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Outsourced creative direction is like hiring a one-stop shop

You’re overworked, over-stretched and overwhelmed. And you certainly can’t dedicate enough time to every aspect of every HR, communications or rebranding initiative your company wants to execute. Sound familiar? These are all common signs that you and your company’s internal marketing team are stretched too thin.

What might be most surprising is that the solution to this problem is to not hire additional staff. Aside from coming at a high cost (once recruitment, onboarding and salary costs are considered), the reality is that the not-enough-time-in-a-day problem may not be a full-time one. Instead, it may be the result of a single large initiative or a ramping-up of a new program. What you need is someone to manage this temporary work overload so that you and your team can get on with focusing on core strengths. 

What you need is to outsource the effort. 

There are two cost-effective ways to approach this. This first is to simply outsource process-oriented or pieces of a project to creatives that fit that specific need. In other words, hire a graphic designer to do design work, a copywriter for a writing project or a professional photographer to shoot the images that supports a strategy. But this solution means that each creative only performs their silo and you or your in-house team still needs to develop the overarching strategy, campaign conceptualization or overall vision. And then it’s still up to you to manage the contractors and pull all the pieces together into one cohesive unit. 

The more efficient way is to partner with a creative director. Doing so is even better than hiring new junior employees (or expensive senior employees) because you get an experienced creative thinker with superior project management skills along with their Rolodex of the best on-demand creative resources. 

Your outsourced creative director forms his or her own design team so that the brand strategy, communications plan or other initiative falls completely under their umbrella and you and your employees can get back to focusing on other important projects. An outsourced creative director works side-by-side with your internal resources while also managing and liaising with the external resources (like the copywritergraphic designer and photographer as well as an illustratoruser experience specialist and production artist) to give you one single point of accountability. 

The bottom line is that outsourcing routine jobs or sudden workloads not only frees up your time and comes at a cost advantage, but it also assures high quality work. 

It’s a one-stop shop to the best creative solution.

April 12, 2017
by: Klaus Uhlig

Developing the WOW factor

Throughout the creative process, often one of the last pieces to fall into place is the development of the online presence. This doesn’t just mean designing or writing the website — although important, that’s the role of the graphic designer and the copywriter — but the creation of the entire user experience.

How a consumer experiences a brand is the most important part of today’s modern society. Back in the day when the Internet was in its infancy, available technology allowed for creating only ‘flat designed’ products. Over the years, technology has become more robust, allowing for designs with more depth, breadth, imagination and animation. But, consumers also have a short attention span so the vibrancy of a website needs to heighten their experience without detracting from it.

Because if the experience draws so much attention that the user can’t find what they’re looking for quickly, then the answer to that eternal “should I stay or should I go?” question will always be to “go.”

In a branding initiative, marketing strategy, key messages or communications plan, a user experience specialist is needed to walk that fine line and balance the ‘wow’ factor with a realistic sense of usability. As a software engineer, this specialist takes the concepts and the vision dreamed up by the 
creative director and mapped out with the rest of the creative team and turns them into something that works in reality.

The copywriter, who understands the online world, writes the content, the photographer shoots the photographs, the illustrator creates the visuals, the graphic designer develops the graphic components and the production artist pulls all of the assets together. But it’s the user experience specialist (who is uber web savvy) who makes sure that everything conceived and created has a solid and functional foundation online.

And when no such foundation exists to fulfil a ground-breaking creative idea, it’s up to the user experience specialist to invent a way to bring that vision to life. New code often has to be written and widgets have to be developed to perfectly fulfil the unique concept.

The final product may be something so subtle that the average user doesn’t immediately notice it. But that’s what makes it so important —it’s what gives a website and the accompanying mobile site that high-end polished look and elevates a brand to the next level.

And it’s the finishing touches on the whole creative process.

March 13, 2017
by: Klaus Uhlig

Creating the one-of-a-kind WOW

Have you ever found yourself gazing at a magazine rack because you’re utterly intrigued by the clever or topical illustration on the cover of The New Yorker magazine? That one-of-a-kind look is unique and certainly stands out. And with it, The New Yorker sears its brand into our consciousness.

Yet despite the success of using custom illustrations on one of the most recognized magazines in the world, the power and effect of using illustrations in branding and other creative projects is often underappreciated and underutilized.

When it comes to branding initiatives, marketing strategies, key messages and communications plans, the potential of using illustrations should not be overlooked. When done well, they are a unique and exceptional way to set your brand and your business apart from your competitors.

