working In Entertainment
I had always wanted to try my hand more heavily in entertainment, so that is where I went. I ended up at a place that did creative work for various studios, TV, and streaming services, but I would only be working on key art. It did not take long before I realized being a one trick pony was not for me. I craved various creative mediums.
Before I accepted this role I had interviewed at a competitor, even though I already had an offer. They liked me, but couldn’t move fast enough to make me a counter. A month later they emailed to ask if I would consider coming over to their content department, and because it would offer me a chance to work on various types of creative, I agreed.
This department was called content, but it was really a catch-all for everything that wasn’t print key art and movie trailers. We did everything from original animations, commercial productions, social media, digital banners, environmental design, and motion graphics.
Being the red-headed step child of the company, our department got to work pretty independently, and I soaked it all up. I got to manage a whole creative team, developing original concepts and strategies, working with designers to bring visions to life, creating pitch decks, and writing various commercial scripts even though I had a team of writers underneath me. I was finally in my element, a mix of creative development and management.
Growing the Business
As most companies do, they wanted me to bring in more business, and with my prior experience with business development, I was able to do just that.
This client was doing a partnership with two other major brands, one of which our company already worked with, so it was a great fit.
After doing an amazing campaign with my team and producing a commercial spot that I wrote that aired nationally on the World Cup, I decided I wanted to grow business with the third brand partner.
We started to chip away and get more projects because their other agency was slow, not creative, and charged a lot, but the problem was the agency at which I was working was focused on entertainment clients and didn’t support moving into a big brand vertical.
After looking at different options it became clear that if I wanted to continue that relationship I had to do something I was not prepared for, strike out on my own.
TO BE CONTINUED…
LANDING A JOB IN GAMING
Marketing Research Was Not For Me
I finally landed a job at a marketing research film. I had enjoyed marketing research in school, so thought it would be great, but quickly learned this was not the part of the research that I liked. What I enjoyed was analyzing the data to come up with recommendations that would inform creative decisions. This was not that.
I had to call up the vendors that would randomly question people in malls and other places to ensure they were hitting their numbers. I entered that data in a computer and then called the next. That was it.
Now, I know everyone has to pay their dues, but I felt in my bones that this was not going to give me the creative outlet I wanted, at least for a long, long, long time, and I needed to get out to do something that did. It was the only job that I ever quit without giving a two-week notice. I was there for only 5 days and on Friday, I told them that I wouldn’t be returning. I figured it would only be a waste of both our time and money.
Hold Out For Something That Feeds Your Soul
I went back to working a restaurant job while I held out for something that would feed my creative soul and eventually, I got another interview at a place where I was initially passed over. I had emailed after they picked someone else, to tell them I felt they made a mistake passing on me, and to let me know if anything else came up.
The interview they called me for was for a role as assistant to the CEO. This was much more entry level than I was qualified for, but I didn’t care, I wanted to be there to work with major brands on high-level creative. The day of my interview I received another call to come in for an interview. This was confusing because I was already coming in, but I was informed it was for a different role, the role I was initially passed on. I didn’t leave the office before I was offered the job.
I made it.
Finally I was at a place I could really cut my teeth, and I did. My role would have me on some of the biggest gaming campaigns in the world. I would be working on projects with zombies, guns, cars, fighters, hot chicks, and more, all the overly masculine things that most twenty-something year old boys(?) would die to work on.
It was also integrated work, so that meant I would manage everything for a campaign including key art, production, websites, social media, animation, motion graphics, illustration, events, and more. I got to wear many hats including account manager, producer, strategist, and copywriter. I helped the team by writing pitch decks, taglines, commercial spots, and even came up with the names for a few major games, though I doubt anyone would actually remember that it was me.
Avoiding Rinse and Repeat Creative
After five and a half years, advertising for video games began to feel like rinse and repeat. We had companies come to us to help with their game launches and we were already working with their competitors. So both were paying us to help beat the other guy with the same tool belt. It was creatively soul sucking.
I also realized that if I stayed there any longer that I would become “the gaming guy,” and I never got into this business to be pigeonholed into one industry. I approached the owners and asked to work on anything else besides games and they agreed… as long as I brought the work in.
Using the skills I developed sending thousands of requests on LinkedIn trying to get a job, I started to reach out to people that were at brands that I wanted to work with.
With some persistence, I landed an NHL hockey team, a guitar company, and various other brands that I was passionate about. Since I was the one that knew the most about the companies and their industries, I also got to be more heavily involved in the creative process, directing various teams.
It became clear that new industries were not where the agency wanted to put their energy however, so I decided to move on.
TO BE CONTINUED…
BEGINNING OF MY CREATIVE PATH
Got To Pay the Bills
I have always been “the creative type,” and that initially manifested itself in deep GI Joe battle narratives, wild business ideas, like mobile car washing at 14 during the summer, or song ideas for my garage band. As I got older, I was hoping my career path would involve playing my music in front of thousands of people every night, but knew I should probably study something that didn’t require as much luck to pay the bills, while still giving me a chance to be creative.
I chose to study advertising because I loved seeing great commercials on the Super Bowl that made me laugh, clever billboards that made me turn my head (not safe while driving), or unique logos that had hidden brand meanings. At the time, only three colleges in California had an advertising focus, so I chose to go to a program at San Diego State.
I didn’t want to be stuck in a dark room behind a computer screen all day, so I chose the more managerial path instead of the art/design route. I knew I would be working with artists however, so I decided to also take these free Adobe classes that were offered at a nearby school, in addition to my normal college courses. Since they were free, I took as many of these design program classes as I could.
While in school, I worked at a boutique agency doing account and junior art director work, but moved back to LA after graduating, since bigger advertising opportunities were limited to the bigger cities. Needless to say, band life didn’t work out (though I still write music) so I dove into this career path.
Work Was Impossible To Find
This was towards the end of 2007 and right at the beginning of what was known as The Great Recession. The economy was trash and advertising work was impossible to find for a freshly graduated lad, so I decided to do a bit of traveling, something I never had a desire to do prior. While working retail, I traveled to Australia, backpacked through Europe, and surfed in Indonesia.
During this time I learned of a Communication Management Master’s program at the University of Southern California which focused on marketing and entertainment, and I figured I might as well apply. If I got in I would then decide if I would go or not.
While they may have just taken anyone that wanted to cough up the money, I found out that I was accepted into the program when I was abroad, and started just after returning. There I was introduced to showrunners and producers of major entertainment properties, and fell in love with the business of storytelling. I was even more solidified that I wanted to continue down this creative path.
Once I graduated… again, I was ready to make my mark on the world! I had been doing short-term contract work at an entertainment focused agency, but needed to find another job. It was at the tail end of the recession, however, and finding one wasn’t any easier. My full time job became applying for jobs.
I sent thousands of emails and applications (I mean it), contacted everyone in my network, reached out to everyone I could on LinkedIn, but still no bites. Surely someone with a Master’s degree would get noticed, right? Not in this market.