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Alternately, read the specific case histories below, illustrating Tom’s approach to utilizing specific methodologies to boost or re-position brands:



CASE 1: MetroVibe

Problem: Print is dying. Selling advertising against a print model for a 25,000-copy slick entertainment monthly in today’s climate is a bitch. With Web, mobile and email to compete against, any print pub’s distribution model needs to scale to many 1000s of eyeballs while keeping costs low and ad rates plump.

Solution: Develop and implement a cross-platform mobile and tablet version of the print pub without the prohibitive cost and long lead time of building a specific, platform-centric app. Co-opt existing print ads from other area slicks for doctors, lawyers, plastic surgeons, jewelers, luxury automobile dealers, high end restaurants, spas and real estate agencies to build into new launch issue. Utilize opt-in emails from pub’s existing subscriber/client base and merge with lists from advertisers to direct market the publication on a free subscription model to consumers. Place physical magazines in “captive audience” offices, waiting rooms, and showrooms of advertisers in addition to MetroVibe’s 300 existing locations. Build a large and affordable audience based on inexpensive ad rates with recurrent credit card billing. Moving forward, format advertising to “advertorial” model to effect read-through. Add interactive “click for more info” and QR-code response mechanisms in ads to track response. Market new model as more metrically valuable than print-only version and add data refinement methods to improve results and drive additional traffic. Embed multi-media such as Google maps, video and social sharing to add value to ads. Utilize all these capabilities to offer additional Web-based advertising and marketing services to clients.


Case 2: ReCellular
Problem: Situated as North America’s largest recycler and refurbisher of used “feature” phones, processing upward of 400,000 units monthly, ReCellular was nonetheless struggling with cash flow as the adoption of “smart” phones, which are not recycled or refurbed at anywhere near the rate of older, legacy handsets, eat their lunch. Feature phone volume is also decreasing at the same time as competition like Gazelle exceeds ReCellular’s success buying and selling used smart phones.

Solution: (Recommended) Having burned through a $20 million re-fi and re-structuring in 2011, ReCellular lacks the budget to implement a prime time broadcast campaign like Gazelle and has fallen behind in its plans to beef up its online marketing. Brought in as contract social media director, Tom was tasked with creating content for ReCellular’s Facebook page and its two consumer Websites, SecureTradeIn.com and MobileKarma.com, as well as producing content for its single blog embedded on the SecureTradeIn site, where inbound device sales are channeled. Tom’s recommendation was to build out the existing blog under a new identity with a focus solely on mobile devices. The goal was to create and position a new blog that would become “the go-to authority for reviews, tips, tricks, hacks, apps and more” relating to “everything mobile.” The over-arching challenge was to create a blog with enough compelling and consistent, share-worthy content so as to become as well-known as sites such as Gizmodo, Techcrunch, Mashable, etc., but with a granular focus on mobile technology that was to be clearly heads above any other informational/infotainment site, thus positioning ReCellular above Gazelle in SEO and organic ranking. This would have required the additional resources of at least one other full time writer and/or a graphic designer and video specialist. YouTube was recommended as a component for the creation of video device reviews, possible Jackass-style pranks including mobile devices and other “caught on camera”-type content that afforded the potential of going viral. Unfortunately, the budget wasn’t there, and in September of 2012 ReCellular liquidated its entire marketing department in an emergency cost-cutting measure. Takeaway? Creative directors are definitely not Gods.


CASE 3: It’s My Life Not Yours
Problem: Sometimes, oddly enough, there really is no problem but a company or brand wants to expand or explore other directions and markets. Such was the case when Tom was tapped by the heiress to a $2 billion New York real estate conglomerate to handle corporate marketing and communications–but more importantly to take the creative lead on a project that would potentially define two separate ends of a small but potentially lucrative residential design and construction division. The corporate entity was known as It’s My Life Not Yours LLC, a tongue-in-cheek nod to the desire that all of us possess to say “screw it,” I’m going to do exactly what I want, how I want, when I want and let the chips fall where they may. The solution was a fascinating exercise in modern design, to say the least.