An important part of being a 
good creative director is envisioning unique and exceptional ways that a product can command attention. And it’s about effectively leading and inspiring a team of creative professionals to achieve that vision. A key member of that team is the illustrator.

An illustration is the solution to a visual problem and, with smart creative direction, a good illustrator understands the needs of the client along with the vision, goals and parameters of the project. With a fixed set of parameters — spoken in a language that is both clever and concise offers the space to be creative and add flair. For many illustrators working in the commercial space “thinking inside the box” is in a way much easier and more creative than “blue sky thinking.”

In the creative process, the illustrator is simply a part of a larger creative group — the 
copywriter crafts the narrative, the photographer shoots the photos, the graphic designer develops the products and the production artist pulls it all together. The illustrator’s role is to develop the custom illustrations that execute a vision with creative flair, adding the ‘wow.’

Although as creative director it is my job to conceive the initial direction, it is not my job to dictate the illustrative concepts. Based on the communication criteria and my mentorship, and often working with a team, it is the illustrator who conceives and creates the compelling visuals that tells the better, bigger story in a succinct, creative and effective way.

Custom illustrations are a one-of-kind creative approach to making an unforgettable impression. They give a brand staying power and it is the illustrator’s contribution that has the power to give that brand a unique life.

February 22, 2017
by: Klaus Uhlig
Herding cats to ensure the WOW remains

Everyone in an orchestra has an important role to play. Woodwinds, brass, percussion and strings all learn to play together in harmony, and are all led by a conductor standing at the front of the stage.

When it comes to branding initiatives, marketing strategies, key messages and communication plans, the role of the creative director is no different than the role of the conductor.

But what the audience sitting back enjoying the music doesn’t always realize is that an orchestra is more than just the sum of its instruments; there are many more “invisible” people involved in making that performance come to life. There are stagehands, a lighting crew and sound techs all doing work behind the scenes where no one notices them.

When it comes to creative endeavours, those roles all fall on the production artist. This person knows where everyone sits and understands how everyone meshes together. In other words, the skilled production artist knows how to manage all of the moving pieces to take the project from design comp to a completed, tangible product.

The copywriter writes the content, the photographer shoots the pictures, the illustrator creates the visuals, and the graphic designer develops the product but it’s the production artist who takes everyone’s composites and concepts and turns them into one solid masterpiece that is ready for digital launch or print fulfilment.

Often, the production artist works under a tight timeframe, as his or her work cannot truly begin until everyone else sits down to play. Working closely with the creative director, designer and writer, the production artist is a stickler for detail and ensures that the process stays tidy and runs smoothly. In the movies this role falls on the continuity person, in the creative space, this person is the necessary ‘eagle eye’ because we know that the devil is in the details.

The take-charge production artist often liaises with the client to ensure that all of the niggling details are in place, secures the necessary approvals, oversees the timing of the deadlines and connects with the suppliers so that the client always gets the best possible solution on time and on budget.

And all that focused effort and energy ensures that the front of house looks good and the client’s project gets the attention that it deserves.

Read other posts in this series:

Building out the WOW!
Creating the WOW!
In the creative process, writing shouldn’t be DIY

January 30, 2017
by: Klaus Uhlig

Building out the wow!

“We need a photo to go with this” is a frequent statement uttered by the designer during the creative process. Whether it’s a branding initiative, marketing strategy, communication plan, or key messages mandate, as a vision turns into a reality an array of stock photography is always readily available to choose from. The trouble is that these photos often only more or less fit the bill, meaning that compromises and concessions must be made to the concept because the available photography doesn’t quite meet the creative expectations nor the finely tuned strategic objectives of earlier groundwork.

And by selecting a stock option, there’s a risk of making the same image choice as one of your competitors or, worse yet, a company or product that you don’t want your business associated with makes the same image choice as you. And that’s because when using stock photography, everyone is making selections from the same pool of images.

An important aspect to being a good creative director is not necessarily about having great visions and developing unique concepts but being able to effectively lead and inspire a team to achieve the best possible results. And a key member of that team is a photographer.

A professional photographer understands the importance of, and the need for, good image making. You can spend hundreds or thousands of dollars developing a new communications initiative but the digital or print collateral can fall flat without properly conceived and produced photography that supports strategy.

A knowledgeable photographer understands the finished look that is sought and sets out to achieve it. Sometimes the parameters for a look are not quite set and the photographer’s job is to determine the best way to capture and convey the right feeling. The creative director sets the bar and lays out the directions but it is up to the photographer to scout the area, look at the challenge with a fresh set of eyes, talk to the players involved and understand the mood and tone required to figure out the visuals that will fit the vision best. This is where the pro adds the greatest value.

Other times, the parameters are defined and rigid, making the photographer’s job easier but still necessary. Great photography sets a tone, a feeling and a mood.  And the subjects in those photos need to be genuine, not forced. A photo done poorly makes a person look severe, annoyed and unfriendly, whereas a photo well made makes a person look sincere, authentic and approachable.

There should be no compromises or concession when using custom photography and the words “it’ll do” are never uttered. Solid image making elevates a project’s appeal and increases its potential to reach its audience and enhances ‘stickability.’ And that makes for a perfect fit every time. WOW!

By: Klaus Uhlig
Date: January 9, 2017

Creating the WOW!

Think about painters; what does their art say about them? For most (if not all), it’s their form of expression. They express their creativity by brushing (or splattering) colours, shapes, designs and interpretations across a canvas. Graphic designers also expresses creativity by choosing colours, shapes, font, imagery and interpretations but their motivations are not about self-expression, they are strategically and objective driven.

A creative director enters a project by examining the problem or proposal, interpreting the need and thinking through the early phases of the project to develop a vision. This vision may cross a breadth of media from print to digital. And it’s then the graphic designer’s job to turn that vision into a tangible reality.

Once the client’s brief is understood, the next critical step in this process is my briefing to the team — which includes the graphic designer, copywriter and often even the production artist, photographer and illustrator. As a creative director, I provide an overview of the vision and the objectives of what is likely needed. But it is my designer who delves much deeper; my designer goes beyond the surface level of what I’m conveying and scrutinizes why we’re doing it in the first place. It’s that intelligent dive that uncovers the crucial components that are translated into the design and if all goes well that is when ‘the WOW gets created. WOW equals the memory hook — the stuff that sticks.

A good graphic designer gives life to the vision by setting the tone and mood, which in turn generates the right emotional feeling and gives the piece its vibe. This creative outcome is often the culmination of weeks or months of work to develop a communication plan, new branding initiative, marketing strategy or determining key messages; if the tone is wrong, the audience won’t respond.

Although as creative director it is my job to conceive the initial direction(s), it is not my job to dictate the concept or design. Based on the communication criteria and my mentorship, it is the graphic designer who explores creative avenues by sketching out interpretations and crafting a few iterations of the proposed design to present to the client.

By doing so, he or she tinkers with colour palettes, typographic pairings and grid structure to evolve a visual direction that meets the needs of the client. Not only does the graphic designer create the visual look and feel, if they are practiced in their craft, they also engage with the writer to determine the tone and direction of the narrative. Their engagement often crosses over to include working with illustrators, photographers and all others who serve a role in a project’s success.

The graphic designer doesn’t go “wandering into the woods,” but instead is challenged to break the ground to form a clear path and bring that initial vision to life.

December 19, 2016
by Klaus Uhlig

In the creative process, copywriting shouldn’t be DIY

A creative director does much more than interpret the concepts and think through the early phases of a project to develop a vision – the creative director sees the forest and the tress and makes sure everyone around him or her does as well.

A creative director acts as the leader by pulling together the necessary resources and skill sets to turn a thought through vision into reality. Early on in the play, one such skill set that is often needed to bring a project to fruition is copywriting.

A professional copywriter takes the concepts developed by the creative director and turns these ideas, analysis, research and notes into concrete copy that the intended audience can connect with.

A good copywriter will take complex ideas or long-winded explanations and transform them into a language that is easily understood. A good copywriter will work in conjunction with the creative director to further develop the ideas kicking around that just won’t seem to turn into complete sentences.

A well-designed website, brochure or direct mail campaign, for example, captures the interest of the intended audience; well-written copy is what holds that audience’s attention. The copy is succinct, focused and crisp; it has a point, and it gets to it quickly. And for the audience, there’s an aha moment where everything clicks and they get it.

As a creative director, I’m occasionally met with resistance over hiring a copywriter because the general feeling from some people is that they can write the necessary content “just fine.” But think of it this way – few people would consider performing their own root canal so why turn the copy writing into a DIY project? A writer writes. Period.