Solution: With the future clearly marked for not only smart phones, but smart (and energy-efficient) homes as well, there appeared to be a terrific opportunity at the height of the real estate bubble to produce amazing luxury residences that would employ everything green:  LEED-certified materials and building practices, passive energy heating and cooling incorporating geo-thermal and radiant technologies, sensor-equipped windows with liquid crystal dimming capabilities (like the Transitions eyeglass lenses) and Internet connectivity for remote monitoring and control of energy and security systems.

This was obviously the dream assignment for a creative director to plunge into–actually helping to design such a home alongside structural engineers, architectural consultants, and a crew of various sub-contractors and materials specialists. The site selected was a small, rural plot on a 100-acre lake north of Jackson, Michigan. The budget was initially unlimited, a very rare occurrence in any business endeavor. The intention was to utilize only the finest materials, such as Brazilian bloodwood (a notoriously hard variety for which each plank of tongue and groove had to be hand drilled before nailing) and copper cladding for all exterior trim.
little_house2At the same time, the green light had been given to designing and constructing essentially the same type of luxury home–except on a micro scale. While the above described home came in at approximately 3000 square feet, its polar opposite, designated “Little House,” topped out at exactly 64 square feet…with the same Brazilian bloodwood floor, an 11-foot cathedral ceiling with halogen track lighting, full wiring for Internet and satellite and a unique 6-foot tall picture window that swings out with the push of a finger. Design and construction of Little House, predictably, preceded the Lake House.
Both projects were created with the understanding that the extreme nature of these structures would provide an excellent vehicle for publicity and promotion. As creative director and acting publicist, I was in charge of making sure press was sent out to newspapers and design publications. Little House was subsequently picked up by The Wall Street Journal and Paper magazine, as well as an online compendium of small livable structures from around the world. Lake House was submitted as a “work in progress” to Dwell magazine and was a contender for Dwell’s 100 Homes We Love collection in 2006/7.

In 2008, with the crash of worldwide financial markets–and particularly the real estate market–It’s My Life Not Yours LLC was brutally hit, as was its parent company, which had invested heavily in Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme. As a result, construction came to an abrupt halt. The Lake House, sadly, re- mained in an unfinished state while Little House became the property of the creative director as part of a severance package. Two foundations operated by the parent company also lost $40 million in annual funding and were dissolved, along with It’s My Life.

Takeaway: A creative director cannot be more effectively stressed than by managing both the creative and content needs of a high pressure New York conglomerate, while at the same time managing a project as detail-oriented and diverse as the design of a premium, custom modern home. I have a lovely dust jacket which I designed for the coffee table book that was proposed to document this project from beginning to end. I like to look at it from time to time to remind myself of the stakes involved in the business we have chosen.


CASE 4: Jacobson’s
Problem: Jacobson’s, a premium 26-unit department store founded in Michigan and operating units in Michigan and Florida, had become known as “your grandmother’s department store.” Need one say more? With sales slipping, something had to be done. But first we had to win the account.

Solution: Almost anybody could see that a major re-branding was in order–but not a re-branding at the expense of Jacobson’s existing customer base. The answer was “The Jacobson’s Revolution,” a bold, bright television campaign on a saturation scale in local and regional media components. For production values, I insisted on New York-style models with the same look and vibe as hard hitting and well known spots from Maybelline and Covergirl blasting excitement for their cosmetics. The difference, however, was that our models would wear hot styles from the most popular designers of the moment, such as Betsey Johnson, Stella McCartney, Willi Smith, Donatella Versace and others. With sharp NYC-style hair and tons of pouty attitude, our models would strut runway-style toward the camera on a white sound stage bearing 3-foot long bolt cutters that they would employ to snip through coils of shiny chrome razor wire. Graphic names of the designers would shoot at the viewer like a 3D movie on steroids. Exciting pop or hiphop music would blair as the VO announced, “It’s not your grandmother’s Jacobson’s anymore! It’s the Jacobson’s revolution, an insurrection of high fashion, big bold fun and over the top style from the brightest cutting edge designers in fashion today!”

For the sting, the models strut off camera and the music dies. A little old lady walks onto the set, dressed to kill in a neon-pink Coco suit adorned with massive gold bling, dragging a giant bolt cutter behind her. She looks at the camera and says: “Which way is the Chanel?” Tag: Jacobson’s logo and text–We’ve got your grandmother covered, too. Fade to white.