Developing copy for a breadth of media from print to digital that not just meets the bar set by the creative director but pushes higher goes beyond simply using proper grammar and spelling; it’s about understanding how to position a brand, product or service so that it stands out and motivates the target audience to take action. 

By Klaus Uhlig
November 28, 2016

A creative director takes the lead without taking the spotlight

In an orchestra, dozens of musicians sit row upon row facing one key person – the conductor. Guided by the sheet music, they strive to blend the right sounds and the right parallels to turn those notes into a musical master work.

But a symphony is greater than the sum of its parts. Regardless of how talented a conductor may be, they would be nowhere without the members of the orchestra.

Why am I talking about an orchestra? Because when it comes to branding initiatives, marketing strategies, key messages and communication plans, the role of the creative director is no different than the role of conductor.

A conductor looks at the proposal (in this case the sheet music) and uses the resources at their disposal (in this case the various sections and instruments that make of the orchestra) to create a musical masterpiece out of notes on paper. It is not just the conductor’s musical skills that bring us to this wonderful conclusion, but their vision and ability to orchestrate the skilled musicians.

In the creative world, the creative director takes on that orchestrating role.  The creative director first examines the problem or the proposal – which is often a creative brief or an agreed-upon communication strategy that has been based on a thorough analysis. He or she then interprets the concept and thinks through the early phases of the project to develop a vision, which may cross a breadth of media from print to digital, before pulling together the necessary resources and skill sets to turn that vision into reality.

The key to being a good creative director is not necessarily about having great visions and developing unique concepts, it’s about being able to effectively lead and inspire a team to achieve the best possible results.  

As the creative director, I set the bar and then bring in the right-sized set of skills to fit the need. Whether it’s working with a writer, a photographer, a graphic designer, a printer and/or a social media expert, I am more than simply the leader of the team tasked with implementing the creative work. It takes drive and passion to push the boundaries of what’s possible and harness the team’s talent and determination.

I am the coach, the mentor and the advisor – not the dictator. Every person that is brought in is not tasked with simply meeting the expectation of the bar, but bringing their own strengths to the table in order to raise it higher so that clients receive the best possible solution for their needs.
By Klaus Uhlig
October 25, 2016

Animated logos create a subtle ‘look at me’ shout out

Designing your company logo is not a task that can be taken lightly. After all, it is a reflection of your company’s identity and strategic direction and needs to speak to your target market.

But, it also needs to stand out in the crowded marketplace ­— especially in the digital space. A moving, or animated, logo can do just that.

Before jumping to conclusions about what an animated logo looks like, know that it is not the crass GIFs of the early days of the Internet. Those were busy, loud, in-your-face concepts. And when they did their thing, they were often clunky because the digital bandwidth of that time couldn’t properly support the animation.

Those days are gone. Moving logos today are small, subtle touches that say ‘hey, look at me!’ And that little shout out is what grabs the viewer’s attention and helps to differentiate your website, and your business, from your competitors.

Check this one out:
Yondr Studio specializes in pen and ink illustrations as well as hand lettering and branding. Their logo — a pen and ink drawing of the sun shining over a mountain — comes to life as the sun rises over the mountains. The sophistication of this logo is not only attractive but also memorable. It is simple and polished and quickly gets to the point, reinforcing the company’s brand.

Here’s another subtle example of one created earlier this year.
MergeCo helps business owners buy, sell or raise funds. The butterfly logo underpins its transition before transaction approach and the gentle flap of its wings represents a business owner’s new-found freedom.

A moving logo isn’t the right answer for every company. A construction contractor, for example, should probably stick to showcasing its strong and solid foundation rather than showing off its moving parts. But a long-haul trucking company may want to use their logo to highlight how they’re always on the move.

The key to remember when creating a moving logo is that it is not an after-thought to the creative direction and logo development process but an extension of it. And a savvy designer with the right skill set is needed to pull the entire logo creation concept together. 

September 28, 2016 

by: Klaus Uhlig

Integrate traditional marketing into your digital media strategy

Last month, the World Wide Web celebrated its 25th birthday. And in just a quarter of a century, it has completely changed how we view, consume and share information. 

And of course, it turned the world of marketing on its head. 

Digital marketing encompasses everything from websites, social media mentions, YouTube videos, banner ads, Google Ad words, e-newsletters and blogs, just to name a few. Its purpose is to have people find and develop a rapport with a brand.And, digital marketing gives businesses the ability to easily communicate with its customers to gain valuable consumer feedback.

But as exciting as the digital world is, the recent CASL* law puts limits on a business’s ability to use mailing lists to digitally reach out to its customers. And, like anything that is done to excess, sometimes too much means the intended audience simply tunes out.

So, as the Internet marches towards its next milestone birthday, there is resurgence in traditional print marketing as savvy businesses recognize the importance of remaining active in both digital and traditional spaces.

Direct mail, for example, is once again growing as marketers are discovering that the same consumers who tune out their digital efforts open letters that are personally addressed. Why? Because getting an actual letter is such a rarity these days that it commands attention. 

One form of marketing doesn’t need to replace the other; they need to work in tandem. And both require different skills and expertise. Your digital marketing agency may create a stellar online presence for your business, but what kind of ROI are they getting you on your print materials? Do they have the expertise to leverage the traditional channels? Most don’t. We see more clients and agencies turning to traditional print design professionals to fill that channel. 

Because digital marketing is useless at a trade show, for example, when you need a take-away that leaves a lasting impression. A simple one-page printout won’t leave the impression you’re hoping for. Just as your business needs an expert in the digital marketing space, it also needs one in the traditional modes of communication to create the personal approach that effectively expands your business’s exposure and reach. 

* Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation 
September 8, 2016 
by: Klaus Uhlig

What’s your average speed?

When it comes to information and how it’s consumed, it’s no secret that the world has shrunk. Today’s world has become one of instant gratification. Depending on the marketing medium, you have just seconds – or less – to get your message heard.

Don’t believe me? Consider this:
- The average speaker can get his message across in 200 words per minute. But how many minutes does she need to make her point?
- The average listener can take in 500 words per minute. But for how many minutes is he actually focusing on what’s being said?
- The average highway driver can take in just six words from a billboard before whizzing by.
- The average viewer takes just 7 seconds to consume a picture. It’s a good thing that a picture says 1,000 words.
- The average web surfer spends just 700 milliseconds on a website before deciding whether to stay or go.

That’s right, your website audience’s attention span is less than a second. So how do you capture that audience? By keeping your design simple, and your message short and sweet. Don’t make your audience work for what they’re looking for. They won’t bother looking; they’ll only bother clicking away.

And avoiding the dreaded click away is exactly why we kept today’s blog post short, sweet and to the point.
August 15, 2016 
by: Klaus Uhlig

What's in a name?

It has happened to us all at some time or another. We’re introduced to someone, chat for a while and then for the life of us, can’t remember that person’s name. 

Now what if the tables were turned; how would you react if it were your name that someone couldn’t remember. Or worse yet, your business’s name. 

Although most of us don’t usually choose our names, giving us little control over whether it’s memorable – we do get to choose the name of our business. Selecting the right name for your company is important; get it right and customers will easily remember it, get it wrong and you may lose out on potential business. 

A name that is too big, too complex or feels like a mouthful of marbles when trying to say it is difficult to remember – especially when you also can’t remember how to pronounce it. This could work in your favour, as you become, for example, the-company-whose-name-I-can-never-remember-that-does-graphic-design. But you’re more likely to be forgotten and passed over for the next guy. 

In a time before computers, Internet, URLs and email, a small business’s name was only used on letterhead, business cards and office signage. So a name that was difficult to remember, say and even spell wasn’t such a big deal. It was more about visual identity. Today, it is a recipe for disaster. A difficult name will constantly be mistyped when someone is looking online, hampering their chances of finding you and increasing their chances of finding your competitors. 

So when starting out, how do you give your business a name? A common practice is to name a company after yourself. I did that here at It’s a good idea especially if you’re still testing the industry waters. What better name, than the name you were given. 

But if your name isn’t easy to remember, as your business grows and evolves, your unique name can work against you. Yes, even if your company name is simply your first and/or last name – if it’s hard to remember or gives someone a mouthful of marbles, it’s time to think about changing it. Can you shorten your name? Or abbreviate it? 

Look at BMW, for example. A well recognized name – but did you know that it actually stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke, which translates to Bavarian Motor Works. And once upon a time, H&R Block was a small business founded by two brothers – Henry and Richard Bloch. (The different spelling of the last name in the company name was to make sure that no one mispronounced it!) 

Your company name represents your brand. You want to be memorable, yes, but if you’re not findable and shareable, your name is not doing its job.

July 19, 2016 
by: Klaus Uhlig


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