I pitched this concept repeatedly in different versions, as an overriding theme, during brainstorming sessions with Jacobson’s creative and management teams. We won the account.


CASE 5: The Detroit Free Press
Problem: The Detroit Free Press–and The Detroit News–were in the throes of a bitter and contentious labor walkout. Scabs were being stoned as they penetrated picket lines, and circulation, not to mention image, was taking a beating. The Freep was desperate for a campaign that would keep their numbers up via newsstand sales (home deliveries had also become spotty with drivers showing solidarity) and to combat negative impressions of the paper which could carry over into permanent declines in circulation.

Solution: Humanize the newspaper. Put the people of the paper out front, sincerely sharing their passion for bringing important news and opinion to the community, as servants of the public good. The tag line: The People Behind the Paper. The campaign was rolled out as filmed :30s featuring the publisher Heath Meriwether, managing editor Bob McGruder, and columnists Bob Talbert, Doron Levin and Susan Ager–all sitting on stools, individually, speaking extemporaneously before a warm, fuzzy backdrop in response to pre-written questions about their jobs and how they see themselves.

Full page print ads in the Free Press itself, which I wrote after interviewing each figure, focused on human interest angles about how they helped people in their work as writers and editors. Susan Ager described how a man who read one of her columns was so touched that he sent her eight loaves of home baked bread, “straight from his heart.” Heath Meriwether talked about staging an elementary school re-creation of Hannibal’s crossing the Alps while he was a student teacher, and how that inspired him to connect to and serve young Free Press readers with the special Yak section, to bring kids up loving to read the paper every day.

The campaign was deemed to be a success by the client. The strike ended and the paper’s numbers began to tick back up. And, readers got a personal look at a diverse range of people at The Free Press that they had never seen before: that’s also successful journalism.


CASE 6: The American Iron and Steel Institute
Problem: Steel usage by automobile manufacturers in the United States was declining as aluminum, plastic and other composite materials gained favor with engineers and designers. The trade association known as AISI had budgeted close to a million dollars to implement a campaign to increase steel usage by car and truck builders.

Solution: Part of the solution was given to me by the client–in cooperation with Porsche engineers in Stuttgart who were developing advanced computer models for lighter but stronger sub-frame and body component designs, AISI had developed a program to transfer this knowledge (in the form of white papers and other engineering studies) to engineers working for the Big Three as well as foreign manufacturers with US-based facilities. Much of the advance in these lighter-but-stronger steel models applied to trucks, and in particular SUVs, which were the highest profit and often highest-volume sales leaders at the time. Riffing on the notion that younger, up and coming engineers–who were likely to be more open and willing to adapt to change–were a bit “geeky” or “nerdy,” I proposed a character be created to splash some style into what might otherwise be a boring treatise of a trade campaign.The answer was a shiny, Silver Surfer-type character who was modeled after the Marvel comic superhero. Our creation was dubbed Justin Steel. How do you build the next generation of SUVs our trade print asked? “With me–Justin Steel.” Meant as: “Just in steel!” The campaign was adopted for trade print as well as outdoor in the Detroit area, as seen above.

Tom is a creative director and writer who has an unwavering respect for the issues that can hold brands back, and more importantly an eye for the unique creative opportunities that can illuminate a brand so that its customers or consumers can embrace it in a fresh and purposeful way. By always looking for the surprising angle, the unexpected benefit, the overlooked possibility, Tom strives to be the kind of creative director his clients can rely on in the clinch. He’s not afraid to stick his neck out, or to argue passionately–yet with sense and logic–for the approach he believes in.

Tom’s digital skills are extensive. He can and has acted as art director and graphic designer whenever needed. He’s at home in front of his Mac immersed in the Adobe creative suite, but he’s equally at home in front of a client, expressing himself with gusto…but also being able to listen. Perhaps he learned that from his old man, who was briefly in British intelligence, who told him that the art of interrogation consisted mostly of listening. “Let them talk,” he told Tom. “They’ll tell you all their secrets, if you let them.”

Is there a better way to get to know a brand, or a brand representative? Isn’t that what you really need in a creative director?


 Call Tom at 734.776.0694. Get some answers. Frank talk with less buzz. Action oriented and ready to rock. (Just don’t agitate the pop before unscrewing the cap…this is advertising, not brain surgery!)

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